Spring and Winter walking in Dovedale with HF Holidays
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Silver Travellers who follow
my reports on walking holidays will know that I can’t resist any opportunity to
explore unfamiliar terrain on foot. But
there are a few provisos. No serious
slopes (especially downhill). No basic
accommodation. And definitely no
subsistence rations. I may enjoy
walking, but I also enjoy my creature comforts.
So the chance to join a
friend on an autumn break to the Peak District sounded perfect. Run by outdoor specialists HF Holidays, our
three-night adventure was part of their Spring and Winter Walking programme,
and offered scenery that’s hilly rather than mountainous, comfortable
accommodation, and plenty of good food in convivial company.
Base for our long weekend
was The Peveril of the Peak, one of 18 country houses operated by HF around the
UK. Nestled at the end of long tree-lined drive, it was once part of the Trust House Forte hotel group, with most of the 47 rooms being added in 1965. The
following year, Peveril of the Peak was home to the German World Cup squad,
being equidistant between Hillsborough and Villa Park where the group matches
This was my third HF
experience and both Derwent Bank in Cumbria and West Lulworth House in Dorset
had been recently refurbished when I visited. Peveril of the Peak is still on HF’s To Do List with a distinctly ‘70s
air. But – and it’s an important ‘but’ –
it still makes an excellent walkers’ hotel.
The standard rooms are large (Premium rooms available too), blissfully quiet and with supremely comfortable beds, so after a day in the fresh Derbyshire air, deep sleep was almost guaranteed. Our bathroom was small but boasted a bath with shower over. Other amenities included a welcome tray, efficient WiFi, and – though we never found a use for it – a traditional trouser press! Across the courtyard, a drying room for boots and coats meant that no Peak District mud found its way indoors. And for fine days, there are gardens to enjoy and even a tennis court.
You’ll meet many
long-standing customers on any HF holiday, largely attracted by the choice of
walks on offer. Here in Dovedale, low
season walkers have a choice of two each day - just sign up the night before
after a briefing by the walk leaders. And
for those with more than a long weekend to spare, there’s the option of a
4-night midweek option or a full week.
Dovedale lies at the
southern end of the Peak District National Park, just north of Ashbourne in the
glorious Derbyshire Dales. Head out of
the hotel’s back door and a short walk across a cattle meadow takes you to the
foot of Thorpe Cloud, a conical limestone outcrop that was once a coral reef on
the seabed. Follow the footpath down Lin Dale on the east side and you come to
the much-photographed stepping stones across the tranquil river Dove.
Arriving early afternoon
on Friday, we joined a short orientation walk around Thorpe village as the sun
went down across fields separated by traditional drystone walls. Here cattle grazed on the undulations of
Medieval ridge-and-furrow agriculture, the landscape barely touched in
centuries. Then it was back in time for
dinner with free-seating at large round tables, where the first question is
always ‘Have you been with HF before?’ The answer is invariably yes, a great ice-breaker as people swap stories
about locations and experiences.
Food is always plentiful
on an HF break. A buffet breakfast with
cooked options; lunchtime sandwiches or salads to pack in your rucksack along
with pick-your-own snacks; and a three-course home-cooked dinner with three or
four choices at each course. Gluten Free
guests are spoilt for choice, and other diets can be accommodated, given
Spring and Winter Walking
breaks offer a modification on HF’s usual lunch arrangements. At Dovedale, we were offered flasks of hot
soup - plus the snack table - instead of sandwiches, both our walks finishing
early afternoon in a tea room for copious cakes and sandwiches, all pre-booked to
await our arrival.
After a sunshine start on
Friday afternoon, opening the curtains on Saturday morning was a shock to the
system. Despite being only late
October, flurries of snow swirled across the fields outside our window. But fortunately we had layers. Many of them. And hats, gloves and scarves. The snow didn’t settle but although a chill
breeze came and went throughout the day, nothing could spoil the scenery
between Lathkill Dale and Bakewell.
We chose the longer
option which began with a minibus transfer to the village of Birchover on
Stanton Moor before winding for nearly nine miles around Youlgreave and Over
Haddon, partly on The Limestone Way. We
loved the mix of woodland paths, riverside trails and typical stone villages in
a landscape so very different from our home patch. Buzzards called overhead and at one point we
were thrilled to pass close to a herd of magnificent Longhorn cattle – gentle
giants I know, but still quietly grateful for the solid wall between us. Sturdy
walking boots are a must, but there was nothing on this route to challenge any
The walk finished in
Bakewell and after doing justice to the cake selection in a cosy cafe, there
was time to explore the retail and heritage opportunities of this buzzing
riverside community. By the end of the
day, I had smugly clocked up nearly 26,000 steps on my trusty step tracker and
was more than ready for dinner.
Sunday’s walk began in
Ashford-on-the-Water for the 6-mile group and in Bakewell for those of us choosing
the 10 mile option, both parties following the same route from Monsal Viaduct to
Tideswell. Built in 1863 on the Derby to
Manchester section of the Midland Railway, the 300-foot viaduct has five
50-foot spans and is today a highlight of the Monsal Trail which also features long
(illuminated) tunnels, converted
stations, and changing views of mills, hills and valleys.
The only drawback with
this family-friendly route is its popularity. On a sunny October Sunday in half-term, it was busy with amblers,
ramblers and cyclists, and it was only when we struck out across country to
Tideswell and our second tea, that we felt we were really exploring the
But HF respond well to
constructive feedback so this particular walk may move to a quieter weekday on
future breaks. At the time we visited,
guests staying on for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were scheduled to explore
Wetton & Ilam; High Peak Trail & Carsington Water; and the Central Dove
Valley, a pub lunch replacing afternoon tea on some routes. Monday is a free day when you can either
walk independently using laminated route cards available in the Discovery Point
that features in all HF country houses, or explore by car.
At the end of the two
days, I’d covered some 20 miles, clocked up more than 52,000 steps, and filled
my lungs with some wonderful fresh Derbyshire air. Mission accomplished in my book. Now where next ...?
Silver Travel Advisor
recommends HF Holidays.
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