Wanderlust finally overcame us. Even though the forecast was not good for the weekend we felt Suzy, Sion, himself, myself and Sions new friend Dragon needed a trip out. We had been home a month and were feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves, the weather had not been good. The longest day seemed like some kind of distant memory and June had gone out with a whimper. July looked as if it were going to continue in the same vein. We put a pin a map in a way and ended up with Derbyshire as our destination. We had in the past tried to book the Caravan Club site in Baslow which is set in the parkland of Chatsworth but every time it was booked solid. On a whim I tried again and found a couple of days free so booked them up before someone else jumped in and booked them. The cost was £41 for two nights - rather more than we normally pay out of season with our ACSI card but as there was little alternative we paid up and set off. The only sign mid summer had arrived was the long grass and Ox Eye Daisies growing along the
The Bridge over the River Derwent
banks of the motorways . The weather felt more like November or February. It's not looking good for summer this year again.
We arrived at the site at 2.30 being mindful of the instructions not to arrive before 2pm. It seems the road in is narrow and a bottle neck can occur as motorhomes and caravans leave the site and are met by vans arriving. The site is large and well spread out. Reception clearly marked and the staff friendly. We could chose a pitch anywhere as long as it was not a super pitch. Easier said than done as the site was packed and there were only a few pitches free. We tried one and the satellite dish wouldnt pick up a signal. South was in the direction of a stand of tall thickly leaved trees. We tried another and gave up at this point. Eutelsat, Thor, Eurobird and Astra were all up there but there wasnt a cat in hells chance of the dish finding them. What a shame when Italy were playing Spain and we wanted to watch the match. Pitches were large and spacious and divided up by small hedges. The roads around the site
limited to 5 mph and one way. Electricity and tv points easy to link up to and clean and tidy showers. In fact they were some of the cleanest I have seen for a while. Ducks with their babies waddled around the site and pheasants faced up to one another. The site was surrounded by the walls of the estate and we were given a key to open the back gate which led onto the estate itself. It all felt like some kind of secret garden.
We took a walk in the early evening to the hall itself and stood upon Queen Marys Bower. Now a folly it stands forlon in the fields. Stories surround its use, somewhere to stand and watch the estate life, an exercise yard for a queen in her enforced imprisonment. The car parks were heaving and we counted the cars in and out. At around £11 entry fee and car parking fees of £3 the estate were certainly raking the cash in and needed it as we read it costs 4million a year to maintain the estate. Revenues coming in from tenant farmers, shops, pubs and entrance to the house itself. . We walked
back along the River Derwent through the Capability Brown contrived landscape pondering on how on earth landlords like the Cavendish family could have the arrogance to move an entire village to make sure they had an uninterrupted view of their estates. How life has changed!
We both had visited Chatsworth many years ago, Glenn with his local school on history trips and myself on a bus trip with mum and gran. Memories flooding back of comfort breaks at the CAt and Fiddle on the top of the Pennines- these were the days before modern coaches possessed on board toilet facilities. Cold bacon butties all fatty and salty. Luke warm tea from a flask. Another example of how times have changed. .
Later we walked along the pretty footpath which ran alongside the Derwent into Baslow a pretty village with architypal English village green, numerous cafes and pubs all linked with the Cavendish family and the Chatsworth Estate. Writing that makes me think of Shamelss and not of the landed Elizabethan gentry. Our destination was Il Lupo (the Wolf) an Italian restaurant in the village. We had booked early and expected the place to be empty however it seemed
that 17 other people had chosen to eat early that night. The atmosphere was lovely, not too quiet nor too busy. Perhaps the football had forced people out early. We drank a rather pleasant Montepulciano red wine and ordered our first course - in English Gigantic Mushrooms. The mushroom arrived presented brilliantly on bruschetta with tomatoes and cheese. Exceedingly tasty and filling. For second course we ate Mushroom Risotto with parmesan cheese and grilled chicken with vegetables. Both were tasty, hot and served with italian panache. As usual though afterwards I wished I had chosen the Spagetti. It is always the same when eating - I always fancy something different when I get to the end. We didnt order a dessert but finished with strong expressos and were delighted to have £5 off the bill for being members of the Caravan Club.
The walk back was wine fuelled and took longer than the outward journey. italy lost 4 - 0 to Spain a very disappointing night. Our neighbours an older man and his wife, he looked like an ex- coal miner, both smoked and had come away with their older unmarried daughter. They sat in the awning until late
talking - their voices shrill and piercing in the quiet night air. Eventually they did go to bed and then the rain came in, bouncing off the van roof like stair rods.
We woke to yet another dull and grey July day. Breakfast was leisurely as was brunch. Too early for dinner too late for breakfast. We set off in the greyness along the Derwent back to Chatsworth. We had bought our tickets for the house and garden on line thereby saving 10% off the cost. There was even a reduction for oldies. £11.70 each I had high hopes for the visit.
Reading about Chatsworth suggested that the family lived in a good proportion of the house. There are around 126 rooms of which 26 are available for the public to visit. From the outside the house is well proportioned and reminded us of the home of the King of Naples in Casserta Italy although not on such a grand scale. Chatsworth house is built on sloping ground and has changed greatly since it was first built. The main block was re-built by the 1st Duke between 1687 and 1707, on the site of Bess of Hardwicks original
Tudor mansion. Perhaps this would have looked nearer to the design of Hardwick Hall , another of Bess's homes. Hardwick being a much prettier house than Chatsworth in my opinion. No doubt not everyone would share that opinion. Horses for courses I guess. It is good that we are not all the same or like the same thing. The long north wing was added by the 6th Duke in the early nineteenth century. This wing was not as interesting architecturally as the main house.
W had hoped that on a Monday the house would be empty and I guess that compared to the weekend it probably was. We entered the first room a hall way with fine staircase. A state coach taking pride of place in the middle of the space. The room was heaving with people perhaps the rain had driven them all inside, they stopped to look and admire and to take photographs. It was difficult to move around and through them. As we hate crowds we moved on from room to room. Long galleries with paintings on the walls and cabinets full of rock samples, dark oak panelled small and gloomy rooms, heavily wooded and ornate.
and which knife should I use ????
Glimpses of the Paxton's most spectacular fountain achievement the Emperor fountain, which rises dramatically from the canal pond at Chatsworth. Over 2 miles of pipe were laid across from the aqueduct to drain water into a newly excavated lake. An eight acre reservoir was dug more than 300 feet above the house. The Emperor fountain was powered by a system that was remarkable for its day. The lake could release almost 4000 gallons per minute at peak capacity to activate the gigantic jet. Through windows you could see small courtyards with fountains and the beginnings of repainting work. The writing on the pediments and the window recesses in the process of being re-gilded and they sparkling in the rare glimpse of sunshine. Bedrooms with chinese wall paper and strange shaped beds, more heavily ornate rooms with painted ceilings. A huge dining room with table set out with precious silver and pretty plain ceilings. We had expected more from the house which came top in Britains most visited and favourite country house. This was revealed in a programme some years ago . The house which came second Erddig near Wrexham is actually a more interesting visitor attraction. Whilst not on the grand scale of Chatsworth - the Yorke family never had the money to compete - they were after all only minor gentry but it is a pretty house with much more interesting interiors. Much time was spent on the downstairs of Erddig with its servants as was on the upstairs. Squire Yorke being impoverished got rid of nothing and even lived right up to his death amongst this decaying splendour without heating or electricity to the house. It has a more homely feel to it.
We left the house and in the drizzle walked around the gardens which appealed in some ways more than the house did. We walked to the Cascade which is set in 105 acres and was built 300 years ago. Water gushes down the 24 steps from the building at the top. Vistas open out to the woods behind, the Elizabethan hunting lodge on the hill above the estate. The water gardens and rockery were the best feature for us of the whole estate. Boulders had been naturalistically placed to provide tunnels , cascades of water fell over the edges in to ponds and streams. A lake full of waterlilies just around a corner. Statuary at every turn. The planting black in places with the deepest almost black Bearded Iris I have ever seen, Astrantias of crimson red and black leaved foliage plants and ferns relishing the damp atmosphere. A garden full of lupins of every colour conceivable, neatly trimmed yews and topiary. And finally a maze - did we get lost ? Of course we did.
The long wall of the orangery with citrus fruits growing inside, the new greenhouse with temperate and tropical plants growing all were of interest to us amateur gardeners.
As the day got duller and the rain heavier we left for our journey home. In our pockets a booklet giving us entry 2 for the price of one to Englands finest treasure houses. Eight possible visits - and all half price. Now which one to choose? Castle Howard sounds good to me .
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