Anglotopia Day 8 – Peak District & Chatsworth House
“Nature and culture in harmony, you see, Lizzy. Wildness and artifice .. and all in one perfect county.” – Mr. Gardiner, Pride and Prejudice
Why the tiny town of Bonsall, do you ask?
First off, the town was situated near the Peak District, and it was a part of England I wanted to see. Secondly, it was only a twenty minutes’ drive to the famous and beautiful Chatsworth House, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (the family of The Duchess fame with Keira Knightley) and also the house used in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice as Mr. Darcy’s magnificent home, Pemberley.
Skirting the hedgerows of narrow country lanes was quite the driving feat, especially as Land Rovers and delivery vans whizzed around the sudden bends. For awhile, it was like driving through a forest tunnel, where mature trees sprawled their arms wide over the lanes. Along the road we reached the quaint town of Matlock and Matlock Bath, which was the Wisconsin Dells of the Victorian Age and still has old-time sweets shops and vintage game arcades along its main street.
“I shouldn’t care for it myself, Lizzy, if it were merely a fine house richly furnished. But the grounds are delightful. They have some of the finest woods in the country.” – Mrs. Gardiner, Pride and Prejudice
Chatsworth House was undergoing another phase of renovation when we visited last summer, but the front aspect – the most recognizable from the Pride and Prejudice film – was still as picture-worthy as imagined. Whilst the grand interiors of the house were meant to showcase wealth, privilege, and the favor of kings, they are all worth seeing. The audio guide was perhaps the best part, as it directed attention toward the magnificent ceilings, art, and the meanings behind it all. The modern gallery with the family’s DNA sequence was perhaps the most interesting of it all.
However, my three favorite parts of the house were thus: the very old antique Chinese wallpaper in the bedroom – a beautiful tree and lotus pattern with birds flitting about, the amazing library with long and tall rows of gorgeous books, and the sculpture gallery just before the gift shop. Of some of the grandest houses in England to tour, Chatsworth should be right up there with Blenheim.
The grounds were beautiful, of course, and included hedge mazes, grottos, waterfalls, planned gardens, and the famous orangery. A picnic outside near one of the lakes could be a perfect day out, but we took our coffees to a terrace and watched the mallard ducks come around to beg for treats.
After lunch at Chatsworth, we drove back toward Matlock in search of the cable car ride called Heights of Abraham. The roundtrip ticket meant we could ride the cable car up to the top of the mountain (or hill?), visit some of the caves, and take in splendid open views of the Peaks.
In this area of England, lead mining was the biggest economic activity for a very long time. Up at the top of the Heights, a short visit into one such lead mining caves is a must. A few miners carved their names into the cavern – some three hundred years ago – and, when all the lights were turned out, the thin, tiny glow of candles replace the darkness. This was how the miners – some practically children – would work. In almost sheer darkness but the smoky stink of a tallow candle, working with lead, trying your best to avoid a cave-in. Hoping that daylight would would be there to greet them when they finished with the day.
The T’Wod Man of Bonsall – a very, very old carved figure – celebrated this miner spirit. He was the “mascot”, if you will, of the town, but Wirksworth, a close-by, lead-mining town, has the original now. He was, I heard, a spirit who liked to live in caves and mines. He sported a rather large nose, a pick for mining slung over his shoulder, and a bucket in his other hand. It sounded a little bit like Bonsall wasn’t so happy about the T’Wod Man leaving their village.
After a long ascent out of the mine, we were able to walk around the Heights a bit longer, snapping some gorgeous panoramic shots of the area. The Peaks were a scenic beauty from such great heights.
The weather forecast for the next day was not promising at all – rain and chill all day – so we ate dinner at a Thai place in Matlock and stocked up on tea, milk, and snacks to bring us through a gloomy day in England.