Spring and Winter walking in Dovedale with HF Holidays

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.

HF Holidays 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 were held.

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. 

HF Holidays 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. 

HF Holidays 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.

HF Holidays 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 advance notice.  

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.

HF Holidays 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 regular rambler.

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. 

HF Holidays 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 countryside. 

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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Gillian Thornton

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