TRAVEL: Have the glory of the Peaks all to yourself with new walking break
There it was, the most magnificent view over Matlock and the surrounding hills, with nothing to interrupt it.
No crowds with selfie sticks, zero ice cream vans, not a sound to be heard but the odd bird. We were at the top of Stanton Moor, a fascinating part of the Peak District and one that is less well travelled, judging by the lack of tourists - although there were a few hardy locals battling through the mud on their bikes.
The moor lies between Matlock and Bakewell, and is easily accessed from the doorstep of The Peacock Hotel at Rowsley. So it seems only sensible that staff there have teamed up with seasoned expert Cath Lee to offer guide-led tours around the Peaks, which feature contrasting landscapes, ancient estates and fine views.
It’s a solution for those who like to walk but don’t want to be tied up with the fuss of navigation and planning - as well as those who like to get away from some of the beautiful, but obvious and often busy, beauty spots.
Arriving at the historic hotel - formerly a manor house, a hotel since the 1830s - on a Friday night was like sinking in to a warm bath. Rooms are plush, elegant and comfortable, and we did sink into the actual bath as well. There are little touches too, like the fancy herbal teas left on our pillows.
We shook off the busy week with a glass of wine in the bar - which is centred around a gigantic roaring fire. No need for jumpers here. Dinner was everything you’d expect from a triple AA red star establishment. Miniscule fish finger sandwiches as part of the amuse bouche impressed and amused him no end, while my brill was a delicate, almost guilt-free delight. After a hearty and well presented breakfast, our party headed off. Once out of the picturesque village it is easy to relive the area’s quarrying past, stumbling across various ramshackle buildings used during industrial days, and even the last few tracks used to pull heaps of stones down the hills by horse in what must have been a brutal existence for man and beast.
There’s evidence too of ancient graffiti to wonder at- Victorian names and dates scratched into massive stones that were used as picnic stops or viewing platforms even then. It started to snow as we arrived at the Earl Grey tower, not a cafe stop but an imposing square structure built by William Pole Thornhill and dedicated to the Reform Act, although some said it was more about competing with a similar landmark at Chatsworth. A brief stop at Birchover’s Red Lion - the fine farmer’s pie comes highly recommended - and then back, through land used for farming and past the Nine Ladies. This is the best-known Bronze Age stone circle on the moor, and legend has it that nine ladies were turned into stone there for dancing on a Sunday. Another, perhaps lesser known landmark, was the curious cricket ground at Stanton in Peak. While its sloping site might make play difficult, spectators must have the prettiest views in the sport. Down the hill and ten miles was over, we headed back home refreshed, reenergised and with our favourite Peak District spots list extended once more.
Guided walk, Peacock dinner, bed and breakfast plus lunch starts at £225 per person. On April 9, the spring walk will take in contrasting landscapes of the White and Dark Peak. Autumn’s walk on October 15 will explore Chatsworth and Haddon estates.
Call 01629 733518.