Three little letters - spa - and yet sometimes they mean so much.

Drawing towards the close of last year my sister and I sought respite from our careworn lives and headed up to Staffordshire after work one Friday to unwind at the Mill Wheel spa at the Three Horseshoes Inn near Leek, right on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Arriving at dusk in a steady rainstorm we weren't able to take in too much of the surroundings beyond a hilltop shrouded in mist. Although it was still squally outside, once shown to our our luxurious four poster bedroom we couldn't resist trying out our personal hot tub with underwater lighting and lay blissfully steeped in its warmth while the raindrops sparked like fireworks around us.

Freshened by our al fresco bathing experience, it was time to sample the inns fine dining restaurant where head chef Gary Woolliscroft specialises in taking a few key elements and making each one shine in its own right. His cuisine is a "journey through textures and temperatures enhancing fresh, natural clean flavours".

Our gastronomic adventure began with a crab saffron cracker and cheese and truffle cracker, then a substantial amuse bouche of Parmesan cheese with chicken jelly and pumpkin consommé which had a distinct caramel/bone marrow depth to it.

To follow we heartily enjoyed the Pigeon with watercress berries hibiscus and sloe gin beads with potato rosti as well as Beetroot salmon and horseradish with a soothing cold ice cream and cleansing slivers of apple and celery to offset the silky salty salmon and roundels of spiced beetroot with a definite kick of horseradish. My pheasant to follow was the highlight of the night, plump and meaty with gingerbread and quince enhancing its earthy tang.

The portions were just right for such rich and intense flavours but we decide to have a pause before dessert. Roaming the gardens wasn't an option so we retired to our room. My sister fell asleep but I couldn't resist another trip to the hot tub followed by some cheese and biscuits and a glass of red wine. What a blissful end to a busy day.

After a deep and relaxing sleep, we were ready for our spa day experience which began with a simulated trip to the beach. Stepping inside The Beach Hut we lay down on towels placed on the heated sand and relaxed as the lights dimmed and then gradually brightened, mimicking in half an hour what it feels like on a sultry summer's day. We were lulled by the sound of the sea and gulls calling, which helped to transport us to sunnier climes. Next we headed outside to the Outdoor Vitality Pool & Spa Garden where the temperature is a satisfying 36 degrees and where the polished pebble surround echoed the spectacular craggy outcrop that we had half glimpsed the night before.

The combination of soothing warm water and brisk gusts of wind left us feeling invigorated so we opted for a stint in the sauna followed by a nippy dip in the 9-degree plunge pool to boost circulation. The Peak District Stonebath had an ingenious pulley system that automatically added water to the coals to create a humid atmosphere while The Farmers Sauna - a replica of an Alpine Brechel cabin - had drier air infused with herbal shots to ease respiration. It was carpeted with pine needles to assist circulation and we sat high up on wooden thrones breathing in the perfumed air and feeling very invigorated.

The mill wheel itself drives a bucket shower which dumps cold or not so cold water on you if you are brave enough to test it out. Thankfully the Rasul has more temperate showers which we used to prepare for our next spa experience. Slathered in three types of mineral rich mud - one enriched with self-heating aromatic orange oil - we slithered onto the heated seats and relaxed under a twinkling canopy of lights listening to instrumental disco beats. After a warm rain shower to finish we were ready for a little nap in The Relaxation Suite wrapped in cosy throws and ensconced on comfy loungers, listening to the faint crackle of the fire.

The Three Horse Shoes Inn has been in the hands of Kirk family since 1981 and it is truly a family affair. Parents Bill and Jill now oversee the business with sons Mark and Stephen and their partners Wendy and Katie running the place.

Katie is a qualified therapist and she designed all the therapy rooms herself and even hand-drilled all the LED lighting overhead and programmed it to give a soothing glow.

After a half hour sleep Katie came to waken us and take us to the treatment rooms.

She tells me looked at a series of Alpine spas before choosing her therapies and the herbal steam massage, which uses an infusion of herbs, muds and algae, is one of her signature treatments. For me it was much more effective than a hot stones massage because the 90-minute session works the whole body and goes deep to ease muscular tension and release aching joints. Not many massages work the stomach area but this has the ability to glide over the abdomen without causing discomfort. After each limb is treated it is tucked tenderly back in under the warm towel. The steam also allows the pores to open so the therapeutic oil can moisturise the skin, leaving it plump and supple.

Floating on air, we had just enough time for a relaxing cup of herbal tea in the beauty room while having a gel nail manicure and brow tint, and it was good to know the spa can cater for those finishing touches too so you can feel as good without as you do within.

Those three little words we saw spelled out in the entrance way stand for wellness in the true sense of the word as we left invigorated, recharged and rested, ready to take on the next few months in our stride.

Mill Wheel Spa has a number of offers to celebrate Mother's Day, which are running until April 30.

Details: Three Horseshoes, Buxton Road, Blackshaw Moor, Leek, Staffordshire ST13 8TW.