Then I spent a few days with my lovely Canadian cousin Sue. And I realised that I was but a rank amateur. She takes hundreds, no, thousands of pictures. She has an eye for detail too. Where I see the sweeping vista, the cute doggie or the laughing friend, she sees the intricate detail in a piece of lace, the beauty in a deepset window casement, the juxtaposition of a bright blue fishing boat against a limestone city, or an ancient climbing rose against an aging wall.
No nook is too humble to excite her interest. I was surprised to discover about 30 pics of my neighbourhood taken on our 20 minute dogwalk round the block before we went out one morning. She had spotted dozens of little visual morsels which I must walk past every week without note. And I'm relatively observant!!
How wonderful then to take Sue around my most loved sights and see them afresh through her camera lens as well as my own. My sister came to visit too so the 3 of us spent Friday morning poking around the pretty market (and tourist) town of Bakewell and then the afternoon going around the gorgeous Haddon Hall.
Bakewell is as twee as it is lovely. If you look at it in one light you could overdose on cutesey-ness. It is stuffed full of the usual “fayre” – chintzy tea shops, tourist tat-laden “gifte shoppes”, farm shops, deli’s, shops selling stuff that could only appeal to the visitor – designer clothes, Edinburgh woollen products (Really? In Derbyshire?), fancy cookware, woven baskets, obscure whiskys. If there was ever a world shortage of tea towels a call could be made to Bakewell and a full year’s supply could be found residing there. If you’re seeking a fridge magnet sporting a witty homily, look no further.
My limited spoils comprised a tea towel with a recipe for the eponymous pudding and, as a small (and ironic I’m sure) gift from my sister, 2 drinks coasters bearing a picture of a blue roan cocker spaniel looking remarkably like Shelagh set against a moorland setting. (Actually the coasters came in handy as, when we got home, I discovered that Minty had eaten one in her rage at being left behind!!)
And then there’s the Bakewell Puddings themselves. Not to be mixed up with the terrible Mr Kipling creation of the Bakewell TART, the Bakewell pudding is a wonderfully subtle treat – a pastry base with a layer of jam and a layer of baked almond paste. Not gooey like a custard pie but flakey and light and not-too-sweet. History has it that it was discovered by happy accident. There are not one but 3 different shops all claiming to have the “original” recipe but who cares who is right – I think Bloomers is the best and they’re all delicious!
Despite the twee-ness, I love Bakewell. I love the fact that it is still a real market town with a well used weekly market, a great monthly Farmers’ Market, a huge agricultural market, a decent supermarket and a large variety of “proper” shops and trendy restaurants, bistros, cafes and pubs which don’t just serve the tourists but keep the locals happy too. I like the beauty of it – the ancient packhorse bridge as you drive in (which creates a bottleneck but against which the willow tree looks so fine); the ducks and geese fighting for the tourist crumbs; the fattest rainbow trout you have ever seen fighting with the ducks and geese for the tourist crumbs. It’s a lovely place and I like visiting once every few weeks, even though I wouldn’t like to live there….
The greedy rainbow trout of Bakewell
Canada Geese goslings sunning themselves..
The packhorse bridge
And Haddon Hall was simply brilliant. I’ve been several times with various visitors over the years and everyone I have taken there has loved it. It’s the ancient stately home of the Manners family. They still live there. In fact I saw the Duke rushing somewhere with a file on this visit and his whole family last time decanting from their car with their selection of dogs (tatty terriers and muddy spaniels). The hall had been built by the Vernons back in the year dot (one wall dates from 1195) but they died out so a cousin from a distance branch had to take over, enter the Manners in 1567! The house has melded the 2 coats of arms throughout so, from the topiary sculptures which greet you as you arrive, there are the wildboar heads of the Vernons side by side with the peacocks of the Manners everywhere you look. One of the Manners women (Grace I think) was the granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick who REALLY gets around. But what a place.
Its beauty comes from the fact that the family abandoned it in 1703 and went to live in the more modern comfort of Belvoir Castle…God some people have all the luck. They just turned the key and left. It was only in the first decade of the last century that the current Duke’s grandfather inherited as a bored and history-obsessed man in his early 20’s. He made saving and preserving Haddon Hall his life’s work but rather than “improving” he merely preserved. Replaced the roof with something close to the original and then stabilised the rest of the place with love and attention. So all the mediaeval and tudor glory of it is untouched. The original tudor (possibly even older) kitchens; the Great Hall; the Solar; the rose gardens; the Long Gallery. They're all there and they’re all lovely. From the intricate silver wall sconces to the tapestries (not really my thing but vibrant even now) to the oak furniture which I could hardly stop myself from stroking down to the bombee leaded glass windows. It is a place full of stunning detail, well-presented and just incredibly OLD.
Signatures of Prince Charles and Princess Anne, King George and his wife Queen Mary!!
There were several clever presentational touches – instead of cards on each (ancient and frail) chair warning against sitting down there was a small bouquet comprising a teasel and a thistle wrapped in a ribbon – pretty but functional too. And there were huge vases and jugs of flowers and branches of greenery everywhere so the rooms looked alive and you started to get excited about visiting the gardens well before you got to them. The guides and wardens were well informed, unobtrusive and interesting too. They added a lot because their obvious love for the house shone out.
We spent hours there and really loved it. And now I have my cousin’s lovely photos to remind me too (I forgot my camera!!).
So, if you’re ever in the Peak District with half a day to fill – think of Haddon Hall. Although I love Chatsworth, I think I love Haddon Hall more. It is smaller, fits effortlessly into its gorgeous Derbyshire setting, is more manageable, more approachable and somehow, more remarkable. The Dukes of Devonshire are one of the “grandest” families in the land but the Manners have stuck to their guns and looked after Haddon for longer and to amazing effect.