It’s no secret that I love the UK. But as with most places in the world, there are some parts that you love a bit more than others and I fear my heart is completely lost to Chatsworth and the Peaks. We first came here in June 2012. It was a perfect Summer’s day and I still remember exactly how I felt as we drove over the rise and spotted Chatsworth for the first time. I thought, ‘this is what heaven must look like’ – and I haven’t changed my mind at all upon our return. This time though, it’s a little bit different as we’re staying on the estate in the Hunting Tower, which is one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever seen. The views are breathtaking – endless acres of velvet green fields dotted with stands of oaks and ash, the river Derwent wending its way through the middle of the estate and down below us, Chatsworth – a stately home unparalleled in its beauty.
The Tower, dating from 1582 has walls that are literally three feet deep. Set over four floors plus the roof which you can walk onto, there is a bedroom and shower room in the basement, a kitchen/diner on the ground floor, a gorgeous sitting room on the next level and a beautiful bedroom, complete with ensuite on the top. The spiral staircase occupies the turret on the front left hand side of the building. It’s seriously steep and some of the treads are well worn – the balustrade is made from rope and there is another central rope hanging down, which I quickly discovered was the best thing to hold onto on the way down. Almost like sliding down a fireman’s pole – except that if you go too fast you’re in danger of rope burns! Using the balustrade is best on the way up. The spiral continues to the roof where the views over the estate are incredible.
I wondered if I’d find the place spooky at all, but it’s got a lovely atmosphere to it (although as I’m typing this I have just heard a few strange noises! Probably Ian downstairs making toast).
Across on a distant hill sits the village of Edensor (pronounced Enser). It is your quintessentially perfect English village – gorgeous stone houses and in the centre the church, St Peter’s and its extensive graveyard, resting place of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire and their families. It’s also the location of the grave of Kathleen Kennedy (affectionately known as Kick), sister of John F. She was married to the 10th Duke’s eldest son who tragically died 4 months after their wedding in the war. She too died in horrific circumstances, in a plane crash – one of many Kennedy’s to do so. We walked to Edensor a few days ago and found a group of men installing the headstone for the Dowager Duchess, Deborah Cavendish nee Mitford, who passed away at the end of September. She has been laid to rest with her husband, the former Duke and had lived for quite some years in the Old Rectory in Edensor after he passed away and her son, the current Duke and his wife took up residence in the house. By all accounts Deborah or Debo as she was known was much loved, with a sharp wit and a great love of chickens. Her wicker coffin was decorated with eggs and her funeral was attended by over 600 palace staff and many more friends and dignitaries including Prince Charles and Camilla.
The house, stables and gardens on the estate are magnificent but the surrounding countryside is just as lovely. We’ve walked and explored and marvelled at the views. I’ve also been working – doing the final read through of Alice-Miranda at the Palace and working on Clementine Rose and the Movie Magic, which I’ve really gotten my teeth into the past few days.
I love waking up in the morning and going downstairs to watch the squirrels playing on the lawn behind the tower. The birds are beautiful too with Robins and Blue jays and so many others I can’t name. Yesterday morning I spotted two gorgeous pheasants wandering around by the cannons out the front. The tower attracts many walkers to Stand Wood and often the front lawn is packed with hikers taking a break. I’ve chatted to a few people now. I had the pleasure of meeting two lovely young women who work on the estate, Charlotte who manages the vast number of properties and I’m afraid I can’t remember the other lady’s name but she had just taken up the position of Head Housekeeper for the Duke and Duchess and was having a tour of the estate.
I asked them if I should happen upon the Duke and Duchess, what should I call them? I suspected it might be Your Grace which according to protocol it is, but they both told me Duke and Duchess are perfect and that neither stand too much on ceremony. I haven’t encountered them yet but at least I’m now well informed if I do!
Yesterday we met two more of the staff who came to assist us when some lights went out. Lisa, who is the Chief Buyer for the shops on the estate and I’m afraid I can’t remember the other gentleman’s name (although I have a vague recollection that I might have seen him on the television series about Chatwsworth). They were both so warm and accommodating – people don’t just work here – they live here and love what they do.
Last night we explored the inside of the house which has the most extraordinary Alice in Wonderland Christmas display with enormous Christmas trees and miles of twinkling lights. It’s our final full day here – the wind is howling outside and we’re very cosy, tucked up in our tower, watching the clouds racing across the sky. There are patches of blue and intermittent sunshine and it really is the most glorious place. Although the estate hosts crowds of people each day, this is no theme park. The Duke and Duchess have opened their beautiful home so that it will be safe for generations to come – and rather than mouldering away as so many of these estates do, Chatsworth is a vibrant community – the people who work here are passionate about what they do and it makes the experience as a visitor even more wonderful than I had hoped. Thank you to my clever husband for organising our surprise stay in the Hunting Tower (I think we’d both like to come back again next time we’re in England). If you’re after a unique experience you certainly can’t go past this one.