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Thursday, 28 February 2008

Derbyshire County: Something in the Water? – Part 1

By Celia Jones

A quick visit to my husband’s elderly aunt in Derbyshire last year stretched to over a week as we succumbed to the surprising charms and attractions of the Peak District National Park. It was a pleasant six-hour drive north east from my mother-in-law’s house in Carmarthen, Wales through the small villages with double-storey stone cottages. Carefully negotiating the narrow roads, we enjoyed the green patchwork quilt effect of the rolling meadows criss-crossed by hundred-year-old dry stone walls that marked the entrance to the Peak District.

We passed some horses that looked like miniature Clydesdales grazing on the nature strip near the road. In a turnout, there was a collection of round, brightly-painted, wooden, gypsy caravans, trucks, and swarthy, curly-haired people - the first real gypsies I’d ever seen.

It was hard to believe that gypsies were still living in England in much the same way today as they did 100 years ago. The images from a movie based on a D.H. Lawrence story called, The Virgin and the Gypsy came to mind. I later learned that this story was made into a film using the Derbyshire village of Youlgreave and Beeley Moor for its main setting. Other films made here include Women in Love, The Princess Bride, Lady Jane Grey and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Our destination was the heart of the Peak District National Park - Bakewell, originally named in the Domesday book as “Badequella”, meaning Bath-well, from the warm springs in the area. Well dressing, dating back hundreds of years, is one of Derbyshires best known, most popular and colourful customs, where wells are decorated with flower petals, berries, moss, cones and seeds, which are pressed into clay held in a wooden framework

In Bakewell, two of the original wells (which serve up water rich in iron at a temperature of 15 degrees Centigrade) still survive as does an ancient stone bridge erected around the 1300s which crosses the Wye River, whose banks are lined with lush parkland. At the summit of the steep hills surrounding the town is a church founded in 920. Nearby, houses dating back to the 15th century overlook Bakewell’s shops and pubs that surround the town square, the site of the oldest functioning market in the area dating from 1300.

One notable building in the town is the Rutland Arms, a pub famous for its invention of the Bakewell Pudding, a delicious almond tart, still popular today. Another claim to fame of this pub is the fact that Jane Austen stayed here in 1811 and in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet stopped here to meet the Darcys and Mr Bingley. Also, Charlotte Bronte stayed in Hatharsage, Derbyshire, for three weeks while she was writing Jane Eyre.

Agatha Christie spent many happy hours in Derbyshire walking the windswept moors around Kinder Scout, possibly the setting of one of her murder mysteries. In 1830, the poet William Wordsworth spent three days travelling through the county with his trip inspiring him to write at least two sonnets, one called A Tradition of Oaker Hall in Darley Dale, Derbyshire and another about the splendours of Chatsworth House.

My husband and I toured Chatsworth House, home of the elderly Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah Mitford, who is coincidentally a member of the Mitford family of authors of books such as Love in a Cold Climate. This magnificent stately home was first built on land purchased by Sir William Cavendish in 1552 and later bequeathed to his son, Henry Cavendish. Henry sold the house to his younger brother William, who became the 1st Earl of Devonshire in 1618. The house stands in the centre of a 35,000-acre estate, encompassing farms, woods, moorland, quarries, and I think it rivals Buckingham Palace for splendour.

It is richly furnished and decorated with elaborate inlaid furniture and tapestries. There is a magnificent private art collection which has been built up by the Cavendish family over 450 years. Much of the collection is on display in the public rooms of the house and includes paintings by Rembrandt, Lanseer, Gainsborough and Freud, and sculptures by Canova and Frink.

I was taken by the more unusual items in the collection such as the Colossal foot which is part of a gigantic Greek statue dating from the time of Christ, a huge collection of house keys, a trompe l’oeil Painting of a Violin and a full-size Turkish Barge given to the 6th Duke for his use on the Bosphorus by the Sultan of Turkey. Amidst the grandiose art treasures, there was an intimate display of cards congratulating the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire on their 60th wedding anniversary, one of which came directly from the Queen.

A renovated section of the house called “The Queen of Scots Rooms” recently opened as an added attraction for the public at Chatsworth. This is the part of the house where Mary Queen of Scots, placed by Elizabeth I in the custody of the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, frequently stayed between 1570 and 1581.

In touring the Family Portraits from the Sketch Galleries, I was surprised to see the portrait of a beautiful young, dimpled-cheek blond woman with a shy smile named Kathleen Kennedy. From the Chatsworth House Guidebook, I learned that the elder brother of the current Duke of Devonshire - William Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington, first in line to inherit Chatsworth - was married to President Kennedy’s sister Kathleen in 1944. Four months later, he was killed in action in Belgium while serving with the Coldstream Guards. Kathleen died in an aeroplane accident in 1948, and they were both buried on a hill in a nearby church cemetery. Next to the gravestone of Kathleen Kennedy was another stone marking John F. Kennedy’s visit to her gravesite in July 1963, four months before his own assassination.

The Chatsworth garden was landscaped by Capability Brown in the 18th century and had a huge maze. An outstanding feature of the grounds was a cascade waterfall over 24 groups of steps, with a Temple House at its head. At the base of the Cascade the water disappears underground, passes through a pipe to work the Sea-horse Fountain on the South Lawn in front of the house and is eventually piped into the Derwent River.

...to be continued tomorrow

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Celia, this is a marvelous travelogue. As I read it I want to book a flight and see those wonderful things and places. Your detail is fascinating and I enjoyed the telling. I can hardly wait for the continuation.

I am constantly amazed at how old buildings are in Europe. In our town they wanted to demolish a library that was only 25 or so years old. It is a beautiful building and, thankfully, wiser heads prevailed and it will be remodeled instead.

We waste so much in the U.S. and leave so little for those that follow us.


I am so enjoying your tour through England and Wales.

I once went on a trip through England and a friend treated me to a visit to Blenheim Palace, the home of the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.What a splendid place that was.

Because the Duke and Duchess were not in residence at the time of our visit, for an additional fee we were permitted to tour the family's private quarters.

Their home was so different from the public rooms. The furniture was well lived in and candid photos of themselves and the children were on display. But, best of all, they had the same floor lamp in their living room that I have in mine; bought at Woolworths.

I look forward to continuing the tour with you tomorrow.

You really make me wish I could see all that!

Celia, Thank you for your wonderful travel log. I enjoyed reading it, and look forward to the next part(s).

Nancy, kenju, Malia and Darlene.
Thank you for your comments.

I remember going to chatsworth house as a child, very vaguely. It's great to read the history, I would like to vist again sometime as an adult. Thank you for the beautiful story.

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