After Leeds, which I found uneventful, we find ourselves waiting at Derby train station. S is supposed to pick me up and as per usual, I’m nervous. She’s a bit late and I’m worried that we’re forgotten, played or at the wrong location. That, or a million other things. Suddenly, S shows up and all nerves instantly subside. She’s cheery and friendly and once we’re on our way, we’re chatting away.
We leave Derby and its motorway behind and quickly we’re climbing a mountain. S tells me we’re driving through Ashbourne, the nearest town, and it looks cute and typically English. The car is going up, 30 degrees, 40 degrees, 60 degrees. The view is spanned out, unfolding before my eyes and I gaze around in amazement. S tells me about Dove dale, the many attractions the Peak District has to offer and how the house, Cliffe Top Farm, sits right on the south border of it. She also informs me on the daily things and chores at the house and the two German girls already staying with them.
Once I’ve met M and the two German girls, A and L, we dump our things in the caravan – where we’ll be stopping in until the room in the house becomes available again when the two German girls leave – and M and S take us to the side of the hill, overlooking the valley, Thorpe Cloud, Dove dale and to our right, Ashbourne. I can’t believe this place, the scenery, the beauty and the freedom that it allows me to breathe. I am sure that we’re going to love it here.
We tackle the garden right away. Tired of sitting around after a relatively short train ride and full of energy, I’m keen to get around and get moving even though I’m told numerous times I don’t have to do anything yet. A and L are working in the kitchen, giving everything a good spring cleaning. M’s in the yard, working on an old Land Rover. Mace is running around with the dogs, keeping an eye out on me and occasionally ‘helping’ by grabbing a stick and running off with it.
We spent a few days like this, waking up in the early morning in the camper van that reminds us of our wonderful time in Beccles and the dream of one day owning a small, mobile home like this grows again. With a cup of tea in hand, we wake with the sun and wander around the land, trying to grasp the view that is thrown upon us and doesn’t seem to fade. We discover an abandoned shed or two (one occupied by two lone sheep that I nicknamed Bert and Harry) and get lost in time and space as we roam the hills and observe the stretches of land spanned out before us.
M & S were so keen to show us all around the area that they took us on a ton of trips. In between, the girls and I worked extra hard because we were so grateful for being taken out so many times and M & S’ hospitality and care was just extraordinary. Visiting Dovedale was the first trip we did and we hiked all the 942ft to the top and were treated with an amazing view overlooking the valley behind us and the hills in front (including the hill where M & S lived).
S had been talking about a village nearby, Matlock Bath, that was inspired by the promenades and piers found in sea front and coastal cities like Brighton and Bournemouth. The village, a so called ‘spa town’, runs along the river Derwent, which is pretty much the only source of water nearby. Only a few days after having seen Dovedale, we were back in M’s Land Rover and on our way to Matlock Bath.
Fun fact: building development is extremely restricted in Matlock Bath because of the steep hillsides and for the most part only one side of the village can be used.
We went to see Buxton, which is famous for its opera house, visited a well known book store (proudly entitled the highest book store in the country at 1072 ft above sea level) and gave Thorpe’s Cave a visit (apparently, the dry caves in Dovedale are also called ‘Dove Holes’). A trip back to Ashbourne became something regular, even if it was just for groceries there was always a walk around the village for fun, or a visit to the local pub for tea or a beer. M was a brilliant cook and we all enjoyed the nights that he did the cooking, but the girls prepared some traditional German dishes as well, and I occasionally had a creative outburst in the kitchen as well. But, since we were all so active in the kitchen, and I’m a big fan of baking, we also spent our times baking gluten and sugar free maple cinnamon bundt cakes, chocolate cakes or cookies. With the entire kitchen cleared, painted and done-up, it only became more fun to hang around in the traditional, countryside-like kitchen and it became a hangout for all of us. I can still picture us there – S on her chair, next to Shay’s cage, L leaning against the counter, A would probably be going from left to right while M and I would be just outside the door with a cigarette. That kitchen had been filled with endless conversations and laughter, if only it was the girls and I acting silly.
M started his own wood fired pizza oven business just after arriving in the Peak District and all of us pitched in to help him get it off the ground. While it was fun volunteering to try his pizza creations (the dessert pizza’s were heavenly… And he made a gluten free version for me especially), we were also eager to help out when it was finally there. The whole gang went to half a dozen markets in the area where M would present his pizza’s. In between markets, we also hit the nearby camp sites which were the biggest hits.
While the work varied from walking the dogs, to some cleaning and now, helping with the pizza business, the days didn’t change that much. Mace and I would often wake up just before sunrise in our little caravan we’d begun to call home, and walk to the outer field overlooking the valley to watch the sunrise with a cup of tea and a smoke. During my stay in the UK, I think I’ve seen the most sunrises and sunsets while stopping by the Peak District, especially while I was staying in the caravan. With only a week left of the German girls staying at the farm, things would soon change and they left only a few days before I marked my one-month stay in the Peak District.
With already so many things seen, new memories created and new friendships formed, I had no idea what to expect for the second half of our adventure in the Peak District.