I honestly think the idea for this business of mine was born out of watching the epic, 6-part BBC version of Pride & Prejudice way back in 1995. I thought- I want to go see these places, and I want to help others do it too. Needless to say, going to see Lyme House, the setting for Pemberley, was maybe the #1 point of my driving trip around Britain (only took me close to 20 years to do it). I will TRY to keep my gushing to a minimum, but believe me- the visit lived up to expectations.
SO- I certainly had butterflies as I left my guesthouse in Buxton for the short half hour drive to the opposite end of the Peak District from Chatsworth (Buxton is in the middle). After turning into the drive, my anticipation was raised by a stop at the gatehouse where I purchased my ticket (which is actually an adorable little gift tag looking thing, which I've kept) and was given a map along with an actual CD which you're meant to play on your drive up to the house:
It of course included some lovely chamber music, but most interestingly it also let me know that this day was NOT going to be all about Lizzy & Darcy. It contains memories from one of the former residents of the house, a quiz to be taken on the ride back out, and other little things to enhance your visit. Unlike some of the great homes of England I visited (Blenheim, Chatsworth, etc), the family unfortunately lost their fortune (like so many did), and had to abandon the house at the outbreak of WWI. In fact, the entire visit of the interior of the house was tinged with melancholy, as it's filled with portraits and fond memories from the Leigh family, who clearly were devastated to have to leave. (Imagine if the Lord Grantham & Lady Mary et al had to leave Downton!) In any case, I was surprised when I reached the end of the drive and finally saw the house, because it's NOT the iconic sight Lizzy sees from her carriage (that's actually the back of the house), but the giddiness returned in FULL force when I entered the main courtyard because I could just picture Colin Firth's Darcy rushing down the stairs. What the movie makes look like just a side entrance he dashes out of to find Lizzy (more appropriately attired) is actually the main access to the living quarters.
After wandering through the lovingly restored rooms & learning about life in Edwardian England (I did sit down at a lovely writing desk to write a letter on pen & paper, but refrained from dressing up in a period-appropriate hat), I returned to the courtyard, and exited out the back where I started grinning like an idiot. Immediately to the left, there's the path they walked up awkwardly! Dead ahead was the lawn where he shockingly appeared all wet from his dive in the pond! There is a pond in front of the lawn, but obviously that wasn't the one he swam in (and they actually filmed that part in a tank, apparently). I basically just lost it and ran around the pond taking picture after picture of the house. It's gorgeous (obviously), and I had a gorgeous day to visit it. One thing that is so interesting about this particular style of architecture is that on film (and in photos) the house to me looks just HUGE. But to be honest, when I was down on the grass looking back at the house, it really didn't look so giant. It's definitely more of a modest "house" than some of the giant palaces...
I did continue all around the little pond and into the sunken gardens off to the side... more gorgeous views of the back of this lovely home. It was early spring, but the tulips on the high side of the house by the conservatory/greenhouse were out in full force as well.
I really was reluctant to leave. I went to the downstairs cafe, but it was a bit fancy & fussy (though seemingly very nice), so I retreated back down to the stables which are converted to some shops and a little cafeteria for a jacket potato before finally deciding it was time to hit the road. I was leaving the land of Austen, and heading to Beatrix Potter territory: The Lake District. From one "favorite" day to another, really... this part of England doesn't get visited as often, which really is a shame. Get ready for some truly gorgeous scenery.