A spring family weekend break in the Peak District sounded perfect. We (me and my 4-year-old son) were booked in to Dove Farm, a great-sounding working farm at the foothills of the Peaks.
First of all how to get there? My son loves nothing better than a long car journey, unless it’s a long train journey – he gets fed continuous snacks, manages to look at comics in peace and is allowed to impose his musical taste on his ‘more compliant than usual’ mother. Best of all he isn’t forced to walk anywhere other than the occasional Welcome Break.
So all was good when we set off; the sun was shining, we had Horrid Henry on a loop on the CD and the traffic was light for a Friday afternoon. Only one small mishap (reversing a tiny bit off the North Circular flyover!) and my usual panic attack at finding myself sandwiched between thundering trucks on the M1 and the rest of the journey was smooth sailing.
We arrived late in the afternoon when the setting sun was creating a pink glow over the pretty village of Ellastone, a few miles outside of Ashbourne. Dove Farm consisted of an attractive farmhouse and several low brick buildings around a central courtyard. These were the old cattle buildings that have been cleverly converted into self-catering cottages.
Dove Farm is a perfect place for group holidays as families can hire the different cottages, so they can get some private space and yet all be together. There is a large dining room, separate from the cottages, where the adults can meet after the children have been put to bed for some adult time, within listening distance of the kids.
The cottages are very well thought out, with big, useful kitchens full of just the right amount of pans, bowls and son – unlike a lot of places that expect you to cater for a family of five with a small milk pan. It was all comfortable, clean and clever, with bunk-beds and boxes of toys for the kids and a large bed covered in cushions for the grown ups.
I of course, had forgotten to bring sufficient food to actually make use of the kitchen and we went off on a hurried supper trip to The Cock Inn at Clifton, a nice, local pub, with a Vic Reevish landlord and a couple of farmers muttering about the ‘weather to come’. Lots of good pub grub later and we were both tucked up happily.
The next morning (after another hurried food outing – this time to the very lovely Denstone café and foodhall) we were invited to have a look around the farm with Jane and Henry, the friendly proprietors, their daughter, and their volunteer Saturday boy, Sam. My own little boy loved it. Here were the chickens, ducks, sheep, calves, alpaca babies and donkeys that I had been promising him. We rootled around for eggs, (some found in strange places - an occupational hazard with free-range hens!), fed the alpacas by hand and watched the donkeys kick up their heels in their new pasture.
Sam (who wants to be a farmer when he grows up), under the careful supervision of Farmer Henry, showed my little boy how to stroke the calves properly and to watch out for the bull (very large indeed!), and how to get on to a tractor safely. My little boy was in farming heaven.
The agricultural business of the farm is split across several sites. Where we stayed, the land is all permanent pasture, leading down to the River Dove, and usually filled with contented grazing animals. Information on a variety of trails and walks, as well as Derbyshire things to see and do, is supplied in the cottage.
The rest of the day turned into a bit of a Keystone disaster. Chatsworth House was shut for filming, and ther food halls were filled with disgruntled, Barbour-wearing visitors, all making up for their disappointment at missing the splendour of Chatsworth with a small hand-made Simmel cake and a couple of jars of pâté.
We moved on quite swiftly. I’d promised my son a steam train, so we set off across the beautiful countryside towards the station. But we were out of season for that one and for the next one too – we’d crossed quite a lot of the National Park by this time. I at last found an open station and we ran through the slashing rain to the platform,(the worst storm of this winter was just beginning to make its presence felt). Instead of a lovely little Peak Rail train, we found the regular Matlock-Derby train service pulling in. My son was desperate for a train, so I bought a return and we sat on the local train all the way to Derby and back. It wasn’t quite the trip I’d been hoping for, but my son seemed to enjoy it…
We made our way back to London the next day after a visit to the exotic bird and small animal park at Whinstone, Blackbrook Zoological Park, where my son watched the pelicans feeding and ran around the beautiful collection of birds in great excitement.