Normally the first week of January is my least favourite time of year. The Christmas festivities are over, the tree and decorations are packed away and everything just feels, well a little flat and boring to be honest! This year I was determined to continue with the new year celebrations for as long as possible and so jumped at the chance to review Darwin Forest Country Park located in the Derbyshire Peak District National Park.
The family run holiday park advertises itself as one of the UK’s top holiday parks and its luxury self-catering holiday lodges and facilities have been awarded with five stars by Visit England. After reading this on their website I was naturally keen to experience the park for myself.
With hubby back at work a four-night holiday was the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with my sister and her three children. As you may have seen on my instagram stories we revealed the surprise holiday just after Christmas so the kids had just a few days to get excited and geared up for swimming and exploring forests with their cousins!
First impressions: Review Darwin Forest Country Park
My sister and her kids arrived before us. By the time we arrived she had already unpacked our online food delivery order and prepared dinner. (I planned that well didn’t I!) As you can imagine all five kids were literally bouncing off the walls with excitement when we turned up at the lodge. They were so happy to be together and were running around pointing out all the features and facilities in our new holiday home.
We were staying in a four bedroom classic vogue lodge. I immediately liked the layout and cosy feel. It was cold and miserable outside when we arrived and walking through the front door felt inviting, warm and friendly with lots of space for socialising in the living area.
What I particularly loved about our lodge layout was the door between the open plan living room, dining/kitchen area and the corridor with the bedrooms and bathrooms coming off it. This image of the layout demonstrates it best –
It meant that in the evenings my sister and I could close the bedroom doors and corridor door and not worry about waking up the kids with the noise from the TV. Even better in the middle of the night, (4am on the first night!) the kids who woke first could be cornered off away from the others and kept quietly entertained.
The lodge was spotlessly clean and well equipped for eight people with a large dining table, three comfy sofas and lots of extra cutlery and crockery. (Even when the dishwasher was full we didn’t go short). The essentials (washing up liquid, dishwasher tablets, milk, tea, coffee etc) were all provided which was a nice touch and I really liked the storage space too which made it easy to keep the lodge tidy. By the front door there was a huge cupboard to store all coats and wellies (we even fit our scooters in) and a large fitted wardrobe in the four bedrooms.
Of course with it being January we were unable to make use of our outdoor decking area but I can imagine it would be lovely to sit out on a summer’s evening and enjoy a BBQ whilst the kids played on the grass nearby.
The bedrooms are not particularly big but they are comfortable. All linen and towels are provided for all guests at no extra charge, we just packed an extra towel each to use after swimming.
Lodge facilities for children
I was quite surprised on the first night to find that there was no bed rails, high chairs or plastic cups and plates provided for toddlers. (My nephew loves to launch his bowl of cereal across the room in the mornings!). I’ve since read on the website that we could have requested plastic cups and cutlery to use during our stay and you can also hire cots and high chairs, (£9 per item for a short break and £12 per week).
Facilities: Review Darwin Forest Country Park
On our first morning the kids couldn’t wait to set off and get exploring. Even though it was a wet and cold day they were happy running around the playground in their wet weather gear, checking out the forest trails and scooting along the paths.
One of the many things we loved about Darwin Forest was that drivers were very considerate of kids. Everyone stuck to the 5 mile per hour speed limit and it was lovely to give the kids a little freedom to scoot, ride and explore.
The pool is free for all park guests, (locals and gym members do use the pool too and it’s also used for swimming lessons so it’s worth checking on the swim timetable to avoid busy times). It’s not a huge pool and it doesn’t have any slides but it kept our five water babies happy for a few hours. The water depth is 1.2 metres, apart from a very small shallow play area (see railing above) which is perfect for toddlers.
We didn’t feel the need to book any extra activities whilst at the park but there were a few that sounded really good fun, particularly for older kids such as archery, snorkelling and WaterWalkerz. (A large inflatable ball which floats on top of the water, you can read about our ‘walking on water’ experience here). The prices ranged from £5 – £12 per person, with bikes also available to hire from £7 for a half day.
I am not a big fan of soft play areas as they are usually pretty soulless places however Little Monkeys (and the free activity den for younger kids, shown in the image above) is light and airy with plenty of windows overlooking the country park. We found it really clean and thought the coffee shop was great with reasonably priced drinks and food. The area for toddlers with ball pit and the wavy slides in the main play area were a big hit with our little monkeys. Entrance to Little Monkeys play centre costs £3.50 per child if you are a park resident (£4.50 for non residents) for a two-hour session.
On Saturday night I snuck out alone for some peace and quiet. I returned back to the lodge an hour later buzzing from swimming a few laps and chilling out in the spa. Although the spa is small with just one jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and couple of loungers it is reflected in the low entry price of just £3.75.
For convenience and to keep the cost down for our impromptu short break we booked an online food delivery so I cannot comment on the quality of food at Foresters Bar & Restaurant. (Although the conservatory area, reserved for adults only, looked like the perfect spot for a romantic candlelit meal for two!)
I did pop into the on site shop, Woodland Store, for some forgotten items and was pleasantly surprised at the prices. I bought five items, (frozen veg, Yorkshire puddings, milk etc) and it came to just £6, so definitely comparable to a regular local store.
Attractions near Darwin Forest Country Park
Our lodge welcome pack included a handy events and attractions guide with discounted tickets. I was amazed at how many attractions there were within a short drive of Darwin Forest including a cable car ride at the Heights of Abraham, Chatsworth House (which came highly recommended for the gardens and farmyard), Alton Towers and of course the picturesque rolling countryside of the Peak District itself.
To be honest all five kids were just so content exploring and playing outside that we didn’t feel the need to visit any attractions although we did venture out on our last full day to go in search of original homemade Bakewell Tart… Well it would be rather rude not to as we were only 20 minutes away from the market town of Bakewell! I can thoroughly recommend a visit to this unique coffee shop…
The Bakewell tarts were served with a jug of pouring cream AND custard, they were big enough for three people and absolutely delicious. The cake I’m assuming was tasty too as the kids demolished a huge slice between them within minutes. (I think this was the only few minutes of silence we had all week!)
On our drive home we also called into nearby Matlock and enjoyed a mooch around the boutique shops and short walk along the River Derwent.
How does Darwin Forest compare to other UK holiday parks?
Lots of mum friends have asked how Darwin Forest compares to Center Parcs and Bluestones so I thought I may as well include my thoughts here as you may find them useful.
I think Darwin Forest is perfect for families who love the outdoors – great cycle paths, fun forest trails, mini golf, archery etc.
The park isn’t anywhere near as big or have as many facilities as Center Parcs, (the park has approx. 120 lodges spread out across 47 acres). I would say it has a similar level of facilities as Bluestone, (although the spa is bigger at Bluestone and the pool has water slides too).
We have stayed at various Center Parcs many times and we have never left the park during our stay. The main advantage of Darwin Forest to me is the great location of the park within the Peak District and how you can enjoy the facilities of the park and also get to know one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. (In this way Darwin Forest is similar to Bluestone which has the Pembrokeshire coastline on its doorstep).
I also loved the family feel of Darwin Forest. The family who own the park clearly have a lot of pride in their holiday park and its facilities. I was told that all facilities and lodges are replaced or renovated frequently and you can really tell. Everywhere looked new, clean and just really well thought out for families.
Like Center Parcs and Bluestone, Darwin Forest offers a range of accommodation from budget friendly two-bedroom lodges through to uber luxurious lodges with hot tubs. (I nipped in for a quick look at the brand new Glade lodges one afternoon and was blown away by the luxurious decor. You can check them out for yourself here). It’s also worth noting that Darwin Forest allow dogs too so perfect for dog owners looking for a family break.
Final thoughts: Our family break at Darwin Forest Country Park
In short, what a perfect way to start the new year! We had an absolute blast and I would highly recommend the park for a fun family break. Even though it was cold and wet for most of our five-day stay it didn’t stop us getting out and about, making the most of the outdoor facilities. The morning we woke up to snow flakes falling was a particularly amazing moment, (thanks for organising that Darwin Forest!) the kids were so excited and it just made our weekend even more magical. The kids are already asking when we can return and I feel a little cheated that I didn’t get to enjoy a glass of wine and BBQ on the decking area so we may have to pop back again one summer!
Video: 3 minute summary of our 5 days at Darwin Forest…
Details – Four nights at Darwin Forest (January 2018) staying in a 4 bedroom Classic Vogue Lodge sleeping 8 is £495, 2 bedroom is £319. For more information check out the Darwin Forest Country Park website.
Disclaimer – We were invited as guests to review Darwin Forest Country Park. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, are own. All photos copyright Travel Loving Family, apart from pool photo which is copyright Darwin Forest.
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