The Diary: Walk this way for a Peak at history...

David Hey Bronze Age barrow on the Big Moor between Owler Bar and Baslow.
David Hey Bronze Age barrow on the Big Moor between Owler Bar and Baslow.
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Having just turned 75, David Hey doesn’t do as much walking in the Peak District as he once did.

“I only do about nine or 10 miles a day now,” he says. “Up to a few years ago, I’d be completing about 20.”

It may still be enough exercise to make people half his age feel out of breath just thinking about it. But cutting down the mileage has freed up time for him to do something he first dreamed up while pottering across those Peaks: write a complete chronology of the area.

“Ironically,” says the retired Sheffield University history professor, “the fact I do less rambling now actually meant I could write it.”

The result, released by Pen and Sword this week, is A History Of The Peak District Moors, a detailed compendium charting the region from Stone Age to the 21st century.

And while it might not be the first book about Britain’s first national park - it has been said there are more words about the Peak District than blades of grass on it - few tomes can have been quite as comprehensive as David’s.

Within these pages are Romans and Vikings, railways and canals, ramblers and World War Two soldiers.

One section tells the story of William Wilson, an obsessive landowner who spent a fortune building more than 100 stone troughs for wild grouse to drink from - so he could shoot them. Another recalls the 1932 Mass Trespass when ramblers walked across the privately-owned land of Kinder Scout as part of a campaign for public right of way.

“It’s an area that is so rich in history but I don’t think there’s been a book which offers a complete record, as such,” says David, who was born in Catshaw, barely a mile from the Peaks, and now lives in Dronfield, which isn’t much further. “Because I was a history professor I already had a lot of this information in my head or in files around the house. It would almost have been a waste not to put it in a book.”

Now, he’s hoping it will be a hit with fellow walkers in particular.

“Knowing a little bit about the history and the archeology of the area where you’re rambling always adds to the pleasure,” says the grandfather-of-one.

And then he’s off. It’s a nice day and, he tells The Diary, he’s going for a walk.

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Peak A Paradise

The Peak District has inspired thousands of words and hundreds of books down the decades - but not all have been as positive about the region as David Hey.

“The most desolate and abandoned country in all England,” is how Daniel Defoe described it in his 1726 travel guide. “A howling wilderness,” he added, to avoid any ambiguity.

John Ruskin was similarly unenamoured by the region’s first railway in the 1800s. “Now every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half an hour and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton,” he raged.

Nevertheless plenty of writers have been inspired by Sheffield’s unofficial garden.

“Was you ever in Dovdale?” wrote Lord Byron in 1813. “I assure you there are things in Derbyshire as noble as in Greece or Switzerland.”

Charlotte Bronte was a fan (“pleasant fresh air”), as was Ebenezer Elliott (“And how he rears from the vale, complete / In all his time touched majesty”). James Croston, meanwhile, wondered why anyone would go overseas when they could visit Castleton. The town, he said, is to “understand something of the charms of English scenery”.