Chatsworth, our golden Peak District palace surrounded by miles of glorious concessionary paths, is a pleasure to visit at any time of the year. Better still though, Nellie and I were fortunate to enjoy two seasons in one go with both the delights of autumn colours as well as sampling an early festive wander around the Chatsworth Christmas market.
We began our exploration at Baslow before entering the estate by the circular Cannon kissing gate inspired by Mrs Jill Cannon in 1999 to allow access for wheelchair users. Whilst fellow walkers around us were on a mission to head straight for the ‘big house’, Nellie and I veered over to the left and headed up to the Jubilee Rock that was previously called the Elephant Stone as from a certain angle it looks somewhat like a recumbent elephant.
Surgeon Lieutenant Colonel Edward Mason Wrench FRCS MVO incised a loyal inscription on the Elephant Stone with lines from the national anthem to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897.
After a bit more uphill walking we climbed over high stiles and then headed along a track that would eventually meet up with the main road just before the Robin Hood. However, at a little sign for ‘Beeley Via Swiss Lake’, we turned right and made our way slowly along Dobb Edge where there were occasional precipitous drops into woodland below.
An undulating narrow path, followed by a woodland track past stacks of felled timber, and we arrived at the Elizabethan Hunting Tower with ancient canons aimed across the parkland. It was completed in 1582 for Bess of Hardwick to a design by the famous architect Robert Smythson who also created Hardwick Hall for her.
A detour from the shorter route down to the House led us on an estate road past the newly landscaped upper reaches of Emperor Lake. Swiss Cottage beyond, which looks chocolate box pretty, was built around 1840 as a gamekeeper’s residence. Sadly it is no longer reflected on the surface of the now dried up and foliage-full expanse of the former Swiss Lake.
There have been numerous ponds and fountains at Chatsworth since the time that Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick made it their home in the mid 1500’s. Over the centuries and during the incumbency of a succession of Dukes these were added to, requiring a reliable water supply to feed them. Man-made lakes on high ground were then constructed including Emperor Lake which was engineered by Sir Joseph Paxton for the 6th Duke of Devonshire as a means of powering the Emperor Fountain in the gardens below, purely by gravity.
There were numerous stacks of timber lining the track following recent essential tree felling of larch and sweet chestnut trees to avoid the spread of Phytophthora ramorum disease.
We descended Stand Wood which includes many specimen trees planted by Paxton. As we neared the house I could hear the sound of Christmas music and smell wafts of mouth-watering aromas coming from a variety of hot food stalls amongst the Christmas market stands. Needless to say, Nellie and I made straight for the shortest queue, resulting in us sharing a chicken dinner Yorkshire pudding wrap together.
There were lots of wonderful stalls selling Christmas decorations, gift ideas and glitzy treasures as well as lots of lovely alcoholic beverages. Local producers had stands selling traditional wares and craft items, with many novel and creative things to make me part with my pounds. As well as family presents, I even bought Nellie a little Christmas stocking of organic dog treats. I eventually ended up with two heavy carrier bags and a rucksack full of goodies but then remembered where I had left my car. I certainly regretted not paying the charge to park nearer, especially when I saw golf buggies and trailer rides back to various car parks that would have saved my arms from aching.
We left behind the hubbub, returning to Baslow by crossing the vast grassy expanse before retracing part of our initial route.
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: Mum’s gone all festive and sometimes takes me window shopping for ideas. I do actually love this as I can be a pretty princess as well as a miles and stiles ramble dog. There’s nothing I like better than to wander along pavements and sniff out food and pet shops. Along the way I also like to meet and greet other four legged friends. For a change from Bakewell, Mum recently took me on a trip to Buxton and we had a great time pottering around the High Street. However, she got us in trouble when she forgot she had me in tow and walked through the shopping centre off Spring Gardens which is evidently not dog friendly. Thank you Mr nice and smiley Security Guard for not being grumpy with mum!