There’s a place people thank me for recommending to them above any other. And while it’s not in the city, it’s pretty much the perfect escape from it – if just for the day.
The picturesque little village of Hayfield lies on the very edge of the Peak District National Park. It’s the perfect spot for walking, with a landscape that’s pure Dark Peak, all wild heather moorland and gritstone crags.
It’s most commonly associated with Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District. Kinder Low, a gritstone outcrop, is one of the highest hills at 633 metres above sea level. Kinder Downfall is one of the most dramatic waterfalls in the region, with a 30-metre fall.
In 1932 around 500 walkers, mostly from Manchester, trespassed en masse and walked from Hayfield to Kinder Scout to secure access right to open country – and today you can trace their steps to enjoy what others fought so hard for.
An easier walk, and one of our favourites, is a stroll around Kinder Reservoir, where a five-mile circular follows the Snake Path through the tree-lined avenues around Hayfield before gently climbing up to the heather moors, with views of the dramatic crags of the Dark Peak.
Either way, you’ll work up an appetite. And luckily, Hayfield has just the place.
Muddy boots – and indeed muddy paws – are welcome at The Pack Horse, run by young couple Luke and Emma. From the outside, it’s a beautiful, traditional, dog-friendly country pub.
But that doesn’t prepare you for just how good the food is.
Head chef Luke Payne’s menu is all about using the best seasonal, sustainable, ethically sourced British produce, much of which is local.
Meat, including local lamb, hogget and mutton as well as prime rib of beef to share, comes from top butchers Mettrick’s in Glossop. Much of the wild fish comes from boats fishing on the north-west coast, caught using sustainable methods wherever possible.
It all results in a regularly changing and constantly exciting menu where you want to order every single thing on it.
A new starter of crisp confit duck croquette (£8) was a winner on our recent visit, full of rich tender meat and accompanied by glazed shallot, a sweet-sharp red cabbage ketchup and a glossy game and elderberry sauce.
Isle of Wight tomatoes – somehow so much more tomatoey than others with a taste of pure sunshine – come dressed in green picual extra virgin olive oil with creamy burrata, salty capers and crunchy slightly garlicky croutons (£6).
When it comes to mains, the local estate venison loin wellington (£24) is a showstopper and no mistake, cooked perfectly pink with miso-roast chicory, plump pickled blackberries and a red wine sauce.
A chicken and tarragon kiev (£17) comes with the most comforting yet refined smoked garlic mash – the mash that other mash wants to be when it grows up – with confit leeks and sweetcorn and an elegant nasturtium emulsion.
On our visit the previous month a homemade pie (£15) was a triumph, with tender shin beef and pickled walnut in an incredible pork fat pastry.
Whatever you order, a side of fat golden triple cooked chips (£4) is a must.
As is the custard tart (£5), whose praises I will shout from the rooftops. It’s one of the smoothest, silkiest, richest versions you’ll find, with a pastry so short and buttery it makes your heart beat that bit faster – in the best possible way.
A spiced plum, Bramley apple and blackberry crumble (£6), meanwhile, comes with fragrant cardamom ice cream which lifts it way beyond the average.
If you fancy going more casual with the food, there’s a simple bar menu, too, with everything from stunning pork crackling (£4) to a sandwich with Lincolnshire poacher cheese and house chutney (£6) or a Manchester egg (£6.50).
The Sunday lunch menu, meanwhile, is everything that makes Sundays better.
There’s slow-roast shoulder of lamb (around £16) or topside of beef with duck fat roast potatoes and all the trimmings, as well as a vegetarian option.
Or you can go all-out with a sharing 850g prime rib of beef for two (£55) with all the trimmings. You won’t regret it – it’s one of the best Sunday roasts we’ve had.
The drinks list includes some decent wines as well as local beers, including Old Glossop’s Howard Town Brewery on tap.
The Pack Horse is everything you want a local pub to be. Combine it with a walk in the dramatic local scenery and you won’t find a better day out of town.