Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chatsworth House

Although we are currently staying in a very fine establishment in Sandbach, Cheshire we had the opportunity on Saturday to be shown another very fine establishment in Derbyshire: the famous Chatsworth House, constructed around the original Tudor home of Bess of Hardwick, but reconstructed and added to many times over the intervening centuries. Chatsworth House is about an hour and a half drive from Sandbach through picturesque country villages, shady woods and the rather desolate looking moors of the Peak District.

Chatsworth House was used as Pemberley in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice and also in the production of The Duchess (Keira Knightley). We were somewhat unlucky that the characteristic main hall of Chatsworth House was shrouded in scaffolding today for repairs and renovation. However being a warm, clear, sunny day made it perfect for admiring the house and grounds (along with many thousands of other people).

First of all we joined the queue to do a tour of the house. The interior is very well preserved and maintained and the furnishings and decoration reflect the wealth and taste of the 11 Dukes of Devonshire, their wives and families (the Cavendish family).

I was astounded at the almost casual way, Rembrandts, Holbeins, Van Dyck's etc, precious objects and furnishings were openly displayed with this number of people wandering through the house.

As always the guide staff are wonderful - absolutely passionate about their building, a wealth of knowledge and none of the bored officiousness you often get in buildings open to the public. We were amazed to learn of the Chatsworth House connection to the Cavendish banana (thanks to Chatsworth's gardener in Victorian times, Joseph Paxton, naming his banana plants after the Cavendish family).

One of my favourite rooms was the library....I loved the smell of the books (in a good way). Only last week the current Duke's family had used the library for a christening party for one of his grandchildren.

The dining room was suitably opulent. I was interested to note that the young Princess Victoria (later Queen) had attended her first formal dinner (as a thirteen year old) here in this dining room.

Chatsworth was one of England's largest estates in its heyday. The remaining grounds around the house looked beautiful today, so green and manicured, but quite relaxed too with meadow plantings and wild thickets to balance the more formal parts of the garden.

The Dukes have always been great art connoisseurs. The current Duke is very keen on contemporary sculpture and there are modern works everywhere in the house and garden. This was my favourite.

This water cascade has been completely restored in the past few decades. The obvious enjoyment it brings so many visitors, especially on a warm day like this adds to the great feeling of accessibility the property has. So different to its original status as a showpiece of English aristocracy.

We spent around 6 hours visiting Chatsworth House. Late in the afternoon was a perfect time to enjoy this view of Mary Queen of Scots Bower. Queen Mary was "supervised" at Chatsworth House during the reign of Elizabeth 1 and this enclosure was where she was supposed to exercise in the fresh country air.

By this time visitors' cars were streaming out of the property on their way home. These sheep looked to be very keen to re-establish their rights over the home paddocks again.

The late afternoon light gave us some gorgeous views of the Derwent River, circling lazily through Chatsworth grounds.

On the drive back home Mal stopped so we could admire this view of the very characteristic vegetation of this area of the Peak District, where three counties intersect: Cheshire, Derbyshire and Stafforshire. Rob was duly impressed with the dry stone walls defining all the farmlands.

We stopped for dinner at the old Swettanham Arms, a 16th century inn, 5 miles NW of Congleton in Cheshire.

Our meal was wonderful, highlighting regional produce and carefully aged local meat and game (I loved my breast of Goosenough duck!). The presentation of our meals was quite refined and the flavours were amazing. It was a wonderful way to end such an enjoyable day with Mal and Pat.

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