Holiday Day 1: Surrey to Matlock

This year we decided on a “staycation” for our holiday. We’ll probably go aboard later in the summer, but for now the weather is pretty good and England has so much to offer. We decided on a road trip around the north western side on England, taking in the glorious countryside of the Peak District, Lake District, and Yorkshire Dales.

Setting off for the 170 mile trip to Matlock, the weather was a mixture of cloud with occasional bursts of sunlight. Pretty good driving conditions, as I hate driving in the rain. The M25 behaved itself for once as we made it past Heathrow airport inside 50 minutes, and onto the M1 in one hour ten minutes. Admittedly it was a Sunday morning, but apart from the usual slow spots it was an OK journey.

We stopped off at the Newport Pagnell services for a comfort break and a bite to eat. You’re never short of a service station on the M1, especially in the southern section, with one roughly every 25 miles. I always find motorway services pretty soul destroying. They’re full of fast foot outlets and shops selling 1980s compilation CDs. Newport Pagnell isn’t an exception. Bizarrely everyone has heard of Newport Pagnell, but only because of the service station. Before the M1 opened, it was just a mere pin prick on the Buckinghamshire map. How many folk even realise it was mentioned in the Doomsday Book as they zoom past at 70mph?

As the distances between the motorway exits increased, so the weather deteriorated. Occasional short bouts of drizzle broke up the monotony of driving. We’d stopped off in Kegworth, Derbyshire. Why? Purely for nostalgic reasons. Back in the 1980s I used to have to come here for work. Back then it was a fairly sleepy town snuggled between the East Midlands Airport and the M1. I used to stay at the Yew Lodge Hotel at the top of the town, which was a fairly standard 3 star hotel. Now the place has become gentrified, with a large extension and a Marco Pierre White restaurant. The town still has a few nice pubs and some smart looking shops and cafes. Unfortunately it looks like the tiny (in every sense of the word) pub we used to drink in has gone. Probably for health and safety reasons, as with more than six people in it playing darts by the bar was a risky strategy. Not that it stopped us back in the day.

From Kegworth we decided to avoid the motorway and head through Derby on the A6 before heading on to Matlock. We did drive through Derby, but didn’t stop. Perhaps we should have, but we were got a bit fed up with the ring road. These abominations are the scourge of post war town planners. They may have thought they were a clever idea, but no one else has since. If you see signs saying “Ring Road West” and “Ring Road East” and nothing else, how the hell are you supposed to know which way to go?

Our hotel for the next few nights is a delightful little place in Cromford, about three miles south of Matlock. It used to be Sir Richard Arkwright’s home whilst he was building nearby Willersley Castle. Set in a peaceful valley yet just off the A6, the hotel is a lovely place with good facilities. They obviously cater for lots of weddings judging but the large gazebo and arboretum in the garden.

In the evening we drove into Matlock for dinner. As it was a Sunday, Cromford was largely shut, with only a couple or large pubs open which we didn’t fancy. Matlock wasn’t much different, but we did find a nice looking Italian. However we chose a place called the Herd Steakhouse just around the corner from the bridge. There’s a bar downstairs, and a restaurant upstairs with some wonderful views over the River Derwent. We chose a seat by the floor to ceiling window to get the full benefit of the wonderful vista. The food was OK if not spectacular, but then we didn’t go for their speciality steaks or meat skewers.

Returning the our hotel, we got speaking to the night manager. He said that Sir Richard Arkwright built the place as his family home, but as he became more wealthy decided to build himself Willersley Castle. Unfortunately it burnt down before it was finished. He started rebuilding it, but died before completion. An unfortunate happening, as the building itself is an imposing and stunning example of Georgian architecture. It’s now a hotel run by a Methodist charity.

Tomorrow we’re off to Chatsworth House near Bakewell, the home of the tart!

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