Review: Darwin Forest Country Park, Derbyshire

Darwin Forest Country Park meadow horizon

It’s been a hectic few weeks in our household, so our trip to Darwin Forest Country Park this weekend came at the perfect time.

Darwin Forest Country Park is a small holiday park near to the picture-postcard villages of Matlock and Bakewell, on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak District. The park has around 120 lodges, sleeping from 2 to 8 people, set in 47 acres of woodland. It’s big enough to have enough to keep you occupied on a quiet or rainy day, but not so big that it feels hectic, or crowded.

We approached Darwin Forest along winding country roads, zipping through pretty villages with names like Chinley Head and Broadbottom. I love England, don’t you?

Arriving at the park we had a great first impression – the reception staff were really friendly, and the lodges are very pretty, with a good deal more space around them than at other holiday parks you might have visited.

darwin forest country park meadow horizon

We were staying at Lodge 1 in The Meadow, a new development of three luxury lodges at Darwin Forest Country Park. We have stayed in plenty of lodges in our time, but The Meadow lodges are seriously spectacular. These three ultra-modern lodges are wider than others on site, with huge decks, hot tubs and what seems like acres of glass.

Inside, the wall to wall, and floor-to-ceiling windows provide a spacious, light feel, and a modern design. The lodge has a central, open-plan living space and kitchen, with large doors leading on to the deck. To each side of the living space there is a bedroom, one double, one twin. Each bedroom has its own en-suite bathroom, one with a bath and shower, and the other with a bigger, walk-in shower.

the horizon darwin country park interior

The quality of the interior is really impressive. There are solid wooden doors and oak flooring, giving a cosy, solid feel. The furniture is contemporary, with a wood-burning effect stove that throws off heat. There are flat-screen television sets in each bedroom, and the lounge has its own TV with a DVD player.

darwin forest bedroom double

It’s worth noting that although the website says that pets are welcome, that’s not the case in The Meadow lodges. Elsewhere, though, you can take one dog per lodge, so long as they’re on a lead inside the park itself.

The beauty of staying on a site like this is that when you arrive after a two-hour drive, frazzled, you don’t need to cook. The on-site pub/restaurant, Harvester’s, serves the usual range of food, and we found it fresh, and reasonably priced.

There are plenty of other facilities for families, like mini-golf, playground, tennis courts and a trim trail that looks a bit like an obstacle course!

darwin forest park swimming pool

Opposite the restaurant you’ll find the on-site swimming pool, gym and beauty spa. Access to the pool is free, but the other facilities require a small charge. The pool is perfect for kids, and the changing facilities really clean. If you’ve forgotten your swimsuit, even though your Mum specifically said, “Hey, don’t forget your swimsuit,” then you can pick up a new one from the selection available here. 

To the other side of this complex is a large play building with what looked to be a very big, very busy soft play centre, and a cafe. We popped our heads through the door, thanked the gods that our kids are now a bit too old to soft play, and backed away slowly. But if you have pre-schoolers, it’s the kind of thing that’s a lifesaver on a rainy morning!

forest trail darwin country park

Having said that, a bit of drizzle shouldn’t put you off getting out and about. The countryside around Darwin Forest Country Park is flat-out gorgeous, and there are countless walks and trails inside the park, and in the immediate surroundings. Within the park, there’s a very short woodland walk, and a 1-mile forest trail, both of which are suitable for even very young children.

We took one of the forest walks on Sunday afternoon, and the views over the hills were ridiculously pretty. We’d also really recommend heading to Dovedale, where you can hop on the stepping stones across the river, and don’t miss the view from Monsal Head over the Wye Valley.

stepping stones river derbyshire

Darwin Forest Country Park is within a 15-minute drive of the towns of Matlock and Bakewell, both of which make for a pretty spot of afternoon browsing – and naturally, a stop at a tea-shop for some Bakewell tart. Rude not to, right?

We didn’t get time on this visit, but Darwin Park is also really close to Chatsworth House, a great spot if you’re a fan of Capability Brown’s gardens.

After a long walk, it’s lovely to be able to head back to the lodges at Darwin Forest Country Park. Late in the afternoon, there was barely a sound to be heard on our deck, and we watched a family of rabbits check us out while we relaxed in the hot tub.

hot tub at darwin forest country park

If you’re feeling in need of more entertainment, there are a range of activities available on-site. We booked archery for the girls but unfortunately it was cancelled (I assume because the weather wasn’t brilliant). There was also the option of snorkelling, fencing or even body zorbing, at different times of the week. These are at additional cost, usually around £10 per child. You can also bring along bikes, or hire them on-site.

I really liked Darwin Forest Country Park, and I thought the accommodation here was some of the cleanest and best-equipped we’ve seen. The site has many of the advantages of staying in a national park – lots of greenery, peace and quiet and proximity to some great country walks. But it’s not too big or hectic, like some of the holiday parks we have visited in the past. We also found the staff here really friendly – even on check-out when we were given some complimentary mints for the road!

Top Tips for Visits to Darwin Forest Country Park

  • Some of the larger lodges (including those at The Meadow) have a washing machine in the lodge. Otherwise, there is an on-site laundromat.
  • There’s no phone signal to speak of, but there are 30+ WiFi points on-site and we didn’t have any problems using Facebook, Instagram and the like during our stay. You just connect to the nearest access point as you move around the site. Access is free for guests. There are also two pay phones, handy in case of an emergency, and fixed Internet access PCs in the site reception where you can pay for Internet access at £1/15 minutes.
  • There’s a grocery shop on-site selling the basics, but it’s very limited for fresh fruit/vegetables/meat. Far better to book an online delivery from Tesco or Ocado to arrive as you check in. you can call ahead to find out your lodge number to use when you book your delivery.
  • Towels and linens are provided (and there are extra blankets in case you get cold) but if you want to swim, I’d suggest bringing extras – especially if your lodge also has a hot tub, you’ll likely run out of towels quite quickly.
  • The lodges don’t have BBQs as standard but you can hire them for the week – there’s plenty of space on the deck if you do decide to cook outdoors.
  • Each lodge has generous parking for two cars, but if you have a very large party, there’s additional parking on site near the main reception.


A 3 night weekend break in a 2-bedroom Horizon lodge costs from £475-£1,096 depending on the time of year booked. We visited for free for the purposes of this review. The other Meadow properties (Skyline and New England) have 3 bedrooms, and cost from £517 – £1219 for a weekend break. For more information, see the Darwin Forest Country Park website


90 thoughts on “Review: Darwin Forest Country Park, Derbyshire”

  1. It looks like you had a great low key break. Sometimes you can’t beat a forest holiday. We’re actually planning on going here with friends in Feb half term as it’s mid-way between us. It’s always nice to read reviews before you book things – so thanks for this.

  2. Oh my word, this looks fabulous! I bet it was just what you needed. I love the idea of staying somewhere with a hot tub, how relaxing! That’s not too far from us, might check it out next time we’re going for a weekend break.

  3. The lodge you stayed in looks really impressive. It sounds like somewhere we would consider staying for a relaxing break. The area is really beautiful and perfect for walking and outdoor activities

  4. You had me at “you don’t have to cook.” I’ve never been to Derbyshire before but I’m a sucker for a lodge (and a hot tub) – it’s a tough job being a blogger’s child isn’t it?!

  5. This looks amazing, my husband used to live in the Peak District and he keeps saying we need to take the children, love the fact that it can accommodate up to 8, we always struggle with places for the larger family.

  6. Oh my goodness bakewell and Matlock are our local go to escapes being down the road in Nottingham and often look for places to stay.

    This looks beautiful and the extra activities sound amazing my son loves archery and I have yet to try it

  7. What a wonderful holiday destination-looks great for family getaways with aunties and grannies or for a big family like mine. Love all the activities available too-something to suit everyone while mum relaxes! Great review thanks.

  8. This looks much more like our cup of tea size wise than some of the other holiday parks. It’s a beautiful part of the world too Matlock is so pretty especially at this time of year with all the Autumnal colours. I’ll be checking this out for my next family holiday

  9. Wow this looks like a great place to get away with children! Being a larger family with three children two of which are twins we do struggle to get away to hotels so U.K. and find holidays that are suitable for the 4 year old twins and our 12 year old son. But holidays like these are ideal! Plus it is not too far away from us!

  10. I think there’s an awful lot to be said for an Autumn break, it’s actually my favourite time of year to enjoy England. The park looks excellent, lots to do but lots of space too, it looks really tranquil. The swimming pool looks so good I’d never get out of it I don’t think. You’ve made me want to escape Manchester for the weekend 🙂

  11. This looks like such a lovely place to stay, so peaceful and relaxing but with plenty to do. I have really fond memories of the area as we did a lot of Duke of Edinburgh Scheme walks around the Peak District and spent many a week cycling the Tissington Trail with my Grandparents, I’d love to be able to take the family back and reminisce.

  12. Gorgeous! Fantastic view and it looks super cute insde. Looks like you were lucky with the weather too. I’m dying to get a mini break away with the hubby and toddler and I feel like this would be close enough to not be a palava but far away enough to feel like a break!

  13. I used to work in Matlock and would drive through Chatsworth imagining BBC Pride and Prejudice music. I have always wanted to go back for a holiday. I’ve never heard of this place before but it looks so good. I fear I would never get out of the bed or hot tub!! 🙂

  14. That’s one of my favourite areas of England, yet having visited loads of times to rock climb very nearby and visit Bakewell and other towns, the only time we’ve stayed anywhere was our wedding at a farm near Ashbourne. We love log cabin holidays and have been considering our UK family holiday for next year so will have to add this to the list x

  15. Ohhhhhh I’ve wanted to stay at Darwin Forest ever since I saw Kate Gunn’s review. The lodges look a cut above. I hail from that neck of the woods and always love a chance to go back up north for a weekend. The Peaks are just glorious – especially this time of year, lucky you! And who doesn’t want to sit in a hot tub in the fresh air of an evening?!

  16. Ooo that place looks so peaceful & serene! Looks like you had an amazing time . We love an autumn break and this place looks perfect ( and not too far away ) will get hubby to look later see if he’ll book us in for a birthday treat – wishful thinking but hey a girl can dream

  17. This place looks fantastic! The area is one of my favourites. I have family in Matlock and we keep meaning to go and visit so I’ll have to book mark this place for the next time we go.

  18. What a stunning place! Looks like relaxation heaven and who doesn’t love a hot tub? I love this part of the world (my Dad lives in the Peak District so have many happy memories) and the best part is being in South Yorkshire, we’re not too far away either. In fact I think it’s just the place for an autumnal baby moon… Great review Sally. Love the detail and tips. Thanks for sharing. X

  19. This looks like an idilic place to visit. I’d love to take Sylvia and my parents on holiday while they are in the UK and the country park sounds fabulous. 🙂 Love that they have a pool too! Angela from Daysinbed

  20. That place looks amazing! I love the combination of luxury and the great outdoors. We love spending time outside as a family but camping is definitely not for me so a hot tub, big comfy beds, and a fire to warm up by sounds idyllic.

    Will definitely keep this in mind for future trips.

  21. This looks fabulous. You’re making me holiday-sick (like homesick but for a holiday!) Sounds like it’s a really family friendly environment.

    It’s been many years since I was in that neck of the woods and I’d love to show it to my family.

  22. It looks glorious! We’re increasingly finding that self catered lodges are an ideal solution for our large, young family. This isn’t too far from us so would be perfect for a cheeky weekend break!

  23. This looks stunning! I’ve always wanted to stay in a cabin type acomodation, at Christmas in snow. Am I cheesy?! We’re moving to Derbyshire in the next month (opposite side of the peaks) It’s nice to see such lovely places to visit are local though.

  24. This looks like it would be right up our street. I swear my husband would live in the forest if I let him. Looks like you and Flea had a great time, and I’m very jealous that you no longer have to endure soft play.
    We went to Bakewell once for the day actually just to buy a Bakewell tart. It’s the kind of daft thing you do on a whim before you have children, if I remember correctly!
    England does have some brilliant place names – we live a few miles from Ramsbottom which amuses the kids no end.

  25. Oh my, that pool, the outdoor space and that terrace it all looks just perfect for a family break not to mention a hot tuuuuuuuuuubbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb! We often stay at keilder and theres o phone signal, its definitely a good thing for us!

  26. I had no idea a ‘lodge’ , could be so luxurious! It has separate rooms and a bed off the floor! This has totally skewed the way I think about lodges; love the fact it has a swimming pool but best of all no cooking unless you want to!
    Gorgeous places to visit nearby too. This would be fab for the whole family.

  27. Ooh this looks perfect! I’ve been looking at somewhere to take the kids away on my own for a staycation and this isn’t too far away! Will have to have a look! Great review! xx

  28. The photos of the stepping stones made me all homesick! I’m from Belper and we used to go on outings to Dovedale to play on them in the summer holidays when I was a child. I live in Lincoln now but beautiful Derbyshire will always my home in my heart!

  29. that lodge looks gorgeous. I’ve been looking in this area for places to stay for our next girls weekend. It’s a great location for us to meet up as it’s not far from us all, and perfect for a semi active break – hire a bike & cycle to the nearest pub is usually our style!

  30. This looks like my dream weekend away! I spent most of my childhood living abroad so I have so much fun discovering different places in the UK I never got to see when I was younger! The Peak District is definitely some of my faves so far!

  31. I am currently looking for somewhere to go with the parents for a belated 70th for my Mum. This isn’t too far from them so I will look into it further. There certainly looks like there is enough to keep the boys busy and if I don’t have to cook that is a bonus!

  32. Aww wow this looks lovely 🙂 … I love staying in places like this, we’ve been lucky enough to review Bluestone National resort before and loved being in the open and getting to explore with the little ones. This will definitely be added to our list of somewhere we want to visit. Looks like you had a lovely time. X

  33. We actually stayed here a couple of years ago and had a really great time, it was actually where our youngest took his first steps. We were pleasantly surprised by how much the site had to offer and the fairy tree absolutely stole our hearts, I set up a fairy trail for my daughter leading from the tree around the paths, it was so special. It would definitely be interesting to go back and get a full appreciation of the facilities now the children are old enough to get more out of them.

  34. This looks like the perfect break to go with a toddler with plenty of space to run around. I would love a little Mummy time in the spa as well. The lidge looks stunning, really impressed with each room having an ensuite and so many wifi points. Whenever we have stayed at lodges in the past, we haven’t been able to connect unless we were in the reception area x

  35. The lodge looks beautiful Sally, in fact the whole place looks amazing. I really don’t think there is a better UK break than in a country park and it’s always nice to have recommendation before booking. We’re looking for a short break over half term or a weekend near Christmas and this looks perfect.

  36. Looks like you have an AMAZING time! As a family of six, these would be perfect. Am jealous of the hot tub. We’ve been looking for somewhere in the Peak District/north Midlands as we live in East Yorkshire and it’s somewhere different but not too far for a weekend break. Am still jealous of the hot tub.

  37. Looks amazing! So peaceful. I’ve been meaning to visit dovedale for a while, heard great things about it. Love the Peak District so much we’ve booked our wedding there 🙂

  38. It looks like brilliant accommodation and the activities available sound a lot of fun. We’re actually off to Chatsworth House this weekend and were saying we can’t cram seeing all of the Peak District into one weekend, so this could be one to go to so we can see more.

  39. A spa, hot tub and swimming pool? Perfect for mums & kids! We’ll definitely check this out when it comes to our family holidays. With a teen & a baby travelling abroad is a bit more difficult these days.

  40. It looks amazing! I love staying in lodges, it feels much more homely (except so much nicer than my home) than a hotel and it looks like the surrounds are stunning. A hot tub sounds particular great, I would definitely be in there in the evening, when kids are asleep. Also I have a thing for stepping stones, the last set we crossed were in Yorkshire. 🙂 x

  41. Oh what a seriously stunning lodge in an amazing location. We love Derbyshire for our holidays as Mr C’s parents are just down the road. This would be perfect for us for when we want to visit family but also have our own lovely holiday. It looks perfect for families and the on site restaurant is a fantastic bonus! I’m also a big fan of a hot tub 🙂 Sounds like you had a fab break x

  42. Oh how beautiful it looks there, we love country walks as a family, so it looks like that would be the perfect place for a holiday! When we went to Wales we had no phone signal, and it was the best ever! No one bugged us and we wernt tempted to use our phones! It looked like you had a really lovely stay! Defiantly a place for us to keep in mind when we are planning our next adventure! x

  43. Wow this looks amazing! Would love to visit. It’s not too far from Newcastle either. My husband is on paternity leave at the moment, so we’ll have to wait until we’re both working again, but looks perfect for a relaxing break for little ones.

  44. There is nothing quite like an escape to the forest. Now that we are homeschooling staying somewhere like this becomes more possible. Looks super comfy and a little luxurious yet in the heart of the wild. A perfect combination. My sister lives in Derbyshire so we could look at staying here whilst visiting her. Love the look of Dovedale. I feel like I have been there before but would remember those stepping stones!

  45. This place looks amazing and perfect for families like mine with older kids, it looks like there is something there for everyone as well as plenty to do as a family. Our eldest daughter has just started at the University of Derby and this is only half an hour away from her, looks like the perfect place to combine a holiday and a visit!

  46. Sounds like you had a great break! It looks perfect for an autism family break too – the hot tub and outdoor space would be ideal for Sam’s love of peace, quiet and nature while his whirlwind sister would love the pool, playground and other activities on offer. Bakewell tarts within reach seals the deal for me – I’m off to send the link to hubby!

  47. I see no phone signal as a huge positive 🙂 This place looks like the perfect spot to really unwind and relax.

    I can’t believe how far apart the lodges are – lots of room for the kids to run around which I like.

    The facilities sound fab – we started playing tennis as a family this summer and would definitely put the tennis courts to good use.

    I hope you managed to pop to Bakewell for a proper Bakewell tart and not like some of those creations on the Bake Off last week.

    I’m off to research some prices for an autumnal getaway now – there aren’t too many places that offer lodges with hot tubs at such reasonable prices and my muscles would definitely thank me for booking here.

  48. I love it, this looks like the perfect retreat away from it all. We love the Peak District, it is such a wonderful part of the country and it looks like there is plenty to do on site so no need to venture out in the car (i’d possibly squeeze in a trip to Bakewell for a pudding though). And that hot tub, I can imagine even on a cold day it would be most inviting, especially after lots of walking or biking. Hmm, we have an extra week this half term and i’d been looking for something close by that would be great for me and my two littles.

  49. OMG this place looks amazing and exactly the sort of break we would choose – perfect for our girls with the pool and hot tubs and easy access for us too. Love that part of the country and the facilities there look fantastic! Thanks for sharing, I hadn’t heard about these but will definitely consider now.

  50. This looks incredible. We usually visit the Lake District with friends in January but will definitely check out Darwin Forest for our next trip.
    Guests at our B&B often complain about no phone signal but I really enjoy being completely cut off occasionally!

  51. Wow, what a fsntastic review! It sounds so great here, right up our street. Good to know they have washing machines – so helpful with littles and means you don’t have to pack so much which is always a bonus when you have a car packed with buggies etc. Being in the hot tub watching bunnies hop past and birds sing sounds simply divine! Can I go now?! It sounds like centre parcs which we love but with a bit less hustle and bustle, perfect. I’m adding this to my hit list of family holidays now and I’ll share this on my Facebook page, my readers will love to hear about this.

  52. Now, this is our kind of holiday. Been reading lots of holiday reviews lately, lots of sunshine and beaches but I must say our perfect family holiday has got to be something like this lots of space for the monsters to run wild and explore! Must remember this next time we are booking a break away.

  53. Ahhh, this place looks and sounds amazing – and it’s not too far for me either! The pool looks beautiful too I love that area of the country but I haven’t been for ages.

    We stayed at some lodges recently, that were quite different from this – but they also had hot tubs, and it was so brilliant having that. Made the whole trip extra special and relaxing. Great in-depth review Sally xx

  54. We spent a week in the Peak District earlier this year and loved it! It is only about 90 minutes from our house, but it felt like a totally different world, and there are so many family friendly places around there to explore. Darwin Forest Country Park looks like a fab place to stay for families with preschool children. The swimming pool complex and soft play look ideal for families with young kids, and there looks to be lots of space for them to run around and let off steam too!

  55. oh my goodness this place looks amazing! I’m all about quality when it comes to holidays, especially swimming pools as we find we spend a lot of time tiring out the boys.

  56. This looks lovely and would tick all the boxes for my family. We struggle to find luxury accommodation for a family of five. We need activities to suit teenagers to six year old and as such we look for this type of place. Obviously a hot tub and prosecco is a winner for mum too!

  57. This looks like such a relaxing & refreshing break. I’ve yet to stay in a lodge like this but it looks lovely and so spacious. The surrounding area is beautiful and if I stayed there I’d be in that swimming pool a lot! Thanks for joining in with #MyFavouriteTrip Polly

  58. Been a few times, this place is heaven to chill & forget the rest of the world. Staff ask are you coming back next year, so pleasing & approachable like a second family. Cant do enough for you. Maintenance & security 150%. Good clean accommodation, the places to visit in the vicinity, it’s like you have stepped into another world. I’m going back in june ’24, cant wait… well done to all that run darwin forest x

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