Hastings Battleaxe journeys to Derbyshire and Yorkshire

Last week was action-packed.  We stayed our first night in Matlock, visiting Matlock Bath and the Heights of Abraham, Chatsworth next day followed by scenic Peak District drive, then Wakefield for the Hepworth Gallery and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, then York and Castle Howard, and finally Hardwick Hall on the way home followed by a night with my sister. Phew.

Castle Howard – the high spot of our trip.

     The first thing that struck Battleaxe and Philosopher was the price of these places…. the cable car to the Heights of Abraham was £13.60 each… that would have included admission to the caves, had we wanted to go in them. But it was late in the day, and we just really went for the ride. Don’t get me wrong, we are willing and able to pay to visit places, but so often we don’t get a sense of getting value for money – perhaps we are
just behind the times. How on earth do people with families manage?

Cable car to Heights of Abraham
View from the cable car

     Matlock Bath is a charming, odd little place – wonderfully old-fashioned, all Victorian architecture – amusement arcades, chippies, candy floss and coloured lights in the middle of the Peak District. I am sure when I was a child we visited a petrifying well full of hats and teddy bears all turned to stone. I wanted to see it again but it seemed to have vanished, save for a bit of petrifying apparently going on in the town aquarium. We didn’t bother to look.

Victorian architecture….
Matlcok Bath – pretty
Old fashioned gift shops…

      The town had also been dangerously neglected by both the Grammar Police and the Political Correctness Patrol….

Even worse…. noooo…..

      The weather at the beginning of the week was dark, cloudy and very cold, and after an uneventful night in a featureless warehouse-like Matlock Premier Inn we set off for Chatsworth. The low spot of our trip. Again, those prices! Admission to the house and garden would have been £21 each, so we just opted for the garden at £13 each. We took in the famous cascade,  Joseph Paxton’s rock garden and the even more famous fountain, but it was absolutely freezing and no fun…

Chatsworth – big and bleak
The cascade
The famous fountain
The rockery – a bit kitsch, we thought

        The place felt like a theme park set up for mass tourism.  Well, I guess it has always been so – ever since Capability Brown totally remodelled the landscape to suit the whims of the Devonshires, his unfeasibly rich clients.  He even moved the whole village of Edensor… The garden looked, and felt, very bleak.  No flowers apart from daffs – mostly the result of recent bad weather.
       After, we took a scenic route up north through the Peak District – Ladybower Reservoir, a bit of the Snake Pass etc. Philosopher had never visited the area, and indeed the scenery was impressive.

Peak view

       Arriving in Wakefield, we made straight for the Hepworth Gallery – another high spot of our trip – and free. The building stands right in the river – by a massive weir, with a little boatyard full of strange things nearby. The architecture is impressive, there are fantastic views of the surging water from the windows, and the contents of the gallery were very interesting.  The special exhibition was a strange business (Anthony McCall, Solid Light Works) of pitch dark rooms full of rather scary light beams.  It also has the coolest cafe imaginable.  Battleaxe would totally recommend a visit.

Hepwrth ‘plasters’
The weir
Another window view
Cool corridor to the loos

      In Wakefield we stayed at the Waterton Park Hotel, recommended to us by friends Jan and Tom in Hastings. Our room was in Walton Hall, a fantastic old stately home on an island in the middle of a lake. Our oom had wonderful views across the lake, which was full of wildfowl – much quacking and honking in the morning….  The hall once belonged to Charles Waterton, a nineteenth century naturalist, who built a wall round the estate and turned it into the world’s first nature reserve.  There was a brilliant-looking swimming pool etc also.  Battleaxe would totally recommend the hotel, but care would be needed as to when to book – the hall is clearly hugely popular for weddings and conferences. We were very lucky – it was quiet.

Walton Hall -part of the Waterton Park Hotel
Bridge to the island
The old water gate


View from our room

      The Yorkshire Sculpture Park was good, but a bit annoying. I hadn’t done much research on it and didn’t realise how big it was – 500 acres…. On arrival you had a choice of paying for 2 hours at £6.00, or all day for £10.00. We thought two hours would be plenty – small chance of that. The map had no time/distance scale on it, or recommended routes to see the highlights. The signage in the park was also very unhelpful. We started off yomping through a wood in search of Barbara Hepworths, but eventually we discovered they were roped off because of ground bogginess….. We hiked onwards, coming across various things at random, found a coffee place, also at random, and ended up trekking across a vast open parkland space with Henry Moore pieces dotted about at intervals. We eventually panted up a hill to the car just in time….
      The park is very attractive but I think it is just too big. Two hours walking is enough for anyone, particularly for a Battleaxe with a still-dodgy achilles tendon –  and we hadn’t seen half of it.

A wash and brush up….
Ai Wei Wei
More Moore
Battleaxe gets censorious with an Elizabeth Frink
Yet More Moore

       We drove over to York where we were staying with old friends Pete and Penny, who made us very welcome.  Next day, Philosopher and I went to Castle Howard.  It was a beautiful fresh, clear sunny morning, and the place looked ravishing. It was also very quiet.

Castle Howard

       The architecture is just stunning, and the approach to the house is fantastically dramatic – this photo was taken through the car windscreen, so not the best…

      I don’t know if one has watched too much Brideshead Revisited, but the place seemed infused with the poignant melancholy that characterised the original TV series.  I remember the first episode, when Charles Ryder discovers that his army camp is actually at Brideshead, and the house appears as dawn breaks…. I can hear the theme music now….  Here is the You Tube Link. We spent time wandering in the gardens – fabulous daffodils – then toured the house. I hadn’t realised it was badly damaged by fire in 1940. It is largely restored now, but it was the once-empty rooms that attracted the TV and film people back in the 80’s. We had coffee, and then returned for lunch, in a cafe with a sunny outdoor seating area in the Wild Boar Garden. The place is of course commercialised, but felt much more intimate and welcoming than Chatsworth. Again, Battleaxe would totally recommend a visit.

The Atlas fountain
Peaceful lake
Garden view
Underneath the dome – restored after the fire

      Another thing that amused us during our trip was the Stately Home Gift Shop Experience. All these places have shops with exactly the same things in – mugs with chickens on, tweed caps for men, endless scarves for women, scented candles, picnic rugs…. we wondered if you can buy the entire stock from one supplier, as a kit?
      Our own stately home experience was intensified the next day when we visited Hardwick Hall ‘more glass than wall’ on our way back down the country. It is National Trust – we are members.  We were much struck – and irritated by – the Educational Enrichment Opportunities forced upon us at every conceivable moment.

Hardwick Hall
Do we really need this?
Sheets and blankets? Who knew!

      I had wanted to visit the house because of its architecture, and also I recently read ‘The Other Queen’, the Phillipa Gregory novel about Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick.  It was good to see Bess’s long galleries, her tapestries, the rush-matted floors..

Wonderful plaster work
A very long gallery

    I expected the whole house – which was smaller than I expected – to foreground Bess and be Tudor-themed, but one whole floor was devoted to the goods and chattels of the thoroughly disagreeable sounding Duchess Evelyn Cavendish, who lived there from 1938 to 1960.  The displays about her life gave ample opportunity for liberal sprinklings of posh nob and royal fairy dust….
      We spent our final night in Harrold, Bedfordshire with my sister and her husband. She has just had her 80th birthday – I missed the party when we were in Cornwall.
       It was indeed an action-packed week, and although we enjoyed ourselves, we were glad to be home.  

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