Hardwick & Edinburgh 2015 Or Three Halls and a Castle

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 approach to the ruins of Hardwick Old Hall.

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.

Hardwick Old Hall's East Lodge, where we were saying, and the rather imposing gate we used to access it.
Hardwick Old Hall is one of the most innovative houses of the Tudor period. It was built between 1587 and 1596 by Bess of Hardwick, who was among the richest and best-connected women of the Elizabethan age. A radical modern mansion, it drew on the latest Italian innovations in house design. Although the Old Hall is now a magnificent shell, it remains a glittering reflection of Bess’s status and aspirations.

The cottage in which we were staying was absolutely gorgeous - if the setting itself wasn't great enough, the interior had been decorated to the high standard we've come to expect from English Heritage cottages and was spotlessly clean.

The entire cottage was very spacious and beautifully decorated.
Period features and gorgeous views - what's not to like?
Not many places where you can pop out onto the patio and enjoy breakfast in the shadow of a grandiose 16th century ruin.

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.

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.

The house is packed with artifacts of the period and beautiful tapestries lined many of the walls.

Things started OK, but we had to hurry along rather more quickly than we might have liked due to Aurora's increasing boredom. There were some things I'm sure both Michelle and I would have rather spent much more time over, but the wish to avoid a screaming tantrum in a quiet National Trust property is quite a strong motivator.

Some of the tapestries are extremely fragile and kept under glass.

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.

Hello, Princess!

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.

The High Great Chamber, covered in more gloriously detailed tapestries.

Having quickly exited the building - well, as quickly as I could whilst half-dragging half-carrying a mid-tantrum toddler - we calmed Aurora down and then decided that perhaps the Old Hall might be more her style. Far fewer things to knock over, much more potential for running about.

What would have been the grand front of a massive hall before it fell to ruin.
One of the two service yards, the other having been covered and used as a tennis court in the 17th century.

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.

The eastern end of the Old Hall, as viewed from the service yard.

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.

The ground floor contained the kitchens and larder and, more recently, a dizzying view upward.

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.

We ascended the stairs right up to the Hill Great Chamber, some of whose plasterwork still remains.

Being enclosed it was easy to lose track of how high we'd climbed, so the views from the top were something of a surprise. The Old Hall is also atop a sizeable hill, as I was to discover later as I had to climb it.

On the upper floors, the two wings contained state rooms for formal entertaining, lit by tall windows which command bold views across the open landscape. Each suite of state rooms had its own great chamber. Although the Old Hall is open to the elements, many of the original plaster overmantels are still in place.
A vista of the ruins from the Hill Great Chamber viewing platform.

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.

Bess died in 1608, leaving her son William Cavendish in charge of Hardwick. He was the founder of the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire, who are still based at the Chatsworth estate that Bess and his father had bought. The dukes eventually came to prefer Chatsworth over Hardwick, and partially dismantled the Old Hall in the 1750s, which gradually became ruinous. Its open interior was planted with specimen trees in 1793.
The remainder of the ruins weren't in nearly such good order, but still remarkable nonetheless.
The ruins were a perfect spot for hide and seek.

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.

Aurora had a great time while Mummy was perusing the gift shop. Daddy spent most of the time just admiring the view.

We walked back to East Lodge and at this point Michelle wanted a little break from walking around, but Aurora still had energy to burn. Thus Michelle headed back to the cottage to make some progress on her knitting projects and I took Aurora off to the Lower Park.

The path down to the Lower Park.

The Old Hall is built upon foundations held back by a truly impressive retaining wall - they didn't leave anything to chance in those days. Aurora and I strolled down beside it and as we reached the bottom the view openened up into a panorama of parkland.

Our initial view of the Lower Park.

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.

Aurora was particularly interested in the wildlife, even if the sheep didn't seem particularly keen on making friends.

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 passed the topmost lake and headed into some welcome shade from the hot sun.

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.

So that's why they call it the Sculpture Trail.

Just as we reached the lowest lake Aurora started to give off those subtle little cues that she was tired - the kind that it takes all one's parenting experience to pick up on; cues like her saying "I'm a bit tired after all that walking, Daddy". It looked like this walk was going to be better exercise for Daddy than he anticipated.

The lowest lake was very pleasant in the sun and there were a number of people fishing around it.

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.

The view of the New Hall from our bedroom window.
The setting sun picked out the details of the stonework in the Old Hall.

The site had been closed to the public by this point so we had it to ourselves. I wasn't sure if we were really allowed to poke around the ruins after hours but I decided it couldn't do any harm and I wasn't about to waste an evening like this.

The setting sun still had some brilliance left in it as I looked on from the highest point of the ruins.

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.

The sunset was well worth waiting for and was a delightful end to a delightful day.

Sunday 26th July

It was turning into a holiday of contrasts and the weather lived up to the theme admirably on our second full day - the rain fell more or less without pause from dawn until dusk.

That very British scene of murky skies and stubbornly rain.

Fortunately we'd already arranged to meet up Jenny, an old friend from university - it'd had been years since we'd seen each other and we were staying only an hour's drive from where she lives. I was really grateful that she didn't mind doing the driving because shepherding Aurora round on a day like that can be a trying affair.

Oh goody, here comes some more rain - just what we didn't need.

Jenny was busy in the morning so we had a leisurely breakfast and I took Aurora out for a little while to burn off some energy, rain notwithstanding. She didn't really pay the wet much mind and was probably just happy there were so few people there to get in the way of her laps of the site.

Daddy, why is the rain falling indoors?

The afternoon was spent very pleasantly over tea introducing Jenny to Michelle and Aurora and catching up with her latest news - it was really great to catch up after so long. There's something very satisfying catching up over tea and biscuits on a rainy day!

Still, all good things must sadly end and eventually the time ticked on to the point where Jenny either had to leave or be locked into the car park and forced to spend the night - and, as comfortable as those window seats looked, I didn't think that notion would appeal - so we walked her back to her car and said our reluctant farewells.

Then we hurried back through the rain and dried off in front of a roaring log fire; and thence to bed.

Created By
Andy Pearce

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