A Victorian Gothic manor set amid blustery wildness might seem the setting for some tragic love story – but Callow Hall, set at the tippy-toe of the Peak District National Park, is a joy. For one thing it has Treehouses (yay!), from which you could badger-watch as you bathe on your deck and see the woodlands turn from purple to gold with the seasons. Plus, the Best of British menu really is that, which might have smoked local brie with charred baby leeks from the garden, monkfish Wellington or Derbyshire lamb koftas. And, an Isabella Worsley makeover has chased out any gloominess with colour, pattern and playfulness in rooms. There’s serious outdoorsiness to be had, but when you come in and pull off your loaned Hunters, there’ll be a cocktail of White Peak gin or flute of Pol Roger waiting, a seat with a green-goddess view, and many cosy nooks to curl up in.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £174.60, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates don’t include breakfast.
The hotel has made efforts to become accessible, adding ramps in public areas and specially adapting a room (number 16) with bathroom grab rails, lower sinks and wider doors.
At the hotel
Wellness centre and sauna; fitness studio; gardens; woodland; orchards; free-to-hire Dutch, trail and children’s bikes (electric and mountain bikes available for a small fee); map room; charged laundry service; Hunter wellies to borrow; free WiFi. In rooms: TV with Chromecast, Roberts Radio, hair straightener, Nespresso coffee machine, tea-making kit, bathrobes, free bottled water, 100 Acres bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Well, do you want to lord it up in the manor? Or go a little wild? We can’t deny the lure of the Hives and Treehouses (who doesn’t love a treehouse?), which are set amid the ancient woodland. The Hives are the more intimate choice for couples, with a bedroom, kitchenette and a deck cushioned in boughs. The Treehouses have two bedrooms and would suit a family, but they’re romantic too, the copper bath tub on the deck makes badger-spotting all the more amorous. And, these are no survivalist cabins – no, designer Isabella Worsley (formerly of the Kit Kemp group) has taken the helm to make them stylish as can be. And, she’s done fine work in the main house too, mixing patterns, putting up Melissa White wallpapers, adding colour and comfortable padded pieces, cosy throws and bold-hued rugs. The Fabulous Rooms are certainly that, not just in style, but due to the roll-top bath tub under stone mullion windows and an emperor-size bed we’ll worship any day.
Set aside from the hall, the stone Coach House is a serene wellness centre for botanical massages with fragrant 100 Acres products, mani-pedis, face masks made of house-gathered honey and scrubs using the comb, and some downtime in the sauna. Or it’s where you chill out during sound therapy or scream ‘stop overtaking me’ at your partner as you compete in the interactive room where bikes are set up for races. There may not be a pool, but the fitness studio has Technogym equipment (weights, bikes, rowing machines), and there’s a space for yoga (lessons are charged). Practitioner Gavin can also lead you on a forest-bathing foray.
Boots made for walking and walking and walking…
Fittingly, the Wildhive group have included an apiary in the grounds, and bees from the hive have indeed been busy, pollinating a wide tranche of the countryside, including the hotel orchards.
Kids are welcome in the hotel – there’s a dedicated menu in the restaurant and some rooms can fit an extra bed or cot (for an extra charge). However, for a family stay that’ll win you brownie points, book one of the Treehouses, which hold up to five.
The Wildhive group behind Callow Hall have acted on their name in green-ifying this Victorian manor (which, with its bluebell-carpeted woodland, run-amok meadows and flowery gardens, was off to a good start). For starters, true to their name, they’ve installed an apiary with very industrious buzzy bees who pollinate a two-mile radius, including the hotel’s orchard, helping local farm-crop yields and boosting biodiversity. A kitchen garden stocks up ingredients, and for all else, thoroughly vetted suppliers (who by turns have happy animals, make things by hand, turn out small batches, use Earth-kind packaging, care deeply about quality and might even have some heritage to them) step in. In collaboration with Blue Forest (makers of gorgeous eco-friendly treehouses), the owners have built Hives and Treehouses out of reclaimed wood for guests to stay in throughout the grounds, and guests are encouraged to follow nature trails and learn about the flora and fauna. And, they can plant a tree too, to help with the hotel’s own replanting efforts. The car park has electric chargers, and guests not staying in the main house get ferried about in e-buggies. And the stay’s green on the inside too: there’s a biomass boiler, the glass-walled Garden Room restaurant was designed with a passive-solar gain living roof so it blends into the landscape. Fresh flowers from the garden are brought into bedrooms, where you’ll also find a plant-a-pencil, antiques bought at auction super juices to sip and refillable bottles of environmentally friendly 100 Acres bath products.
Outdoorsy sorts should request a fairy-lit woodland meal or picnicking by Bentley Brook. Or entertain indoors in the elegant private Dovedale room, displaying handpainted Melissa White wallpaper depicting the surrounds.
Not an eyebrow will be raised at a pair of wellies or wind-battered North Face jacket. But, despite its name, the Garden Room isn’t the place for soil smudges and grassy knees.
A sunblush-tomato-stuffed Wellington that oozes Somerset brie when you poke it, Packington pork chops drowned in cider jus and spread with Bramley compote, fat bubble-and-squeak cakes dunked in tamarind ketchup – and this is just for lunch at the Garden Room restaurant which offers the kind of firmly rooted, farm-found, heftily portioned rustic fare that’ll have you contentedly loosening your belt. Although maybe buckle that for now, because the glass-walled dining space (built with eyes on view worshipping) is an elegant space with trees in planters and blue-green hues. Dinner changes with the very visible seasons here, but each monthly menu cherry-picks British produce to pair with homegrown vegetables, fruit and herbs, which go into chutneys, pestos, jams, sauces and more. So, you might have soya-glazed Cornish octopus resting on a salad of samphire strawberries and pickled chilli; venison from Calke Abbey served with poached blackberries, a slab of smoked bacon and Scottish girolles; or a lemon parfait paired with house honey, roasted whisky-glazed peaches and gingerbread from Ahsbourne. Whether it’s freshly baked sourdough from Loaf bakery in Crich village, creamy Daltons Dairy ice cream, charcuterie from the Pig Paddock and Belted Galloway steaks from Peaks Pasture Farm, this is cookery that truly brings the countryside to your plate. And, don’t miss the afternoon tea where dainty finger sandwiches meet fist-sized scones and other treats – we recommend bulking up the already generous offering with the Derbyshire sharing plate, which lays out local charcuterie, cheese and bread, and a couple glasses of Pol Roger.
There’s a bar area in the Garden Room, with sofas overlooking the grounds, and then there’s the Library Snug, which is as cosy as it sounds. The Bees’ Knees is the signature spirit, gin flavoured with honey, raspberry and lime (but changeable with the seasons), but the hotel is also one of a handful that have Pol Roger as their pouring champagne too. Of mixologist Munroe’s concoctions, we like the earthy sensorial immersion of the Woodland Martini, with Derbyshire Shining Cliff gin, Douglas fir vodka, charred sage syrup and woodland bitters. And abstainers are no afterthought here, with just as imaginative drinks: tropical punch, lavender lemonade, a strawberry and mint cooler.
Breakfast is from 8am to 10.30am, lunch is from 12 noon to 2pm, afternoon tea from 2.30pm to 4.30pm, and dinner from 6pm to 9pm.
While the Hives and Treehouses are a little too far removed for room service; for those staying in the main house, it's only available on request during service hours.
Callow Hall has the magnitude of the Peak District National Park stretching out above it. Set at the very bottom tip, it’s just a 20-minute walk from largely-listed Ashbourne Village, with a vividly green buffer between.
The closest travel hubs are Manchester and Birmingham airports, just over an hour’s drive away. Or land at Leeds Bradford, about a two-hour drive away. Transfers can be arranged (from £50 to £100 one-way). If you’re making the drive from London, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted, they’re all about a two-and-a-half-hour journey away.
Derby train station is just a 30-minute drive away and is very well-connected, with a direct link to London St Pancras and Sheffield for starting points further north.
When you’re not using your legs, a car will come in handy for hopping from stately home to village. There’s a free-to-use car park a short walk from the main building, and charging points for electric cars.
The hotel’s helipad is free to use, you’ll be pleased to know…
Worth getting out of bed for
It’s time to go walkies… No seriously, there’s a lot of walking to be done in the Peak District National Park and the surrounding countryside. So much so that the hotel has a dedicated ‘map room’, which launches many adventures (don’t worry, along-the-way pubs are pointed out too), and for more guidance staff recommend the Komoot App. The grounds themselves – 35 acres of gardens, woodland and wild meadows – call to romantic roamers too, and if you have any questions along the way, the keepers are friendly to chat to. They’re home to deer, badgers, rabbits and many bird species; the kitchen gardens are ripe for scrumping (it’s allowed), and lawns are set for genteel croquet matches. Beyond, you could skip over the Dovedale stepping stones, clamber over Thorpe Cloud Hill and Dovedale Valley’s notorious Dragon’s Back, gently amble by the Dove River (it allegedly inspired Handel to compose the Messiah, so you never know…), or get those calf muscles pumping across the limestone dales and purple-patched high moorland of the national park. Perhaps walking Limestone Way (a 46-mile swathe of the Trans-Pennine trail, which stretches all the way to the Turkish border), or the Boundary Walk, which goes all the way around (it’s 188 miles has been apportioned into manageable walks for novices). And the Mam Tour Walk offers iconic views. If that sounds exhausting, or your legs can’t carry you fast enough, the hotel has bikes to borrow for free (and e-bikes and mountain bikes for a charge); again, there are routes galore to follow, all revealing more of the park’s natural splendour, but we like the Tissington Trail, a gentle 13-mile pedal, which passes the Tissington Hall Estate – a manor born for afternoon-tea stops, and ends at Parsley Hay, a dark-sky reserve which sparkles after dark. However, poor Tissington Hall can’t compete with the stupendously grand Chatsworth House, home to the Devonshires for 16 generations. In the grounds, there’s an arboretum, fountains, sculptures, a farm and playground, and within, amid marble flooring, run-riot frescoes and gilding galore, are the many precious artefacts of the Devonshire Collection (dazzling jewels, old masters, rare books, curios). On a smaller scale, the area’s villages are story-book settings of duck ponds, tearooms, small churches and dinky shops. Ashbourne, in the Derbyshire Dales is famous for its more than 200 listed buildings, and seems like a delightfully sleepy place, until Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, when a game of football played to mediaeval rules (i.e. riotous) careens through the streets. Or you could try rock climbing, abseiling, caving or yoga, and the hotel also offers mixology classes, pottery-making at local studio, priority-access golf at Ashbourne Club and a seasonally changing programme of events such as floristry and Pol Roger dinners for those who look at a rock face and say: ‘no’.
Dining in Derbyshire means laden plates and hearty puds, the kind of fare that’ll keep morale up when you’ve well exceeded your 10,000 steps a day. Yes, there are Michelin stars aglitter in the green, and chefs like to get playful with ingredients, but there’s only an air of preciousness when it comes to provenance. Ashbourne, just a 20-minute walk away, has many tempting places, like the Duncombe Arms, a 19th-century pub (fireplace, open brick, intimate nooks) given new life and a snazzy new menu, with caramelised onion tarte tatin with a white-onion soubise sauce and fig; or pink fir potatoes in cultured cream with nasturtium and seaweed, alongside warming fish pies and slabs of steak. The Lamplight Restaurant skips even further back in time to the 15th century when it was a coaching inn, and it has the beams and wonky proportions to prove it. Food is a touch more modern – think ham hock and pistachio rolls, salmon fillet with a coconut and macadamia crust, cod in a tomato, olive and chorizo sauce… If you’re willing to take a taxi for a date-night meal, then look out for the Lighthouse, who only serve a tasting menu, but a good one at that, with chicken-liver and sauternes gougères, wood pigeon with salted-smoked beets and apricot, and a pineapple and matcha millefeuille.
Ashbourne’s Jack Rabbits is a relaxed caff with piles of homemade cakes and scones under glass cloches, Outpost Coffee from Nottingham, daily fresh bread and lunches with a European flavour. And Friends Café has meaty mains and sandwiches, plus buttercream-swirled cakes you can a decent wedge from.
The hotel can arrange a tour of the White Peak Distillery, where Wire Works single-malt whiskies and Shining Cliff gin are made. Naturally, it ends in the tasting room. And, if you’re on a day trip to Chatsworth House, be sure to pop into the Peacock at Rowsley for a pint of Bakewell Best. It may look upper crust on the outside, but it’s very welcoming within and does a fabulous selection of cocktails.
‘We want people to feel like they’re staying at a friend of a friend’s house.’ That’s how one member of staff describes Callow Hall. And she’s right – for a luxury hotel, the atmosphere is notably unstuffy; from guests tramping through the tiled hallways in their walking boots and wellies to the easy conversations we have with the warm and welcoming staff who are always happy to provide local recommendations and generally have a chit-chat.
Set in verdant Derbyshire countryside, Callow Hall feels like the ultimate retreat from the frantic pace of day to day life. The impressive grey-stone building looks out over fields and trees as far as the eye can see – 35 acres of gardens, wild meadow and woodland.
Lounging on a daybed outdoors in the sun, I spot roaming pheasants, swooping kestrels and – suitably considering it’s Easter when I visit – the white flash of bunnies’ tails as they bounce across the grass.
Nature is at the heart of Callow Hall. From the framed pressed flowers that adorn the sitting room’s walls to the woodland trails through the undergrowth, there is a focus here on embracing the outdoors.
The Garden Room restaurant prides itself on local produce too – traditional Derbyshire oatcakes for breakfast, and a plethora of local cheeses and meats. For dinner, I opted for tender local wood pigeon spatchcock followed by Derbyshire fillet steak cooked rare. As someone who grew up visiting relatives here, I can attest that the county’s beef is perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted.
The Garden Room restaurant is in fact one of the highlights of our trip. With a skylight roof, glass-fronted panels throughout and trees in the centre, the theme of nature continues as the décor brings the outside in, taking full advantage of the spectacular country views.
Staff are attentive and the food, as mentioned, is top-notch. A waiter sees Mr Smith and I tasting each other’s meals and offers us a broad smile when we explain we both just want to try everything. ‘Got to be done,’ he nods. ‘That’s the way we like it here.’
So full that my tights feel tight (something I must admit I didn’t know was possible), we retire to our fully accessible and absolutely huge room on the ground floor. The walls are a deep, calming green, the décor a quirky mix of old and new, from the country-rustic furniture to the modern glass lamp shade that casts warm patterns across the high ceiling. Smooth Chill plays from a Roberts radio in the corner, easing us into an evening of comfort and relaxation.
The bathroom is a masterpiece of accessible design. As an amputee, so many bathrooms I’ve encountered even in the poshest of hotels feel more like a hospital than a place of luxury relaxation. Not the case at Callow Hall.
Yes, there are grab rails, emergency cords and a step-free shower cubicle. But everything is as stylish as it is practical, with smart his-and-hers sinks, toilet rails that neatly fold away and a giant bath overlooking the grounds. After a long, deep soak with a lemon and ginger tea, I cosy up in the provided dressing gown, sink into soft feather pillows and drift off immediately.
Our weekend of relaxation continued the next day with a signature massage at the coach house, another beautiful old building a stones’ throw from the main hotel. There’s a sauna, cold plunge pool and an array of treatments on offer, and my full body massage left me revitalised and pleasantly sleepy, all tension eased from both body and mind.
The Peak District has so much to offer, particularly in good weather, and we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine for most of our trip. The villages of Tissington and Hartington are perfect for pottering (don’t miss the famous Old Cheese Shop at Hartington), while the pubs in this area are plentiful and top quality. We particularly loved the Star at Cotton with its wooden beamed ceilings and hearty pub grub – I demolished the beef and ale pie.
Just 10 minutes’ drive from Callow Hall are Dovedale and Ilam Park, both perfect spots for walking and breathtaking views. Make sure you try out the famous stepping stones across the water at Dovedale – not only was it great fun, it was also amazing watching other people make the crossing.
We saw one man single-handedly carry a pushchair across, several tiny tots bravely leaping from stone to stone and numerous excitable dogs splashing through the water without bothering to use the stones. I’m pretty sure that if she’d been with us, our own puppy would have insisted on being carried…
With so much to explore, we leave wishing we had another night – or two, or three. Callow Hall definitely did feel like a home from home. We’re already talking about going back.