Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Grand Tour of Grand Estates

This was the weekend for two big events - one I couldn't wait for and the other I dreaded. Since planning this trip, I've been looking forward to going to Chatsworth House. However to get there, I was going to have to drive, on the other side of the road, in a car with the driver's seat also on the other side of the car. And then there's turning right. And also, roundabouts...they are everywhere.

The folks at the lovely little car rental agency thought they were doing us a favor by upgrading our rental from a little car to a full four-doored SUV. I was not pleased and had been hoping for a small car to make navigating the small roads easier. So now I had to drive on the other side of the road, sitting on the other side of the car, and in a huge car at that! (I would have had a problem driving this car even in the States.) Well, we had it and off we went. Driving was very odd and uncomfortable at first but I got the hang of it and had the most excellent of navigators to help guide and, most importantly, support in both directional and moral ways. And as I went through more and more roundabouts, I got the hang of them. Turning right though was tricky every time. The motto became, "Far right! Far right!" to make sure I was turning into the correct (i.e. left lane.) And also to note, when not paying attention to driving but to something else like turning or to oncoming  traffic, habit kicks in and I found myself going towards the right side instead of the left. Thankfully the few times that happened no one was coming and all was safe. Of course by the end just as we were ending the weekend, I had the hang of driving. I suppose this means that the next time I visit England I won't be so worried about taking a weekend long as I have my navigator extrodinarie. 

Friday - Derby
The first stop on the weekend tour of grandiose estates was Chatsworth House, located in Derbyshire near the Peak District National Park. (Note to self: Spend more time at the National Park. From what I saw of it while driving, it is worth additional exploration.) 

The first house was built in 1557 by Bess of Hardwick. Mary Queen of Scots was a "visitor" at Chatsworth during a number of her years while incarcerated in England. Between 1687 and 1707, the 4th Earl of Devonshire replaced the old Tudor mansion with the current Baroque palace. The 6th Duke of Devonshire continued to remodel the house adding Georgian style galleries to the heavy Baroque-style state rooms. There is quite a distinction between the different wings of the house. The gardens' landscaping was designed by Lancelot "Capability" Brown in the 1760s and developed by the head gardener Joseph Paxton in the mid-19th century.

The Chatsworth House is currently the home to the 12th Duke of Devonshire, and the family does in fact still live in the House. Exploring the lavish interiors, extensive grounds, and various gardens took the entire day and it was time well spent. 

Saturday - Lincoln
Since we were staying in an adorable little bed and breakfast in Lincoln, we decided to spend Saturday in Lincoln. This also meant that we didn't have to drive anywhere. Lincoln is is surrounded by a flat landscape, called the Fens, and rises dramatically on a cliff above the River Wittham. 

The Romans founded the first settlement in AD 48. Lincoln grew to be the fourth most important city in England (after London, Winchester, and York) by the time the Normans invaded in 1066. The city has retained the look and feel of a medieval town with the preservation of many small streets and medieval buildings, many along the aptly named Steep Hill that leads to the cathedral. 

Construction on the original Norman cathedral began in 1072, but after fires and earthquakes, three versions of the cathedral later has resulted in the present Gothic style, particularly the Early English and Decorated periods. The three towers of the massive Lincoln Cathedral can be seen for miles around. And on a clear day, like the one we had on Saturday, you can see for miles from the roof of the center tower, which we climbed to for the view.

Sunday - Stamford
Continuing on the with the theme of grand buildings, we left Lincoln for Stamford and the Burghley House. William Cecil, 1st Lord of Burghley was Queen Elizabeth I's advisor for 40 of her 45 year-reign. He built Burghley House in 1560-1587, designing it himself. (The Cecil family still lives in the House and operates the House Trust.) 
The exterior contains typical Tudor features of turrets and cupolas. The roof line bristles with stone pyramids and many chimneys disguised as Classical columns and towers. The House's interior is lavishly decorated with Italian paintings of Greek gods and scenes across many walls and ceilings in heavily wooded rooms. There is actually a lovely room with Heaven all along the ceiling and walls while in the next space, a grand staircase, Hell is depicted with a mouth crammed with sinners. This hellish staircase leads to a Great Hall with a double beamed roof that was a banqueting hall in Elizabethan days, and then turned into a library. The Great Hall served an elaborate dinner to Queen Victoria, who stayed in the house twice, once as a child and again later as Queen.

Capability Brown also designed Burghley House's surrounding deer park (of which deer currently roam) and landscaped the grounds in 1760. The oak trees that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert planted in 1844 are still standing. In fact, there's a grove of many old oak trees as part of the landscaping. 

Before leaving Lincolnshire, we stopped for tea and scones in Stamford, a showpiece town famous for its Georgian townhouses and medieval street plan. The spires of the medieval church in Stamford can be seen from the deer park of Burghley House. 

Driving back to Cambridge, and comfortable now doing so, I appreciated the beauty of this fine English country, the changing landscape and scenery from the rolling hills of Derbyshire, through the wooded areas of Nottingham, and to the Fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. This weekend afforded perfect weather to see a few of the most precious pieces of architecture, estates, and grounds in England. If I wasn't already in love with this country, I would be now after this magnificent weekend.

Photos from the weekend can be found here

No comments: