Leafy wellness: A week at Sherwood Pines

The treetops are etched on a charcoal sky, tips of branches gilded in moonlight. The moon, bright and round, is concealed behind the pines. There is no sound but the gentle rustling of leaves and the gurgling of water. The steam rising around me belies how cold the night is; but my body is deliciously cocooned in the water. From the hot tub outside our Forest Holidays 'Golden Oak Treehouse' at Sherwood Pines Forest Park in Nottinghamshire, we can scarce see a sign of civilisation. It is as if we have landed in our own secluded bubble of luxury and calm.

What could in fact be better than a log cabin kitted out with a hot tub at the heart of a dense forest (3,300 acres of it) that absorbs any noise? It wasn't long into our stay - a week away to celebrate Mum's wedding - that I realised how much stress the never-ending sound of traffic in Zurich had put me under. From the first night, I felt my body exhale a sigh of relief. Here, instead of the roar of nighttime engines, from our bed we heard animals scraping around outside. Each day we awoke to glorious sunshine piercing the treetops then shattering in a starburst across the golden mosaic of leaves on the forest floor.

Days were spent in the outdoors - one walking around Sherwood Forest, another at Cresswell Crags, a limestone gorge moth-eaten with caves that tell a story dating back 50,000 years (archaeologists found tools and animal remains from the last Ice Age there). We also went further afield, to Chatsworth Park near Bakewell, Peak District, where a delicious slice of salted caramel cheesecake at Edensor Tea Cottage set us up for a lovely walk through an oil painting-like setting.

Another day, Tim and I hired mountain bikes and went out into the forest - it was sold to me as a "step up from the route that is Segway-accessible", but turned out to be a rangy course of ups, downs, mud and leaves. But it was amazing fun! After a year of what has quite literally been 'the dark ages' in Zurich (perpetual fog, cloud and rain - deeply depressing), it was a revelation to spend a week in the sunshine - and in England. Tim and I shared a treehouse separate to the main cabin: inside it was topsy turvy with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

And 'wonderland' was where we had landed, I thought to myself each morning, as I opened the curtains onto a seemingly endless curtain of tree trunks. The only thing better than the view in daylight was the view after dark, from the hot tub - like now, where I have not a care in the world save how I am ever going to drag myself out of it ...

Burn the rat: Bonfire Night in Eyam

Glowing embers are dancing overhead, lifted by the breeze blowing our direction from the bonfire. The sky is as if illuminated by the powerful flames. And there is a jazz band playing a happy melody, while the crowd chants along: "Burn the rat, burn the rat..." For there, atop this magnificent bonfire, sits a huge rat, the flames slowly eating into its willow-and-paper body, its eyes still glowing red.

This is Bonfire Night in Eyam. A torch-lit procession with the band on a float at its helm led us to the playing fields via the village, which is known for its sad backstory of the Great Plague. Here, the ceremonial burning of the rat began, to commemorate the Plague-infected fleas that arrived in Eyam in the 1600s in a bundle of cloth from a London tailor. This evening there is certainly a happier story to tell.

Faces are lit up by handheld torches, which are glowing - if a litte precariously - among the crowd. Horse boxes serving refreshments (pumpkin soup, hot dogs, bonfire toffee and similar) are lined up along the periphery. As the bonfire finally reaches its full force, flinging warmth out among us, the fireworks display kicks off in a riot of colour above the beautiful Peaks landscape. The chants of 'Burn the rat' have been replaced by crackling and hissing. "Me no like fireworks," protests Tim's three-year-old niece Charlotte, her fingers firmly stuck in her ears. But even she looks in awe of the spectacle before us - that has certainly turned out to be one of my more memorable November 5th's... 

Photo: Above Eyam, in daylight
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