Friday 24th July
On the afternoon of Friday 24th July Michelle, Aurora and I set off on a trip northward for a rather piecemeal trip. The first stop along the route was Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.
The trip up was quite uneventful until its final stages - the satnav lead us rather astray and we had to call upon the caretaker of the English Heritage property in which we were staying to guide us. With her help, however, we eventually found our way across the estate to our home from home for the next few days.
It was late - very late - so we dragged our luggage from the car and collapsed gratefully into bed.
Saturday 25th July
I woke up around nine the next morning feeling considerably more refreshed and headed outside to move the car - the property was open to visitors from ten o'clock and barricading the entrance with our Astra would have been frowned upon. On the walk back from the residents' parking, I got my first proper looks at the property in the daylight.
The property contains two halls, the Old Hall and New Hall. Both were ordered built by Elizabeth Talbot the Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick. We were staying in a cottage set right within the now runious Hardwick Old Hall, the interior having been seriously modernised.
The cottage explored, breakfast eaten and Aurora chomping at the bit to get out and about, we decided to start our day by exploring the the immediate surroundings and then heading into Hardwick New Hall.
In 1590, before the Old Hall was complete, Bess started to build another house immediately beside this it – the New Hall – this time using a professional architect, Robert Smythson. Contrary to what might be expected, the Old Hall was not abandoned in favour of the new one: instead, the two were intended to complement each other, like two wings of one building.
The exterior is quite grand and couldn't be more of a contrast to the crumbling ruins of the Old Hall that face it. I was amazed to discover that the Old Hall is a scant three years older than its sibling - in architectural terms the it felt considerably older. The New Hall's clean and compact Renaissance symmetry versus the more rambling expanse of the Old Hall, most likely an extension of the existing manor house.
We approached the Hew Hall along a flagstone path between immaculately mowed lawns, across which Aurora loudly and repeatedly expressed a strong desire to run. I had a nasty feeling she wasn't going to be happy looking around the house when there was all this running to be done. It turns out that I was right.
Fortunately some short-term relief was to be had on the third floor landing in the form of a dressing up box, at which Aurora spent many happy minutes.
Sadly this only deferred the issue, however, as when we eventually had to pry her away from the dressing up, she just had something else to be miserable about. We had a bit of a look upstairs at the grandest of the chambers, but fairly shortly I ended up having to carry Aurora out sharpish as she began to get quite upset.
As we strolled around the ruins I was amazed to see the state of disrepair given the approximately equal ages of the two buildings - it just goes to show the deterioration that follows when buildings aren't cared for.
As we'd suspected, Aurora was much happier running around exploring these ruins than she'd been in the New Hall (dressing up box notwithstanding). She was especially keen to explore the eastern end of the site, which contained the most complete remains.
This part of the ruins was still complete enough that we could ascend right up to the top, up what was presumably the back staircase, the great staircase not having survived.
The view from the Hill Great Chamber showing West Lodge, the larger twin of East Lodge in which we were staying and which now houses the ticket office and gift shop.
The view westward from the Old Hall towards the New Hall, showing the proximity and contrast between the two. East Lodge can just be seen poking into shot on the bottom left.
After touring the Old Hall for awhile we decided we'd seen enough and headed over to the main entrance of the property where there was a large courtyard with toys and games for Aurora (and other children were allowed to use them too, much to Aurora's annoyance) as well as the National Trust restaurant and gift shop in the old stables. Not to be confused with the English Heritage gift shop.
The walking was fairly easy and it was a beautiful day for a stroll through the meadows. As I headed down what was quite a substantial hill, however, I did have a premonition that I'd end up doing the walking for both of us on the way back.
After walking through pasture for awhile, greeting the sheep as we passed, we came to a fence that lead into a pleasantly shaded series of ponds leading down toward a larger lake in the valley.
We meandered along as we fancied, passing lakes and woodland, always heading steadily into the valley. Since we were loosely following the "Sculpture Trail" there were all sorts of interesting carvings along the way.
We strolled over to sit on a bench and enjoy some refreshments which staved off the inevitable mute appeal to be carried for a little while, but soon enough Aurora was nestled comfortably on my shoulder whilst I began the long and rather less comfortable trek back. It was still a very pleasant walk, but I was suffering a little in the heat by the time I'd taken her the half mile or so back and up the hill, which had apparently and inexplicably gained a few hundred feet in altitude during our brief absence.
Still, Aurora slept very well indeed once we got back to the cottage which gave me the chance to pop outside a few times and take a few pictures. As the sun set the surroundings were lit with that radiant peachy glow you only get at the close of a fine day and it really brought out the colours of the stonework.
I didn't spent the whole evening out there, I hasten to add - mostly Michelle and I were taking the chance to relax in the cottage whilst Aurora snoozed. But I couldn't resist popping out one more time as the sun finally dipped below the horizon.