As I still own the copyright to the article I wrote for the Beautiful Britain family travel writing competition, I thought I’d post it here on my blog just so I have it for posterity. It is also published on the Have A Lovely Time website along with the runner-up submissions.
So here it is, for anyone who missed it:
“This Way to the Devil’s Arse”
Like most 10 year old boys, my son was mightily impressed by this sign indicating the way to Peak Cavern and the largest natural cave entrance in the British Isles.
After the obligatory photo shoot, involving Dad bending over so the big arrow was strategically pointing just below his hitched-up cagoule, we spent a fascinating hour or so in the enormous cave, discovering its history by tagging along behind a group of fidgety school children.
This was just one of the highlights of a family break in the Peak District, a breathtakingly beautiful National Park offering a wide spectrum of attractions suitable for all ages and, importantly, weather conditions. Peak Cavern was the ideal spot to dodge the rain, coupled with its close neighbour, Speedwell Cavern, where we took a fascinating journey by boat to explore its underground passageways. It was still raining when the boat trip ended so I naturally took shelter in the gift shop to pick up a piece of Blue John stone, a mineral unique to the Peak District caverns.
We were self-catering in one of a number of apartments developed from the old Pump House of the Ladybower Reservoir. The reservoir, a stone’s throw away, is part of the Derwent Dams, and we were able to evoke a sense of history by telling our son how the RAF’s 617 Squadron, “The Dambusters” used to practise their low-lying flying techniques over these very waters before their successful mission in Germany with Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bomb.
We couldn’t fault the location of the apartment; in the countryside, overlooking the lake and hills and a short stagger from an excellent family-friendly pub on the other side of the road. Somehow my provisions of microwave rice, quick cook pasta and suckable yoghurts were overlooked when we had the delights of steak pie, battered fish and spotted dick with custard to tempt us in the evening. In my experience plenty of fresh air requires a big feed afterwards.
When the sun eventually appeared, we made the most of the blue sky and headed for Matlock Bath, a fashionable spa town of the 19th century which, with the advent of the railway bringing hundreds of day-trippers, became the very popular resort it still is today. One of its attractions, the Heights of Abraham, is a hilltop park on the steep slopes of Masson Hill, reached by an impressive cable car which rises above the valley. Son was keen to have a go but it was only when we were dangling over the valley, the car swinging from side to side as it stopped for people to take photos, I discovered my husband suffers from a type of vertigo brought on by ‘things high up hanging from thin wires’. As he turned white and began to whimper, I distracted our son with plenty of oohs and aahs as we looked out of the window. A restorative cappuccino was supped at the top of the hill before we considered the return journey; in the end I accompanied my son in the cable car and we waved to the vertiginous one who fought his way through the scrub to descend the hill on foot.
Bang goes our future skiing holidays.
For a more relaxed day out Chatsworth House was also well within reach for a day trip; its house and gardens were quite spectacular. As Chatsworth had been used to represent Pemberley in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice I was rather hoping my husband would do the decent thing and leap into the lake, so he could come out all wet shirt and breeches like Mr Darcy in that infamous scene. Despite the fact that he was keen to appear macho after the debacle of the previous day, he refused, muttering something about not having a towel and it being a bit chilly.
Back at the apartment, an hour of lolling in front of the television before the nightly trip across the road to the pub. A pint of real ale, some rib-sticking hearty dishes and a log fire to sit beside. With ruddy cheeks and aching calves we stretched, yawned and headed back to bed.
It’s a long, tiring but enormously satisfying day when you’ve been to the Devil’s Arse and back.