Sunday, January 17, 2010

Feeling Peakish (or How We Found an Austrian Café in England)

As fall wound down in mid-October, KT and I were looking for one more outdoor adventure. We considered going back to the lovely Lake District where we had so much fun in 2008, but it’s a 6 hour drive and that seemed a lot for a long weekend. So we finally visited the closer Peak District, which has an equally strong reputation for beautiful countryside and great pubs, minus the lakes and crowds. We weren’t disappointed.

The Peak District is only about 3 hours north of Cambridge so we got a good start after work Friday night making it to Derby (pronounced Darby), where we relaxed with an Indian dinner and a visit to the Brunswick Inn, which is actually a brewpub—although they also carry an impressive array of other folks’ beers. The building was part of a complex of shops and housing built in 1842 for the local railroad company’s men.

Derby is on the southern edge of the Peak District so the next morning we quickly reached our initial destination of Bakewell, home to the famous tart that bears the village’s name. In fact, we parked next to one of the several shops that claim to have the most authentic version of the pastry. I don’t think either of was that impressed—give us doughnuts instead But we did make a more exciting food discovery, a café specializing in coffees and sausages imported from Vienna. Given KT’s dad makes and once sold his own sausages, we were obligated to “study” the café’s products (right). Mmmm.

After that we obviously had a need to get to our hotel and start walking. But on our drive there, we found another distraction: beautiful Haddon Hall, a medieval manor that ranks among the finestin England and whose grounds we thought me might be able to stroll—but most of the grounds weren’t open to the public. Still, we had an amusing encounter as we left—a Range Rover pulled up to the gate with a distinguished-looking couple and many fluffy dogs. When we later looked at the Haddon Hall brochure we confirmed our suspicions: it was the lady and lord of the manor.

After checking into our hotel in the middle of the countryside, we dashed over to a nearby Hartington, one of the local Peak District villages whose past success was largely driven by the making of Stilton cheese. The Hartington creamery, however, was recently closed and the village's famous cheese shop, in a cute stone building, that was closing soon we sadly learned. (But I’m excited to see on the shop’s website that someone apparently bought the shop and has turned it into a cheese, wine and ales shop!). On the edge of town, we took what I think ranks as one of the most beautiful walks we’ve had in England. It went from lush rolling hills to a wooded path where the colorful autumn leaves were falling into the accompanying stream (below) to another valley floor path where sheep were grazing on the hillsides. Throw in the setting sun and it was a superb stroll.

The next day opened grey and cloudy but we decided to press ahead with plans to take a 15 mile cycling trip. Not far from the hotel are two old railroad lines that have been converted to paths for walkers and cyclists. We rented bikes and headed out one for an hour or so, then went off the trail to cut over to the other one. Now the first part of this detour was fun, as we sped down, down, down into a valley floor that was of the village of Parwich. By that point, we, of course, had to stop at the local pub for a water break, which somehow ended up involving several of the pub’s local ales. The break was well worth it if only to see one of the locals walking her dog AND cat. Yes, the cat followed her just like the canine. Then it was time to press on, and the next 30 minutes was tough—hmm, those beers may not have been the best idea—as we inched up, up, up to the next cycling trail and made our way back to the starting point.

That evening, we made our way in the dark over winding roads to Monsal Head Hotel,which had an enthusiastic review in the Good Pub Guide. The menu had us salivating but the restaurant was full--a temporary crisis as we learned we could have the same delicious food in the adjoining Stable Bar, which luckily happened to have a table open right next to the roaring fire. The only downside to the evening was the darkness prevented us from seeing what's supposed to be an impressive view of Monsal valley. The next morning, we were able to sneak in one final walk (right) before we reluctantly headed back to Cambridge. As I write this and relive the weekend, I’m aching to get back to the Peak. --JT

Our Peak District weekend photoalbum