I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published June 27th 2014
A selection of popular historic houses
The English Midlands contain some of the most attractive old manor houses – all set against the lush backdrop of the Peak District. These country estates have been meticulously preserved to reflect life as it was for England's ruling classes many centuries ago. Ranging from the stormy moors of Derbyshire to the cultivated gardens of Cheshire, the following estates are favourites gleaned from years of travel throughout the English Peak District.
Wollaton Hall and Deer Park, Nottinghamshire
Although known for being a capital of industry, Nottingham city borders the Peak District and is mere minutes from some of the most beautiful rural mansions, including Wollaton Hall. The sixteenth century house contains a museum and ornate Elizabethan rooms, but the main attraction for most visitors is the 500 acres of gardens and scenic lakeside walk.
The gardens of Wollaton were once known as the finest in England and the modern gardens are well-tended and contain a variety of diverse plants. There is also a Sensory Garden, which provides plants specifically chosen for their tactile, scent, or other sensory qualities. Wollaton Lake is accessible via a lakeside path, which provides stunning views of the hall and surrounding park.
The herds of deer that roam freely around the park are completely accustomed to visitors. Deer will often cross visitor paths or stampede through the surrounding golf course, which provides great photo opportunities (and many disrupted golf games). The Nottingham Tourism site provides further details about visiting Wollaton and Nottinghamshire.
Wollaton, Nottingham NG8 2AE 44 (0) 115 915 3900
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
Chatsworth achieved worldwide fame after it doubled for Mr. Darcy's home, Pemberley, in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, many literary scholars believe that Jane Austen based the fictional Pemberley on Chatsworth, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire. However, this striking estate is not just of interest for Austen fans. The exquisitely preserved home, world-renowned art collection, and beautiful setting in acres of sheep-covered hills are all major reasons to visit Chatsworth.
The house is still privately owned by the current Duke and Duchess, but several rooms are open to the public. Chatsworth is home to one of Europe's most diverse art collections and there are frequently updated art and sculpture exhibits to display new acquisitions. In keeping with the artistic theme, the gardens also contain a permanent sculpture exhibition.
The house is set in a 1000 acre park of which 105 acres are devoted to manicured gardens, a maze, fountains, lookout towers, hiking paths, and rare and exotic plants. The most prominent feature of the Chatsworth gardens is the 300 year old cascading fountain, which flows like a waterfall from the top of a hillside to a reflecting pool at the bottom. Chatsworth House is a lively place with ever-changing exhibitions and seasonal events, while the grounds provide ample space for peaceful countryside walks.
Lyme Hall is another Midlands estate made famous by its connection to Jane Austen's most loved work, Pride and Prejudice. Lyme Hall played the role of Pemberley in the BBC's 1995 adaptation of the novel and on the south side of the house Austen fans will recognize the famous reflecting pond where Mr. Darcy went for a swim before encountering Elizabeth Bennett.
Aside from its literary connections, the hall is famous for having one of the largest collections of antique English clocks, as well as intricate wood carvings by the late seventeenth century sculptor Grinling Gibbons, who also decorated St Paul's Cathedral and Blenheim Palace. It is fitting that this hall served as the home for Austen's aristocratic characters. From the manicured gardens to the painstakingly preserved seventeenth century interior, the whole estate exudes a feeling of entitlement and privilege.
The hall is surrounded by 1300 acres of diverse terrain ranging from cultivated gardens and pools around the house to swampy moorland wilderness and scruffy peaks in the outer perimeter. Lyme Park was originally built as a hunting lodge and herds of wild red deer still run free just as they did in medieval times.
Above anything else, Lyme Park is for those who love nature and long walks in the countryside. The hall is not far from rousing climbs, such as Alderley Edge and the Cloud, which provide breathtaking views of Cheshire.
The Hardwick Estate offers the best of English tourist attractions all combined together in one small area: a magnificent Elizabethan hall, atmospheric ruins, a café with traditional cream tea, and an impressive view of the Derbyshire fields and hills.
Hardwick Old Hall was the birthplace of Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, later known as Bess of Hardwick, who was second in power and wealth only to Queen Elizabeth I. The Old Hall was abandoned to ruin in the late 1590s for the New Hall, which was intended to display the full force and prestige of its owner. Hardwick also has historical and familial connections with Chatsworth House and architectural connections with Wollaton Hall.
Despite the somewhat power-hungry attributes of its creator, the modern Hardwick Estate is an amiable and friendly place that locals visit over and over again. From the warm café to the peaceful countryside it's one of the best settings to spend an afternoon. The New Hall contains many of England's finest tapestries, embroideries, furniture, and wall paintings, while the Old Hall ruins are a place for exploration and adventure.
North Lees Hall on the Hathersage Moor, Derbyshire
North Lees Hall is located in arguably the most spectacular scenery of any other Midlands country estate. Hather is thought to refer to the abundant purple heather fields covering the moor in the heights above the hall. The sweeping heather fields and boulder-strewn moor surround the hall for miles and, although Hathersage village is not far away, North Lees feels completely isolated. This hall is the perfect rustic escape from the demands of modern life, as well as a starting off point for adventurous hikers. Not far from the hall is Britain's longest inland cliff, Stanage Edge, a vertical rocky outcropping now popular with Peak District climbers.
It is widely accepted that Charlotte Brontë based Thornfield Hall (Jane Eyre) on North Lees Hall after a visit to Hathersage. It's no surprise that many authors have drawn inspiration from this stormy and solitary place. Walking through the lonely moor on a blustery evening, it's hard not to imagine that Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights or possibly the Baskerville hound may be lurking behind the boulders. The moor is also thought to have been a favorite hiding place for Robin Hood and his men. In fact, the grave of Little John is located in Hathersage churchyard.
Note that North Lees Hall is for accommodation only and is not open for tours.
The hall is divided into a lower apartment for two people and an upper apartment for five people. Even if you don't plan to stay at the hall, the exterior is worth exploring and the surrounding Hathersage Moor should not be missed.
Peak District National Park
44 (0) 1981 550753
With their proximity to the Peak District and beautiful architecture, these country estates are a favourite of those who love English history and rural experiences.