Roly Smith takes a bracing winter stroll through Chatsworth’s parklands
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Image © Copyright J W Wagner via Geograph.co.uk
From Puddings to a Palace
Our ‘next door neighbour’ just across the hill from here in Bakewell is the Duke of Devonshire and his stately pile of Chatsworth, regularly voted as one of the most popular stately homes in the country.
One of my favourite mid-winter rambles is this easy six-mile circular walk from the home of the delicious Bakewell pudding, across Calton Pastures to Chatsworth. Winter is one of the best times to do this walk, because you’ll often have the frosty meadows to yourself, and have a better chance of seeing wildlife, such as the herds of deer which graze in the mature Capability Brown park.
The walk goes up across Bakewell golf course – surely one of the most scenic in the country – steeply through bare-branched Manners Wood (owned by our other neighbours, the Manners of Haddon Hall) and across the breezy heights of Calton Pastures.
These open grassy meadows are punctuated by a group of 4,000-year-old Bronze Age burial mounds. They are now all fenced-in to prevent erosion, but I still like to stand on each of them and admire the same extensive views towards the Eastern Moors and Stanage Edge that our ancestors must have enjoyed.
The craters in the top of each provide evidence of the burrowings of Victorian antiquaries like Thomas Bateman, of Middleton-by-Youlgrave, who found patterned burial urns placed there by the ancestors to watch over the living from these exalted coigns of vantage.
Climbing the sheep-studded pastures, you pass a lovely little reed-fringed pond where in Autumn, I love to watch the swallows take their last, in-flight drink before their incredible 5,000-mile migration to sub-Saharan Africa. A resident pair of coots usually reveal their presence with a loud “kowk” to ward off intruders.
The walk crosses the broad expanses of Calton Pastures and then turns north to pass the back-and-white Russian Cottage, built, along with the Emperor Fountain, by the 6th Duke for a promised visit by his good friend, the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, in 1844. Unfortunately the Tsar, troubled by more pressing matters at home, never came, but the cottage and the famous gravity-fed Emperor Fountain in the gardens of the big house – at 200 feet (60m) one of the highest in Britain – remain.
Passing through a walled lane through the pines of New Piece Plantation, you emerge at a gate for what must be one of the finest views of a stately home standing in its grounds in the country. Down across the valley the Devonshire’s classical Palladian pile of warm brown sandstone sits on the banks of the Derwent, with the turrets of Bess of Hardwick’s original late 16th century Hunting Tower peeping out over the sombre backdrop of the trees of Stand Wood beyond.
If you are here towards the end of the day, the gilded frames of the windows of the house will glow gold in the dying light like a fairytale palace. Indeed Chatsworth is still often referred to as ‘the Palace of the Peak,’ and you can visit the house, with its sumptuous collections of works of art, and the extensive gardens throughout the winter.
You’ll often see Chatsworth’s famous herds of red and fallow deer from here, making their stately way across the rolling parkland. You now descend through that tree-studded Capability Brown landscape, commissioned by the 4th Duke in the late 18th century, towards the house with Edensor (pronounced ‘Ensor’) village to the left.
Brown’s wholesale changes swept away the 1st Duke’s formal Versailles-like gardens, transforming them into a more fashionable ‘natural’ landscape emphasising the natural lie of the land. Brown claimed he had made the Duke of Devonshire’s “Elysian fields” into a place of beauty – a claim few would dispute today. One can only wonder at Brown’s extraordinary vision of a landscape which he knew that neither he, nor his client, would ever see in its maturity themselves, but from which we all benefit today.
One of the sweeping changes made by the 4th Duke was altering the course of the River Derwent and creating a new bridge to the house, designed by James Paine. Many of the ‘unsightly’ houses of the ancient village of Edensor which could be seen from the house were pulled down, and what remained of the village was enclosed to become part of the park we enjoy today.
The 6th Duke, known as the Bachelor Duke because he never married, rebuilt the house and gardens on the advice of architect Jeffry (correct) Wyatt and his genius gardener Joseph Paxton. This included the wholesale rebuilding of Edensor village, all apparently done from a pattern book by architect JC Robertson, between 1838 and 1842. No two houses are alike and the disparate but remarkably harmonious styles range from Italianate villa to Swiss chalet.
The elegant spire of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Early English-style parish church of St Peter dominates the village, and in the churchyard, you’ll find the graves of several of the Dukes of Devonshire. Another grave is that of William, Marquess of Hartington, and his wife Kathleen Kennedy, sister of American president John F Kennedy, who died within four years of each other at the end of the Second World War, tragically having spent only five weeks of their married life together.
The walk returns to Bakewell via the banks of the mighty Derwent towards Calton Lees with its garden centre and Vines restaurant and the southern end of the park. You pass the roofless ruins of Paine’s elegantly-pedimented watermill, which was damaged when two beech trees fell on it during a violent storm in 1962.
Turn east from here up a steep, stony bridleway past Lees Wood and the cottages of Calton Houses and out onto the open spaces of Calton Pastures again. The path eventually leads up to the pond we passed on the outward journey.
From here, it’s a short step down through Manners Wood and across the golf course again, and back into the hustle and bustle of Bakewell. But don’t make the common mistake of asking for a Bakewell tart when you’re there. They’re always known as “puddings” in this charming little market town on the River Wye.