When my delightful friend Emma B proudly told me she had won a spa break to the Peak District in a charity raffle, and asked would I like to be her plus one for a weekend comprising mainly of cakes and facials, how could I refuse?
We didn’t really have an itinerary, but there were a couple of places we both wanted to visit and a couple of places we unexpectedly stumbled upon. Here are my highlights and recommendations, but ultimately I would suggest, if you have the means, take a trip to this wonderful part of the UK.
It did make me wonder why I go abroad…
If, like us, you hold a deep affection for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, then a trip to Chatsworth House is a must. Not the birth place of Jane Austen or historically relevant in anyway to the novel, but the location that was used to bring Pemberley, the residence of the brooding Mr Darcy, to life in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth. When Firth’s Darcy stripped off and dived into the lake in the grounds of Chatsworth, only to re-appear a few moments later, sopping wet, his white shirt flowing freely from his breeches - *blush* - his portrayal of the infamous anti-hero set many a modern day, corseted heart a flutter and, realistically or unrealistically, set the bar for many of us as to what makes the perfect man.
Chatsworth lived up to all expectations. It is not just a romantic hunting ground, a place to run around the manicured lawns in imaginary billowing skirts whilst handsome bachelors admire you from afar, it is beautifully preserved both inside and out and has a great history. We didn’t find our Darcy but we did have an amazing cream tea.
The Peak District is closed on a Monday. I think it is closed for cleaning. It is so beautiful and well kept, I can only assume that there is a silent code that you clean your area on a Monday. Sadly, this did affect our plans to visit Eyam, the plague village. I was keen to visit the museum having read the wonderful book A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks but sadly it and all the tea shops were shut. It looked very beautiful, it didn't need cleaning and unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to make a return visit.
Instead we headed to what was surprisingly a very interesting discovery, the David Mellor design Museum in Hathersage. I had never heard of David Mellor the designer - only David Mellor, ex tory MP and now DJ on Classic FM - but it turns out that in the 60’s, David Mellor the Designer designed the traffic lights that we stop at everyday, bollards, bus shelters, pedestrian crossings, benches and cutlery, what a guy?! It really made me think of the everyday things in the street that are taken for granted, somebody somewhere put a huge amount of thought into their design and functionality and that person was David Mellor. Never will I take a traffic light or a bollard for granted again.
Bakewell is too big to shut for cleaning on a Monday. It is however full of tea shops selling cake and the ubiquitous Bakewell Tart and its friendly rival the Bakewell Pudding. We saw it as our duty to sample both the tart and the pudding and I have to say that the Bakewell Pudding from Bloomers of Bakewell topped our personal league table of Bakewell baked goods.
Walking & Wildlife
One of the main activities in the Peak District is walking but, as we are soft Southerners, we were quite un-prepared and arrived without walking boots or wellies, so were restricted to a not too muddy walk that we could do in our trainers.
The gods, it would appear, were on our side and there was a wonderful walk from the little paradise of Hope Valley to the beautiful village of Castleton which was pretty much 90mins in a straight line, through perfect fields of lambs, dry stone walls and streams filled with ducklings.
It was thirsty work simultaneously walking and cooing at all the baby animals, so when we arrived in Castleton we welcomed the restorative properties of a cold pint of shandy, before we went foraging for cake for the return journey. The Ramblers Rest cafe provided us with a suitable selection from which we picked a slab of coffee and walnut and a slab of lemon Victoria sponge. They were both equally delicious and provided the essential nutrients that we required for the walk home.
Where to stay?
If you want a small, independent spa hotel in a beautiful location, with friendly staff and a super chef in the kitchen, then I can highly recommend Losehill House. The website looked fabulous, but it didn’t prepare us for the beauty and tranquility of its location within Hope Valley.
Losehill was an old Ramblers Rest and had been closed down when the first foot and mouth epidemic hit the UK in 2001. Thankfully it has been revamped and reopened, the stunning view that the hotel allows, made available to be enjoyed once again.
We started each day with a sauna and a swim in the indoor pool followed by a most luxurious hot tub experience. Sitting outside on the deck in a large wooden bowl of bubbling hot water watching the sun slowly climb over the surrounding hills, listening to the birds and the lambs, was almost ethereal.
We pampered ourselves with facials and massages, and we ate the most incredible dinners. A highlight for me was turbot with a cauliflower ‘risotto.’ I’m not a fan of menus that use inverted commas to describe an item on the menu, but I was sufficiently impressed with my ‘risotto’ to overlook the inverted commas.
And so it was we said goodbye to Hope Valley, the lambs and the hot tub. We left a few pounds heavier and coffered a few local delicacies - namely Bakewell Puddings - for the journey home. We were chilled, relaxed and, like always, invigorated by our little trip away. We didn’t find our Darcy but we did find a little piece of paradise tucked away near Sheffield. #Searchingfordarcy… the story continues ….