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Peak party people

great view_new

Checking out our walking route on the map beside a great view

Want to go with a large group of friends for a long weekend of walking, cycling and partying? Sarah Merry found just the place in Derbyshire’s Peak District

It was Friday evening when I arrived at lodge number 23, Darwin Forest Country Park (www.pinelodgeholidays.co.uk), my car loaded with groceries. Twenty friends had signed up for a Peak District party weekend, and I’d promised to organise dinner on the first night.

We had a huge Mexican buffet of chicken fajitas, salad and potatoes plus a Mexican tomato and bean bake for the vegetarians. The food disappeared almost as soon as it was cooked. By 11pm everyone had been fed, and plans for the next few days had been made.

Saturday began with a bacon and egg breakfast to see off the hangovers, and the group split into walkers and cyclists for the day.

The park – close to the village of Two Dales, near Matlock, Derbyshire – is a great base for exploring on foot, and on two wheels or four. There are attractions for all ages and interests.

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At Matlock Bath, the cable car takes you up The Heights of Abraham (www.heightsofabraham.com) to explore underground caverns, wander woodland trails and simply to stand still, enjoying fantastic views of the Peak District. You can visit Chatsworth House (www.chatsworth.org) or see the scenery in style by taking a ride on the Peak Rail steam train between Matlock and Rowsley (www.peakrail.co.uk). There are so many walking trails that it’s easy to find a route to suit a wide range of fitness levels. Some of the trails will take you to villages and towns, while others will keep you in the hills and well away from civilisation.

There are plenty of opportunities for beginner or intermediate level cyclists. Some of the smaller roads running over Brampton East Moor to the east side of Chatsworth are suitable for cycles and have very little traffic. For our weekend away we had packed walking boots and bikes with every intention of using them regardless of anything the weather might throw at us.

Our walk took us around a nine-and-a-half mile circuit connecting the country park with the villages of Winster and Rowsley. En route we met ostriches at a farm and trekked through hills and woodland covered in purple heather. Using carved footholds and hand rings we climbed to the top of Cork Stone on the edge of Stanton Moor. Later on, we came across the Bronze Age Nine Ladies Stone Circle burial site, a site of historical interest and home to Norwegian fallow deer, badgers and rare breeds of bat.

In Rowsley we discovered Caudwell’s Mill (www.peakdistrictproducts.co.uk/caudwell), which is run by a trust and has craft workshops and a gallery. I couldn’t resist popping into the Mill Flour Shop to buy buckwheat flour: pancakes were on the menu for Sunday’s breakfast. This working mill produces additive-free flours, including wholemeal, rye and spelt. We treated ourselves to fresh coffee and delicious cakes in the mill’s cafe before taking a river route back to our base.

While we trekked up hill and down dale, the cyclists in our group biked through Darwin Forest and along a small trail leading down the valley. Following the river path up to Darley Bridge and then along a railway track, they took a circular route back to the country park where some of us took an early evening dip in the pool before visiting the Forester’s Inn for dinner and a couple of pints to round off our day.

The cycling group set out on day two to tackle what they later described as ‘great descents down the valley into Chatsworth House grounds and a swift ride up a back lane into Bakewell for a pudding!’ We walkers drove to Carlton Leys and walked across the hills and plantations to Bakewell, where we sat by the river to enjoy takeaway bacon and egg rolls from the Bakewell Pudding Parlour (www.postapudding.com) while watching the ducks.

On our last morning we went to the Peak Village Outlet shopping centre (www.peakvillage.co.uk) at Rowsley, where there’s a farmers’ market on the third Saturday of every month.

Whether you’re a keen cyclist or hiker, enjoy visiting beautiful houses and gardens, need to entertain the children or just want to go shopping, this part of the Peak District has it all. The country park had plenty to occupy us when we weren’t out and about walking and cycling off the calories from that Mexican buffet.

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