Peak District, United Kingdom

The Duncombe Arms

Price per night from$265.56

Price information

If you haven’t entered any dates, the rate shown is provided directly by the hotel and represents the cheapest double room (inclusive of taxes and fees) available in the next 60 days.

Prices have been converted from the hotel’s local currency (GBP204.76), via openexchangerates.org, using today’s exchange rate.

Style

Tuck in(n)

Setting

Dinky Staffordshire Village

‘Pub grub’ scores a huge PR coup at the Duncombe Arms, the cosiest of historic Staffordshire inns, close to the Peak District. It lures in locals and bandwagon-jumpers, who want succulent farm-fresh meats, kitchen-garden vegetables and best-of-British cheese, with some finer twists (a grapefruit-spiked hollandaise there, some charred-lemon butter there, a raspberry soufflé with tarragon ice-cream to finish…). It’s an oenophile too, with an in-depth wine list and staff knowledge to match. But even if it’s a little haute under the collar, all countryside charms are there: woodsmoke-scented comfort, local ales on tap, warm greetings, refined-rustic rooms and the sweetest of cottages overlooking birdsong-soundtracked greenery. 

Smith Extra

Get this when you book through us:

A glass of prosecco each during your stay

Facilities

Photos The Duncombe Arms facilities

Need to know

Rooms

10 rooms and two cottages (the Old Barn and Garden Cottage).

Check–Out

10am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.

Prices

Double rooms from £204.76, including tax at 20 per cent.

More details

Rates include a hearty country breakfast: the full English (with haggis, black pudding and local sausages and bacon); eggs Benedict and friends; eggy bread with honey-glazed ham and jumbo porridge oats. The cottages have a minimum three-night stay.

Also

There’s one room with a roll-in shower in Walnut House, but the country terrain can be uneven in places, and the pub itself has historic wonky flooring in parts.

At the hotel

Lounges, garden, board games, free WiFi. In rooms: TV, Roberts radio, Nespresso machine, kettle and teas, bottled water, bathrobes and slippers, and Bamford bath products. Guests can help themselves to bottles of milk from a fridge in the hallway.

Our favourite rooms

Walnut House is the modern addition to the pub with 10 rooms. These offer a refined take on the rustic surrounds, with nature-inspired names, botanical wallpapers, fresh flowers, and wood flooring and furnishings, each with a bespoke Farrow and Ball-ed colour scheme. The two family rooms are larger with a pull-out sofa and a bath tub; rooms upstairs have a slightly more alluring aspect of the Staffordshire countryside, although having a ground-floor patio to sit out on is rather lovely too. But the Duncombe Arms brings your cottagecore fantasies to life. Next to Walnut House is a skipping-stone path leading up to the 19th-century Old Barn, once part of the Calwich Estate, where the Duncombe family entertained Darwin, Rousseau and Handel (no biggie); you could easily imagine yourself in this dreamily beamed hideaway, writing at the desk, reading a book by the log-burner and hosting erudite gatherings using the kitchen and dining space. Or, there’s the Garden Cottage, on the owners’ spectacular Wootton Hall Estate – you’ll need a car for the five-minute drive there and back, but it’s worth it to snake up the long rhododendron-lined drive, past a babbling stream, valley of flowering trees, and farm enclosures; once there, you’re in your own world, one with a verdant view that goes on and on, with rabbits and pheasants darting furtively across as you take your sundowners.

Packing tips

Wellies and waterproofs will come in handy for rambles in the national park. And, if you’d like to learn when biodynamic wines are at-their-best, manager James recommends downloading the When Wine app.

Also

Taken a shine to what’s hanging on your walls? Lots of pieces are from the Crane Kalman Gallery in Knightsbridge and is available to buy on request.

Pet‐friendly

The owners have six dogs (kept on their estate offsite) and welcome more at the hotel, with bowls and jars of treats dotted about and some dog-friendly rooms, where a four-legged friend is welcome for £25 a night. See more pet-friendly hotels in Peak District.

Children

The cottages are idyllic family hideaways, offering privacy and twin rooms (just watch smalls around the wood-burner, antiques and such). There’s a dedicated kids’ menu and the setting might be sleepy, but Alton Towers’ thrills are close by.

Best for

All ages – but mostly kids tall enough to ride Alton Towers’ most thrilling ‘coasters.

Recommended rooms

The two family rooms in Walnut House comfortably sleep four with a sofa-bed, but the self-contained cottages give off the strongest British countryside magic – plus they have sweet twin rooms and a kitchen for flexible dining.

Activities

There are some board games to play onsite, and you can let your kids go free-range in the gardens, but if you’re here with the family, you’re probably here for Alton Towers. But that's not all that little ones will love. There’s high-octane adventuring at Go Ape Buxton, gentle rides (plus dinosaurs) at Gulliver’s Kingdom, animal-petting at Matlock Farm Park, macaque-spotting at the Monkey Forest, cable-cars and caverns at the Heights of Abraham, and a step back in time at Crich Tramway Village.

Meals

There are high-chairs to borrow on request and a dedicated kids’ menu with all the favourites: chicken goujons, mac and cheese, sausage and mash, ice-cream sandwiches… Plus a simplified roast dinner on Sundays.

No need to pack

There’s no baby kit on site so bring anything essential.

Also

Bring distractions for days when you don’t want to drive or when it’s rainy out.

Food and Drink

Photos The Duncombe Arms food and drink

Top Table

It’s amazing how a countryside fire becomes a confessional – sit in one of the leather booths by the hearth and some local gossip might float your way, plus you’ll be all warm and toasty. In summer, sit on a garden chair facing the Dove Valley.

Dress Code

Discard the muddier boots and wellies, but otherwise you can come very much as you are.

Hotel restaurant

The pub has a warren of mostly flagstone-floored and beamed dining rooms, all with snug touches, such as glowing fireplaces, strings of lights, soft leather booths, furry blankets, Persian rugs, and intriguing things hanging on the walls – say, obituaries of notable figures, a family tree and coat of arms, old racing photos and artwork from Crane Kalman gallery. And there’s a summery glass extension with a retractable roof. The Duncombe Arms was a destination restaurant before it was a hotel – earning a nod from Michelin – and top-notch food is still its MO. Dunwood Farm supplies the high-quality meats, hunters help with game in season, some vegetables and fruits are harvested from the Wootton Estate, and a herb garden is being cultivated so guests can see chefs picking seasonings for later. The food is as firmly rooted to the ground – little faffery, just solidly good ingredients, such as creamy chicken-liver parfait with bittersweet dabs of blood-orange gel; a bite of pinked lamb that tastes like spring, with a brick of pommes Anna and very wild garlic; or Dover sole slick with charred-lemon butter and dotted with brown shrimp. And choosing between a best-of-British cheeseboard or dessert is nigh-on impossible, with the likes of a Paris-brest piped with hazelnut cream and gooseberry jam, dark chocolate delice with a bright sour-cherry sorbet, and garlicky yarg or salt-crystal-pocked Somerset cheddar at stake. Book before arrival, and even further ahead for the multi-course seasonal wine dinners.

Hotel bar

The Duncombe Arm’s staff (especially general manager James) are very passionate about your pick of poison. The bar counter welcomes you as you enter and there are a handful of cushioned stools to pull up – but you’ll likely sit at one of the many tables or take your pint of locally made Duncombe ale outside to admire Staffordshire’s verdure. Also on tap are picks from local breweries, including Banks’s, the Rural Brewing Co, Marston’s, and Revisionist Brewing. But grape goes against the grain here, with a fabulous cellarful of uncommon, biodynamic and just very drinkable wines starring in a 200-strong list. We liked the by-the-glass Jean Biecher Pinot Blanc, the Italian Bulgarini Lugana, and several from Bordeaux. And there’s good spirits of all kinds including 28 gins and a wide selection of international whiskies.

Last orders

Breakfast is from 8am to 9.30am (8.30am to 10am on weekends), lunch from noon to 2.30pm (3pm on Sundays), dinner from 6pm to 8.30pm (7.30pm on Sundays). The bar closes at 10pm.

Location

Photos The Duncombe Arms location
Address
The Duncombe Arms
Ellastone
Ashbourne
DE6 2GZ
United Kingdom

The Duncombe Arms is the only pub and restaurant in the petite Staffordshire village of Ellastone (just look for the huge sign painted on its outer wall), close to the Derbyshire border, Peak District National Park and Alton Towers.

Planes

The closest international hub is the East Midlands Airport, an hour’s drive away, which has direct links to major cities in the UK and a fair few in Europe. Birmingham and Manchester Airports have a wider reach and are both about a 90-minute drive away, and Luton is the closest serving London.

Trains

East Midlands Railway stop Uttoxeter is the closest train station, about a 15-minute drive away. To reach it from London St Pancras International, Liverpool Lime Street or Sheffield, change at Derby.

Automobiles

If you’re visiting to experience the Duncombe’s skillful cookery, with your only onward travel the waddle off to bed, then book a local taxi and don’t worry about driving. But, if you want to explore – even not much – further afield, a car will be very useful. There’s parking onsite (and at the Wootton Estate if you’re staying in the Garden Cottage), and the hotel has chargers for electric vehicles.

Other

There are a few helipads and airfields nearby if you feel the need to make a flashier entrance.

Worth getting out of bed for

Teeny Staffordshire (edging in on Derbyshire) village Ellastone has a claim to fame: George Eliot modelled the setting for her novel Adam Bede on it, and local enthusiast Ed Barker arranges literary walks to various scenes from it (largely focused on Calwich Abbey). Otherwise, aside from the odd movie night and a clarinettist who moved into the old town hall and gives performances from their garage, you’ll find the Ellaston-ians in the Duncombe Arms. But, giants lay just beyond this sleepy hamlet – the Peak District National Park is a short drive north, one of England’s most green and pleasant stretches (all 500-odd square-metres of it), with deer-roamed heather-strewn moors, craggy tors, ancient woods, neolithic stone circles, and mountains and edges to conquer, plus some National Trust treasures: Winster Market House, Hardwick Hall, Kedleston Hall and the regal Lyme Park estate. The sprawling grounds and enormous mansion of Chatsworth House are within easy reach too. And, Duncombe’s owners have their own swathe of countryside you can tour for a small fee and at set times (after all, it is their home too); the Wootton Hall Estate is a ridiculously picturesque collection of a stream, forest, gardens (including a kitchen garden) and farmland (home to chickens, a cow and Sydney the sheep, who you’ll recognise from the painting on the pub’s dessert menu). Entry is £5 (or with the lunch menu at the pub), and you can visit over a few months a year during spring and autumn, between 10am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday (you'll get a map too). Alton Towers may be monumental in a different way…but it’s top of its game for thrills and chills, and any kids you’re bringing along will welcome the break from rambling and antique houses. Meets at Uttoxeter Racecourse, motorcycle track days at Darley Moor Sports Centre, or watersports at Carsington Reserve will also get your adrenaline going. But if it’s the birdsong-pierced peace you came for, bike or fish by the Dove River (said to have inspired Handel’s Water Music), take a gentle day of antique-hunting in market town Ashbourne, then play a board game by the fire when you’re back in the Duncombe’s warm embrace. 

Local restaurants

In all honesty, the Duncombe Arms is the best dining option between Derby and Stoke-on-Trent, with any comparable Peak District restaurants embedded deeper into the parkland.

Local cafés

The Denstone Hall Farm Shop and Café is about a five-minute drive away for hefty farmer’s breakfasts, well-filled baps, freshly made quiches and tarts, and afternoon teas. And the Rambler’s Retreat is set in two restored 19th-century gatehouses, and has a wide range of toasties, tray-bakes and generous slices of homemade cake (Jammy Dodger cheesecake, cookies and cream gateau), plus the requisite scones and cream.

Reviews

Photos The Duncombe Arms reviews
Laura Houseley

Anonymous review

By Laura Houseley, Architecture enthusiast

It was our own fault. Mr Smith and I, both being of good North English stock, should really know better than to arrive at a country inn in the middle of Sunday lunch service. What were we thinking? As we stepped over the threshold of the 19th-century Duncombe Arms inn we were immediately swerving left and right to avoid steaming plates of roast dinner being expelled rapid-fire from the nearby kitchen, skilfully carried at shoulder height by striding waiters and waitresses with deep concentration etched across their faces. Every table in the place was full and a happy lively clatter and chatter from soon-to-be stuffed customers filled the air. As a glorious Yorkshire pudding the size of Mr Smith’s head was propelled past us, we began to regret not having arrived early enough to join in this feasting. As it was we were, to be frank, getting in the way. 

At first view it was clear that the Duncombe Arms is an artfully presented pub with a loyal local clientele. Although certainly elevated to ‘special-occasion dinner’ status with its neat and pretty conservatory-style restaurant and manicured garden, it retains all the flagstone floor, squeaky leather banquettes and real-fire smokiness that customers demand from an authentic countryside establishment. And, nestled into the beautiful Peak District, just a stone’s-throw from beauty spots that would make Wordsworth weep, The Duncombe Arms is every inch the quintessential country inn. Mr Smith and I had come exploring, but for now, we needed to extract ourselves from the doorway and out of the firing range of slow-cooked meats. We headed to the bar.

It was here that Nardine, the cool-under-fire deputy manager, found us and escorted us to our room. For those dreaming of a charmingly antiquated country-house stay, the newly built suites, set apart from the 1850 inn, might lack a little, well, age. But what the rooms are short of in years they make up for in square-footage and style. Our suite was palatial, high-ceilinged, stone-walled, and with a bed so huge we wondered if it might have straddled the county border; Mr Smith snoozing in Derbyshire and myself out like a light in Staffordshire. 

The Duncombe Arms does indeed sit midway between these counties in the tiny village of Ellastone. In the cosy bar pictures of racing horses adorn the walls, a reminder that Uttoxeter’s famous racecourse is just a short drive away. Similarly, Stoke-on-Trent and the historic Potteries are close by. But it is the proximity to the Peak District, in all its verdant, rolling, dramatic glory that is the geographical detail worth noting. And I should know, as I repeatedly tell Mr Smith, because the Peak District is from where I hail. So, being replete with the kind of local knowledge that money can’t buy (as I also repeatedly tell Mr Smith) we turn on our heels and hit the country lanes. En route to the Duncombe Arms we had spent the morning filling our poor city-stunted eyes with the gargantuan picture-perfect vistas of Chatsworth House and its Capability Brown-designed grounds. We whispered our way through its grand halls and stood like miniature incarnations of ourselves in front of its colossal fountains. We bought the obligatory chutney from the farm shop. Now, we stopped briefly in the cobbled market town of Ashbourne before strolling through the ludicrously idyllic sandstone village of Tissington and onward for a more serious exercising of legs and romancing of the soul up into the blissful rocky peak. As the sun began to slowly lower, throwing welcome warmth onto both us and the dark stone cliffs, we also began our descent into Dovedale, a valley so pretty as to have become an enduring motif for the great Romantic artists, and today such a draw with bucolic-loving tourists as to create frequent hiker jams of visiting walkers. We returned to our stately room replenished, and yet ravenous.

It is just as well that the Duncombe Arms does dinner very, very, well. Mr Smith and I took our place in the small candlelit dining room among our fellow guests and reviewed the menu of finessed classic dishes; each featuring some small but delicious deviation from the norm and all boasting carefully selected locally sourced ingredients. After three courses of delicious ‘fayre’, our minds were finally distracted from the missed opportunity that was Sunday lunch. We retired to a quiet corner of the old inn, now hushed and creaking, as though getting ready to slumber, after which it would awaken for another day of welcoming visiting out-of-towners, weary city dwellers, treat-seekers, all those in need of respite and the kind of reinvigoration that only such a place as the Duncombe Arms and the glorious Peak District beyond could bring. You see, the very best things, I tell Mr Smith as he performs a dramatic eye-roll, come from here.

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Price per night from $265.56