It’s become a little bit of a tradition that we escape on holiday for the first week of the summer holidays. As soon as the final bell of the academic year rings, we’re swapping school uniforms for comfy clothes, grabbing ready-packed suitcases and heading down (or up!) the motorway to the airport to catch a flight somewhere. Last year it was Lake Maggiore in Italy, and a couple of years before that it was Jersey in the Channel Islands, both of which were fantastic adventures that we still talk about now.
This year, partly because we’re hoping to move house soon (and are therefore saving the pennies) and partly because we’ve already had our ‘big trip’ to Boston and Cape Cod back in May half term, we didn’t have anything booked. In fact, the whole six-week break was looking fairly unstructured and empty. A big part of me was quite looking forward to having no real plans and I knew that the girls needed a decent amount of downtime and time to relax after a long term at school. But another part of me was itching to explore somewhere new and feeling a little bit sad that we didn’t have any travel plans to look forward to.
Out of the blue, Landal Sandybrook Luxury Lodges got in touch with me and invited us to stay for the weekend to review their holiday park and lodges in the Peak District. It’s somewhere we’ve never been to before so of course I jumped at the chance, said “yes” immediately and then spent several hours excitedly sorting out people to come and look after our cats and informing the husband that he needed to change his work shifts for the weekend. Doing more of the things I love to do is my intention for 2019 and visiting somewhere new with my family is very high up on my list of things I love. We’re so incredibly grateful to have been offered this opportunity.
And so it was that we found ourselves on a family weekend mini-break to Landal Sandybrook Luxury Lodges near Ashbourne on the edge of the Peak District. What a wonderful way to start the summer holidays!
We arrived at Landal Sandybrook Luxury Lodges on Friday evening at about 6pm after a one-hour car journey through picturesque countryside. It had already been a long and emotional day for everyone as it was Mimi’s last ever day at primary school (she starts high school in September), plus there was the inevitable excitement of the summer holidays finally arriving after what had felt like an endlessly busy seven weeks of school and work, so we were keen to get settled into our lodge and unwind.
The check-in process was easy and the staff at Reception were really polite and helpful, offering local maps and complimentary milk along with our lodge key and welcome pack which contained everything we needed to know for our stay.
As we drove the short distance from Reception to our lodge I noticed that the site itself looked lovely: there wasn’t a single speck of litter anywhere; the lodges seemed to be fairly spaced out so we knew we wouldn’t feel overlooked; and there were plenty of trees and pretty flowers. Our lodge (#16) had space for us to park our car and unload our luggage right outside, which was ideal with three tired and ‘hangry’ girls.
As we stepped into our home for the weekend two things struck me immediately: 1/ the lodge was spotlessly clean; and 2/ it was far more spacious inside than I thought it would be.
The interior was decorated neutrally with calming pale wood and pleasing-to-the-eye artwork on the walls and it looked fairly modern in comparison to the exterior. We did have a slight problem with the fridge on our arrival – it was beeping as if the door had been left open but the temperature was cold inside so it couldn’t have been. I popped down to Reception to report it and someone from the maintenance team was with us within ten minutes and efficiently sorted the trouble so we could continue our stay uninterrupted. It was absolutely fine from then on and we had no other issues.
The girls were thrilled to discover rabbits hopping around outside and spent ages watching them while I made dinner. We were all keen to get our bearings around the site so, sufficiently refuelled, we went out for a little late evening exploration and discovered the adventure playground.
What is the accommodation like at Landal Sandybrook Luxury Lodges?
There are a variety of different lodges at Sandybrook, ranging in size from two bedrooms to ones that sleep up to eight people. Spa lodges have a hot tub on the verandah. Some are pet friendly and there is also one that is fully wheelchair accessible with a wet room and grab rails (we always make a point of checking this out wherever we go as my mother-in-law is in a wheelchair and we like to find places that she could potentially stay in too).
We stayed in a three bedroom ‘Classic Vogue’ lodge, which sleeps up to six people and there was plenty of space for the five of us. Our lodge comprised of:
~ an open plan lounge/kitchen/dining room which had everything we needed to self cater
~ a comfy master bedroom with ensuite (containing a shower that is bigger than the one we have at home!)
~ two twin bedrooms
~ a family bathroom (with a shower over the bath)
~ a verandah with outdoor seating
~ space to park two cars
Each bedroom had wardrobes and space to store suitcases, plus extra blankets and enough fluffy white towels for everyone. No hot tub for us but it really didn’t matter – there was plenty to do to help us relax and keep us occupied!
What is there to do on-site at Landal Sandybrook Luxury Lodges?
We’ve never really done a holiday like this before where we’ve stayed on-site somewhere with lots of facilities, tending to prefer self-catering accommodation that we use as a base to go off exploring from each day. The only exception was our trip to Florida but we were out and about visiting the Disney parks every day so we didn’t really make full use of what was available at the resort we were on. Truthfully, I was a tiny bit apprehensive about staying at Sandybrook, wondering if there would be enough to keep us all occupied or whether I would be bombarded with cries of “I’m bored!” within an hour of our arrival.
Of course I needn’t have worried in the slightest – there is plenty to do (even if it’s raining). In fact, we didn’t even get round to doing it all!
Completely free on-site facilities include the lovely heated indoor swimming pool, a jacuzzi (if there isn’t a hot tub at your lodge this is a good alternative), a sauna (over 16s only), a sturdy wooden pirate-ship themed adventure playground, an indoor play area for toddlers, a big recreation field with mini football goals and a woodland walk (which I imagine would be lovely to visit in springtime when it is carpeted with bluebells – sadly we didn’t have time to do the walk).
There are also various paid-for activities to take advantage of as well: mini golf (£2 per adult and £1.50 per child); a games room above The Coach House restaurant (air hockey & table football 50p per game, plus pool £1 per game), table tennis (£3.50 to buy the bats and balls from Reception) and DVDs you can hire. In addition, there are more adventurous activities to try out – archery, zorbing, fencing, crossbow, snorkelling/sea-scooters, and water walkers (like zorbs but in the swimming pool!). These are all run by Go Active instructors, need to be pre-booked and range in price from £5 to £12. We didn’t do any of these, preferring to keep our weekend a little more low-key, though I quite fancied a go at the sea-scooters myself!
Our family mini-break in the Peak District
As is traditional for the first day of the summer holidays, it rained. Poured down actually. Bucket loads of water falling from the sky in torrents. I really should learn to expect it by now! I managed to dash out (armed with a sturdy umbrella) during a small respite in the downpour to walk the mile into Ashbourne to meet my lovely friend Penny for a mid-morning cuppa, whilst the girls stayed with Neil at Sandybrook. They were still pretty wiped out from the excitement of finishing school and needed a quiet-ish morning involving nothing more than a soggy game of football on the field, a quick play on the adventure playground and plenty of reading and colouring in the cosy comforts of our lodge.
By the afternoon the girls had perked up a bit and were desperate to check out both the games room and the swimming pool. The games room is situated above The Coach House bar/restaurant and houses two pool tables, air hockey and table football.
The girls had never played pool before and were keen to learn. The husband showed them the ropes whilst I played air hockey with Lola and then he and I had a game. I love pool and played quite a lot during my college years (ahem, I *may* possibly have missed a couple of lectures as a result of lengthy tournaments with my friends). On the rare occasion the husband and I get a date night out together, if there’s nothing on at the cinema that we want to see we’ll go and shoot some pool instead. I didn’t manage to beat him this time but I wasn’t far off! The girls loved playing and picked it up pretty quickly so the games room was a definite hit with them. If they were a little bit older I’d be happy letting them go there by themselves – it would be a good place for teens to hang out.
Victory having been triumphantly snatched out from under my nose by my “not-competitive-at-all” husband, we headed back to the lodge to grab our swimming gear and made our way to the swimming pool. Access is via Reception and if you don’t fancy swimming there is a little area with a couple of tables and chairs so you can sit and watch. The changing rooms were clean and we didn’t need to use money for the lockers.
The pool itself is indoors and surrounded by large windows with views out to the pretty garden beyond. It’s heated to the perfect temperature. Normally my girls and I are shivering within ten minutes of being in our local leisure centre pool but at Sandybrook they were absolutely fine after over 45 minutes of being in the water. We were lucky enough to have the swimming pool to ourselves for the majority of the time we were there and the girls had a blast trying out the different strokes they remembered from the lessons they had several years ago, shrieking when the husband swam underneath them unexpectedly, and testing out the jacuzzi. The pool is the same depth all the way through from end to end and access is by a set of gentle steps leading into the water. There is also a small children’s pool attached to the main pool which is much shallower for little ones or less confident swimmers. They would of course still need to be supervised.
My favourite bit? The swimsuit dryer that we discovered in the changing rooms – no more packing soggy swimming costumes in the suitcase at the end of a holiday!
The Coach House Restaurant
We decided to try out the on-site restaurant, The Coach House, for dinner. It’s a beautiful setting – stretching along three sides of a cobbled courtyard, it’s arched doorways, big windows, and plentiful tubs of brightly coloured flowers give it a friendly, inviting feel. It’s also a site of special architectural interest according to a plaque on the wall outside – parts of the interior walls are exposed and protected accordingly, and tables are set in the old stable stalls. It’s open to the public (you don’t have to be staying at Sandybrook to eat there) and I imagine it plays host to a variety of special celebration meals such as birthdays and anniversaries throughout the year.
They serve lunches and dinners (no breakfasts) and much of the menu is what I would call fairly standard ‘pub grub’: fish and chips; ploughman’s; steak; chicken curry; pasta; salad; burgers etc… They also offer a selection of flatbread pizzas that I was quite tempted with, though in the end I decided on scampi, chips and peas. However, there were a few items that sounded a little more fancy (which the husband ended up choosing – see photos below), and it left me wishing I’d ordered differently. There are a couple of vegetarian and gluten free choices on the menu too.
The children’s menu comprised of the same familiar items that most children’s menus contain – sausages, fish and chips, pizza, pasta and chicken nuggets. The staff were accommodating for the kids, happy to swap mashed potato for chips and peas for beans.
The service was ok and prices seemed to be fairly average for the type of food – £5ish for a starter/dessert and main courses ranging anywhere between a reasonable £10 and £13. Children’s main courses were around £5 and desserts were £3.50. Between the five of us we had one starter, five main courses, four desserts and drinks (including a bottle of wine) and it came to just under £90 in total. Lovely for a special holiday treat but not something we could afford to do every night.
After a good night of sleep, Sunday dawned bright and sunny (hurrah!), so we headed out to explore off-site. There were so many places we could have chosen to go to (more about that later in this post), but after hearing me talk about the café I visited with my friend the previous day, the girls begged to see it for themselves. And so we found ourselves wandering the pretty streets of Ashbourne with it’s brightly coloured bunting fluttering cheerfully in the breeze against a backdrop of blue skies and fluffy white clouds.
First stop was, of course, cake at the aforementioned café: f coffee. It honestly is the funkiest café I’ve ever been in and I would definitely recommend visiting. The brightly coloured graffiti downstairs, the mouth-watering displays of sweet treats, the aroma of fresh coffee in the air and the eco/industrial vibe in the upstairs seating area made it a fun place to sit and chat about how to spend our final day in the Peak District.
We decided to explore the Tissington Trail – a 13 mile, traffic-free, walking/cycling route that used to be a railway line. The tracks have been removed and now visitors can enjoy the beautiful countryside from Ashbourne, where the trail starts, right the way through Thorpe, Tissington village itself and numerous other little villages in the Derbyshire Dales right the way to Parsley Hay in the depths of the Peak District.
The beginning of the Tissington Trail is this abandoned old railway tunnel. For reference, my husband is 6’3″, so you’ll get an idea of the size of the tunnel from the photo below. There is a single line of lights on the ceiling so you can just about see once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness but it’s pretty dark once you’re in there so littler children might feel a bit scared. The echoes are ace – we had a great time shouting and hearing the sounds bounce back to us. The water dripping from the roof only added to the spookiness and the girls thought it was a fantastic adventure!
Once out the other side, we walked for a little way on the trail, listening to the twittering birds in the trees before reluctantly turning back as we realised that we were running out of time on our car parking ticket. Next time we would definitely try and make it to both Thorpe and Tissington as they’re supposed to be very picturesque.
Once back at our lodge we scoffed a quick lunch before heading back out again – the girls wanted some more time in the games room and we wanted to try out the mini-golf course. It’s become a family tradition that wherever we go on holiday we always find a crazy golf course to play so we couldn’t pass this one up! It’s a 9-hole course and on first glance it doesn’t look particularly exciting or difficult. Once you get started though you soon realise that isn’t the case – it’s pretty tricky! We really enjoyed it, and although I feel it should perhaps be free of charge for those staying on-site, at just £2 per adult and £1.50 per child it was very reasonable and an excellent way to spend an hour or so.
Things to do in the Peak District
This area of the Peak District is crammed full of interesting places to visit and things to do that the whole family can enjoy. I would have loved to have got out and about a bit more to explore the surrounding area, but with limited time and tired girls it made more sense to stay close to Sandybrook and really make the most of enjoying everything it had to offer. If we were there for a whole week we could easily fill the days and still have ample opportunity to enjoy the facilities at Landal Sandybrook Luxury Lodges. To give a few examples of nearby attractions and places of interest…
~ See the animals at Peak Wildlife Park (20-25 minute drive)
~ Walk or cycle the Tissington Trail (or part of it)
~ Visit Tissington Village and Tissington Hall (8 minute drive)
~ Explore Ashbourne (5 minute drive / 1 mile walk)
~ Adventure to Thor’s Cave and take in the view (25 minute drive)
~ Admire the view from Ilam, explore the natural beauty of Dovedale with it’s iconic stepping stones and, if you’re feeling energetic, you could climb Thorpe Cloud
~ Wander around Thorpe Village (10 minute drive)
~ Visit a National Trust property: Sudbury Hall & the National Museum of Childhood and Kedlestone Hall are both nearby
~ Spend time eating, drinking and relaxing in one of the nearby country pubs – The Old Dog near Thorpe was recommended to us by several people
~ Seek out the thrills at Alton Towers theme park (25 minute drive)
I honestly would have loved to have done all of these (except perhaps Alton Towers – I’m not a fan of rollercoasters although I know the husband is desperate to go). Long walks in the countryside, wandering around a National Trust property, hiring a bike and going for a family cycle ride, nosing around quaint little shops in pretty villages, hiking somewhere to see a spectacular view and watching the girls coo over animals…I can’t think of anything better for a staycation than that.
We had a brilliant weekend at Landal Sandybrook Luxury Lodges – it really was the perfect start to our six-week summer break. With so much to do on-site, and so many attractions nearby to take advantage of, it’s an ideal base for exploring the Peak District. The girls loved the novelty of staying in a lodge and the memories we made during our short time at Sandybrook have already been added to our Happy Jar for this year.
Please note: We were gifted a two night stay at Landal Sandybrook Luxury Lodges in exchange for our honest review of their site and accommodation. All activities, travel costs, meals and drinks were paid for in full by ourselves. All thoughts, opinions, words and photographs are my own.