Perched on the edge of the hill, sitting on the terrace of an alpine-style restaurant enjoying the panoramic view in front of us, we could easily have been eating lunch in Switzerland.
But we were in fact at the Heights of Abraham in the beautiful Peak District.
A 60-acre country park on top of Masson Hill, 550ft above the attractive village of Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, the Heights of Abraham can be reached by cable car from the village.
The park is named after the Plains of Abraham in Quebec where General James Wolfe defeated the French in 1759. It opened in Victorian times.
The cable car was built in 1984 and up until then the only way to get to the top was via a steep zig-zag path, which you can still use if you’re feeling particularly energetic.
Attractions include a visitor centre, bar, the Terrace Cafe, woodland walks, picnic and play areas – and, of course, the spectacular views across the Derwent Valley.
Not only can you explore the top of Masson Hill, you can also venture inside it. From Roman times onwards, an important industry in this area was lead mining – which reached its peak in the 17th century – and visitors to the Heights can look round its two former mines.
Guided tours of the passageways and chambers of the Great Masson and Great Rutland Caverns take you back in time to learn about their formation 300 million years ago and the harsh lives of the miners who later worked there.
My wife Alison, 12-year-old son Will and I had a great time at the Heights of Abraham. The cavern tours are fascinating but be careful as the floor can be quite slippery in places.
“I love it here,” Will told me, as our guide switched off the lights in the main chamber to demonstrate how dark it is underground.
“Why’s that?” I asked. “Because it’s so dark and creepy,” he replied… this from a boy who likes to sleep with the landing light on!
Both cave tours and the cable car are included in the park’s admission price of £16 for adults and £11 for four to 16-year-olds.
Our base for a long weekend in the Peak District was the nearby Landal Darwin Forest holiday park.
The park, near Matlock on the edge of the Peak District, won a VisitEngland Award for Excellence in 2016, and it’s easy to see why, with its luxurious wooden lodges and excellent facilities surrounded by beautiful woods.
As we drove in on our first day, after a long, stressful Bank Holiday journey from Kent, we were struck by the park’s relaxed feel and its splendid scenery. The receptionist was very friendly as she sympathised with us about our seven-hour drive before showing us where to find our lodge on a little map.
We really needed somewhere to unwind and, when we got to our top-of-the-range Skyline lodge, we were not disappointed. It was in a lovely spot, surrounded by trees in the park’s exclusive Meadow area with just two other lodges.
Nearby were a pond and pretty woodland walks, as well as the park’s Trim Trak forest obstacle course, which Will loved when he had a go on it the next day – clambering over walls and balancing on beams.
Outside, the lodge had two parking spaces, a terrace and a large hot tub, which we were looking forward to using during our stay. Inside, the cosy living area, with three comfortable bedrooms and two stylish bathrooms, with their upmarket, minimalist decor, wouldn’t have looked out of place in a high-end boutique hotel.
As far as unwinding went, it fitted the bill perfectly.
There was certainly plenty to do at Landal Darwin Forest.
The park’s extensive facilities include the Evolution fitness centre, complete with gym, spa and indoor heated pool, Foresters bar and restaurant, the Explorers’ Cafe, indoor play centre, pool tables, tennis court, cycle hire, crazy golf, fencing, archery and the aforementioned Trim Trak.
Will and I had a great splash around in the pool on our second day. While not huge, it was more than big enough to have a proper swim. A couple of rounds of crazy golf on the well-maintained course were also a lot of fun, with some challenging holes reminding me why I’m never going to be the next Tiger Woods.
Although we were in Darwin Forest rather than Sherwood Forest, the three of us decided to unleash our inner Robin Hood by trying out the archery.
At £12 each for a couple of hours’ instruction it proved to be excellent value. Our instructor Ian was both informative and entertaining, and we got to shoot loads of arrows.
It was all very enjoyable, particularly as I managed to win the competition at the end with a score of 87 out of 100 (maybe I should have told the others that I had been a member of the archery club when I was at university).
Once you’ve finished your activity-filled day what you need is a relaxing meal and a pint– or a glass of wine and a J2O in Alison and Will’s case.
The Foresters restaurant is a bistro that serves good hearty grub – burgers, scampi, steak… that sort of thing. The surroundings are pleasant, portions large and the food is very tasty, especially the Sunday roast.
The Foresters doesn’t serve breakfast but you can get that at the Explorers’ Cafe, which also serves snacks and coffee during the day. The Explorers’ is part of the Little Monkeys soft play area, so can be a bit noisy – but it does serve a mean bacon roll.
Another way to unwind is to jump in the bubbling hot tub outside the lodge. On our final night Alison and I opened a bottle of Prosecco and sat back in the warm, relaxing water with our plastic cups in our hands – no glass of course – to toast our wonderful weekend.
With our luxurious lodge and our cable car trip to the Heights of Abraham, we really had experienced the high life – in more ways than one.
Book a break at Landal Darwin Forest
A four-night self-catering stay at Landal Darwin Forest near Matlock, Derbyshire, starts from £395 based on four sharing a Haddon Classic 2 luxury lodge. For more information visit landal.co.uk or call 0345 498 6200.