Newest Review: ... of touching on Mary Queen of Scots imprisonment at Chatsworth House under the guard of Bess and one of her many husbands. It's easy to s... more
A stunningly beautiful country house
Chatsworth House (Bakerwell)
Member Name: chrisandmark
Chatsworth House (Bakerwell)
Advantages: Wonderful artworks, fabulous gardens, a chance to get up close and personal with history
Disadvantages: None at all!
~x~x~ Our House, In The Middle Of Our Street ~x~x~
During a recent weekend in Bakewell we decided to split up, Mark taking Charlotte go-karting while Hollie and I took a trip to Chatsworth House - a place I've wanted to visit for years but have never gotten around to it. I jumped at the chance to introduce five year old Hollie to a bit of culture, and as she'd been learning about royalty at school as part of the jubilee celebrations I knew she'd love the aristocratic slant to this day out.
I could bore you with a lengthy history of Chatsworth House, but there are more knowledgeable articles available online - what I will say is that this 16th century wonder is well worth a visit; fun, interesting and absolutely bursting with history. I knew from the grand exterior that I was going to love it, when I glanced over at Hollie to see her staring up at it with her mouth open I guessed she was going to enjoy it too!
Various admission packages are available, we opted to visit the house and gardens which cost £24 for the two of us. Concessions are available so check if you're entitled to a discount before handing your cash over, we weren't but saved £10 by virtue of incoming rain deciding us against paying to visit the farmyard and adventure playground. I then squandered most of this saving on a guide book, which I didn't refer to once during our walk but it's a lovely keepsake and we've looked at it several times since coming home. Audio tours are available, as are guided tours which take place at certain times throughout the day.
~x~x~ Who Lives In A House Like This ~x~x~
Once you've paid (and taken a moment to get your bearings) you climb a short flight of stairs and are guided to the left - and it's just a few short steps later that you enter the realm of 'gawking'. There's something to see from the moment you turn the corner; I knew it was massive from the huge scale of the exterior, but that didn't stop me being shocked at the absolute hugeness of the inside! Wow! The ceilings are so high as to induce vertigo if you look up for too long and the size of the rooms themselves is amazing - hell, there's even room for a stagecoach with life size entourage in the main hall!
Artwork is everywhere; covering every wall, the ceilings, in balconies - it's almost overwhelming. OK, so I like a nice painting as much as anyone but was surprised at how much enjoyment I got from the eclectic mix of art that's dotted on every single foot of wall space of every single room in Chatsworth House. Paintings of dogs alongside portraits of long dead previous residents of the House, some pictures I recognised even as a total art heathen and that before anything else reassured me that Chatsworth is indeed full of gems. Things are reasonably well marked, although the onus is clearly on the enjoyment of the art rather than an educational aspect - in the rooms dedicated to paintings there are 'keys' at various point where, if you want to, you can work out who painted what. I realised these keys were worth deciphering after unexpectedly finding myself in front of an oil painting of, ummm, a horses bottom by Lucian Freud - not the most exciting of our art finds but both me and Hollie found this picture incredibly amusing!
I was amazed to see a Rembrandt painting on display, a sketch too in the Old Masters Drawings Closet as well as the stunning Leda and the Swan ink drawing by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Honestly, when I woke up that morning I hadn't imagined I'd be face to face with the works of some of our most famous historical artists - the room given over to the Old Masters is really small, but the effect is excellent and rather than being an insult it showcases the incredibly historical works beautifully. Everything in this room is exquisite, they are mainly detailed sketches but the history value to me stopped me in my tracks - Hollie was suitably impressed with the da Vinci, having talked about it at school, and even took a photo of it so she could show her teacher.
There's more than wall art though - jewellery is heavily featured at certain points around the House, ornaments such as the incredibly beautiful rose pyramids from Delftware which were large ceramic structures designed so you could pop a colourful bloom into recesses along the pyramid for a riot of colour; there are intricate incense burners, sculptures, crowns and tiaras. Wooden chests of such amazing workmanship that the uber impressive thing is that they were made by hand over a century ago (two centuries!) as the detail within the carving would need some kind of laser cutting tool these days! I pointed out Elizabeth of Hardwick's initialled pendant to Hollie and something about it appealed to her as she stared at the pretty trinket for at least two minutes, asking questions that I could only hope to answer with the help of a nearby (and wonderfully patient with an inquisitive five year old) guide who explained the Bess of Hardwick connection to her in a way she'd understand - also, picking up on her current monarchist stance he made a point of touching on Mary Queen of Scots imprisonment at Chatsworth House under the guard of Bess and one of her many husbands.
It's easy to see everything as visitors are 'herded' around by use of ropes and guiding staff, while this might sound a little stifling it actually works very well and ensures you see everything with the option of skipping areas which are of no interest to you. You have to remember also that the Duke and Duchess of Devon live here so as a paying visitor you see only the public segment of the House - just imagine how sumptuous their living quarters must be?! Hollie was completely in awe of the staircases and I would have said this was actually her favourite part of the whole house until we came across the totally amazing State Bedroom, which I'm sure she's planning to model her own bedroom at home on. I must admit this was one of my favourite rooms too, although we were both very impressed with the beautiful exhibition based around the Queen's coronation, including a showing of actual footage of the coronation as well as a display showing the connections between Chatsworth House and Her Majesty.
We looked at everything, far too much to recount in this review - but let me tell you that, providing you're a history and/or art fan, you find yourself absolutely spoilt for choice for things to look at. I think Hollie was a bit overwhelmed at times, I noticed she stayed very close and at times didn't seem to know where to look - I was thrilled by how much she enjoyed it, not once getting bored despite a crowded and pretty heavy atmosphere. I think I've finally bred a little person I can enjoy the finer things in life with! She did start getting a bit bored but by then we were pretty much at the end of the route through the house, I made the quick decision not to take her into the dressing up room as a) it was packed and b) she clearly wasn't in the mood by then and really I wanted to whizz her through the rest of the house and out into the gardens where she could let off some energy.
We lingered in the library for a few minutes, listening to the live pianist playing 'of the time' tunes - here Hollie had her photo taken standing next to an imposing portrait of one of my historical interests, King Henry VIII. This is a Hans Ewood painting dating back to circa 1560 and was a shocking surprise to see in the flesh. It's little things like that that made me fall in love with Chatsworth House, while everything is stunningly beautiful there are some real treasures within the house that stand apart from everything else. After the library we spent a while in the old orangery which is now the Chatsworth gift shop. Now, I adore gift shops and can honestly say this is an excellent one with an impressive range of gifts and souvenirs to choose from to suit all ages - it's pretty expensive I must admit, but the quality of everything available made it good value for money. I bought three fridge magnets, a thimble for my mum and a wooden jangly bell toy for Hollie and was more than a little surprised to find myself paying over £20 for these small knick-knacks - but I consoled myself by thinking it could have been worse if Hollie had insisted on the replica giant foot statue she'd spotted which cost a whopping £45!
~x~x~ The (Not So) Secret Garden ~x~x~
And then we headed for the gardens - and boy, what a garden! The first thing we planned to look for was the maze which Hollie and I had spotted on the website before our visit, this turned out to be about as far as possible as you could get from the House itself so although we went straight there we had plenty of time to look around while we were walking. The garden is very well sign posted so that you can find all the major attractions pretty easily, it covers a huge amount of land though so be prepared for a lot of walking (and maybe a little cursing when you realise you've missed a small but important sign post and ended up far away from your intended target!).
I must discuss the maze first, Hollie wouldn't want it any other way. Absolutely a-MAZE-ing! The walls are so high I was worried my claustrophobia was going to kick in, but after a few minutes I was so determined to get to the middle that I forgot all about being so hemmed in. We made it to the middle in around half an hour, but only because we happened to find a young lad who knows the maze like the back of his hand and was prepared to allow us two simpering females to follow him - unfortunately he disappeared once we actually got to the centre and it took us much longer to get back out again! It was worth it though and Hollie's excitement absolutely thrilled me as she'd been so excited to find there was an actual maze within the grounds of Chatsworth House (and thereby discovering they're not just in fairy tales) that to find her enjoying it so much was an absolute delight.
The Cascade is another point of interest which lies just beyond the House; this is an early 18th century water feature (for want of a better word) which comprises dozens of large steps to create a staircase over which water pumped from the lakes cascades down, it sounds like a waterfall and in my opinion looks much better from a distance than close up. Above the Cascade stands The Cascade Temple, a small but imposing structure which acts as a stunning fountain at the top of the watery steps - we didn't walk to the top as Hollie's legs were just about giving out by this point, but from the base of the Cascade it looked absolutely fabulous and I honestly doubt I'd have been any more impressed had I seen it up close. One last water feature I want to tell you about is the fabulous Willow Tree Fountain, or the 'squirting tree' as Princess Victoria renamed it - this is actually a water 'trick' which was surely highly impressive when it was created centuries ago and is actually just as impressive today! It's a brass-work imitation tree which literally rains water from various points within it's branches, it was stunningly beautiful despite the fact that we visited on a pretty dreary day but a guide told Hollie that sometimes in the summer you can glimpse tiny rainbows dancing around the tree as the sunlight catches the water - and this later proved to be true as a piccie in the guide book actually shows this is the case, I felt mildly cheated after seeing the photograph actually as the girly nymph in me would love to stand next to such a low down rainbow!
Water actually features very heavily in the gardens of Chatsworth House, partly due to the fact that the owners over the centuries have wanted to keep up with their continental neighbours (where water features have historically been used to great decorative effect) but also to make their small part of the world as beautifully spectacular as possible. And they done this, with bells on! I kept having to stop and think because if the various ponds, waterfalls and fountains are so stunning to me in 2012 how amazing must they have looked back in 1812 and earlier? It's superb, really. The craftsmanship that has gone into these features is absolutely stunning and despite being very much a non-nature loving city girl I couldn't help but gasp in delight at some of these incredible creations.
What I love about these gardens is that you're not restricted in the slightest - you're welcome to walk on the grass, picnic wherever you fancy (only a total idiot would litter this beautiful area) and they allow dogs on leads with the obvious proviso that owners must clean up after them. It really is wonderful to be able to wander around without worrying about being somewhere you shouldn't be; I actually found it amazing that despite the fact that Chatsworth was busy Hollie and I still managed to feel secluded and alone in certain parts of the gardens, the gorgeous Rockery being a prime example as the huge rocks (these are seriously nothing like the smashed up teapot rockeries I remember from my grandma's garden) manage to conceal every nuance of noise from other parts of the garden. This is where we decided to linger a while and eat our sandwiches and other goodies as I found it so tranquil, Hollie enjoyed clambering over the rocks and I'm certain it was here she burned off so much energy that she fell asleep within minutes of Mark arriving to pick us up!
Dotted around the garden are large and highly impressive statues, most of which are permanent features with a very few either being on loan from other aristocratic establishments or temporary collections used to showcase either the general area or the work of a specific artist. I was actually quite disappointed when we visited as I'd seen a sculpture of a gigantic baby which I was really looking forward to seeing, unfortunately I'd misread the website and found myself there a couple of years too late! My bad! This didn't stop me enjoying other statues in the garden, but I do recommend you check out what's on before your visit if there's something in particular you desperately want to see. My favourite was a huge (and rather scary looking) rabbit sculpture named 'Drummer' which is near to one of the ponds - I don't know what it is about this particular statue but it really caught my imagination and I found myself casting long and lingering glances at it as we walked around the rest of the garden, but then I suppose that's what art is all about! There are a huge amount of these statues and I'm positive we didn't manage to see them all; if outdoor art is your thing I would certainly recommend getting into all the nooks and crannies of the gardens because they really are everywhere, Hollie's favourite was a tall and very weather beaten stone sculpture of Pan, who she swears is Peter Pan and to date I haven't had the heart to tell her it's another character entirely!
I could literally go on and on about the gems to be found in the gardens of Chatsworth House and I haven't even touched on the Kitchen Garden (where melons are grown!), the visually stunning Pinetum (a treat for Christmas lovers such as myself), the incredible Emperor Fountain where the water jets up to 90 feet high and the amazing greenhouses which are still in use today. Everything, I repeat, EVERYTHING is worth seeing and even if you don't fancy looking around the House I still recommend a trip to the Estate if only to take a leisurely walk around the gardens - in fact we plan to do this as a family early next year as Mark and the older girls have no interest in historical buildings but loved our photographs and tales of the gardens so much that it's now on their bucket list! Next time I definitely want to see the farmyard and adventure playground as they would be fun for Hollie, although a lady I was chatting to in the House told me they're not exactly in keeping with such an otherwise historical and cultural day out!
~x~x~ Time For A Snack ~x~x~
After a few hours of wandering amongst these treasures you may well find yourself hankering for sustenance, and for this I wholeheartedly recommend a trip to Flora's Temple Tea Shop, a small place located in the gardens where you can purchase a range of drinks and snacks. The Cornish Pasty I ate was deliciously fresh and full of flavour, but I could have chosen from a reasonably wide range of sandwiches, cakes, biscuits or ice creams - Hollie had what I initially thought was a plain vanilla cornet with a flake, but after stealing lick while she wasn't looking I quickly decided that this ice cream was much too good for children as it was of such high quality I'd expect to find it served in a fancy restaurant rather than in a cone for a five year old! Amazingly tasty! I had a very nice coffee which was hugely called for after so much walking, the prices in Flora's being a little on the bizarre side but worth it to ensure a much needed sit down and relax. If you'd rather take in the Chatsworth atmosphere with a more formal meal you can visit The Carriage House restaurant, which specialises in freshly cooked local produce prepared by Chatsworth's own in-house chefs - the menu quite literally changes by the day (as do the prices apparently!) but when I browsed a menu during our visit I saw that hearty stews and chicken dishes seem to be the order of the day. I chose not to eat here simply because we were in picky-picnic mode that day and were planning to eat out in the evening so decided it was overkill, I must admit my mouth was literally drooling when I spotted the large chocolate fondant dessert being devoured by one elderly gentleman - it was as much as I could do not to dunk a finger into the chocolate goo oozing out of this particular dessert as I passed, and I'm certain Hollie made him feel uncomfortable with her wanton staring as she walked past his table!
~x~x~ A House For Everyone ~x~x~
So, Chatsworth. What can I say? Hollie and I had a fabulous time exploring both the House and gardens, we both obviously got very different things from our visit but we both enjoyed every minute of it. There was a lot of walking involved but the Estate is set out so beautifully and cleverly that you forget about your aching feet and just continue plodding on until you've seen everything of interest. Disabled visitors are surprisingly well catered for considering many historical houses refuse to make full adaptions for wheelchair access, Chatsworth has a lift and guide system which will take even the largest of wheelchairs around the house - it is recommended that you book in advance if you have anyone with mobility problems in your party, only due to the fact that the upper floor simply doesn't have the space for too many wheelchairs and it would be such a shame to arrive and realise there's simply no room for you through no fault of the building or staff. For this same reason pushchairs are not allowed in the House, although they do provide a range of baby carriers if you're visiting with little ones who wouldn't be able to manage the walk. Mobility scooters are available to hire free of charge for use in the gardens and there are also 'buggy tours' around key points within the garden for those who can't walk around it themselves, or I suppose anyone who fancies being driven around at a leisurely pace regardless of whether they have mobility issues or not! I certainly fancied hopping onto one of the buggies and it was only the thought of Hollie missing out on things she wanted to see that stopped me!
We spent hours at Chatsworth, much longer than I'd planned to. I'd guesstimate we had at least an hour and a half in the House itself, followed by an hour just chilling around the general area of the tea room (in case of a coffee emergency) and another two hours, maybe more, in the gardens. We left feeling weary but ever so slightly overwhelmed by what we'd seen during our visit; I think it's testament to the quality of the place that even now Hollie will reference it some two months later, even her teacher mentioned it at a recent parents evening after she'd likened a piece of art they were shown in class to a painting we'd seen at Chatsworth. That might not sound particularly impressive, but at five years old (and with the same ditzy memory as her mother) I think that's absolutely great and all down to the wonderful way that this fabulous building manages to bring history and art to life.
Summary: An amazing day out for Hollie and I, and somewhere I plan to return with the rest of the family soon
- Llanberis Lakeside Railway (Wales)
- Church Ope Cove (Isle of Portland)
- Northumberlandia (England)
- Torc Mountain & Waterfall (County Kerry)
- Greys Court (Henley)
- Doctor Who Up Close (Cardiff)
- The Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow (York)
- St George's Minster (Doncaster)
- Clifford's Tower (York)
- Skipton Castle (Skipton)