CHATSWORTH, Bakewell, DE45 1PP
Not for nothing is Chatsworth, Derbyshire the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, known as 'the Palace of the Peak'. It is a veritable treasure house of works of art from all over the world, set in 'Capability' Brown's glorious landscaped parkland, and is one of Britain's best-loved and most-visited stately homes. A favourite backdrop for film-makers, the gilded Palladian west front of Chatsworth is instantly recognizable to millions. Towards the end of the 17th century, William Cavendish, the 4th Earl of Devonshire, soon to be made the 1st Duke, decided his Elizabethan mansion, originally built by the legendary Bess of Hardwick, needed a radical new look. For a while he tinkered with alterations, but finally knocked everything down and started again. Demolishing one great historic house to build another might seem an odd investment of a lifetime, but in those days great families were judged by their homes and gardens, and fashion and taste was everything. The Chatsworth that rose from the rubble was in the then-fashionable classic Palladian style, to the duke's own design, with advice from Thomas Archer. It took about 30 years to complete and it set the seal on his new status - even some of the window frames were gilded on the outside. The irony is that he never saw it at its best. Great houses needed great gardens and grounds, and these took decades to establish. In the middle of the 18th century, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and James Paine laid the foundations of what we see today by changing the course of the River Derwent, moving roads, building bridges and setting out the woodland vistas we see today. The house is bursting with great works of art in the most superb settings; the Painted Hall is a work of art in itself, with huge, swirling scenes from the life of Julius Caesar by Louis Laguerre on the ceiling and upper part of the walls. Splendour follows splendour as you progress through the house, but one of the most engaging features that stays in the memory of visitors long after they have departed is the wonderful trompe l'oeil painting of a violin on the inner door of the Music Room. There are no less than 17 staircases in the house, but the Grand Staircase leads to the first Duke's state rooms on the second floor. The 6th Duke - known as the Bachelor Duke because he never married - thought them all 'useless display' and wanted to make bedrooms out of the whole lot. But these were never rooms for relaxed living. Instead, they display the awesome wealth and power of the Cavendishes, with superb carved panelling, lavishly painted ceilings and priceless objects at every turn. The overall impression is of polished wood, gold leaf and rich fabrics. The chapel looks just as it did three centuries ago, and you can almost see the curly-wigged courtiers of Charles II sitting on the stiff-backed chairs; the library, once the Long Gallery, took shape in the 1830s, and prepares you for the enormous dining room - like an outpost of Buckingham Palace - and the sixth Duke's Sculpture Gallery, a rather chilly assembly of beautiful neo-classical marble figures. No one can deny the sheer magnificence of the house itself, but the real secret of Chatsworth is surely in its glorious setting. From any direction it looks majestic, and from the southwest, approaching Edensor on a sunny evening, it can be breathtaking. On the horizon to the east are the high gritstone moors; in the middle distance are tiers of woodland, melting into ribbons and stands of beech and oak and rolling parkland; and in the foreground winds the River Derwent. The front of the house reflects the golden glow of evening sunlight to perfection; around it are superb formal gardens and the fine Emperor fountain, created for a visit by the Tsar of Russia who ironically, never arrived. This is a view the first Duke never saw, and could only have dreamed about. The current 12th Duke of Devonshire and his wife are keen patrons of the arts, so don't be surprised to come across some strikingly modern sculptures by artists like Damian Hurst and Anthony Gormley in the formal landscaped gardens at Chatsworth. The Chatsworth estate stretches far and wide and includes grouse moors, working farmland and neat little estate villages like Pilsley, Edensor and Beeley.
8m N of Matlock off B6012. 16m from M1 junct 29, signed via Chesterfield, follow brown tourist signs