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.