Visiting Hardwick Hall and Kedleston Hall – Shining a Light on Those Georgette Heyer Novels

It’s easy to imagine the slow moving pace of life for aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries when you visit places like Hardwick Hall and Kedleston Hall. With all of the history, historical fiction, and historical romance I’ve read, these grand mansions lived up to, no…surpassed, my expectations. I’ll admit, I’ve been comfort reading Georgette Heyer for the last couple of months, and she was just the right person to be reading while visiting these houses. I couldn’t help but imagine carriages rolling slowly up the winding roads with these majestic houses in the distance, the women in their large skirts, and the liveried servants rushing to open doors and do their bidding.

We started our sightseeing extravaganza at Hardwick Hall–a National Trust property–with breakfast in the cafe, overlooking the fields. The sun was shining, we were surrounded by rolling farmland, and it almost felt like the Italian countryside. Not a bad way to start the day!

Before moving on to the Hall, we stopped at the ruins of Hardwick Old Hall and learned about the history of the family, the ruins, and Hardwick Hall – fascinating stuff – you can look up the complex histories yourself, but the most important takeaways are that Hardwick Hall was built by Bess of Hardwick, the 2nd most powerful woman in Elizabethan England. She amassed her wealth through four marriages and had strong connections to the Tudors. During Bess’s fourth marriage, Bess and her husband became the custodians of the recently abdicated Mary, Queen of Scots. See, fascinating!

Even the girls loved exploring. They got handouts with specific items they were supposed to find, and they took to it spectacularly. Even Kora was excited to check off the items she found. The grounds were also kid friendly, especially the stable yard with picnic areas and activities. We wanted to get to our next stop, so we didn’t enjoy the grounds for long before ushering the girls along to the car. On reflection, we should have made a few of the properties full day trips instead of half day trips. The girls would have liked more time to run around in the gardens and playgrounds.

Next up, Kedleston Hall, another magnificent National Trust property. Walking up to Kedleston was truly impressive with its neo-classical columns and grand staircases. The history isn’t as exciting, maybe because we’re not English, but the house and collections did not disappoint. The girls particularly loved the famous Peacock dress, and Kora wants one just like it.

Again, I thought of Georgette Heyer novels where the characters live in opulent houses and hold parties and balls or visit with gentleman callers or nosy neighbors, and it was so much easier to picture after having been in one of these houses with a grand ballroom, long and winding driveways, and acres upon acres of manicured lawns that are perfect for long walks or leisurely rides on horseback. Although I’ve loved imagining the Georgette Heyer world, it wasn’t until I started visiting these National Trust properties that I could truly appreciate the lifestyle of the English aristocracy in the time periods I love to read about.

As a perfect end to our day of sightseeing, I got a little time to myself with a cup of tea, the English way with milk and sugar, while sitting outside with a view of the house and grounds.

More Social Media? You can now find me on Instagram

I’ve been avoiding Instagram on purpose (although I did create an account at some point because I already had one when I went to set one up… go figure?), mostly because I don’t need more things to distract me from what I want to do. But when I found myself in England taking hundreds of photos of flowers and couldn’t think what to do with all of them? Instagram!

Here I am:

First Night in Sheffield and an Experiment in Packing

After picking up our car in Manchester, we drove straight to Sheffield to check into our hotel. I had high hopes for Leopold Hotel – a former school that was converted into a hotel. I liked the reviews and pictures, and I loved that they had a Nespresso machine in the rooms. Our room was quite large with a loft bed, and the girls loved that it was so big and had stairs, and they ran upstairs and down making lots of noise like the hooligans they are. The Nespresso machine hit the spot, and the hotel won the girls over with the chocolates on our pillows at night. Who knew it was so easy to please them? Another nice touch was a couple of bottles of still water and sparkling water – in glass bottles! I loved that Leopold didn’t use plastic. In summary, the hotel was clean, the location was great, the furnishings and carpet a little worn, but overall, we were happy.

Sheffield was suitably English. Beautiful old buildings, learning to look for cars that were coming from the wrong direction, lovely accents, tea with milk and sugar over coffee. I was thrilled to be back in England. And I was excited to start our National Trust/English Heritage/FancyHouseCastleHall adventures early the next morning. There was a lot to look forward to!

The packing method I used worked out really well. I always pack for myself and the two girls, but I normally pack us in separate suitcases. In a rare moment of precognition because we weren’t going to stay in any one place long enough to unpack, I could see the girls having tantrums over what they would wear each day, unzipping each suitcase, digging through piles…ugh, no thanks! This time I had a revelation – I didn’t want to deal with the nightmare of dealing with multiple suitcases every day…so, I developed a new system:

Zip locks bags.

I packed all of the clothes and pajamas for the three of us in ziplock bags. When we got to our room, it was easy to pull out one bag of pajamas for the evening and a bag of outfits for the morning. Three sets of pajamas per bag, and three sets of outfits per bag. There was no fighting over what they were going to wear, no digging through suitcases, and no trying to figure out where things were. It worked brilliantly.

I did have to fine tune a few things to make toiletries more accessible, but that was more because I’d packed them in a separate checked bag to avoid TSA and London’s stringent liquids policy. I straightened that out fairly quickly, and everyone got to bed relatively easily considering our day started with a delay.

A Delayed Start and Keeping Kids Happy When Traveling

A delayed flight put us into a frenzy before we even left. The delay meant we would miss our connection, so we were furiously working with American Airlines to find an alternate route and ended up switching from Phx-Chicago-Manchester on American to Phx-Heathrow-Manchester on British Airways. Although I liked the routing better, I have to say British Airways Business paled in comparison to American. But, we all got a few hours of sleep and arrived in Manchester in decent spirits.

Our girls are great on trips, and this one was no different. The real secret to keeping them happy is to limit screen time leading up to the flight (easy for us because we rarely let them watch TV) and download movies and TV shows they haven’t seen and want to see. Luckily, I downloaded a bunch of movies and shows they hadn’t seen. Kora got a lot of Super Why and Juliet picked out the ones she wanted. It was lucky I had learned my lesson on not relying on the in-flight entertainment for the girls, because British Airways entertainment for kids was abysmal. The small selection and the old fuzzy screens that were hard to see did not impress my girls, and they didn’t watch any of the movies offered on the flight to London. They both opted for my fully loaded devices. Because they slept for part of the way, I didn’t need to charge the devices–but I had my extra battery with me just in case.

For the layover, the girls had a snack and played in the kid area of the British Airways lounge at Heathrow. But I also packed on-the-go scratch art, like this Melissa & Doug Fairy Tales scratch art, and Crayola Color Wonder markers and coloring pages. Juliet packed her own books.

Although we were supposed to arrive early in the morning and have a full day of sightseeing, we had to skip the first two stops on the itinerary because of our delayed flight (arriving in the afternoon instead of in the morning). Originally, we were going to stop at Cannon Hall and then Nostell Priory and Parkland, but we couldn’t make it in time and will have to try them on another trip.

From the Manchester airport, we picked up our car and drove straight to Sheffield. The drive was uneventful.

Touring England with Kids

There’s so much information on the web about traveling and traveling with kids, but I have a hard time finding sites that resonate with me and the way we travel. We are heading to England for a two week trip, and I’ve done a crap-ton of research, as evidenced by the next few posts I’ll be doing.

We are a family of four, and the girls are 5 and 9.  We fly into Manchester, and from there we overnight in:

– Sheffield
– Cambridge
– Augill Castle
– Newcastle
– Edinburgh
– Manchester

While I was researching, I had Juliet, 9, read the Blood Curdling Box of Books – Horrible Histories Collection. Kora, 5, got to watch Secrets of Great British Castles. I mapped out all of the sites we want to go to – two sites per day. I hope the girls don’t hate me by the time we’re done!

Of note for now, a lot of the properties are National Trust or English Heritage, so I researched how to become members as Americans. Without membership, the entrance fees can be high, so it was important to us to become members.

For the National Trust, membership is through the Royal Oak Foundation. I purchased it about two weeks in advance and got the cards in plenty of time.

For English Heritage, we can get a 9 or 16 day visitor pass, and we can purchase that on site at an English Heritage property.

We are staying at a few hotels, Augill castle, and a couple of apartments. I’m particularly excited to stay at the Leopold Hotel in Sheffield – I believe they have a Nespresso machine in the rooms, and that makes all the difference for easing into a long trip. Of note for hotels in England, like in Europe, it is very difficult to find a single room for a family of four. Most places allow no more than three to a room, and there is an upcharge.

But the thing I’m most looking forward to is our stay in Augill Castle. A real castle! It looks beautiful and has great reviews. I’m sure I’ll be adding a great review myself when we’re done.

I’ll do my best to update as we go. Here’s to trying my hand at travel blogging!