I’ve walked along the River Derwent and through the Chatsworth estate many a time, but I’ve only actually visited the house once before. And that was a very long time ago.
The house is beautiful at any time of year, but I imagined it would be absolutely gorgeous decorated for Christmas and as my brother and nieces are visiting I thought it would be nice to take a trip to see the house in all its festive glory.
It was busy when we arrived and we had to buy a timed ticket to enter the house. The plus side to this was we got to explore the gardens whilst it was still daylight.
We walked along the back of the house with lawns and a lake to our right and woodland to our left.
As it was such a clear sunny day the we had a wonderful view of the surrounding hills.
The path rose to the top of a small hill . We walked to the summit and then turned back towards the house breaking our return journey with forays into the woods.
An eerie looking woman walking through the woods caught my eye and I did a double-take. It turned out to be a sculpture not a ghost, but I was glad I’d spotted her in daylight. Anyone unexpectedly coming across her in the dark would get quite a fright.
A pond surrounded by sculptures lay through the woods.
Walking round the pond and slipping through the gap in the hedges we found a jumble of rocks so artistically placed to look random that they couldn’t possibly be random.
As it was close to the time we were due to enter the house we wandered back along the path just stopping to photograph these dogs.
The first thing was saw when we got inside was a Christmas tree. It turned out to be the first of many.
There was a fire in the grate and a line of toy soldiers on the mantlepiece. This year Christmas at Chatsworth had a ‘Nutcracker‘ theme and so the toy soldiers were relating to that.
This Christmas tree was made out of ballet shoes combining the themes of Christmas and the Nutcracker.
There were Christmas trees in different styles all over the house. I started off trying to count them but soon gave up.
The rooms in Chatsworth are beautiful. The current house is a replacement for the original and in terms of Chatsworth history is quite modern; building only started in 1687. Over the intervening centuries bits have been added and the gardens have been redesigned.
The estate, which is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. The line of inheritance changed slightly in 1950 when Andrew Cavendish inherited in lieu of his elder brother who had been killed in the war. William, the original heir, had been married to Kathleen Kennedy, sister of President JFK. She was killed in a plane crash four years after her husband. I did wonder if this was the start of the ‘Kennedy curse’.
Andrew became the 11th Duke and inherited the estate. He also inherited a massive tax bill for death duties. He set to work selling artworks and other properties and finally settled it 17 years later.
He and his wife Deborah, one of the Mitford sisters, didn’t move in immediately. The house hadn’t been lived in since before the war and was in need of renovation and updating. It was only in 1959 that they and their three children were able to move in.
Deborah revitalised the house and was responsible for expanding the many streams of income the estate generates. She installed attractions to increase visitor numbers, wrote books about the estate and its history and commissioned modern sculptures.
Andrew died in 2004. His eldest son, Peregrine, became the 12th Duke. Deborah continued to actively promote the house until her death in 2014.
This bedroom had a bath in a cupboard. I imagine it would be really cosy with the doors closed. The heated towel rail at the end would keep it extra snug.
As part of the renovation work Deborah had had 17 new bathrooms installed.
Another bedroom had a Christmas tree made from pink tutus. Another example of combining the Christmas theme with the Nutcracker theme.
We wandered round the house finding more Christmas trees.
And more stunning ceilings.
And some kitsch. This was a huge mobile consisting of a sugar plum fairy and lots of oversized replica sweets hanging from a dome over a stairwell.
The sugar plum fairy looked as though she was straight out of a Beryl Cook painting.
Another bit of kitsch was this Christmas tree decorated with garishly coloured flowers.
One of my favourite rooms was this study cum library. Apparently it’s one of six libraries in the house.
This was the only one we got to see though. The house has 126 rooms, but only 26 of them are open to the public.
The tour covered two floors. Here we were looking down on the hall we’d been in earlier. It was much easier to admire the ceiling from this level.
We found a room with real-life ballerina. We were just in time to see her short performance.
This pretend ballerina was sitting on a hoop dangling below the sugar plum fairy.
Just beyond the ballerina (the real one) was a room with a gingerbread village.
The village even had a model train loaded with licorice allsorts running round it and through a tunnel.
The final part of the house, before being fed into the ubiquitous shop, is the sculpture hall.
As well as the usual sculptures there was a Christmas and Nutcracker theme going on here too.
I was trying to be arty here and get a photo with this lady sculpture looking like she was adding the finishing touch to the Christmas tree. The toy soldiers were keeping a careful eye on her.
There were dancing ballerinas projected onto the walls and garlands hanging from the ceiling.
It was turning to dusk by the time we left the house, but there was still enough light for another look round the garden.
The evening light was casting a lovely warm glow on the back of the stable block.
The greenhouse was still open and we were able to go inside where it was much warmer.
It got progressively warmer as we moved through the sections. It has three climatic zones: temperate, Mediterranean and tropical. Each section is closed off from the previous to maintain the required temperature.
I got to see pomelos, lemons and oranges growing in northern England in December. Now that’s not an everyday sight!
We walked through a section of the woods we hadn’t visited earlier and found ourselves at the top of the water feature.
Water pours from the stone building down steps, finally going under the path and into the lake.
We were really starting to lose the light now, but there was still one thing we wanted to do.
We headed down the hill to the maze, split up and entered from different ends. The maze is made from 1206 yew trees and is one of the most fun I’ve been in.
It looks quite simple from above. But it took us ages of dead ends and passing each other with a hedge stuck between us before we got to the middle. My brother and his eldest daughter got to the middle first and when they came across me and my youngest niece still trying to find our way to the centre they showed us the way. Fortunately they remembered it and I got this celebration photo of both nieces standing on the stone in the middle silhouetted against the almost night sky.
Then all we had left to do was find our way out again.
Have you seen any great Christmas decorations this year? Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.