Wednesday, 2 January 2008

IP Address.07 – a week at Ingestre Pavilion: Part the Seventh

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

In which we drop in on another Outpost of Nobility, have a Quality Luncheon, and see an Odd But Inspiring Gothic Girder Lorry. The Bigness of Housing is discussed and a Pink Pig takes a wrong turn.

Hurrah! This is the Day of Going to Chatsworth, something I have been meaning to get round to for the last several decades. I wasn't disappointed.

Just as an aside, Chatsworth occupies a special place in von Neustadt family mythology. My very nice Canadian cousins Tom and Val were staying with us in Bristol in the mid-1970s. They had a hired car they'd dubbed the Pink Pig - a Hillman Avenger or something I think - and I was very impressed with what well-informed tourists they were. It was they who first told me of the wonder that is Chatsworth and I resolved then to see it for myself one day. They were - despite the style error that their car represented - pretty cool people and I admired them greatly.

I admired them no less when they returned from their Chatsworth expedition. Pausing only briefly to catch their breath in Bristol, they explained that although they'd been all the way to some place in the southwest with a similar name (or something), it turned out that the famous house of that exact name was more sort of, well, in Derbyshire, 172 miles from us in Bristol and more like 250 miles from where they'd been on their trip to some southwestern near-namesake. The thing that amazed me was that they were entirely unbothered by all this, where I'd have tended to see it as a major calamity. Someone then pointed out to me that to Tom and Val, as Canadians, an accidental diversion of 200 miles was not a big deal, indeed that it was more of a vanishingly small deal, the sort of distance you drive twice before breakfast for a pint of milk and the newspaper. This of course made me admire them even more. Bear in mind that it wasn't so far in my past that the 21-mile drive from Guisborough to Whitby in our ancient Ford Popular 103E had seemed like a very, very major expedition, and not just to us kids. So how cool was it to mistakenly drive a fair fraction of the length of England and hardly notice? Very very cool, yes Tamsin, is the correct answer.

Aside: Sadly, my memory does not serve me that well in the above paragraph - there isn't another place called Chatsworth in the UK than I can see. There are, however, other possibilities for confusion - taking a random example, you could be trying for Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire and end up in Ashford, North Devon ... something like that perhaps ... or whatever. If I get the chance I will ask Tom if he remembers!

Anyway, back in 2007 we were certainly not heading the wrong way. It was a nice drive up there, with glimpses of exciting landscape starting to develop as we neared the Peak District. We also went through some towns and villages which reminded me strongly of favourite haunts further north. Is this limestone-related, I wonder?

Becca was in her own car for this bit so we had some of the usual amusing When Satnavs Fall Out moments where you see the other car do something apparently bizarre because its satnav's Weltanschauung (haha, literally for a change!) differs from what yours thinks. It's a pity the two devices can't talk to each other, ask after the family, shoot the breeze a bit, put the world to rights, gossip about the bingo, have a nice old discussion, and reach a consensus about what we're doing in 300 yards. I bet they will, one day.

A rambling digression about GPS has been removed from here, shipped stone by stone to a new site, and painstakingly reassembled using old photos as a guide.

So there we were arriving at Chatsworth. It's fantastic. Once you're on its estate you still have what feels like miles of parkland to drive through before you eventually see the house, then you arrive impressively, across a bridge then sweeping round almost past the front door. Well, A door.

Parking and all that stuff was pretty painless and well organized: they have plenty of space and staff, and use them well. Once we'd assembled the platoon and coughed up a small fortune (this is a stately home, remember, and these things don't come cheap) we were off into the garden, this being another one where we'd decided to skip the house this time. We were once again very lucky with the weather, which does help just a wee bit when the entire structure of your day depends on your ability to stay outside.

It was reasonably busy but not outrageously so and it was the usual thing, that the crowding lessens exponentially with the distance you can be bothered to walk. We wandered - well, not that far really - and found a lovely, blissful spot for our picnic. The whole business of the setting and the weather was pretty good anyway but it was all offset nicely by the use of the new, incredibly classy Posh Picnic Rucksack Thing which Jo and Paul had given us for our 100th birthday. We'd been waiting for a suitably upmarket occasion to christen this fine portable luncheon facility and, my word, doesn't Chatsworth fit the bill just perfectly?

I am sure I am the very last person in the Northern Hemisphere to have seen one of these things but I was quite excited by it so forgive me if I witter for a moment or two. Basically it is an updated version of the picnic hamper, rucksackized and trendied up. Now that so many of have fallen on hard times and had to let some of the servants go this is probably a good idea. Anyway, once you have carried it (on your own back!) to the place of picnicking, it sort of opens out and there's all your nice picnic equipment strapped in, plates and cutlery and napkins and glasses and what have you; your wine is in an insulated sleeve; the food likewise in a place of safety; there's a matching blanket strapped on the outside ... and so on.

So we sat with our splendid picnic in this splendid environment, looking out over house, garden and parkland and, d'you know what, it was pretty jolly good.

I must stop daydreaming about how nice the picnic was and try to press on with the Emuārs Entry before I forget everything. Let's see:

  • Lots of long walks and paths, formal and less so
  • Massive cascade thing on the hill behind the house. Martha came all the way down this in the water as it is essentially a flight of stone steps with water flowing down it. Walking in it is discouraged but not forbidden.
  • Various folly-like "ruined" and naturalistic bits. O la and fie!
  • A really good maze which confused me quite thoroughly.
  • A lovely long walk up and round and behind and - over there.
  • Fabulous clever waterfall, just a small stream but going on for quite a long descent. What's the big deal? It's made entirely of stone troughs, that's what. Difficult to describe why this is so nice but picture, thousand words, blah etc. I'd like one in my garden anyway, if we ever recover those estates from that so-called "provisional government" of corrupt shoemenders and incompetent blacksmiths, led by a leering ninny of a ... What? Oh yes, sorry. On on.
  • There's some kind of tree collection. Oh good Lord what a stupid comment: the whole blessed place is a tree collection. Let me try again. There's some kind of special list of Chatsworth's Top Thirty Great Trees (or words to that effect, jabnaas) that you're meant to "collect" as you go round. It's mainstream enough that's it on the ordinary map, rather than some separate leaflet. I tried to spot those that were on our route, but enjoyed a very limited success. Many of the large, treelike objects looked quite a lot like many of the other large, treelike objects and none of them had a big colourful badge saying, "Hi! I'm a Top Thirty Tree!!" so I was a bit Lost'n'Clueless™ in this matter. (Perhaps Chatsworth could consult Virgin Active on how to do proper signage: Lovely Tree Zone ! Old House Place ! Nice Park Thing ! Ah yes, I can see it now.)
  • Somewhere up above the trough waterfall there's quite a large lake, overlooked by a splendid rustic/ruined stone folly or summerhouse, with a cave underneath.
  • All along the top of where we walked were bits of the system of reservoirs and waterways, artfully contrived to have exquisite, naturalistic-looking streams running along and down the hill (and perhaps supplying the cascade?) It's blatantly fake but absolutely gorgeous.
  • There was some sort of sculpture event on, so that there were interesting things all round the gardens. There was quite a lot of what I'd call (not meaning to disparage it, just an ignorant person's shorthand) Normal Large Modern Sculpture, which I very much liked. A few pieces I thought were over the top, perhaps a bit too cheesy and/or in-your-face, but your mileage may vary. I was intrigued by one quite odd piece, a large and beautifully detailed model truck made from a sort of Gothic Meccano. Do they now make Gothic Meccano? Did the sculptor invent the girders, or adapt them from elsewhere, or what? Dunno, but it was certainly an interesting and unusual object. If you've seen the film Dune I hope you'll know what I mean by Victorian Gothic Brass Retro-High Technology? A bit like that.
  • A very pretty, intensively flowery place that I think may have officially been the kitchen garden, or the entrance thereto. Or something.
  • A rather good gardenistic joke, to wit: the "cottage garden". I liked this. You initially go "uh?" then you appreciate the gag, which that it's not the garden of a cottage but rather a cottage made out of garden, with a sofa, dining table, chairs, bed and so on - absolutely brilliant.
  • After a while of this very pleasant wandering, the familial targeting radar was switched to the "tea" setting. There's a nice, unobtrusive café on a terrace near the garden entrance and here we sat outside for a while and contemplated the grandeur all around.

That's pretty much that for the Chatsworth visit. On the way out I was much taken with a folly/tower which overlooks the whole thing from a great height on a wooded ridge. I assume that it's still on the estate, though whether you can reach it as a visiting member of the public is another question: it's certainly outside anything on the garden map. It looks lovely, and must have an incredible view over the house and estate - which I suppose must be why it's there.

Ah yes, the house: I meant to mention it. It's odd to have gone to a very famous big house and not to have seen it; not that I regret in any way the very enjoyable visit we did have, but just that it means I've only seen the house as an exterior so I'm obviously missing quite a lot when I comment on it - and in an afterthought too! Tsk.

For what it's worth, I found the house very impressive and, in a strange way, suited to its site. On the other hand, it really is massive, surely far larger than most other country houses, and this does make it a bit difficult to love. From some angles, despite all the ?classical details and beautiful stone, it reminds almost me more of industry (office or factory?) than of gracious country living. I suppose it's an inevitable consequence of the sheer size of the undertaking ... the whole thing is just, er, big - in a way that, say, Shugborough or Weston Park, though grand, really are not. I suppose that the house was built to provide country living, and entertaining, and display and storage of exquisite possessions, and to impress with its wealth and authority, all on pretty much an industrial scale: so I shouldn't be too surprised that all of this is accommodated in something that gets right in your face rather than blushing coyly behind its lawns and drive. Certainly, it gets its message across.

Having said all that, I found it very striking and would really love to go back some day and see the inside.

One architectural feature than interested me was a sort of two-story extra-high bit at one end of the house. I am sure there's a proper term for it but essentially it's like a pair of corner towers, except that they don't stand alone - they're joined by a sort of section of rooms on one floor and a kind of wall-walk or loggia on the one above: in fact I think that you could probably walk, at the very high level, between the two towers. It's an interesting effect, perhaps a little odd and asymmetrical-looking, and I was rather taken with it: I'd like to understand better what it's doing there.

Eventually we were all Chatsworthed out for one visit and it was time to be off. We were not, however, quite done with Derbyshire yet. With one eye on the moderately long drive back to Ingestre, we decided to have dinner up there and fortunately Becca has a favourite pub not that far off, and Bob's your uncle. It's The Bear Inn at Alderwasley, and it was truly excellent. It's very popular and we hadn't booked but they were very accommodating and we managed just fine at a "non-restaurant" table: the food tasted just fine anyway. I'd strongly recommend this fine boozer and its menu of deliciousness.

It was a fair bit later when we chugged back to the Pavilion. This had been a rather fine day out.

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