Family-friendly ways to explore Derbyshire and the Peak District
PUBLISHED: 16:57 11 July 2013 | UPDATED: 20:25 27 January 2016
as submitted photographers' copyright
Kate McCann suggests family-friendly ways of having a great day out in the county
What young child can resist a pile of rocks, an old, spreading tree or a cave? Aren’t they crying out to be explored? Rocks can be jumped off. Trees can be climbed. Caves can become props in imaginative games of Harry Potter or Star Wars. How wonderful to see our natural landscapes through a child’s eyes, as elaborate playgrounds offering infinite possibilities for games and adventure.
Older children, too, can benefit from time spent in the great outdoors. It is well documented that outward bound activities can do wonders for self-confidence and self-esteem, not to mention physical fitness. Ian Slade, operations director with outdoor adventure specialist Peak Pursuits, was just 13 when he and his dad walked Wainwright’s 190-mile coast to coast route across the north of England. ‘It really boosted my confidence and encouraged me to be more adventurous,’ he said.
For many Derbyshire families, the countryside is just a stone’s throw away. The Peak District offers an incredible range of opportunities for fun, exercise and even thrills. But if your children are very young and thrills are the last thing on your mind, the safe and well-managed route around Carsington Water is a good place to start. When children lose interest in the walk, the well-equipped play park will revive them. For less people and more natural interest, head to the gentle Lathkill Dale. If you start in Over Haddon and follow the wooded dale, the path eventually opens up into a beautiful rock-strewn valley, complete with a cave which breathes cool, pure air onto hot and bothered walkers.
The stepping stones at Dovedale are a perennial favourite with children and once they’ve mastered strolling along the dale, challenge them to an ascent of neighbouring Thorpe Cloud. This short sharp ascent won’t work for the very youngest children, but mine, who are primary school age, love to shoot up the hill and jump from rock to rock along the top.
Some of the best family days we’ve had in the Peak District have been at the edges. Stanage, Burbage, Froggatt and Curbar are the sheer gritstone walls of rock, backed by moorland, for which the park is famous. Further to the east, the great jagged dinosaur back of The Roaches offers endless opportunities for scrambling up rocks and weasling through gaps. If you’re new to scrambling, consider investing in a guide for a day, to teach you the basics. And remember that where your children scramble you must follow. I discovered the downside to this whilst stuck in a narrow gulley between two rocks. My children, above me, watched as my husband, below me, anchored his shoulder under my bottom and attempted to propel me upwards to safety. For some reason everyone thought this was very funny.
For terrific views and the drama of the steep escarpment, Stanage Edge is a personal favourite of Mike Pilling, founder of outdoor adventure company Focus Activities. Mike remembers his two-year-old son scrambling up a boulder here and announcing, full of pride, that he’d been rock climbing. ‘Climbing doesn’t have to be hale and hearty and steep and nasty,’ said Mike, ‘It is what you want it to be.’
If your children prefer two wheels to two legs, the family-friendly cycle routes of the Peak District offer an amazing resource, complete with ample parking, cycle hire and strategically positioned cafés and ice-cream stops. Of course, you can walk these routes and they are excellent for families with pushchairs or tiny tots on tricycles. But if you want a family cycling challenge, these routes are a good, safe way to build up cycling stamina. The Tissington Trail is particularly good for morale. It inclines gently for ten miles from Tissington to Parsley Hay and thus offers a spectacularly speedy return journey. And if your children are determined enough to cycle the nine-mile Manifold Track from Waterhouses, the owner of the café at Hulme End, the far end of the trail, will make them a fantastic ice-cream sundae. For thrill-seeking families, there are several Peak District-based companies offering professionally-led days out including scrambling and climbing at The Roaches, canoeing at Tittesworth Reservoir and caving in the old lead mines at Matlock. The general advice is that there’s a fine line between adventure and misadventure. If you want to try a new activity, let a professional teach you the basics.
Mike stresses the need for family adventure days to be tailored carefully to the needs of the children. According to Mike, if you’re planning an activity like abseiling, heading straight to the biggest rock face or nearest bridge will scare 99 per cent of people. The idea is to start with a nice, easy slope, somewhere like the Black Rocks near Cromford, and to build up confidence as the day progresses. Mike said, ‘Everyone must finish the day happy and successful.’
The last word goes to my 10-year-old daughter, Rosie. We were yomping through bouncy heather to reach a rocky outcrop at the top of Hen Cloud. ‘I wish all my class could see this,’ she said. ‘It would be so much better for them than sitting at home watching Take Me Out on TV.’ Chip off the old block.
Visit www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting for detailed information on traffic free cycle routes and You’re Welcome: A guide to the Peak District for new and infrequent visitors. Packed with family-friendly ideas and information, also found in visitor centres.
Discuss bespoke packages and activities with adventure providers. Aspire Adventures (01629 732445, www.aspireadventures.co.uk) charges around £140 for a family day. Focus Activities (01773 831327, www.focusactivities.co.uk) charges around £155. Peak Pursuits (01782 722226, www.peakpursuits.co.uk) charges £130 for two adults and two children for a half day.