Can there be a better way to spend a Saturday than in the beautiful middle of nowhere with one of your closest friends and your respective other halves? Only if the 'middle-of-nowhere' happens to hide a veritable feast of gastronomic establishments, selling drool-worthy, hunger/craving-quenching delights.
As I have got older (and thus more busy), I have found it increasingly difficult to arrange regular meet-ups and catch-ups with friends, especially those of the used-to-live-round-the-corner-but-now-live-far-away variety. The other side of being older and busier, however is that it is so much more important to hang on to the important people in your life and to drop everything from time-to-time in order to spend quality time with them.
Having not seen Jenny - first and best friend at secondary school, pen-lender extraordinaire and general heroine of my teenage years - since Christmas, I decided it was high time that I saw her again. She lives in Nottingham (only an hour away), but both of us fancied getting away from our respective cities and out into the countryside. We therefore met at halfway point in Dovedale, Derbyshire.
Being the slightly (but not really) grown-up ladies that we are, we also took with us our significant others. This worked out very well for all concerned. Jenny and I had plenty of time to talk the world to rights whilst the boys were able to indulge in a little male-bonding over sports, medicine etc.
Dovedale is very quiet and sheltered, compared to the rest of the rugged, wind-harried peak district. A shallow river, so clear that you can see right to the bottom, runs through the heart of the dale and rolling green hills rise-up either side of it, occasionally pierced by an enormous shard of a grey, stone cliff. Clusters of snowdrops seem to litter the skirts of every road and path and great carpets of them stretch out like the remnants of actual snow before a thaw.
The area around Dovedale is clearly the place to live if you have a lot of money, but prefer a life in the country. The former will never be true of me, even though the latter is the subject of most of my daydreams. Never mind, this house and the many others we saw, though stunningly beautiful are rather too big and palatial for little old me. Still, nice to look at though, eh?
As I said at the start, we punctuated our healthy country walk with regular food stops. The first was in a little village called Milldale, where some very business-savvy people have set up a little window-kiosk at the front of their cottage. In the absence of any other sustenance-vending establishments, a veritable flock of people were gathered in the tiny area around the cottage, all munching on homemade biscuits washed down with a hot cup of well-earned tea. They even sold 'Fab' ice-lollies, which proved to be an irresistible childhood throw-back, for Andy.
Our next stop should have been the The George Inn at Alstonefield; a quintessentially English, rickety old pub that specialises in locally reared meat and seasonally grown produce (I could not be a bigger fan of either of these things). Unfortunately, this is clearly a matter on which a lot of other people agree as the pub was completely full when we got there.
Starving and three miles from the next pub (far too far for anybody's liking), we satisfied ourselves with the pub's farm shop. What a treat! We had pork pies, goats' cheese tarts, bread and an amazing cheese called 'Hartington Bomber'. It was rather drizzly outside so the ingenious lady from the shop gave us an industrial roll of clingfilm with which to waterproof a picnic bench. Such industry! I am definitely going to keep a roll in the boot from now on as it worked an absolute treat!
We did get slightly lost on the way back, but were cheered up massively when Jenny produced a stash of brownies from her bag.
We returned to our cars feeling very pleased with ourselves. We had spent a lovely day in each others' company, eaten some seriously delicious food and found an absolute gem of a place to visit (one, which we will be returning to as soon as possible).
We even managed to squeeze in a cornet of lovely, local ice-cream for the road.