Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
I could have kicked myself for booking an 11:40am train, because it was the start of the annual Chesterfield Festival and the marketplace surrounding the Market Hall was filled with tented booths with tantalizing items for sale. We went into the parish church to see the handsome wooden screens, Jacobite carved pulpit, gorgeous stained glass windows and other excellent acoutrements of a lovely English medieval church. The sun was finally shining and streaming in through the stained glass.
After a substantial, full English breakfast with homemade sausage in the dining/living room of the farmhouse (and delightful chat with fellow travelers from outside Liverpool and the quiet, sweet-natured farmer John), we were picked up by Anne-Marie in the CouncilMobile –an official Chesterfield borough van with a volunteer driver, again one of Anne-Marie’s staff – Bryan. Our luck with English weather had finally run its course, and we were treated to the weather that the moors are known for – rainy, cold, and bleak. As we drove across the moors of the Pennines and Peak district, we could almost spot Heathcliff and Cathy among the bracken and faded heather.
The museum was a gem - very well done. It told the plague story - both the nature, history and movement of the plague and its effect on Eyam - and then how Eyam recovered through lead mining and other industries.
After leaving Eyam, we stopped for lunch at the site of the oldest working water-powered mill in Derbyshire?...England?...I missed that part. Even in the rain and cold, there were many other travelers walking the paths around the historic site and fighting for a seat in the warm restaurant. Revived, we left for the main attraction, Chatsworth, ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and frequent movie set (most recently for Duchess with Keira Knightly).
Although it was pouring rain, windy and cold, we took a quick walk in the gardens to the famous Cascade for a photo shoot. We had done serious damage in the gift shop, and the bags were banging against our legs in the wind. Bryan graciously got the van for us and we headed for a warming pot of tea at the estate's Farm Village tea room. Floor to ceiling windows looked out over the rolling landscape, a carefully manicured man-made park made to look "natural". If only it was sunny! But it was beautiful nonetheless.
We had made it through Chatsworth in somewhat record time, so we decided to shift the visit to Anne-Marie's museum to the day's schedule (Friday morning was going to be tight). Turned out to be a great decision, because it was great fun to be roaming the museum at night with the place all to ourselves. Anne-Marie has done a stellar job with this museum - fitting wonderful exhibits into a challenging space.
In future blogs I intend to go into more depth about the museums we visited and things we learned, and this museum will certainly be featured. One thing of note I will mention here - the Chesterfield Museum was given a special award this year by the borough Council for inspiration and innovation for their Time Traveler program. This is a way to encourage return visits by children through the stamping of passports and rewards. Sound familiar? It should - Anne-Marie was so impressed by VAM's Virginia TimeTraveler program when she visited as part of the March 2007 Rediscovering Virginia exhchange that she took it back and adapted it for her area.
Evidently just about every evening the local youth go from pub to pub to pub into the wee hours of the morning, pretty much taking up the streets in a noisy fashion that recalls our more excessive Halloween street parties. The Halloween analogy also extends to what they wear - although we were shocked (and felt terribly old) to discover that the ultra short hot pants and generally suggestive, flashy attire of the girls in fact were not costumes but what was considered fashionable. Hmmm. We went to a pub off the historic church square called Rutlands to observe the scene, anthropologically speaking, before calling it a night and heading back to our farm retreat.
It was a nice, long, five-hour trip back through Edinburgh and down the North Sea coast. Wonderful scenery, and I have a zillion blurry pictures of ocean, fields, sheep, crags, medieval towns, church spires, marinas, etc., etc. We were in first class, and was it ever. The trains have been uniformly clean, modern and comfortable with very friendly staff, but this one was exceptional. Well done, Cross Country Rail! Free food, even, and as much tea as we could consume thanks to Gary, our trolley dollie ("Good morning all you lovely people...").
When we arrived in Chesterfield, we were met by Anne-Marie Knowles, director of the Chesterfield Museum. She had enlisted the aid of two very nice ladies who work in the museum – Helen and Carol – to take our suitcases and assorted bags to Stainsby Mill farm (our B&B) while we made a mad dash for Hardwick Hall to fit in a tour before closing. Hardwick Hall was built in the 1590's by Bess of Hardwick (Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury) as a replacement for the Old Hall, the ruins of which stand nearby. Bess was a truly remarkable woman, outliving four husbands and amassing much wealth and power.
Almost every inch of wall in the stately old hall was covered in huge tapestries – and that is not an exaggeration. We had a personal guided tour by Assistant House Manager Elena Williams. The late afternoon sun produced a golden glow throughout the house, even though the massive windows that blanketed the outside walls were lightly draped. The formal and state apartments were grand, but probably my favorite part was the interpretation of the last rooms that Evelyn, dowager Duchess of Devonshire, had occupied. They had left them as she lived in them, and the more modern, homey aspects helped you to understand what it would have been like to live in such a grand manor.
A quick turn around the gift shop, a cup of tea and we were off down the now-dark lanes to try to find our B&B. We drove round and round as the lanes got tinier and muddier. Stainsby Mill Farm is a tenancy of the estate, so we knew we couldn’t be too far away. We finally found it, met our hosts John and Charlotte Hitch, and relaxed a bit in our rooms. We had one room with two twin beds and an adjoining room with a double and two twins. Can you say slumber party??! I brought out a little mini bottle of 17 yr old Glengoyne scotch to toast our arrival, and we all had the wee-est of drams in teacups.
Anne-Marie then took us to a beautiful old pub and restaurant on the Hardwick estate called the Hardwick Inn. We ate from the Carvery, which is like a buffet or smorgasbord, with roast turkey, pork and beef and a broad array of various vegetables and Yorkshire pudding. The aroma was tantalizing and the taste even better. (I had always thought English cuisine lacked something to be desired, but this was delicious and plentiful. In fact, we have eaten very well this trip, as my tightening waistband can attest.)
Anne-Marie dropped us back at our rooms and we snuggled into our beds with hot water bottles and blankets and comforters piled high. It had gotten very cold, and the room was warmed by only a small space heater. But a very long day meant that even the mooing cows just outside our windows did not keep us awake.