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Published: July 23rd 2016
When I last left this blog we had just left Powis Castle in Wales and were on our way to our next stop in the Peak District. We had a pleasant drive, by passing the cities/towns of Shrewsbury, Market Drayton and Loggerheads; we were thinking that we were making good time, until we reached Stoke-on-Trent at what passes for rush hour. No rushing to be had there. We crawled our way through the approaches to the M6 and along a main road before finally hitting the open road. After a few miles we were getting close to our destination and the roads were becoming narrower. The pièce de résistance though would have to be the last few miles of our trip. We drove along Bottom Lane (pleasant) and then were guided down Parsons Lane and through the hamlet of Grindon (picturesque) and then up what can only be described as a glorified cattle path. The road was paved in between the potholes, it was very steep – especially at the hairpin bends, and extremely narrow. And surprisingly we weren’t the only people using it during that period. We met a man in a huge tractor herding his jersey cows and calves
home (he just drove through rough ground to pass), a second herd of cows (Friesian-looking) just loitering and a family in a Range Rover that had to back up so we could pass - and then we still had concerns as to whether it would be possible. An hour later than originally expected we eventually arrived at our home for the next week. We are staying in the picturesque village of Alstonefield at the southern end of the Peak District National Park. The village is in Staffordshire but very close to the border of Derbyshire. Our home for this past week has been an old shippon (cattle barn) that has been renovated into a pleasant, but compact, one-bedroom cottage. Alstonefield is a small village, one pub, no store and I’m not sure of the Post Office status. The population is a mix of both multi-generational residents and recent blow-ins but, unlike many other villages, only a small number of holiday homes. As a result, it is quite a vibrant place to live according to our hosts.
Weatherwise we’ve been lucky with this part of our trip. We’ve had two days where it rained and slowed us down, but otherwise
Gilded windows on the facades that can be seen as you approach the house.
the weather has been perfect. We’ve done quite a bit of walking, mostly from the front gate of the cottage. Walks have been both over hills and through dales. We aren’t very far from the Dove River and we’ve walked bits of that on two walks. On Sunday we completed a circular walk from the village of Milldale. The first part of the walk was over hills with great views of the surrounds and then down to the village of Ilam. We punctuated the walk with lunch and a pint in the rose garden of a pub and then continued our walk to “The Stepping Stones” and then further up Dovedale. It turns out that “The Stepping Stones is quite a famous stroll in this part of the world and, on Sunday, a good portion of the population of the Midlands and their dogs were out enjoying the weather and scenery. Eventually we left the crowds behind and were able to once again enjoy the walk.
During my favourite walk we walked from the cottage and then over nearby hills before a steep descent to river flats and finally the banks of the Dove River. This part of the
Bridge over the River Derwent
river is called Wolfdale. I was surprised by the number of people out walking, especially since the temperature forecast was for 29⁰C. We met a fisherman who told us that fishing rights to the river were owned by a banker in the US and that he got to fish the river by being a member of a large angling club that pay to fish but also maintain the river. Fish stocks in the river are both wild and from re-stocking. When we first met the Dove we noticed a pretty fancy-looking theodolite on the hillside but there was no one around. We met them further up the river – a couple of Ph. D students out doing field work for the research. The student in charge of the theodolite and was surveying the river while her companion was an ecology student looking at the ecology of the river. She was using the survey data for hydraulic modelling to model the river to investigate the impacts of removing the many weirs that cross the river. Apparently the weirs affect the water quality and ecology of the river and these rivers are unable to meet EU standards for water quality etc. Terry
was most impressed with the theodolite – 2 mm accuracy, the base and mobile units can communicate over a distance of 2km using Bluetooth and everything is data-logged. This would have been a truly perfect walk if my walking companion hadn’t left his wallet at home when he said he’d take it – thus no ice cream nor beer to mark the finish of our walk.
Currently, the farmers are extremely busy and working late into the night cutting and baling/rolling hay. The big rolls of hay are then wrapped in either black, pastel pink or lilac plastic for storage. One thing that has surprised me on our walks is how noisy sheep can be – they’re much noisier than cows. On one walk all that you could hear was sheep talking to each other.
We’ve also visited a couple of nearby market towns and villages. First stop was Ashbourne for provisions – a pleasant town but not a lot to report. We also visited Bakewell, home of the Bakewell tart and pudding, on market day. We hadn’t realised it was market day and when we arrived we wondered why there was so much traffic congestion at the
local car park. It turns out that this market wasn’t just for fruit, veg, hardware and household items. It was also the main cattle market for the region and so all the farmers go into town to buy/sell their animals and, it seemed to us, have a feed of fish and chips for lunch. Terry was most taken by the huge trout evident in the river (River Wye). The trout were out in the open and waiting to grab food thrown to the ducks and geese. We were told that the fish were faster than the birds at getting the food. We wondered if the river is fished and apparently it is; the fishermen use flys that look like bread. One of my favourite novels is Year of Wonders
by Geraldine Brooks; a story based upon the town of Eyam in Derbyshire and how it isolated itself when infected by bubonic plague rather than have the infection spread. The town was a lead-mining town from Roman days but these days relies on the tourist trade coming to visit the village because of the plague-related story. We visited the parish church and its graveyard containing the graves of Catherine Mompesson (vicar’s
wife and town stalwart during the outbreak) and other plague victims and then walked along the streets past a number of houses named because of their relationship to the plague story. The town itself is situated in a scenically attractive part of the Peak District – we drove through a steep-sided valley/gorge to get there.
Our history lessons for this week were from our visits to the Cavendish family’s Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall. The story starts with a woman named Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick, the daughter of a gentleman farmer (minor gentry) who was orphaned at a relatively young age. The story we were told was that she was sent into service to learn to become a lady and at one stage she was Lady in Waiting and good friend to Queen Elizabeth. She had four husbands over her life. The first she married when very young and he died aged 16, the second was 20 years her senior and the love of her life, the others seemed to be more marriages of convenience to keep her in the manner to which she had become accustomed and to protect her assets. Husband number 2 was William Cavendish who was
Preparing for a soul-funk concert. I enjoyed walking through the gardens to the sound of the performers practicing.
Treasurer to the King and who gained a lot of wealth and lands following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. They used this wealth to build Version one of Chatsworth House, although when William died they were deeply in debt. Husband number 3 was another rich chap who died, probably from poisoning by his brother, leaving his wealth to Bess who was still only in her 30s. She later married husband number 4, Henry Talbot the Earl of Shrewsbury, but set up a triple marriage involving her son and daughter with his daughter and son so that her wealth was protected on his death or the break of their marriage (they had an early pre-nuptial agreement). Marriage number 4 wasn’t a happy one, principally because Queen Elizabeth requested the Talbot’s host Mary Queen of Scots. The costs for Mary and her retinue were borne by the Talbots, at great expense, and eventually led to the break-up of that marriage. Bess, was the richest woman in England after the Queen, and following the death of Henry Talbot she built Hardwick New Hall. This large house is close to Chesterfield and richly decorated with huge Belgian tapestries that she collected throughout her life.
Unlike many other castles/halls this house does not have ornate plaster ceilings or painted ceilings as she wanted to show off the tapestries. Bess’s other, and first, big building project was Chatsworth House, the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire and home of the Cavendish family - descendants from her second marriage. Chatsworth Hall has figured in a number of movies and TV series, most notably Pride and Prejudice.
The house is incredibly ornate with lavishly painted ceilings in many rooms, a huge collection of sculptures and paintings and of course fancy furniture. The current generation of the family continues to collect art and so modern art is on display next to antiquities from Egypt. Both Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth House have beautiful gardens and grounds. My gut feeling is that Bess and her family were no shrinking violets and were very interested in power. Bess had Hardwick Hall decorated with her initials, probably about 3 metres high. Her second son, William Cavendish, purchased the title Earl of Devonshire for £10,000 in the early 1600s, presumably for the power and prestige it would bring – this was converted to a dukedom a couple of generations later. The 4th Duke of
Devonshire more than doubled the family’s wealth when he married well, gaining multiple properties in London and a castle in Ireland. My take home message is “Marry well and marry frequently”. Hardwick Hall, previously owned by the Cavendish family, is now owned and operated by the National Trust. The 10th
Duke died unexpectedly, about a month before the legal proceedings to finalise the transfer of the family’s wealth into a Trust were completed. The reason for the Trust was to avoid death duties. When the 10th
Duke died Hardwick Hall was handed to the Treasury in lieu of death duties. The Cavendish name is also associated with the Cavendish Laboratory (the Department of Physics) at Cambridge University – this was funded by the 7th
Duke who was also Chancellor of the University. It commemorates the work of scientist, and relative, Henry Cavendish who amongst other things discovered hydrogen and calculated the density and mass of the Earth. Henry’s library is now part of the huge library at Chatsworth.
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