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Pregnant paws; Susie Boniface heads to the Peak District with four-legged friend Billy for a pre-baby break.

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go on holiday to the Peak District in November. But, well... the sane don't know what they're missing.

The Peaks are one of my favourite places on Earth. The ancient stone walls, craggy mini mountains and the chance to walk for miles make it a fascinating place.

The only problem is that if you go when the weather's nice, you're surrounded by millions of others with the same idea and the hill walking is a lot sweatier.

And having recently got pregnant, this winter was my last chance to climb hills without having to take the contents of Mothercare with me. On the upside, when you go off season, the peaks are yours... all yours.

As any dog owner knows, having a pooch - in my case a three-year-old lummox of a rough collie called Billy - makes such a trip much more enjoyable and immensely more complicated.

Billy's packing took more time and more space in the car than mine did. A weekend away means a spare pair of jeans for me, plus wet and dry food, dinner bowl, water bowl, towels, a coat, harness, lead, treats, a brush and a favourite monkey toy for Billy. Heaven only knows how much worse it'll get with a child.

Because there's a dog you often have only one choice of where to stay: self-catering cottages. They're usually well lived-in, well scuffed and well expensive, especially if there's a chance you'll be sharing it with some muddy beast and the table manners of, well, a dog.

So having packed all of Billy's belongings and a change of elasticated jeans, I was expecting the accommodation to be fairly basic and possibly in need of repair.

I was wrong.

Wheeldon Trees Farm is easily the most luxurious and fantastic self-catering cottage I've ever stayed in. I took my parents with me, who've spent a lifetime shepherding children and collies on self-catering holidays and they PEAK Billy couldn't stop rhapsodising about the place.

Deborah and Martin Hofman sold their London home when their children left and went travelling. Then in 2007, they bought Wheeldon Trees and turned their farmhouse and nine slightly rundown cottages into an award-winning little bit of heaven.

Our two-bedroom cottage - actually a refurbished cow byre - boasted views across the valley to a set of peaks known as The Dragon's Back, where you could wake up every day and watch the sun push through clouds over beautiful scenery.

Deborah and Martin provided the kind of stay you'd expect in a five-star hotel - luxury shampoos in the shower, a jug of organic milk in the fridge, spotless decor and the kind of pillows to die for, as well as breakfast hampers with fresh bread, eggs from their free-range hens and honey.

And as for Billy, well... this place isn't so much dog-friendly as built entirely around them. There are dog throws for the furniture, a free bag of healthy treats, an outside tap for washing muddy paws and, should you need them, a store of leads, towels, bowls and food.

Which brings us to the walking. On the weekend we were there, Storm Abigail was thundering across the North of England bringing floods and power cuts.

So, yes, you'd have to be mad, and a dog owner, to leave the snug cottage and venture out like Captain Oates in the name of exercise and a nice poo (that's Billy, not me).

But we had enough breaks in the weather to manage long walks up hill and down dale, past picturesque pubs and tumbledown farms.

The cottage had details of several routes of varying lengths and nearby is the High Peak Trail which goes right across the national park and, for anyone unaccustomedly heavy, is mercifully flat.

Right outside the cottage was the highest spot in the area - a 1,384ft high trig point which I managed to climb twice, despite high winds and being five months pregnant. It didn't just blow the cobwebs away - the view from the top blows your mind too.

When the weather closed in, we made the most of what else the area has to offer. Thirty minutes away is Chatsworth House, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. In the run-up to Christmas, it's also the scene of nativities and a winter wonderland with Mr Toad.

A farm shop with local venison was heaving with people and while it was hard to find a bargain, it was easy to find something tasty to take home.

Nearby is Tudor manor house Haddon Hall and on the park's Cheshire side is Lyme Hall, the location for Pride and Prejudice where Mr Darcy got his shirt wet.

If stately homes aren't your thing there are the market towns of Buxton with its spa, or Bakewell and its tarts. And no rambling holiday would be complete without buying some sturdy walking gear at discount prices at the Peak Shopping Village.

But by far the best spot we found was a pub. The Royal Oak is five minutes down the road from the farm - we ate there for two nights because the food was not only fantastic but in such large portions that Billy got dazzling doggy bags.

Steaks as big as my head, a chicken pie the size of my bum, and the place was filled with tired and happy collie dogs every night. He was in seventh heaven. The only bad thing was that we had to leave.

Get there

Short breaks at Wheeldon Trees Farm in Earl Sterndale, near Buxton, Derbyshire, start at PS219 for a cottage sleeping two, from PS775 for a week in a cottage for five. premiercottages.co.uk

Mirror Travel readers who book a stay between Jan 3-Mar 23 get a complimentary breakfast basket worth PS15 containing homemade bread, butter, marmalade, jam, granola, yoghurt, home-roasted coffee, farm eggs, chocolate drops, oatcakes, honey and cheese. Simply quote 'Daily Mirror' on booking.

Earl Sterndale is off the A515. Buxton railway station is about five miles away.

Tourist info: visitpeakdistrict. com, visitderbyshire.co.uk, visitcheshire.com

BEST TIME TO GO Wrap up for a Peak pooch break this winter

Our cottage boasted peak views of The Dragon's Back

CAPTION(S):

CHARMING Top, Lyme Hall and grounds, above, the cottage at Wheeldon Trees

AT THEIR PEAK Susie and Billy

NO RUFF DEAL The beauty of the Peak District
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 12, 2015
Words:1062
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