There aren’t many cities in the UK, or indeed the world, where at one moment you can be surrounded by urban life and everything that comes with it – the tall office blocks, the scores of restaurants, the theatres, 4G on your phone – then the next, seemingly far away from civilisation, with just a scattering of sheep and an endless view for company.
But hop in car in the centre of Sheffield and, traffic permitting, you can be away from it all in under half an hour. Alternatively, there are plenty of trains that gently chug away from the commuters and travellers in Sheffield Station and, a couple of stops later, will deposit you at one of a number of picturesque rural locations. On a bike it’s possible in well under an hour, while you can walk into the Peaks from Sheffield on a number of paths.
Like any other settlement, Sheffield has grown in the past hundred years or so, and undoubtedly its footprint has stood on the toes of the Peak District – a third of the city is in the national park. But this is not a city that suffers from mile after mile of urban sprawl, certainly in the areas that are hugged by the national park. Here, the city ends and the country begins, and doesn’t seem to stop. Sometimes, the city spills out. From Bolehills in Crookes, looking across the Rivelin Valley, Stannington seems as though it has been scattered across the hillside.
Weather changes quickly too. A winter rain shower on West Street may well be sleet in Crosspool and full-blown drifting snow by Ladybower Reservoir.
The idea of the Peaks simply being a “golden frame” (to quote John Ruskin) isn’t quite accurate – Sheffield itself is studded with scores of diamonds – but it certainly acts as the inspiration for Britain’s best outdoor city.