Tuesday 10 June 2003

Tripping In The Peak District

Friday morning (6 June 2003) saw us packing and loading up the MPV for our next short weekend trip. This time it was to the Peak District in Derbyshire. I was hoping it could all fit in the Porsche so the drive would be more fun but no such luck; there was simply too much stuff to take. K* packed a big box of lego. After stowing it away, I checked with Jenny to make sure she had sanctioned it and found out that she had thought that I had sanctioned it. Nope. But we let K* get his way and packed it anyway.

We left at 2:30 pulling R* out of school early and wound our way up north around Birmingham, Burton-on-Trent and Derby hoping not to get stuck in the Friday rush. Jenny had never been past Warwick so this was new territory for her. I've driven as far north as York for work trips. Our goal was Yeldersley farmhouse B&B just outside of Ashbourne which is on the southern outskirts of the Peak district.

The farm is also in the middle of nowhere. After leaving the main road, you drive for a few miles down a winding single track lane with high hedges on either side. You silently pray that no car is speeding the other way and about to crash into you. After only one panic stop, we arrived safely.

It had taken four hours to get there but the kids soon sprang into action. R* was thrilled to count nine cats wandering around outside the house. There were also two hundred dairy cows. However, we only stayed long enough to drop our bags and check in before heading out for dinner.

The landlady recommended The Knockerdown pub and it turned out be perfect. It's a family pub with ostriches, donkeys, fish and a rooster. They also have a large playground. Food was alright; certainly good value. And they served Marston Pedigree which is one of my favourite beers. No surpise they've won a few awards. It was a good place to lose the stress from the days drive. It was still daylight and sunny too. At this time of year, the sun doesn't set until quarter past nine.

We had a good nights sleep and started the next day at nine with a full English breakfast which Jenny just loves. We got on the road by 10:30 and meandered our way across the dales to Cromford. The countryside is indeed very picturesque in this region. Gentle rolling hills and small valleys. Copses of trees. Stone walls. All the elements of the heavily stereotyped English countryside. Unfortunately, this lovely countryside was also playing havoc with Jennys hay fever so she suffered quite a bit.

Cromford is home to the the first Awkwright Mill which is famous for being the first powered cotton spinning mill. In this case, it was water-powered and it began production in 1775. This mill and it's technology revolutionized the textile industry worldwide and was a significant milestone in the Industrial Revolution. It's still undergoing restoration but has a great sense of place. It also gave us a chance to shock R* with tales of child labour. We bought an autobiography of a childs account of his worklife which I'm looking forward to reading to her.

After the mill we headed to the National Tramway Museum which came with many recommendations. Here they've recreated a Victorian street with original components from all over the UK complete with shops. They've also assembled together old trams from all over the world which have been refurbished and are run along the street and up to a picturesque lookout point. As predicted, K* quite enjoyed this. We wandered around the museum, had a couple of rides, did a woodland walk and a stopped at the playground. Despite a lousy lunch, it's a pretty good place to visit.

Next we drove down to the Denby pottery factory which was a real treat for Jenny. They have a huge seconds store which she poked around in for a good hour and filled four bags with bowls and mugs. Unfortunately the line of Denby mugs that we currently have has been discontinued.

Time was getting on and we had an important dinner date so we drove home to rest and then got all dressed up. Unfortunately K* suffered a rebuff from a farm cat's very sharp claw before we left and needed a lot of consoling. We patched him up and he now understands cats a bit better. 

I had been warning the children for days that we were taking them to the most exclusive restaurant we've ever taken them yet and that their behaviour had to be top notch or they would suffer dire consequences.  We drove up to Callow Hall Country House Hotel and Restaurant and met up with our friends Gareth and Denise. Gareth is an ex-colleague of mine from Microsoft who grew up in Derby. Denise is a textile artist. The hotel is small and elegant; check the website for pictures. It's one of those places where you get seated in a lounge for drinks and you place your order from there. You then go into a fancy and very, very red dining room. The British love red dining rooms. Check the website pictures.

We all had a five course dinner and the children were great. A little moaning perhaps but very good manners and great patience given that we spent three hours there. K* befriended a young woman at another table and spent most of the evening chatting her up (Rachel - a nanny turned lawyer). She knows everything there is to know about us now and probably so do a lot of other guests given K* complete inability to speak quietly. Generally the food was very good but we were not overly impressed with the main courses.

The next day, we finished another full English breakfast and then checked out. Gareth and Denise arrived to join us on a little jaunt around the area.

We drove up to Buxton getting into the heart of the Peak District. Lovely scenery. Buxton is famous as a Roman spa town and it's drinking water. You can buy bottled Buxton water all around the UK. But we didn't go there for the water, our destination was Poole's Cavern.

There's lots of detail on the website. Suffice it to say, we spent about an hour on a guided tour of the cave and the kids seemed to enjoy it. It was a different experience for them. Certainly was cold in there and it felt almost tropical coming out.

After that we drove down to Bakewell to find a late lunch. Bakewell is famouse for the Bakewell tart among other things. We found a nice enough place and eventually shared a Bakewell tart (and custard - you *always* have to have custard) for four. After lunch we poked around the shops but soon found it was getting late and we had a long drive ahead. We said good-bye to Gareth and Denise and headed home. The kids fell asleep which helped make the long trip seem shorter.

There's certainly many more things to do in Derbyshire and it's a shame we didn't manage to get to the high peak area where the scenery gets even more dramatic. Indeed the UK is littered with lots of places to see and visit so we're trying to do more of these short trips when we can get around to arranging them. More to come.

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