Highfields Happy Hens, set in the lovely south Derbyshire countryside, is a good starting point. Take the kids to Henrietta’s Tractor School and play area, have a go on the chain walk, play hopscotch, bounce on the trampoline, then purge your peckishness in the tearoom.
At Pickford’s House Museum, you can discover what life was like in Georgian times. See the dining table laid for supper, the drawing room, the scullery and the cellars, once used as an air-raid shelter. Move along to the Police Museum, part of Derby Gaol Museum, to see early forensics, the first police IDs, gallows and shackles.
Derby Arboretum offers historic buildings and breathtaking beauty for grown-ups, while kids hit the playground and tree trail. Reward their good behaviour at Bluebells Dairy Ice Cream Farm, home of award-winning artisan ice cream in 26 flavours. Meet the animals, find the play area, eat more ice cream. Maybe.
Britain’s biggest theme park is just a rollercoaster ride away. At Alton Towers, choose from rides such as the Blade, Skyride or Master Blaster. Go underground at Poole’s Cavern, featuring huge limestone caverns lined with crystal stalactites. Or head up into the trees at Go Ape Buxton, one of the UK’s highest, with a huge Tarzan swing.
Let’s begin with the Peak District, which begins just up the road and whose spectacular scenery of high peaks seems to roll forever. Dotted around its endless acres are pretty market towns and villages, well dressings, family attractions and fresh local food at homely pubs and upmarket restaurants.
Walk mountains such as Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and High Stones, or rent bikes from Middleton Top Cycle Hire and hit the Trusley and Ollerton Cycle Route. It’s an 18-mile odyssey through glorious scenery and sleepy villages peppered with pub-lunch possibilities. Ride the Heights of Abraham cable car for top views of the Derwent Valley.
National Trust mansion Keddleston Hall offers an eclectic mix of grand interiors and artefacts amassed by Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. Grounds are oh-so-English, complete with temples, follies, ha-ha and sprawling parkland. Or take a horse-drawn ride along Cromford Canal on a painted narrowboat. Watch out for kingfishers.
Derby’s where the upbeat action is. Shop for labels in the main shopping centre or shop the independents in the Cathedral Quarter. Eat, drink, catch a festival, see the art gallery and get a fine view of the city from atop the cathedral. Or pop over to Ashbourne for quirky independents, cafes, bars, ancient almshouses and charming cobbles.