‘You can tell when you absolutely love something from the heart from your instagrams,’ said my friend Becky ‘I know you always see the good in the places you go and choose places you think you will love, but when you completely, utterly feel at home somewhere I can always tell.’
There is always subtext in the words we write, but I guess I hadn’t always realised how much. Becky was right, I fell headlong for Darwin Forest in the glorious Peak District, and had the most transformative, wonderful weekend. Long baths, lie ins, a hot tub, easy family meal times, walks in the forest, kids building dens, reading the paper, naps, films, chatter, pottering, lots of tea and cake. I would go so far as saying I had forgotten what a weekend can be, and this reminded and refuelled me. Sometimes you need a proper break, to do nothing, switch off and get some headspace, Darwin Forest was the perfect place for that. Here’s why.
The Peak District is stunning
The Peak District is utterly magical, the scenery is breathtaking and having spent most of my life living alongside it, it feels like home. At Darwin Forest you are so close to Chatsworth, and some of the South Peak District’s most beautiful walks at Dovedale and walking cycling along the Manifold valley. You are 20 minutes from the most incredible Bakewell puddings and the pretty towns of Ashbourne, Bakewell and Matlock. Alton Towers and Gulliver’s Kingdom, the Height of Abraham, the plague village of Eyam or the Blue John Cavern in Castletown, there are so many amazing days out locally, Darwin Forest have lots more local inspiration.
Forest lodge living is easy
If I could live anywhere, it would be in a Scandi style lodge in the forest, in fact that’s what Mr A and I spent large chunks of the weekend plotting. The open plan design of the Darwin Forest lodges is brilliant, within 20 minutes of arriving we had unpacked, had the oven on and pizzas on the go while we relaxed in the living room and the kids set the table. We stayed in The Meadows, which is a secluded area with only three luxury lodges, although looking around the park, all the lodges are well spaced, high quality and surrounded by forest – if you want some extra luxury and remoteness, this is an amazing option. Throughout the weekend the kids came and went out of the French doors, which stayed open all weekend, yet it stayed cosy indoors, we never do that at home as our Victorian house is always chilly. The Skyline lodge let so much light in, alongside the wooden walls it really did feel so uplifting to be cocooned in nature like this.
Soothe away the stresses
Water is so calming, I loved the big bath tubs which called out for a Friday wind down bubble bath with prosecco or a Sunday morning laze with the paper, to the hot tub which we spent every spare moment chatting away in. From the hot tub on our deck we could also see across to the forest where the kids could play safely without supervision.
Being in nature makes people happier
All sorts of research has shown it, but I know I am happy the moment I set foot somewhere green. Darwin Forest lodges are set in the forest, with access to a forest trail, nature walks and wild flower meadows. I loved our family walks through the forest, my Sunday morning run, our lakeside walk, but it was the view from our bedroom of the wildflower meadow that made me most insanely happy. Snapping pictures of mushrooms, buttercups, trees = my favourite kind of photos.
The perfect place for all ages
We have family nearby who popped by to say hello, the kids had a brilliant time building dens in the wood, while the grown ups chatted in the hot tub. It was the perfect place for multi-generational adventures.
Loads of activities
With Pokemon Go just released, Mr A decided to test it out and caught his first Pokemon in Darwin Forest, it was also a really safe place to let the kids have a little go, but ultimately we came to be tech free, and it was so easy to unplug here, although I can report the wifi in our lodge was great, but phone coverage is patchy, so plan ahead.
Darwin Forest has plenty of things to break up a lazy day relaxing, because lets face it, kids aren’t quite as good at doing nothing as grown ups on holiday. What I really loved was that there weren’t too many distractions either, so they were more than happy to do plenty of what modern kids need to do, play outdoors. When ours were ready to take a break from building dens in the woods, we enjoyed swimming, mini golf, tennis and there is a Trim Trak around the edge of the park, with climbing wall, monkey bars and a few other challenges.
There is Little Monkeys indoor soft play which looked awesome, but it was too sunny to be indoors during our stay. Foresters Bar and Restaurant is a lovely place to relax, with a playground next to the terrace. There is a good quality shop where mine bought bouncy balls, a frisbee and art supplies and we stocked up on food, drink and treats.
There are lots of new activities to try this summer too:
People keep coming back for more…
I thought this was so lovely, a fairy tree which visitors have hung mementoes on, many of whom have returned for a second, third or more visit. Darwin Forest clearly captures people’s hearts.
I’ve stayed in a few lodge parks, this has to be the most relaxing, there was a real sense of peace and quiet and not so many options that you end up worrying that you might be missing out. So there you have it, windows into a perfect weekend spent in Darwin Forest Country Park, in the Peak District, and windows into my heart, which is so much happier for having unwound in this stunning setting. This would be my go to place for a local weekend escape and my dream base if I was visiting to explore the Peak District for a longer visit.
A couple of people asked me about dogs, we couldn’t find a weekend at late notice that had a dog friendly lodge for Max, but dogs are very welcome in some lodges and I saw lots of happy dogs enjoying the woodland walks.
More questions? These FAQs are really useful, or leave me a comment or tweet @pennyalexander_ and I will let you know. Don’t just take our word for it, check out Kate Take 5’s review, we met up with her and her lovely family to show her Dovedale when she came over from Ireland, and my fellow Space in Your Case writer, Katie, at Mummy Daddy Me made the most of a Winter break in the forest too and visited Chatsworth at Christmas, a magical thing to do.
Pin it to your travel bucket list!
Disclosure – we were guests of Darwin Forest, opinions remain my own.