We had yet another rather big birthday in our house recently. I make no secret of my age; turning 50 a couple of Christmases ago on a plane to New York was a brilliant moment, and I’m very happy with where I am in life from that point of view. At the beginning of September though, it was Jason’s turn to hit the half century milestone, and we wanted to do something special for him.
I’d been talking to Darwin Forest about a stay in one of their luxury lodges, so when they got in touch to invite us to stay at their sister site, Sandybrook, in a hot tub lodge, I knew this was the weekend for it. Of course, I totally blew the surprise, because I was too excited to keep it to myself, but for my husband, half the fun of a holiday is in the planning, so I knew he’d enjoy checking out the website, and the activities there. We set off from St Albans at around 3pm on Friday afternoon, and by 6 I was happily sipping Prosecco in our private hot tub – well, birthdays should be celebrated by everyone, right?!
The first thing you notice about the lodges at Sandybrook is the space. If you’ve stayed in a mobile home before (think Eurocamp, or Canvas) you’ll know that they’re usually comfortable, but functional. Close yourself into a bedroom to put on sunscreen and you’ll make a nice pattern of bump marks to clean off the wall by the end of the week! Whilst Sandybrook’s lodges have the feel of a mobile home, the space is very far from caravan-like. In fact, where we now opt for three bedrooms on our annual sun holidays so the kids don’t have to share (at 11 and 14 privacy is becoming increasingly important), at Sandybrook they immediately picked the best twin room as theirs.
We had two sofas, an electric fire to cosy up around in the chillier evenings, and a good sized dining table for our meals. I had something rather special planned for the next day, when we were celebrating properly, but for that first evening we’d been recommended Anayas indian restaurant by my friend Penny (owner of her own charming guest house airbnb in the Peak District, Mayfield Hideway), and we were soon settled in with a lovely takeaway and one of the very up to date DVD’s available to hire at Sandybrook’s reception. (I wanted Ladybird but I was out-voted, and settled for Wonder Woman!)
Celebrating the big day in beautiful surroundings
The birthday celebrations began in earnest first thing the next day, with a champagne breakfast on our deck. Being in the Peak District you’re at the mercy of the weather, but I’ve always found the Peaks climate and scenery to be as soft as it is lush. So when we woke to thick fog I didn’t worry too much. The forecast was good, and we sipped fresh coffee, and ate waffles as the mist burned off, bringing the trees out of hiding.
After we’d feasted (and taken another dip in the hot tub!) we set off on the 30 minute walk into nearby Ashbourne. A pretty track took us right into town, via some lovely views, and some spooky tunnels that were just begging to be sung in! There’s a bike hire shop at the end of the track closest to Ashbourne, so if you’re in the town on a dry day, this is a lovely way to see the area.
Ashbourne is a lovely little town, full of thrift shops and pubs – exactly what you need for a weekend away in the English countryside. There’s also an incredibly cool gin boutique where I had to be talked out of spending quite a lot of money – Parma Violet gin, anyone?! After a browse and a wander, we settled in the very dog-friendly pub, the George and Dragon (although everywhere in the Peaks seems to be dog-friendly). The kids were tickled with all the dog jokes painted up around the bar, and we refuelled on some nachos and the best chips in the world ever. Fact.
We’d made Jason wear his giant flashing 50 badge, and so a steady stream of well-wishers chatted to us, and offered to take our photographs. I’d forgotten how friendly people up north are. It made me want to go back.
By the time we got back to our lodge, Jason was beginning to wonder what on earth we were doing for dinner, given that there was no food in the fridge, and I’d said we weren’t going out. I pointed him in the direction of the hot tub, with a glass, and waited for our private chef to turn up. I’m not actually kidding – I’d booked Karl, from La Belle Assiette, to come and cook a fantastic three-course meal for us. Take a look at our private chef review to see more on that! All that remained for us to do was finish off the champagne, then glam up for our posh dinner at home. Talking of which, how glam are the mirrors in our Sandybrook lodge?
The beautiful Peak District
The next day we decided on a good long walk, to exercise off all the delicious calories, and blow away the cobwebs. We started at Dovedale, where the rather idyllic stepping stones lead you to miles of unspoilt countryside, hills, trees, and yes – more pubs!
For Sunday lunch we chose the Old Dog at Thorpe, where American diner style burgers and hot dogs made an incongruous, but excellent meal in an old English pub setting, complete with interesting beers, and a rhubarb cider. Four hours later, and after several wrong turns, we finally landed back at base camp, where we dived straight back into the hot tub!
Things to do at Sandybrook lodges
The next morning, once we’d torn ourselves away from our comfortable beds and hot tub (honestly, we could easily have stayed in it all weekend), we went to check out what else there was to do on site at Sandybrook. As well as the lovely pool and hot tub, there were a variety of activities we could have booked to keep the kids busy.
As well as the pool and table tennis, there’s a lovely mini-golf course for families to play – just hire clubs and balls at reception. There’s also a really well-equipped games room where I imagine teenagers would have the best fun hanging out after hours, when they’re bored with all the adult champagne and hot tub action back at their lodge…
The one thing we didn’t experience at Sandybrook was the on-site restaurant, the Coach House, (I swear it was the lure of the hot tub), and I’m gutted. Just look how pretty that courtyard is! Open every evening, and some lunchtimes, the Coach House serves a lovely traditional menu, as well as offering takeaway pizza, fish and chips, and burgers. Perfect for when you want to stick on your pj’s and chill out at your lodge. Did I mention the hot tub..?
Disclosure: we were invited to stay as guests of Sandybrook, in return for an honest review. All opinion is my own, and images are subject to copyright.