Derbyshire’s very own Fit Farm

Time to exercise! Photo: FitFarms

Time to exercise! Photo: FitFarms - Credit: Archant

Nestled in the patchwork quilt landscape of the Dales is Derbyshire’s very own Fit Farm. An intrigued Claire Bore dons her trainers, yoga gear and wellies to find out more

Darwin Lake is situated within easy reach of Matlock Bath Photo: Phil Sproson/

Darwin Lake is situated within easy reach of Matlock Bath Photo: Phil Sproson/ - Credit: Archant

If the mere sight of your holiday swimwear is enough to get your waistband tugging, maybe it’s time for some holistic help in the form of a ‘FitFarm’ holiday, located in our very own Derbyshire. Tucked away in the beautiful Matlock hills, towering above The Derwent Valley World Heritage Site, is a hive of activity made famous by the national press and TV alike – a fit farm. In short, a residential break designed to re-educate your mind and attitude towards food and exercise.

Here boutique style cottages adorn the pebbled driveway of Darwin Lake, giving the impression that you could take a rather pleasant relaxing break. ‘You have great textures in Derbyshire and the sky can make a real difference – how it shines a beautiful shadow on the hills. It’s really artistic and that always has such a positive impact on people,’ says Health Manager Andy Barker who swapped his job as a personal trainer four years ago to work here.

Yet behind the veil of luxury and beautiful surroundings lies the real purpose; change and with that inevitably comes hard work. So whilst there are no drill sergeants, roll calls or lorry tyre lifting here, hard work in every sense is expected and equally accepted. With an exhausting list of 23 different exercise activities, nutritional workshops and life coaches on hand – it’s a complete MOT for the body and soul.

Soul is something the residents are clearly not short on this week, having just returned from an epic bike ride along the Tissington Trail – from Middleton Top near Ashbourne to Parsley Hay. Contented laughter fills the air as they tuck into a delicious and well earned home cooked lunch of mince, carrots and swede. ‘The fresh air makes a big difference, the beauty and the views,’ says Andy. ‘The lack of distraction and noise is of massive importance in getting people back on track.’ On a day like today, three days in, they are all starting to flag but the bitter cold wind, puddles and mud can prove liberating. ‘Essentially it is a break from the restrictions of normal life,’ says Andy.

Starting the day with some stretches Photo: FitFarms

Starting the day with some stretches Photo: FitFarms - Credit: Archant

Some admittedly struggle with the level of exercise – six hours a day. ‘Saturday was intense; it was a shock to the system even though I’d recently been skiing with the family,’ says Rachel, a mother of three who lives in Switzerland. ‘What has amazed me is that I have done everything that has been asked of me and I have put effort in, even when I felt as if I couldn’t walk up the stairs. Everyone is the same, you come here, you pay the money, you want to change. Somewhere in there I am feeling more energized.’

I almost feel guilty for tucking into my own portion of lunch, since admittedly the only gear changes I’ve made this morning were in the car. But the food is so utterly delicious, for a dish that sounds so simple on paper. Cooked on the premises by their chef, Matt (who received a Michelin award in London a few months ago), food is sourced locally and follows a well thought out menu to refuel and inspire.

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Whilst residents are encouraged to stick to the menus, there are no bag checks here. In fact, there is no need. Quite the contrary says three-time returner and former rebel Sally – ‘The very first time I came, my friend and I bought four bottles of wine in case we felt low. But I was told that it would just spoil the whole idea of it, so we didn’t touch them! I think being away from distractions is very, very important and I know that happens here.’ Nutritionist Lesley Harper agrees. ‘It’s about taking away the constraints that people feel in their day to day life.’

It’s exactly these clear messages that are addressed in the Nutritional Workshop. With herbal teas in hand (‘I’ve really taken to them,’ says Rachel), Lesley leads a lively afternoon of discussions and advice. A real eye opener was the mineral deficiency taste test in which we were requested to down shot glasses! Minerals, not alcohol! On hand to pick through the latest research Lesley says there has been so much confusion over the years. Put simply she advises: ‘We should eat real food from good sources.’

The tutors Photo: FitFarms

The tutors Photo: FitFarms - Credit: Archant

But how do the staff cope with so many needs? ‘There is always a different approach for each person. Instead of delivering a product that everyone needs to follow, what we are trying to do is to get people to decide what works for them. So it’s like a re-education,’ enthuses Andy. ‘The Derbyshire retreat draws in residents from across the UK as well as Dubai, Switzerland, Nigeria and beyond. We’ve even had a few celebrities and it surprises you. It just shows that everyone has their own demons but you may as well be nameless when you come on the course. Everyone is here to appreciate and work with each other.’

The pessimist in me wonders, how many of the healthy new recruits will keep up these changes when they return home? By their own admission, some of the ‘returners’ have gone home and failed. ‘The first time I came seven years ago, I lost half a stone,’ says third time returner Sally, ‘but as time went by I put on some more weight. So I needed to get back on track and I’m here again.’

Ultimately, ‘We know it’s not a one-week fix, so keeping in touch is really important to us, it’s about the long term,’ says Andy. ‘I would rather clients get two or three pounds and a positive attitude to go home with. They are going to be healthier, they are going to live longer and we have a part to play in that. We don’t want to bend to their will.’

Longevity is something newly retired grandfather Richard is aiming for. After 40 years of hard graft and catering for everyone else, coming here was about ‘me’ time. ‘At the moment I can’t cycle with my grandchildren. In all honesty it will be two years before I get to my end goal.’ Rachel agrees: ‘At the end of the day they can’t solve my issues or anyone else’s but they are there as guidance to get people to think about things that are impacting on them and going deeper than someone saying they want to lose weight or get fitter.’

Darwin Lake's holiday accommodation Photo: Darwin Lake Holiday Cottages

Darwin Lake's holiday accommodation Photo: Darwin Lake Holiday Cottages - Credit: Archant

In essence the backdrop of the Derbyshire Peak District offers not only breathtaking scenery but the potential to revitalize both body and mind. To press the pause button and reboot. Surely everyone needs to do that once in a while… signing off to test out these houmous oat cakes. The evening Kettlebell class can wait!

Typical day

• 7am Measurements and wake up work out

Home cooked food made with tasty local produce Photo: FitFarms

Home cooked food made with tasty local produce Photo: FitFarms - Credit: Archant

• 8am Breakfast

• Exercise

• Snack

• Exercise

The dining room at Darwin Lake Photo: Phil Sproson/

The dining room at Darwin Lake Photo: Phil Sproson/ - Credit: Archant

• 12.30am Lunch

• Snack

• 5pm Dinner

• Exercise

Darwin Lake is situated in the hills just above Matlock Photo: Phil Sproson/

Darwin Lake is situated in the hills just above Matlock Photo: Phil Sproson/ - Credit: Archant

• Snack

Food intake is always kept balanced. A typical day includes six hours of exercise of varying intensities. This can include trips to local Derbyshire sites such as Chatsworth House. Measurements include scales, body fat measurements and peak flow.

Derbyshire Life Exclusive Offer

FitFarms provides a space where people can retreat to kick-start a sustainable new healthy lifestyle. To join in the action, they are offering a £100 discount on all 2–14 night courses. Call 0800 634 3070 or email for more details of how to book. Don’t forget to quote Derbyshire Life magazine and DL2016. For more information check out:

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