Both the Lake District and Peak District are loved for their beautiful wilderness. But which one is best? We put them head to head, comparing their hiking, wildlife and cultural clout...
Where? North-west England
Size: 2,362 sq km
Highest spot: Scafell Pike (978m)
Expect: Lakes, lush valleys and challenging mountain peaks (including England's highest)
Where? Central England
Size: 1,438 sq km
Highest spot: Kinder Scout (636m)
Expect: Gently rolling hills, dales and moors, with hiking and biking trails aplenty
More than 3,200km of footpaths, byways and bridleways criss-cross the UNESCO-listed Lake District, from wheelchair-friendly routes to tough climbs.
As an aside, only one of the area’s 16 ‘lakes’ is technically called a lake (Bassenthwaite). The others are meres or waters – though no less spectacular, of course.
Another misnomer! The Peak District’s high point is Kinder Scout, which is only 26m over the official minimum height of a mountain.
But size isn’t everything. The Peaks offer rejuvenating rambles through undulating countryside, pretty valley views and brilliant Bakewell tarts – the real Derbyshire deal.
The coniferous woodland here is home to some of England’s last red squirrels.
Also keep an eye out for red deer, kestrels, buzzards and ospreys.
The birdwatching hides around Derwentwater are great for spotting waders and waterfowl, with snipes and sandpipers in abundance as well as a growing number of otters.
The Peak District offers good birding, with kestrel and hen harriers patrolling the skies and special species such as golden plover, dunlin, short-eared owl, red grouse and skylark on the moors.
The Peak District is the only place in England to have a population of mountain hare; their brown coats turn white in winter.
Steam boats, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, dinghies, Canadian canoes... if it floats, you’ll find it in the Lake District.
As well as inland waters, the national park has 23km of coastline, which is, of course, backed by views up to the high fells. It’s a spectacular location for windsurfing and sailing trips.
The Peak District has an array of caves and caverns, carved by natural waterways and human mining.
Subterranean sights include the stalactite-lined chambers of Poole’s Cavern, the Heights of Abraham (for mining history and cable cars) and Treak Cliff Cavern to glimpse Blue John, Derbyshire’s own semi-precious mineral.
The Lakes have inspired many writers. Beatrix Potter was influenced by her holidays here; visit Hill Top, her former home, and the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead.
Then wander lonely to Wordsworth House (the poet’s childhood home) and Allan Bank (where Wordsworth once lived, and Coleridge came to visit).
The Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reveals the Peak District’s rich history and geology, alongside art and sculpture inspired by the national park.
For peaceful garden walks, locally-inspired artwork, stately interiors and good cream teas, visit Calke Abbey and Chatsworth House, two beautiful heritage properties.
It’s little wonder that the Peaks and Lakes have both inspired a raft of art and literature: who could fail to be moved by these dramatic landscapes?
You could spend a wild weekend in each of them, squeezing in snippets of hiking, heritage, local food and striking scenery. But you could also fill a full fortnight in either park, and still have plenty left to do. Our recommendation? Do both!
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