Travels through Middle England

Just returned from my road trip around the part of England that is sandwiched between the north (Yorkshire, Northumberland etc) and the south (Somerset, Wiltshire etc). It’s the area that in the past I’ve rushed through en route to somewhere else.

This year however we decided to stop and look. Over the course of almost two weeks we traversed Derbyshire (home of the renowned Peak District National Park), Leicestershire and Warwickshire. We saw stunning scenery, picturesque villages oodles of historic buildings and, finally, a Jacobean tragedy which oozed more blood on stage than I have ever seen previously.

Let’s begin with Derbyshire.

Even if you’ve never heard of this place you might know of it via the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice since this is where Lizzie Bennett takes a holiday with her aunt and uncle. Cue lots of shots of dramatic scenery and of course that view of Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s ancestral home. We never got there but we did manage to visit another modest abode: Chatsworth House, home of 16 generations of the Cavendish family.

Chatsworth _Derbyshire

This is the rear view from the vast gardens landscaped by “Capability” Brown. It’s only a part of the estate – missing from this view are the fountains, a rock garden (I say rocks but these were ginormous boulders); meadows, stables etc etc.

Less grand but teeming with atmosphere was our next destination: Haddon Hall. It’s a fabulous example of an English medieval and Tudor country house. The chapel dates from the 12th century and bears many of the original frescos and wall decorations.

Haddon Hall chapel

Some of you might recognise this house too – it’s been used as a film set on multiple locations including three versions of Jane Eyre. Elizabeth (the version starring Cate Blanchett) and  The Other Boleyn Girl.

Haddon Hall exterior

It was empty from about the 1740s except for a caretaker but in the 1920s the Duke of Rutland (owner of the house) decided to restore it and the gardens. The current holder of the dukedom lives with his family in Haddon Hall. All I can say is that they must have a greater tolerance of draughts than I do. The house is spectacularly atmospheric but it doesn’t come with central heating and there is only so much a tapestry can do to keep out the icy blasts…….

PS: If you visit Haddon Hall do try the cream-filled scones in the tea shop.

And then to Lincolnshire and the town of Stamford which has more than its fair share of historic buildings though these are more modern being from the late 18th and mid 19th centuries. Sadly there was far too much traffic to capture on my camera.

But once again we have a literary connection for the town was used by the BBC as  a location for the adaptation of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I whiled away a few hours delving around corners and going into various courtyards in search of places I could recognise from the series. I never did find the building used as home of Dr Lydgate and his wife Rosamund but I did wander into St Martin’s square which was used for the memorable scene of the election hustings.  The photo shows filming in action. The building at the rear is now the tourist information centre.

St Martins square Stamford.png

Stamford also boasts a superb Elizabethan dwelling set in a massive parkland. Burghley House was built by Sir William Cecil, Lord Treasurer and trusted aide to Queen Elizabeth 1. Burghley house Lincolnshire.jpg

Looking at the ornate nature of those chimneys and all the windows you can understand why it took 30 years to complete this structure. It was designed to impress visitors with the wealth and status of its owner. Sadly Elizabeth never got to see it. She was due to arrive with her entourage but there was an outbreak of smallpox in the house so it wasn’t deemed safe….

For my next destination we stayed in the sixteenth century. I’ve been to Stratford Upon Avon several times but have never seen a play in the Swan Theatre.

Swan Theatre_Stratford.JPG

What a special place in which to see a play. It’s housed in a Victorian Gothic building at the rear of the main RSC building and is designed around a thrust stage which means if you are sitting at ground level you are within just a few feet of the actors. For the production of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, this meant we got to see the blood in great detail.

And boy was there plenty of it to see. You get to expect with Jacobean tragedy that there will be blood and lots of bodies ( I counted eight in this production). But this had blood like I have never seen before on stage.

At one point a lake of formed and spread across almost the entire stage, in which the actors rolled and fell and fought. By the end there was barely a cast member who wasn’t caked with the stuff. I know the costume people at the RSC are masters at creating different kinds of blood but they seemed to have gone for a particularly viscous product this time around. It had a sticky, oily look to it that must have been a nightmare to wash out…. Fortunately we were not in the front room because otherwise we’d have been asked to wear capes to protect our own coats from splashes……

An incoherent play but as a theatrical experience this was unsurpassable. And what a way to end our holiday. It was yet another reminder of the treasure of delights that is in my backyard (well not far away). I’ve travelled far and wide across the world and will do so again soon. But I’m coming to realise that you don’t have to go too far to be entertained and stimulated.

Has that been your experience too? Are there some magical places in your home country that you keep thinking you should visit – but never seem to get around to following through on that idea?



About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on May 31, 2018, in Bookends. Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. I really like to read your article … thanks for sharing.

  2. Sounds like a fantastic holiday – love the pics, especially Chatsworth House. Báo giá đá xây dựng

  3. Lovely photos ,Sounds like you had a lovely trip, Karen. Haddon Hall looks particularly interesting – what a treat

  4. I enjoy so much looking at your photos & Information! Thank you.

  5. Very nice and informative article, thanks to sharing it!

  6. Swoon – as soon as I saw that photo I knew it was Derbyshire and I’ve never been :- d I’m excited this summer as I think we’ll drive through the Cotswolds which is somewhere I’ve never been before!

    • the Cotswolds are seductive especially in the sunshine when the golden tones of the stone used in local buildings is shown to its best. Where will you be going?

      • I can’t remember the village it’s one of the iconic ones. We’ll drive through it (a little out of the way) going from Haworth to Bath.

  7. Wonderful article with lovely photos. Thank you.
    I’ve always wanted to explore Cornwall – particularly Tintagel. Hopefully one day..!

    • Tintagel is atmospheric as long as you ignore all the horrible cafes and other places trading on the name. At least thats how it was when I was there many years ago – it just seemed everywhere was called Camelot or Arthur or Merlin. of course there is no proof whatsover that Arthur was ever there – but hey why let that get in the way!

  8. How irritating. I just wrote a careful comment and poof, when I clicked this new cookie policy that keeps popping up on blogs, the comment disappeared. Harumph.

    I basically said, that yes I sure do. I love doing road trips and do little ones relatively freq uently including two in the last six weeks. Both to places we know, but that we’ve never explored before as a tourist. And both we’ve returned home from via different, but longer routes, that we’ve loved seeing.

    Oh and as soon as I saw Derbyshire, I thought Mr Darcy. Luckily for you, you mentioned him! Or I would have stopped reading – ha ha.

    • Sorry about that technical frustration – I am really tired of all these emails generated because of the new data protection legislation in Europe. On the plus side though I found I was subscribed to loads of sites that are no longer of interest that I could easily get out of…… What a good idea of yours to vary the routes you take. I shall have to think about doing that…

      • Oh yes, all those messages on our blogs that I’m not sure whether apply to me because I have European readers. I haven’t had the emails though. Hmm… Maybe because you are still in the EU you are getting more bombarded.

        • Quite likely. I’ve had a few from American companies but I suppose if they have customers/subscribers in EU they have to comply. I had to challenge one publisher though because nowhere in their email did it say I could unsubscribe and yet on their ‘how we protect your privacy’ page they said every communication included the opt out. They never replied to me but the very next day sent out a new email and this one had the opt out so I claim victory on behalf of EU citizens 🙂

  9. Lovely trip and good use of the word ginormous 😉 I haven’t been to Chatsworth for years, but what I remember most was the gardens. If I ever head towards England for a Christmas again I definitely want to stop there, apparently it’s quite a festive display they put on.

    • Oh I bet it looks fabulous at Christmas time. The current owners have put a lot of effort into using the place for special events and I think I saw mention of Christmas in their brochure

  10. I went off Stratford when I was working there in the basement of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and taking a slooooow train every day but it is a nice town with VERY good second-hand bookshops.

  11. Karen, sounds and looks like you had a wonderful trip – there really are some beautiful places to be found on our doorsteps. I am also from this part of England, squashed and often forgotten between north and south, but I haven’t been to half these places. I must rectify this!

  12. Sounds like a wonderful trip. I’ve been to Stamford (though not for some years) and liked it very much. It used to have a lovely second hand bookstore but I think that was gone the last time I visited… 🙁

  13. Sounds like a fantastic holiday – love the pics, especially Chatsworth House.

  14. Wow, that Jaobean play sounds amazing! I’ve only ever seen The Revenger’s Tragedy on stage, and that was staged in a minimalist way: all black skivvies and trousers, no props to speak off and only the power of the words to convey the gory bits. Tidier, but not such an impact, eh?

    • I’ve wanted to see a Jacobean play for so long that I jumped in quick when I saw the production announced. My husband wasn’t at all keen though and had a feeling he would be leaving half time but even he got engrossed in it.

  15. It was really when my mother got older and decided she didn’t want to go abroad any more that I started travelling round the British Isles with her by car, and found I enjoyed it at least as much as going to more exotic places. We’re lucky to have so much history and so many great cultural centres within reasonable distances. Haha – I always think The Duchess of Malfi would have been a better play if it ended before the last act – all those killings get a but much!

    • We are indeed lucky. I know many of my former work colleagues from the USA would be enthralled by just seeing one of these places but to have them in such close proximity is astounding

  16. So many wonderful places in Derbyshire to see

  17. I always want to go back to Detroit. I never just look at Detroit; when I go, it’s to see one thing in particular (typically, a Tigers baseball game). But the city has a rich literary tradition, proud communities, all the Motown records history and the auto industry.

    Did you have a travelling companion?

    • Oh yes, I was with my husband who was the one who actually put the itinerary together and did all the research. I’m hopeless at that…I’ve only ever seen the outskirts of Detroit, driving from the airport to Ann Arbour and then further north to Midland. So sad to see many houses boarded up as a result of the economic crash. Have things improved now?

      • From what I’ve read and heard, they are improving, and they are managing to avoid gentrification as the “solution.” A lot of small businesses opening up. I know that you can buy a house in Detroit for next to nothing, but that’s a slippery slope–again, gentrification.

  18. Sounds like you had a lovely trip, Karen. Haddon Hall looks particularly interesting – what a treat!

  19. Lovely photos, Karen. We have the lovely Dorset on our doorstep which many tourists rush through on their way to Devon or Cornwall.

    • We were in Poole last year and got there via a very scenic route which took us through some beautiful villages. I also remember going to a sculpture park which was wonderful, not that far from Poole. And then of course you have those magnificent cliffs….

  20. How interesting to visit some places that have been used to shoot historical films.

  21. Judy Krueger

    Great! Thank you. My husband and I have been doing trips where we can drive to our destination, mostly in California and some in other southwestern states. We have not yet made it to the Red Rock Mountains and I want to go!

    • I haven’t heard of those mountains – must go and look them up. We’ve travelled in quite a number of states in the USA – Utah was a memorable experience a few years ago but we also went to California back in the 90s. Would love to go again but the flight time is so long…..

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