Peak District gem with great food charms Neil Sowerby
ONE-UPMANSHIP is the true prerogative of the stately home. Real class comes from an ancient inn not blowing its trumpet about the stellar names who have stayed there.
I’m not shy to mention my own sniff of noblesse oblige – back in 2005 I attended a prestige premiere of Pride and Prejudice in a private cinema in Chatsworth House. The one starring Keira Knightly, freed from the false bosom imposed by Pirates of the Caribbean (definitely not classy). It’s funny the things that stick with us cineastes. Funny, too, I can’t remember why the hell I was even invited.
There’s an outdoor commercial cinema outing for P&P in the grounds of Pemberley (sorry, Chatsworth) this summer to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s novel – and generate a tidy sum, no doubt.
During filming Keira stayed down the road at The Peacock in Rowsley, as did co-star Dame Judi Dench, who also used the 16-room hotel as her billet six years later when filming Jane Eyre at Haddon House. She took her dinner in the cosy back bar.
Dating back to 1652 and all gables and mullions and four-posters, The Peacock, was once Haddon’s Dower House. Not until the 1820s did it become an inn, dedicated to fishing on the Wye and Derwent, which join here.
The Derwent river bank adjoins the hotel’s walled garden – we picked dewy wild garlic there to take home. Across the road is Caudwell's Mill, a unique, grade II listed historic roller flour mill,open to the public. Powered by water from the river Wye, one or more mills have stood on this site for at least 400 years. Today it’s a mellow, educational attraction with artisan craftsmen selling on the same site.
And, yes, at breakfast after perfect porridge I enjoyed the best kipper of my life
So thankfully we’ve put any luvvie count behind us. No staff told us ‘whose room we were staying in’ while we were there and we never thought to ask. Too busy revelling in one of the best country hotel experiences in recent times. A wonderful mix of old and new, not stuffily resting on its laurels, the public rooms light and airy, our bedroom immensely comfortable – and it’s dog friendly. Captain Smidge, our chihuahua sidekick, settled in instantly on the sheepskin rug.
It all helps when the magnificence of the Peak District is on your doorstep, but well-honed hospitality is just as much part of the experience. Oh, and quality food, sourced from the rich raw materials all round (in this case organically reared beef and lamb from the Haddon Estate).
Head chef Dan Smith has been in the kitchen for much of what I’ll call the ‘Dench Years’ (oops celeb name drop lapse), earning The Peacock three AA rosettes. It’s amazing he doesn’t merit a mention in the Good Food Guide and the Michelin men haven’t come a calling. Our dinner was remarkably fine.
Particularly good were starters of slow cooked pork collar, smoked eel black pudding, celeriac, Pommery mustard (£12.65) and Dover sole, smoked mussel cream, wild rice, watercress, cauliflower (£15); mains of monkfish, seaweed, red wine braised oxtail, Jersey royals, morels, potato veloute (£36.55) and sea bream, crab with leek and brown shrimp ragout, spinach, celery, parsley farfalle, crab sauce (£27.95); and to conclude Casa Luker chocolate tart, blood orange, passion fruit, gingerbread (£8.60). Serious food at serious prices.
And, yes, at breakfast after perfect porridge I enjoyed the best kipper of my life.
All this sybaritic troughing demanded some exercise. Spoilt for choice of walks, we took the advice of a Youlgreave-raised friend and headed for Over Haddon (there’s a car park) to tackle Lathkill Dale, the first in Derbyshire to designated as a National Nature Reserve.
Not a demanding trek, just over four miles, but a pastoral idyll, tracing the course of the River Lathkill to the gorgeous village of Alport then ascending back to scenic real ale mecca, The Lathkil Hotel on the edge of Over Haddon.
Next day we visited one of the Peal District’s great waterside settings, the duck-haunted Sheepwash Bridge at Ashford in Water. The name? This packhorse crossing has an attached stone sheepwash: lambs were placed in the pen on one side of the river and the ewes swam across the river to get to them, while being pushed underwater by the shepherds to clean the fleece before shearing. Willows overhanging the Derwent, it’s a tranquil spot despite the proximity of the A6 Buxton-Bakewell road.
The 13th century parish church was mostly rebuilt in around 1870 but preserves examples of maiden's garlands, made to mark the deaths of virgins in the village until 1801.
Nearby Thornbridge Hall dates only from the 18th century but was radically altered in a neb-tudor style in 1897. We dropped by on the opening day of the season to check out its plant nursery and cafe, which sells bottles of the pioneering Thornbridge craft beer, most famously ‘Jaipur’, now brewed in custom-made premises near Bakewell The brewery runs one and half hour tours. Check times and prices here.
Close to the Hall is the Monsal Trail, a disused 8.5 mile length of railway track converted for leisure use. Great dog walking territory, as long as cyclists cut down the Tour de France antics.
With chihuahua in tow we were restricted from visiting the two great houses, Chatsworth and Haddon. A shame because staying at The Peacock will get you a 20 per cent discount on entry to the former and half price on the latter.
Parking charge apart, the delights of lovely Lathkill were free.
The Peacock at Rowsley, Derbyshire, DE4 2EB, 01629 733 518. Dogs welcomes in some of the rooms but not on the bed. Bowl and treats supplied. Downstairs not allowed in the public rooms apart from the hall. Double rooms from around £200 per night.
Dog-friendly Guide To The Peak District: visit this link.
Chatsworth House: 30 stately rooms, internationally renowned art collection, range of shops in The Stables and The Orangery; for youngsters, The Farmyard and Adventure Playground. Book in advance and park for free. Until October 22 House Style is a major exhibition exploring five centuries of fashion at Chatsworth, curated by Hamish Bowles, International Editor-at-Large at American Vogue. Full details, including special events throughout the year, and admission charges, visit www.chatsworth.org
Haddon Hall: Homely in comparison with Chatsworth, it was described by Simon Jenkins in England’s 1,000 Best Houses as “the most perfect house to survive from the Middle Ages”. A mile south of Bakewell, thsi grey, fortified manor house sits among woods overlooking the River Wye. For 200 years until 1921 it lay empty like some castle in a fairy tale until the Duke and Duchess of Rutland resumed residence. A must-see. Full details including admission charges, visit http://www.haddonhall.co.uk