Where’s Mr. Darcy? – A visit to Chatsworth House
Ever since I saw the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at the tender age of 14 I have been in love. I have been in love with the fictional Pemberley and longed to visit the breath-taking grounds; to see a sodden Mr. Darcy wandering through the flowers in a see-through shirt; to pull out my camera (yes, I know it’s anachronistic) and take many, many pictures to save for later – come on, I’m only human. Alas, I feared my dreams would never be fulfilled. That is until I discovered Chatsworth House, the very real stately home in North Derbeyshire, which masqueraded as Pemberley in the 2005 film. My prayers had been answered.
Having been planning to visit Chatsworth for a good 6 years I finally made the pilgrimage there last week…it was worth the wait.
The house is easy to get to by bus, car or horse drawn carriage (just kidding) and the journey itself offers wonderful views of the peak district scenery. The only downside seems to be the rather steep admission prices, but if you go for the whole day then you certainly get your money’s worth.
Chatsworth is currently occupied by the Duke of Devonshire and his family but, just as it is in the film, some of the house is open to the public. Although I wouldn’t be a fan of having masses of strangers trampling through my sculpture gallery, the Duke more than welcomes it and allows visitors to explore 30 of the 126 rooms found within Chatsworth House, as well as the magnificent gardens and surrounding woodland.
One of the things I enjoyed about looking round Chatsworth was the fact that I felt so at ease. It’s easy to forget yourself as you take a turn about the gardens and admire the truly incredible landscape. Flora and fauna alike make you marvel at their beauty and the sheer diversity of the plantlife is so incredible I expect Austen wishes she could have lived to see it.
Despite my affinity with the carefree, ‘at your own pace’ atmosphere, I went on one of the free tours of the 105 acre garden which happen daily and last for about an hour. I discovered so many unusual facts about the estate that I never would have guessed. For instance, more than 85% of the world’s bananas originate from a Chatsworth banana seed (more info on this can be found here). The tourguide also informed us that the site has its own microbrewery and, as well as several other products, Muscat of Alexandria grapes are grown on the premises which became the first English-grown grapes to be launched by a supermarket in 2011. He had many more facts and some rather amusing anecdotes to tell us but I’ll leave those for you to hear first-hand.
As you may be able to tell, I enjoyed the outdoor experience of the estate more than anything else. However, the house itself is so decadent and ornate that it would be difficult not to take pleasure in looking around the inside of it as well. Both the architecture and the significant art collection have been changing and developing for centuries and always, it seems, for the better. You can visit the splendid state rooms, the painted hall, the chapel, and take in some masterpieces in the sculpture and sketch galleries. At the moment, among the works being exhibited you can find paintings by Rembrandt and da Vinci. And, if you’re like me, you can meander through the rooms, playing out scenes from Pride and Prejudice as you go. I didn’t receive any funny looks so I assume it is a regular occurance.
Equally as impressive as Chatsworth’s aesthetics is how eco-friendly it is. I wouldn’t normally discuss the public toilets of a stately home, but this was where I was first made aware of its environmental policy. I stood at the entrance of the lavatories and carried out the very mature and effective ‘ip-dip-doo’ technique to choose into which cubicle I should venture since they all appeared to contain unflushed toilets. Fortunately, I needn’t have taken so long over my decision as I soon realised that the toilets were not soiled at all. A small sign indicated that the toilet water at Chatsworth comes from the surrounding lakes and thus while clean, is murky in colour. I was impressed even further upon the discovery that 1/3 of the annual electricity requirements of the estate is generated by Hydroelectric power. The water-powered turbines have been supplying Chatsworth with energy since 1893 when the forward-thinking 8th Duke of Devonshire put them it into place. Now, in 2012, a second renewable energy system is being installed into Chatsworth in the form of a biomass boiler, which will make use of timber harvested from the country estate’s own grounds!
Now, from fuelling Chatsworth House to fuelling Chatsworth’s visitors. Wherever I go, I like to explore my options concerning food. While the grounds are the perfect place for a picnic, there are also food outlets dotted around the place, and up in the stables (which are almost as grand as the house itself) there are several restaurants and cafés offering scrumptious, freshly made food. There’s even a very British afternoon tea available.
Also in the stables are several stores: the Interiors Shop, selling homewear and jewellery; The Pantry, which sells produce from the nearby Chatsworth Farm Shop – a treat for any foody; and the Garden Gift Shop, where you can purchase as many garden related items as your heart desires.
What I have written here simply scratches the surface of what there is to find at Chatsworth. There is just far too much for me to document myself, so I suggest you visit. If what I have written hasn’t managed to convince you to do so, think on this: It should be considered a testament to how awe-inspiring Chatsworth House truly is, that this remarkable place managed to distract me from the fact that Mr. Darcy was nowhere to be seen. I suppose I’ll just have to pay a visit Lyme Park (where the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was filmed) to see if he’s waiting for me there. Fingers crossed.