Review of ‘The Discovery of the Peak District’, by Trevor Brighton

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 29th November 2004, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

THE DISCOVERY OF THE PEAK DISTRICT
by Trevor Brighton

Our readers will be familiar with our efforts at delving into local history, so often dependent on tracking down material published in the distant past. In The Discovery of the Peak District, Trevor Brighton brings together gems from many historically important publications, usually only accessible in depositories such as the Local Studies Library in County Hall at Matlock.

Now, inside one cover, are maps spanning many centuries; poets who wrote of the Peak as the 'English Alps', rivalling the scenery of Italy; critics airing their classical knowledge by linking places to Hades or Hell; and an incredible observation from Norman times about one of our famous caverns. Also included is the only contemporary description of the interior of Buxton Spa Bath from the 1500s.

The growth of the region as a tourist attraction gathers pace, passing through a time when Peak-brewed ale was an attraction in its own right. People began coming here solely for pleasure 400 years ago, prepared to cope with incomprehensible and suspicious natives in what was widely viewed as a place of 'poverty and horror'. Trevor Brighton points out that early maps did not generally show footpaths, so early writers really did need a sense of adventure and we owe them a great debt. We can even visualise the appearance of well prepared foot tourists of the 1790s, down to a goatskin knapsack 'for the sake of looking handsome'. One travel writer brought his own sheets to counter the worst effects of 'inn lice' on his overnight stops, another carried leather sheets as protection against damp beds.

The imaginative arrangement of colourful and varied extracts in this new publication offers intriguing comments on places which still draw visitors today, from Bakewell to Buxton and Castleton to Chatsworth - where the staff have improved beyond all recognition!

The Discovery of the Peak District contains colour plates as well as many good black and white illustrations. Published in hardback by Phillimore and in stock locally or to order, price £20 (ISBN 1 86077 3141)

Review by Julie Bunting


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