Mon 4 July – Thurs 7 July 2022
A four-day all-inclusive summer break to experience the hills and dales of north Derbyshire with multi-award-winning naturalist and author in his home patch. If you would like to go straight to the booking form, click here.
Our wildlife breaks are centred in historic Buxton. The town stands atop the thermal springs for which it has been renowned since Roman times, but it also straddles the two characteristic geological formations of the High Peak, the limestone plateau and the gritstone uplands. The life of 320 million years ago is never far from the surface and has shaped the region’s environmental present, as well as its industrial past.
July is a great time of year to visit the Peak District and the break is timed to capture some of the area’s most distinctive wildlife at its best. The real beauty of the season is that we get a full sense of the area’s wildlife abundance with the minimum of travel. Time spent travelling to the sites is kept to an absolute minimum.
Once we have gathered early on Monday afternoon we intend to be among it all in a matter of few minutes. Buxton itself is a great place for wildlife and we will visit one of the local hotspots to begin the holiday. Willow warblers, whitethroats and spotted flycatchers are all feeding their nestlings or embarking on a second brood in the local woods, while ravens and buzzards are common locally and often fly directly over the town. Wherever there are flowers there are always insects and local specialities include bilberry bumblebee and the elm-loving white-lettered hairstreak.
(images below, clockwise from top left: southern marsh orchid and kidney vetch; white-lettered hairstreak, dark green fritillary; bilberry bumblebee and golden-ringed dragonfly).
North Derbyshire in high summer is one of the most botanically rich areas in England and enjoying this festival of colour will be a key part of our four-day break. The dales also have real specialities at this time of year and both dark red helleborine and dune helleborine should be in full bloom. We have about a dozen fabulous dales to choose from and I may adjust the programme to take advantage of nuances and local information at the time. A common denominator, wherever we choose, is the sheer floral abundance: the riverbanks forested with triffid-like stands of butterbur, the banks of betony and lady’s bedstraw, harebells and knapweed climbing up the sides of Hay Dale; the stands of eyebright and thyme that crown the endless nests of yellow meadow ants, with which they are ecologically entwined. All of these will be encountered at some point over the four days and we are not averse to recommendations.
Images 1-: butterbur in the River Wye; eyebright, one of the two dagger moth species on its food plant; Chee Torr tunnel in Miller Dale; bloody cranesbill; DWT’s Millers Dale Quarry reserve; the rewilded railway sidings near Millers Dale station; green woodpecker, .)
Some of the gusto of the spring bird chorus may have been lost by July but there are compensations: such as flocks of newly fledged hirundines – house martins and swallows – that muster over the dales and woods. Adults redstarts are also busy feeding their broods of semi-independent young and they flick in and out the limestone crags and hawthorn bushes flashing their telltale fiery tails. Dippers breed really early and may well be fledging a second brood by July’ so the rivers will never have so many of these wonderfully characterful birds. It seems almost a rule of life on the riverbank: find a dipper and there will be a grey wagtail family too. Another part of summer nowadays is the mandarin duck mothers with their endearing broods of ducklings. Overhead, meanwhile, we keep an eye out for pergrines that are feeding their well-grown chicks at ths time, as well as occasional hobbies or red kites, which are now creeping into the area as breeding birds.
Images clockwise from top left: mandarin duck family, barn swallow fledgling, willow wabler, peregrine male, common whitethroat.
On our last morning, depending on the weather and the group’s fitness we can venture onto Kinder Scout which is the highest part of the Peak District. Defoe infamously wrote it off as a ‘waste and houling wilderness, but it became famous in the twentieth century as the heart of the access movement. This was especially after the Mass Trespass of 1932, which is now celebrated almost annually. Kinder is well known for its grand prospects but it is also a very interesting place for wildlife.
The tops are most famous for their blanket bog, but the Kinder valley into the lovely village of Hayfield holds great oak woods and these are excellent for wildlife. Purple hairstreak butterfly is one of its scarcer resident insects and the local abundance of three flowering heathers is a major draw for a range of bumblebee species. Another local speciality is the solitary heather bee, whose colonies riddle the exposed shaly outcrops with their tiny burrows. We may not get the health benefits of a full Kinder climb but the foot of the Scout is a great spot for our picnic, while the panoramic views are a perfect finale for our Derbyshire break.
Images clockwise from top left: heather bee colony, the view across to Mam Torr from Kinder, mountain hare and hare’s-tail cotton grass, common heather in flower.
The 360 Degree Approach
Our Derbyshire breaks are co-organised by Mark Cocker and Chris Mounsey of Balkan Tracks. Chris will make all arrangements, handle bookings and oversee finances. Our approach has been worked out over many years of sharing wildlife and its place in human culture with others. The break is intended to be a form of alfresco salon where the landscapes and life of Derbyshire are a stimulation for reflection, thought and unending conversation, as well as laughter and great fun. We shall never be in a rush. There will be no concern whatsoever for listing. And while I am not expert in everything, we will look at everything. The aim is to pack each day with wonder so that you have the richest and most imaginative engagement with all parts, whether it is peregrines or periwinkles. It is not a writing trip in any sense but the approach lends itself to creative responses. If you feel inspired all the better, and impromptu readings in the evening are a routine part of our holidays.
The 360 Degrees team
Mark Cocker is an author and naturalist born and brought up in Buxton. He has contributed to the Guardian country diary for 34 years and his 12 books of creative non-fiction, including Our Place, Birds and People and Crow Country, have been shortlisted for many awards including the Samuel Johnson Prize. Crow Country won the New Angle Prize in 2008, while A Claxton Diary won the East Anglian Books Awards in 2019. In a previous life he led wildlife holidays all over the world and the 360 Degree approach is a distillation of that experience.
Originally a lawyer in London, Chris Mounsey worked for an environmental NGO in Prespa in Greece. He and his father Richard then founded their dedicated ‘responsible tourism’ company, which is devoted to connecting visitors with some of Europe’s finestnature and, importantly, the people who live among it. Chris is currently exploring newforms of flight-free holidays in the UK and other parts of Europe.
Our base is the four-star Westminster Hotel, a family-run 12-room establishment on Broad Walk at the heart of the town, with lovely views over the Pavilion Gardens’ lakes. The breakfasts and packed lunches are hearty and based on locally sourced produce. In the evenings we have three-course dinners at a small privately-owned and family-run restaurant called La Brasserie Bar, where the food and atsmopshere are first class. It is just ten-minutes walk from the hotel and located in the most vibrant part of Buxton’s scenic centre. There are terrific micro-brewery pubs around this area and our hotel is chosen to give you easy access to Buxton’s famous historical architecture, such as the St Anne’s Crescent and the Devonshire Dome. You can find out more about your accommodation at their respective websites: www.westminsterhotel.co.uk and www.thebarbrasseriebuxton.co.uk.
Prices and Arrangements
Dates: Mon 4 July – Thurs 07 July 2022
Price £795 (plus £100 for single supplement) Included are all transport, guiding (entry fees), all meals including daily packed lunches and accommodation. Mark will be with you on all excursions. The only additional costs are your travel to/from Buxton, drinks or snacks during the day, evening drinks with your dinners. The tour will have a maximum of eight participants. Our programme is based on 9am – 5pm excursions, although sometimes we might be later back from more distant locations. We will provide a detailed daily plan closer to departure. We can make reading and equipment recommendations. A £200 deposit is payable on booking. See my website for additional details. if you want more information about the programme please email me here. If you would like to go straight to the booking form, click here.