It’s been a hectic few weeks in our household, so our trip to Darwin Forest Country Park this weekend came at the perfect time.
Darwin Forest Country Park is a small holiday park near to the picture-postcard villages of Matlock and Bakewell, on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak District. The park has around 120 lodges, sleeping from 2 to 8 people, set in 47 acres of woodland. It’s big enough to have enough to keep you occupied on a quiet or rainy day, but not so big that it feels hectic, or crowded.
We approached Darwin Forest along winding country roads, zipping through pretty villages with names like Chinley Head and Broadbottom. I love England, don’t you?
Arriving at the park we had a great first impression – the reception staff were really friendly, and the lodges are very pretty, with a good deal more space around them than at other holiday parks you might have visited.
We were staying at Lodge 1 in The Meadow, a new development of three luxury lodges at Darwin Forest Country Park. We have stayed in plenty of lodges in our time, but The Meadow lodges are seriously spectacular. These three ultra-modern lodges are wider than others on site, with huge decks, hot tubs and what seems like acres of glass.
Inside, the wall to wall, and floor-to-ceiling windows provide a spacious, light feel, and a modern design. The lodge has a central, open-plan living space and kitchen, with large doors leading on to the deck. To each side of the living space there is a bedroom, one double, one twin. Each bedroom has its own en-suite bathroom, one with a bath and shower, and the other with a bigger, walk-in shower.
The quality of the interior is really impressive. There are solid wooden doors and oak flooring, giving a cosy, solid feel. The furniture is contemporary, with a wood-burning effect stove that throws off heat. There are flat-screen television sets in each bedroom, and the lounge has its own TV with a DVD player.
It’s worth noting that although the website says that pets are welcome, that’s not the case in The Meadow lodges. Elsewhere, though, you can take one dog per lodge, so long as they’re on a lead inside the park itself.
The beauty of staying on a site like this is that when you arrive after a two-hour drive, frazzled, you don’t need to cook. The on-site pub/restaurant, Harvester’s, serves the usual range of food, and we found it fresh, and reasonably priced.
There are plenty of other facilities for families, like mini-golf, playground, tennis courts and a trim trail that looks a bit like an obstacle course!
Opposite the restaurant you’ll find the on-site swimming pool, gym and beauty spa. Access to the pool is free, but the other facilities require a small charge. The pool is perfect for kids, and the changing facilities really clean. If you’ve forgotten your swimsuit, even though your Mum specifically said, “Hey, don’t forget your swimsuit,” then you can pick up a new one from the selection available here.
To the other side of this complex is a large play building with what looked to be a very big, very busy soft play centre, and a cafe. We popped our heads through the door, thanked the gods that our kids are now a bit too old to soft play, and backed away slowly. But if you have pre-schoolers, it’s the kind of thing that’s a lifesaver on a rainy morning!
Having said that, a bit of drizzle shouldn’t put you off getting out and about. The countryside around Darwin Forest Country Park is flat-out gorgeous, and there are countless walks and trails inside the park, and in the immediate surroundings. Within the park, there’s a very short woodland walk, and a 1-mile forest trail, both of which are suitable for even very young children.
We took one of the forest walks on Sunday afternoon, and the views over the hills were ridiculously pretty. We’d also really recommend heading to Dovedale, where you can hop on the stepping stones across the river, and don’t miss the view from Monsal Head over the Wye Valley.
Darwin Forest Country Park is within a 15-minute drive of the towns of Matlock and Bakewell, both of which make for a pretty spot of afternoon browsing – and naturally, a stop at a tea-shop for some Bakewell tart. Rude not to, right?
We didn’t get time on this visit, but Darwin Park is also really close to Chatsworth House, a great spot if you’re a fan of Capability Brown’s gardens.
After a long walk, it’s lovely to be able to head back to the lodges at Darwin Forest Country Park. Late in the afternoon, there was barely a sound to be heard on our deck, and we watched a family of rabbits check us out while we relaxed in the hot tub.
If you’re feeling in need of more entertainment, there are a range of activities available on-site. We booked archery for the girls but unfortunately it was cancelled (I assume because the weather wasn’t brilliant). There was also the option of snorkelling, fencing or even body zorbing, at different times of the week. These are at additional cost, usually around £10 per child. You can also bring along bikes, or hire them on-site.
I really liked Darwin Forest Country Park, and I thought the accommodation here was some of the cleanest and best-equipped we’ve seen. The site has many of the advantages of staying in a national park – lots of greenery, peace and quiet and proximity to some great country walks. But it’s not too big or hectic, like some of the holiday parks we have visited in the past. We also found the staff here really friendly – even on check-out when we were given some complimentary mints for the road!
Top Tips for Visits to Darwin Forest Country Park
- Some of the larger lodges (including those at The Meadow) have a washing machine in the lodge. Otherwise, there is an on-site laundromat.
- There’s no phone signal to speak of, but there are 30+ WiFi points on-site and we didn’t have any problems using Facebook, Instagram and the like during our stay. You just connect to the nearest access point as you move around the site. Access is free for guests. There are also two pay phones, handy in case of an emergency, and fixed Internet access PCs in the site reception where you can pay for Internet access at £1/15 minutes.
- There’s a grocery shop on-site selling the basics, but it’s very limited for fresh fruit/vegetables/meat. Far better to book an online delivery from Tesco or Ocado to arrive as you check in. you can call ahead to find out your lodge number to use when you book your delivery.
- Towels and linens are provided (and there are extra blankets in case you get cold) but if you want to swim, I’d suggest bringing extras – especially if your lodge also has a hot tub, you’ll likely run out of towels quite quickly.
- The lodges don’t have BBQs as standard but you can hire them for the week – there’s plenty of space on the deck if you do decide to cook outdoors.
- Each lodge has generous parking for two cars, but if you have a very large party, there’s additional parking on site near the main reception.
A 3 night weekend break in a 2-bedroom Horizon lodge costs from £475-£1,096 depending on the time of year booked. We visited for free for the purposes of this review. The other Meadow properties (Skyline and New England) have 3 bedrooms, and cost from £517 – £1219 for a weekend break. For more information, see the Darwin Forest Country Park website.