The Peak District somehow demands ‘traditional’ but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want chocolate-box cuteness cluttering your bedroom when you get back from a hard day’s tramping the hills. It would have been very easy for The Devonshire Arms Pilsley to go down the wall-to-wall-chintz route, but its mellow stone walls and pansy-filled window boxes belie an interior that’s contemporary and fresh.
Nestled in a tiny village of aged dry stone walls, red telephone boxes, green lanes and flower-fuelled cottage gardens, the inn is part of the Chatsworth Estate. Everything revolves around Chatsworth – even the name refers to the 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire who own nearby Chatsworth Palace, the surrounding land and villages.
As with all ancient buildings, the rooms are of different sizes, ranging from ‘cosy’ to substantial, each decorated with the keen eye of someone who cares.
That ‘someone’ is the Duchess herself, who has overseen Pilsley’s transformation from codgers’ pub to boutique hotel with a confidence that manages to welcome guests while keeping a local clientele.
Our room, Ewe Close, was neutrally decorated; a quiet chic of no-corners-cut. Understated, with a richness of fabric, fluffiness of towel and smoothness of fine cotton. The building hasn’t lost its twisty-turny charm, it’s just been enhanced by luxurious walk-in double showers, dashing mosaic tiles and spice-warm red.
Downstairs the pub manages to be both romantic and funky; the cosiness of the fire and deep leather chairs offset by quirky details such as a giraffe-inspired lamp. It took a moment to work out why it felt so peaceful: no canned muzak, TV Sport or jangling fruit machines to interrupt the enjoyment of fresh, seriously-local food.
The menu, overseen by Alan Hill, chef-patron of the pub’s sister hotel in Beeley (also named the Devonshire Arms) is of the hearty gourmet-gastro variety. A staggering 60% of produce is from the Chatsworth Estate itself, and it’s fiercely seasonal. Consequently the menu is constantly changing, and often you have to take your chances as to availability. I was disappointed there was no more Baked Sweet Potato and Spinach with Coconut and Almond sauce but the Blue Mountain Steak turned out to be a worthy substitute, with just the right amount of Stilton, mushroom and onions to imbue flavour without smothering the meat itself. The chips were excellent, easily on a par with my starter – a sublime Smoked Haddock and Leek Rarebit, served on crusty white toast with that satisfying back-kick you only find in the best wholegrain mustard. We also tried one of the Magnificent Seven options – seven dishes at seven pounds each. A well-executed chick-pea curry with fluffy-fresh rice hit the spot very nicely.
The Devonshire Arms Pilsley are proud of their local hand-pulled Peak District real ales. Peak Ales are located on the Chatsworth Estate and the Thornbridge Brewery is in Bakewell, about four miles away. Unsurprisingly, the beer on tap was Chatsworth Gold.
They’d clearly had quite a day of it, given the number of rubbed-out desserts on the board, but that’s the thing about true ‘specials’ – when it’s gone, it’s gone. Frankly we’d had plenty to eat, so took a jug of fresh milk, courtesy of the delightfully solicitous barman, up to our room and enjoyed a cuppa before sinking into oblivion in a super-soft bed after a long day’s walking the hills.
Breakfast was huge – and fabulous – local, fresh and hearty. The bacon was crisp, the sausage meaty, the eggs done to perfection. There was only one thing left to do – walk five minutes up the lane to Chatsworth Estate’s farm shop, buy the same wonderful produce and have a go myself at creating something not half as good…
For more information visit devonshirepilsley.co.uk
For more from Sandra visit www.sandralawrence.com