A weekend exploring the Peak District with kids

The Peak District is a national park in Derbeyshire, central England, but spans six counties in total. Jane Austen famously wrote in her romantic novel, Pride and Prejudice, ‘there is no finer county in England than Derbyshire’.

Views from the climb up Thorpe Cloud

Views from the climb up Thorpe Cloud

To date we haven’t seen a great deal of the UK with the kids as we have been favouring overseas travel instead but with some large overseas trips booked up for the next year, we decided to fill the gaps with some local travel during the weekends.

We wanted somewhere within a couple of hours of us because any longer and it eats into the weekend. As the summer had finally arrived we wanted to get out into nature. The Peak District seemed like it would fit the bill.

When it came to the accommodation, we wanted somewhere with a pool because, well, who doesn’t want a pool?! We came across Landal Sandybrooks near Ashbourne which sounded like a cheaper version of CentreParcs.  We couldn’t have been more pleased with the accommodation, but I will go into that in more details in my review of Sandybrooks.

Sandybrook Lodges - our accommodation for the weekend

Sandybrook Lodges – a well located resort for a weekend break

Friday: Heading up to the Peak District

Our weekend started when we picked the kids up after school on a Friday. Within 5 minutes the kids had fallen asleep which was fine by us because we knew they’d be super excited to meet new friends when we got there and it would be a late bedtime for them.

We live close to London and the drive to Ashbourne was pretty easy – straight up the M1 most of the way. In normal traffic it should take about 2 hours making it a great weekend destination but because of Friday traffic and roadworks, it took us closer to 3 hours to get there. This did include a detour for some food when the kids woke up though!

When we got there we checked in quickly and went to the lodge to unload the car. One of the great things about Sandybrook is that you have parking spaces outside your lodge which makes coming and going and unpacking and packing easier! We were sharing with one other family of 4 so we chose a 4 bed lodge with 2 bathrooms and there was plenty of space. In our review of Sandybrook we’ve included tips on which lodges are the best for views etc.

A typical lodge at Sandybrook

A typical lodge at Sandybrook

After unpacking we went off for a swim.  They have a small pool with a depth of about 60cm and a larger pool.  Another great thing about Sandybrook is that it never felt very busy, even though most of the lodges were occupied. The pool area was completely empty at 6pm.

It was a beautiful evening with a gorgeous midsummer light and so, not knowing whether the nice weather would continue over the weekend, we decided to hop out of the pool, dry off in record time and head to Dovedale Stepping Stones. From Sandybrook it took us about 12 minutes to get to the car park. If you are heading to the stepping stones it is about another 600m on foot. It took us 15 minutes with the kids stopping to look in the River Dove that runs alongside the path.

Having taken a last minute decision to visit the stepping stones, we were totally unprepared. The boys were in flip flops and we didn’t have jumpers so we didn’t climb up the Thorpe Cloud. Instead, we just walked up a little way and were treated to views of the surrounding vale bathed in gorgeous early evening sun. Despite George’s inappropriate footwear it didn’t stop him from trying to climb up a small rock face. We promised that we would return the next morning for a proper adventure so the boys were happy to soak up the last of the day’s sun while debating who would get to the top of the hill first the next day.

We noticed that there were a few people still at the top of Thorpe Cloud but there was nobody around the Stepping Stones so it seems 8pm is a good time to go if you want to get pictures without people in them.

Catching the midsummer evening sun at Dovedale Stepping Stones

Catching the midsummer evening sun at Dovedale Stepping Stones

We headed back to the lodge and put the boys straight to bed and enjoyed an evening with our friends with all of the kids safely tucked up. We might have stayed up a little late catching up so the 6.00 am wake up the next morning was brutal. Nothing a strong coffee couldn’t fix though.

Saturday : A walk around Dovedale Stepping Stones and up Thorpe Cloud

On Saturday we were lucky with the weather so we had breakfast outside on the balcony. We were also lucky to have nice neighbours who were up with their kids. Although there is a feeling of privacy with each lodge, a 7am breakfast with excitable kids is probably not everyone’s idea of a relaxing wake up call.

Early morning breakfast outside on the veranda of our Sandybrook Lodge

Early morning breakfast outside on the veranda of our Sandybrook Lodge

After breakfast we set off for Dovedale again because, as you know, we had promised the kids and kids never forget!

We parked in the carpark which is a flat £3 charge for the whole day. Take cash with you (preferably coins) because there is no machine, just an attendant taking money from you as you drive in. We got there at about 9.30am and it was relatively empty.

Hopping across the Dovedale Stepping Stones

Hopping across the Dovedale Stepping Stones

We were able to get across the stepping stones without having to wait (the kids did a few crossings!) and then we set off for our climb up Thorpe Cloud. Our boys were 6 and 4 and I would say it was a relatively easy climb for them. In fact, they were quicker than us and for them it was a race to the top.

We sat at the top and enjoyed the views (with an obligatory snack break) because you get a beautiful 360 panorama. We were so lucky with the weather again. The hills were such a brilliant green and the skies were the bluest blue.

The summit of Thorpe Cloud

The summit of Thorpe Cloud

We set off back down and decided to have one more go over the stepping stones but by the time we reached them (11am), there were tour groups galore and we had to wait 10 minutes to cross! We would definitely recommend getting there early. If you just want to see the stepping stones, the round trip from the car park is about 1.5km. If you want to climb up Thorpe Cloud too, the loop is about 3km.

We got back to the car at 11.30 and needed to think of getting lunch. We hadn’t planned anything and phone signal was sporadic at best around Dovedale so we would recommend that you plan where to go in advance. If it is a nice day you could consider taking a picnic to eat at the top of Thorpe Cloud which we would have loved to have done if we had been more organised. However, in between signal lapses, we managed to find a good review of The George pub in Alstonefield so we headed there, about 10 minutes away.

Alstonefield is a tiny little village with a few hikers passing through but not much else. There is a little village green and the boys had a game of football while we waited for the pub to open at 12. It was a picture perfect setting and because it was such a lovely day, we grabbed a table outside. The inside looked tiny and the tables were all booked so it’s probably best to book in advance just in case the weather is not the best.

The George at Alstonefield

The George at Alstonefield

The food was made from locally sourced seasonal produce and the kids menu was small but well executed. The boys both opted for the burger. We asked for nothing in the burger but it came with salad and cheese so be sure to triple check when ordering if your kids are fussy like ours! The meals were all delicious though and hit the spot after the morning hike.

After lunch we set off for Thor’s cave. It is one of the most iconic landmarks in the Peak District and a must see if you are in the area. We drove all the way down to the bottom of the valley along a very narrow road with a steep incline which made passing oncoming cars a bit tricky. There were great views of the cave from the road though. At the bottom of the valley there was a tiny little car park which luckily had space. In hindsight it might have been better parking in Wetton and taking a different walking route to the cave.

From our parking spot there was a tarmac path for about 800m which would have been great for the kids to scoot along had we brought them – but then the path goes off and up to the caves. This is where it gets a little trickier. The kids had reached their limit from the morning exertions so we let them play in the dry riverbed with our friends and Ed and I went to check out the caves quickly.

The view across the valley of Thor's Cave

The view across the valley of Thor’s Cave

I think that the kids would have been fine with the walk up to the caves if they had not been so tired, but it is quite steep in parts and had it recently rained, it would probably be slippery and muddy. There are also parts which are quite narrow with a few steps to climb.

The cave itself is a large limestone cavern with lovely views over the Manifold Valley. It is not huge but I think our boys would have loved to explore it. If we go back, we will visit first thing in the morning when they are full of energy and there are not so many people.

We set off back to our accommodation as we had promised that the boys could explore the site and have a swim. They ended up playing in the playground and then having a game of football. We had the place completely to ourselves and with the weather being so lovely, we sat down at the picnic tables and treated ourselves to some drinks and nibbles in the sun while the kids played.

The playground at Sandybrook

The playground at Sandybrook

We rounded off the day with a last swim and then back to the lodge for their tea. It wasn’t long before they were tucked up in bed, completely exhausted from all the physical exertions of the day!

Sunday : Family bike riding around Carsington Water

On Sunday we decided to go on a bike ride rather than a walk and headed to Carsington Water which was about 15 minutes away.  It’s a large reservoir and as well as offering almost every water sport from their water sports centre, there is a really easy bike track (or an 8 mile circuit of the reservoir), a play area with different sections for different ages, a cafe, a visitor centre.

The kids hopped on and off their bikes (a lot) so it took the whole morning to get around the reservoir!

Bike riding with the kids around Carsington Water

Bike riding with the kids around Carsington Water

They even had a wildlife centre where, if your children are quiet enough, you might actually spot some wildlife .

The wildlife observation point at the wildlife centre at Carsington Water

The wildlife observation point at the wildlife centre at Carsington Water

From there we went to Ashbourne to check out their annual festival. We grabbed some street food which was quick and easy (always a winner when the kids are starting to get hangry!) and sat and watched street performers. It was a really fun and relaxing way to spend the afternoon after having done so much walking, swimming and biking.

Leaping Louie and his entertaining comedy cowboy act

Leaping Louie and his entertaining comedy cowboy act

After watching a couple of acts it was time to head back to Sandybrook to pack the car up ready to make our way home,  but not before having a final swim, a game of minigolf and a woodland walk as the boys wanted to make sure we had tried out all of the facilities. We didn’t tell them about the archery and the zorbing otherwise we would never have been able to leave!

One final check of the lodge and we set off via Anayas in nearby Ashbourne for an Indian meal which was absolutely delicious. It was a step up from your average curry house and the boys loved their chicken tikka and naan with dahl. With full bellies, we set off for home and the boys fell asleep almost immediately. It was a quick 2 hours back and we popped them straight into bed when we got home.

We are now completely smitten with the Peak District. It is a lovely place to visit with kids because of the many family-friendly trails and the scenery is so beautiful. If you want to have fun in the great outdoors with children of all ages, we definitely recommend you visit.

We will be back to tackle some more challenging walks and some of the Tissington Trail, a 13 mile former railway line that has been converted into a biking / running / walking track through the Peak District National Park which we didn’t have time for during our weekend break.

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