Darwin Forest Review
Darwin Forest Holidays Review
Nestled in that idyllic landscape, and yet less than two hours away from the midlands, Darwin Forest sits on the western edge of the Peak District. It’s location is one of its strongest selling points; still part of the Midlands, but rural enough for those picture postcard views, the resort is a few minutes’ drive from Matlock – the small county town that requires no introduction for Austen fans. A last minute, much welcomed, Easter break saw the five of us packed up and on our way to the Derbyshire resort of Darwin Forest for three nights, here’s our Darwin Forest Review
Arrival and Departure At Darwin Forest
The resort itself was very easy to get to and well sign-posted, and check-in was quick and smooth. Guests can drive their cars up to the lodge and most lodges have two parking spaces outside where the cars can remain for the duration of the stay. This means it is so much easier to unpack and items such as bikes and scooters (and outdoor shoes like wellies) in the cars in case you want to travel off site for extra exploration
On the final day, check-out was pretty smooth, belying the standard manic pack-up that had taken place after breakfast. Though check-out is at 10am we were able to remain on site and make use of the facilities which means you can plan a good activity or two before travelling home and really make the most of your time in the resort.
Darwin Forest Lodges
We stayed in one of the four bedroom Elite Vogue lodges, which provided plenty of space for the five of us. The lodges are all bungalows with large open plan living rooms (with kitchen and dining areas) and a mixture of double and twin bedrooms, family bathroom and additional toilet (with the all-important strong mains shower!). Though the rooms themselves are a bit on the tight side, the living space makes up for this. The kitchen is well equipped (including a fridge freezer, dishwasher and microwave) as well as the useful additions of sponges, soap and dishwasher tablets etc. As is to be expected, guests need to bring their own cooking staples (oil, salt etc), though we were pleasantly surprised to find that teabags, coffee and sugar had been provided. We did have to request a cot to be delivered for the second night onwards and this does come with an extra cost of £9 – £12 depending upon the length of stay.
A note to bear in mind, especially for ladies who wear headscarfs, the lodges living area has floor to ceiling windows/ patio doors which is great for letting in all that beautiful natural light, but does also mean that the occupants are quite visible to anyone outside or in the adjacent houses.
One of the absolute highlights of the trip was the dawn chorus that reverberates through the lodges wooden walls. No need for a Fajr alarm (well, at least not for the light sleepers), the beautiful chirping, tweeting and singing really makes you feel that you truly are in the heart of the countryside. Surprisingly, the lodges are otherwise extremely soundproof, with not even the torrential downpours we experienced leaving any trace of a sound indoors.
Darwin Forest Review – onsite activities
With the required assigning (and re-assigning) of bedrooms negotiated, our three explorers were eager to stretch their legs and have a wander around the site. Despite the fact that cars can be driven around the site, the park is very pedestrian friendly with forested walks lining the lodges.
The main hub of the park is centred around the Foresters Restaurant and the gym across from which are the Reception, Woodland store and indoor play centre, Little Monkeys. From there are roads to access the lodges, and the main entrance and exit of the park. The exploration walk revealed an outdoor playground great for children under 8, the Activity Den (with under 5 soft play, arcade room and pool tables) as well as a mini golf course, all promptly added to the list of To Do’s for our stay.
Darwin Forest Review – Pool Activities
Having little adventurers who adore swimming meant that throughout our stay, each of our days would entail a visit to the pool area. The pro-swimming party (everyone bar me), took advantage of the complimentary use of the swimming pool, which also had the most lenient adult:child ratios we’ve come across (1:3!).
The pool itself is on the small side but was never busy throughout our stay, and more significantly, had the all-important child-friendly warm water temperature. The pool also offers a range of paid-for swimming pool activities including waterwalking (zorbing on water), snorkelling, and mini jet skis, which must be booked in advance. Each activity has its own age range, but fortunately, our elder two adventurers both qualified for the mini jet skis (£5 each for a 30 minute session) – which turned out to be the highlight of their trip! We were really impressed with the pricing of the onsite activities and they were great value for money, especially when compared to other similar holiday parks like Center Parcs.
Darwin Forest – Other onsite activities
Darwin Forest Outdoor Activities
One of the highlights of staying in the woodlands is the amazing woodlands you get to explore right at your doorstep. We visited over days of torrential downpours so our time in the woodlands was more limited than we would have loved to have spent there, exploring the amazing trails or taking a bike ride or two. However, on the few occasions we did venture for a woodland adventure, our little adventurers did fall in love with the gorgeous little fairy doors scattered on the trees in the woods. We would call and knock on them to see if the occupants wanted to come outdoors and it is always magical to see little adventurers full of wander and delight.
Venturing out later in the day, we were able to enjoy a family game of mini golf, with clubs even available for the toddler which was a really nice touch and for family travellers, it is wonderful to see these extra touches to make family travel as easy and as fun as possible! Needless to say, it was the effect of all the cold and flu medication that saw me beaten by both husband and 6 year old.
There are a number of other activities on-site including archery and fencing, however, we did feel that in comparison to other holiday resorts, there was a significant lack of child-centred wildlife/ outdoor based activities on offer for younger children.
Darwin Forest Indoor Activities
As we were hit by several days of torrential downpours, the Little Monkeys Play Centre proved a great hit (though you do have to pay £3.50 per child to enter) The little adventurers spent a couple of hours one morning and loved all the variety of slides and activities available. They also tried out the Arcade Room in the Activity Den. Even though the arcade games were suitable we spent quite a while developing family competitiveness over a game or two of air hockey.
For those so inclined, the swimming pool is housed in the same building as the spa, which offers a range of beauty therapies and massage treatments; all appointments do need to be pre-booked though.
Evening entertainment is a bit on the thin side, so we rented a DVD for the kids from the Woodlands Store. Rentals are £3 for the night and there is a modest selection of titles for all ages. The in lodge TV’s claim to be ‘Smart’ but the bandwidth is not large enough to support this so the choice is either Freeview or DVD rental. On that note, though there is wifi in all the lodges and in the main buildings of the resort, it’s not particularly fast and is only really sufficient for messaging and web browsing. Mobile phone reception is quite poor throughout the resort, though you may find pockets of coverage (such as, fortunately, in our bedroom) strong enough to be able to stream something. That said, part of the charm of being in the woodlands is to escape from the rat race and the limited reception means you do get a real chance to unwind.
Darwin Forest Restaurant options
We decided to treat the little explorers to dinner at the Forester, which is the only restaurant (and takeaway) onsite. The kids menu has a few vegetarian options but unfortunately having chosen pizza, chips and macaroni cheese, we were a little disappointed, especially as the pasta tasted more like a supermarket ready meal than a restaurant dish. The kids’ dessert menu didn’t fare much better with ‘ice cream sundaes’ consisting of small tubs of single flavour ice cream. We were a little disappointed as the evening eating out was supposed to be treat for us all
Darwin Forest – Offsite activities
As a lifelong Austen enthusiast, there was no way I was going to let the opportunity to visit Chatsworth House, both the inspiration for Mr Darcy’s Pemberley as well as the actual filming location for 2005 feature film, pass me by. The house is less than 20 minutes driveaway and Darwin Forest offer tickets on-site at a discounted rate that can be purchased at reception. Just be sure to mention how old your children are when getting a family ticket as children aged three and under are free of charge. Chatsworth House deserves a full length review in its own right, but in summary this is a great place to take kids of all ages and spend a full day. There are three separate ‘zones’; the Farmyard and playground, the Gardens, and the House itself, and tickets can be purchased for one, all, or a combination of these. As it was the Easter holidays there were special activities available for the kids, including a dog hunt challenge around the house with kids answering clues to receive a card game at the end. And of course, being Easter, there are baby animals to coo/brood/incessantly hand wash after. The playground is massive with lots of frames for all ages to enjoy (dare I say teenagers too?) and plenty of seating areas, plus the odd few inquisitive, maned (!) Polish breed free range chickens that our kids were fascinated with.
The Garden is a whole day trip in and of itself, with woodland walks, a massive rock garden, fountains and ponds, kitchen garden and, best of all, maze (which yes, the little adventurers successfully completed); a sure way to put that smart watch through its paces. With little legs in tow, it’s a good idea to make use of the toilets near the Garden’s entrance before embarking on any adventures. This is also true when entering the house, which has no public toilets. The house itself does try to cater to all ages, but parents of young children are going to spend too much of their time repeating ‘no touching’, to be able appreciate the art work and sculpture which are the main features of the tour.
Heights of Abraham
We spent our final after in the Peak District exploring the nearby Heights of Abraham. This hilltop tourist attraction is reached by Britain’s first cable car installation and is a great place to spend the day for both adults and children. We have taken cable cars in lots of places and the cable car is often the highlight of the adventure. However, this is where heights of Abraham was so different. The cable cars were incredible fun but it only the start of the adventure. As you disembark at the top station, there is so many activities available that the little adventurers didn’t know where to start.
With guided cave tours, a fossil factory, a Victorian viewing tower (for panoramic views of the Derwent valley and the distant Peak District) and several outdoor playgrounds, little adventurers definitely have lots to discover. We started off with a visit to the fossil factory (to avoid the downpour) the factory was really interesting and interactive and the little adventurers loved to read all the facts and touch everything. Next we headed for the cave tours, at 6 and 3 we weren’t sure how enjoyable this would be for the children but they loved it and they felt like they were on a real adventure! Their eyes were wide with awe and though they found the caves a little scary, they were giddy with excitement.
The playgrounds are beautiful and there is gorgeous views of the Peak District. Having been to more than our fair share playgrounds this is by far one of the most picturesque ones we have visited. Even in the rain you were spoilt with breathtaking views and the children loved them all.
Our advice for visiting the Heights of Abraham is do leave yourslef plenty of time to make the most of the visit. You can easily send 3 hours here and if you have little adventurers in tow, do bring a few snacks, all the exploring makes for hungry children!
Final thoughts on Darwin Forest
Overall, our impromptu trip to Darwin Forest was a great little getaway; there were just enough activities to keep the little adventurers entertained for a few days, the lodges were comfortable and family friendly and there are plenty of walks and trails to traverse. But the greatest selling point of Darwin Forest for me was its location; it’s the perfect hub from which to explore the dozens of family friendly activities that the Peak District has to offer, be it stately homes, theme parks, the Ecclesbourne Valley steam railway line, or the greatest of the attractions in this part of the world, the breath-taking beauty of the Derbyshire countryside. Darwin Forest is the perfect base for exploring the area and it is a wonderful place to return home to after a day of adventures. It is a great place to relax, rewind and reconnect.
Let us know what you think of our Darwin Forest Review in the comments section below.