The Peak District (also called "The Peaks") is the name given to a picturesque upland area of the East Midlands region of England. There are no precise boundaries; the term comprises most rural areas and small towns which lie between (and are within easy reach of) Sheffield, Huddersfield, Leeds, Manchester, Stockport, Buxton, Congleton, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby, and Chesterfield. Popular activities in the area include hiking, visiting country houses, climbing and potholing.
"Peak Distict" is often used as shorthand for the Peak District National Park, a smaller area with defined boundaries and some special protection. The name of the district is thought to have come from an ancient tribe once resident in the area and the hills and moors of the area, although spectacular in their own way, are not classic "mountain peaks" as might be imagined from the name.
The Peak District is sometimes called the Derbyshire Peak District, but the area also covers parts of Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, Cheshire, West Yorkshire, and South Yorkshire.
The central and most rural area of the Peaks falls within the Peak District National Park, but the boundaries are not prominent (marked by roadside signs, but no barriers) and are irrelevant to most visitors: many well-known Peak villages and towns (e.g. Glossop, Buxton, Hayfield) are outside the Park. This was England's first national park and is still the most visited, largely because of its accessible location within reach of the large cities of Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. The Peak District National Park Authority provides public facilities (car parks, lavatories, visitor centres) and works to maintain the rural nature of the Park, without turning it into an open-air museum; however, most land is still owned by the traditional landlords, and (although public access is very good - see below) contains working farms and towns.
The Peak District is not mountainous; however, many hills are steep, with a few summits sufficiently prominent to warrant the description "peak". The name is a little obscure, but many sources including the National Park Authority's web site refer to a local 7th-century Anglian tribe, the Peacsaetna ("Peak Dwellers").
The Peak District is traditionally split into two contrasting areas, essentially defined by their geology. The White Peak (Derbyshire Dales) is a limestone plateau of green fields with a rolling hills and many incised dales (areas around Ashbourne, Dovedale, Matlock, Bakewell, Longnor). The Dark Peak (or High Peak) is a series of higher, wilder and boggier gritstone plateaux (moorlands) and edges (areas north of Castleton and Hathersage).
High Peak and Derbyshire Dales are also names of local authority districts of Derbyshire.
Flora and fauna
The limestone dales of the White Peak are nationally famous for rare flora, including orchids (in flower spring and early summer) and the rare Jacob's Ladder.
The peaty gritstone moors of the Dark Peak support a more limited flora (largely heather, bilberry and sphagnum moss) and a specialist fauna. Heather moorland in the Dark Peak is maintained for the commercial shooting of Red Grouse (a subspecies of the Willow Grouse unique to the British Isles, which differs from its counterpart on the European mainland by not having a white winter plumage). Other specialist moorland bird species include Ring Ouzel, Golden Plover and Curlew. Mountain Hares were introduced to the Dark Peak in the 19th century and still remain on Bleaklow and Kinder Scout. A feral colony of Wallabies that survived for many years in the Roaches area of the Staffordshire Peak is probably now extinct, as is a remnant population of Black Grouse (though a reintroduction scheme is currently being attempted elsewhere in the Peak District).
The High Peak in particular can experience severe winter weather and walkers need to be suitably equipped because it is really cold. Cross-Pennine road routes (particularly the Manchester to Sheffield, Snake and Woodhead passes) are quickly blocked by snow in winter weather.