Our latest home exchange in Britain was drawing to a close. By now we had explored much of the Midlands from our base in the ‘Black Country’ between Birmingham and the Welsh borders, so it was time to venture further afield – except that this would prove to be the wettest April recorded in England for a hundred years.
One Friday we set out towards Derbyshire, motoring north through Uttoxeter, Ashbourne and Bakewell to reach Hartington, an out-of-the-way Peak District village, and checked into our lodgings at this grand 14th-century Tudor manor house… which is now a hostel.
Grey skies and drizzling rain followed us to Derbyshire. We could equally have reached the Yorkshire Dales: windswept, undulating uplands, sectioned off by hundreds of miles of drystone fences, and punctuated with sporadic copses of skeletal trees.
Hartington Hall, dating from around 1350 AD, overlooks the stone-built village of that name. It’s an imposing yet welcoming manor house, rebuilt in 1611, and which once gave refuge to that celebrity fugitive, Bonnie Prince Charlie. Sheltering between the main building and an accommodation wing is a children’s farm, with penned rabbits and other critters. Inside, the public rooms feature rough-hewn timber beams, low ceilings and timber panelling. We joined schoolkids, cycle tourists, young families and lone travellers tucking at the weekly curry night. Yes, there were cosy pubs down in the village, but nowhere that we would rather be on this cold, wet night.
A couple of surprises about 21st-century hostelling in England: the standard (and the cost) of private SC rooms, and of meals, compares well with a good average pub or B&B; no-one gives a fig whether or not you’re a YHA member; and the bar stays open until late (with children excluded). Most convivial.