Darwin Forest Country Park lies in the heart of Derbyshire. Living in the Midlands, the journey there is just long enough to feel like you are going on holiday, but short enough to manage with two small children!
Upon arrival, as my husband commented, you really do feel like you are getting away from it all…set in rolling countryside, the site creeps up on you just as you start to think you might have taken a wrong turning or that, just this once, the Sat Nav was wrong!
We stumbled across this holiday destination several years ago when, after a particularly stressful few months, we needed somewhere quiet to go as a family. Since then, we have been back several times, both as a family and with groups of friends and this, our third visit, was with another family of four.
Check in is at 4pm, however, we got onto the site at 11.30am, well aware that we could have lunch in the small, onsite pub (which opens at midday) and take advantage of the soft play and other on-site facilities, extending the holiday just that little bit more!
Lunch in the pub was reasonably priced and fresh, the children’s menu has all the usual choices but does look like a miniature version of what the adults receive…It is worth noting that the pub also do a takeaway menu if you don’t fancy cooking! Fully fueled and ready to play, we took the children over to the soft play to burn off some energy. It is worth nothing that the soft play, ‘Cheeky Monkeys’ is often rather busy and there is sometimes a wait to get in…Luckily, we got straight in and immediately started the shift work as the eldest dashed off alone and the newly crawling baby was escorted by first one parent, then the other in the baby area. The ‘off duty’ parent taking the opportunity to have a coffee and a sit down. The cafe has a ‘proper’ coffee machine (always a ‘must’ for me) but the cakes were not up to much and a little disappointing…A quick scan over the menu showed they had a relatively broad selection available for adults and some healthy choices for children.
If you are lucky and keep checking in with reception, there is a good chance you might get an early check in. Our lodge was ready at 3pm which was fantastic and gave us enough time to unpack and put the kettle on to give our lodge sharing buddies a warm welcome. Another ‘top tip’ is to book an online shop before you go. We used Ocado (other supermarkets also deliver) as the on-site shop is great for essentials and some local products but the nearest supermarket is a bit of a trek away. Calling the site prior to arrival should provide you with the lodge number for ease of delivery.
Our week (well, Monday to Friday!) was spent on site, I always feel like I have had a good holiday when we haven’t had to use the car at all! There are lots of activities to keep the children busy…the swimming pool on site is small but perfectly adequate for small children. There is also a gym which can be accessed for a small extra cost. The beauty therapist on-site is a treat we didn’t quite manage this time round with a clan of small children in-tow. There is a mini-golf (a little ‘tired’ looking but a fair enough challenge!) and an orienteering course (small extra cost). The ‘Trim Trail’ and woodland walks were done each day as we were lucky enough to have cold and crisp winter weather. The little park next the pub had been re-vamped since our last visit a few years ago and kept our older children (6 and 7 years old) amused for quite a while. There is also a lovely little stream on-site which I imagine becomes a popular picnic spot in warmer weather. There is a tennis court and ‘Activity Den’ for older children with pool tables, table tennis, air hockey and the dreaded arcade games.
We didn’t manage to sample all the site had to offer (there was also the opportunity to hire bikes) as the children were happy with the vast array of arts and crafts supplies we had carted along with us, a swim, the odd soft play and the ‘Trim Trail’. There are lots of local attractions nearby, Chatsworth House, the Heights of Abraham and Guliver’s Kingdom to name but a few so adaptations can be made for families with children of any age.
I would say though that this is the friendliest holiday site I have come across. The site staff were plentiful and couldn’t do enough to help, both before we arrived and upon arrival. One example was the fact that the travel cots and highchairs (pre-ordered when we booked) were missing when we arrived in our lodge. I flagged down a passing member of maintenance staff who immediately reassured me he would pass on the message to the relevant member of staff. Ten minutes later, the problem was solved! Reception Staff were also friendly and chatty with the children.
As I mentioned, this was our third trip and I doubt it will be our last…for those of you looking for a more ‘reasonably priced’ Centre Parcs type holiday, this is the one for you! Lodges are more spaced out than at CP, cost is less and there is also the option to book a lodge with a hot tub to make the holiday that little bit more luxurious. Each time we have been, we have returned feeling refreshed. This was a little more of a challenge this holiday after a midnight dash to a local A&E with a poorly 9 month old so if we can return still feeling relaxed after that incident, that tells you something!
NB: This is a Guest Post by Rachel. All the views are her own and they have not been paid to visit the site on any of the three occasions they have visited.
NB: Photos from Darwin Forest Country Park Website due to said poorly baby!