It gets its name because (in contrast to the White Peak), the underlying limestone is covered by a cap of Millstone Grit which means that in winter the soil is almost always saturated with water. The land is thus largely uninhabited moorland plateaux where almost any depression is filled with sphagnum bogs and black peat. The High Peak is an alternative name for the Dark Peak, but High Peak is also the name of an administrative district of Derbyshire which includes part of the White Peak.
The areas of Millstone Grit form an 'inverted horseshoe' around the lower uncapped limestone areas of the White Peak. Hence the Dark Peak is said to cover the higher Derbyshire Peaks north of the Hope Valley, as well as the Western Moors in the area of Buxton, and the Eastern Moors stretching south towards Matlock. The Dark Peak is one of 159 National Character Areas defined by Natural England; their defined area covers 86,604 hectares (334 sq mi) and includes the northern block of hills approximately bounded by Marsden, Stocksbridge, Hathersage and Chapel-en-le-Frith, plus the Eastern Moors south to Matlock, but excludes the Western Moors south of Chapel (which they place in NCA 53, the South West Peak) and the area around Glossop (in NCA 54, Manchester Pennine Fringe).
An area of 31,852 hectares (123 sq mi) is designated as the Dark Peak Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which excludes the separately designated Eastern Moors. The SSSI extends over the borders into Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. A large part of the SSSI is included in the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation.
Over the years, a number of military aircraft have crashed on the Dark Peak, generally due to atrocious weather conditions. Due to the bleakness and emptiness of the high moorlands, their wrecks tend to remain untouched, and are often stumbled across by hikers in these remote places. There have been reports of ghost planes in the area for years. Many of the aircraft witnessed are wartime machines such as the Wellington Bomber, B-29 Bomber, Dakota and Lancaster. The reports of eyewitnesses are usually of a low flying, propeller-driven plane, which appears to be in difficulty before seemingly crashing into the moors. Several people who recovered items from the crash site were allegedly then visited by ghosts.
- "NCA Profile: 51 Dark Peak (NE378)". Natural England. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- "The Dark Peak (SSSI citation)". Natural England. 8 July 1993. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- "Eastern Peak District Moors (SSSI citation)". Natural England. 22 December 1999. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- SAC Standard Data Form
- "GHOST PLANES OF THE PEAK DISTRICT OF DERBYSHIRE". sheffieldontheinternet.co.uk