Reaching the Peak of literary tributes

Unofficial garden: Writer Roly Smith at Curbar Edge in the Peak District ' one of his favourite places
Unofficial garden: Writer Roly Smith at Curbar Edge in the Peak District ' one of his favourite places
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DANIEL Defoe famously hated the place, of course.

He told readers of his 1726 travel book, the Peak District was a “howling wilderness”, “a poor thing indeed”, and, to dispel any ambiguity, “the most desolate and abandoned country in all England.”

John Ruskin, meanwhile, was just as scathing when he considered the region’s first railway line in the 19th century.

“Now every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half an hour and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton,” he raged.

Yet, not withstanding these two literary curmudgeons, famous writers and romantics have long been inspired by Sheffield’s unofficial garden.

Now, the best words and works – both friendly and foe-ish – have been collected in a new anthology.

Author and expert Roly Smith has gathered dozens of literary tributes to prove our national park is as inspirational as the likes of the Lake District.

And it seems he has a point.

Within these pages are beautifully composed compliments from no lesser figures than George Elliott, William Camden and Lord George Byron.

“Was you ever in Dovdale?” asks the latter in 1813. “I assure you there are things in Derbyshire as noble as in Greece or Switzerland.”

More highlights?

There’s Charlotte Bronte recommending the moors above Hathersage (“calm prospect and pleasant fresh air”); Ebenezer Elliott coming over all unnecessary about Win Hill (“And how he rears from the vale, complete/ In all his time touched majesty”) and James Croston wondering why anyone would go overseas when they could go to, er, Castleton.

To visit, he recorded in 1868, is to “understand something of the charms of English scenery, and learn that travelling at home is no less enjoyable than travelling abroad”.

“I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while,” says Roly, who has produced more than 80 previous books on the area. “There’s not been a literary anthology about the Peak District for 50 years and that’s a great shame. “It’s been fun trawling through old books and finding these great literary pieces.”

There’s practical advice too. Of sorts.

A 1932 article advises walkers – in the days before free access to land – which gamekeepers to avoid. Those with guns, seems to be the rule of thumb.

And a German writer, exploring the area in 1728, comments on the food on offer in Tideswell.

“They prepared toasted cheese for me,” writes Carl Philip Moritz. “It is regarded as a right delicious dish but unfortunately I couldn’t eat any.” That one made Roly smile.

“It’s lovely to see what people have said down the years,” notes the 68-year-old of Bakewell.

“But there is a serious side – I hope it encourages Sheffielders to explore what’s on their doorstep.”

Oh, and Defoe? Even he was (kind of) won over in the end. Chatsworth House, he finally noted, was “the most beautiful palace in the world.”

A Peak District Anthology, published by Frances Lincoln, is available in shops for £16.99 from today.

Matt’s well versed in county’s beauty

IT’S not just past poets the Peak District has inspired.

Sheffield wordsmith Matt Black, right, will unveil his new work, Ten Top Tips For Incoming Southerners: A Guide To Derbyshire, to celebrate National Poetry Day today.

The 55-year-old, of Highfield, appeared on this page last year after he was announced as the county’s fourth ever poet laureate.

And his new work – a lighthearted lilt which describes the beauty of the Peaks – will mark the half-way point of his two-year tenure. “It’s designed to entertain and tickle earlobes,” he says.

He will unveil it at 3pm at Ripley Library and then again at 7.15pm at Belper Library.