Postcard from Derbyshire

George Hoad AM, HMAA Secretary, is travelling in the UK and sending regular ‘postcards’ home. This week he’s been exploring Derbyshire and taking time out to enjoy a week in a country cottage.

Derbyshire boasts many great attractions, from stately homes and bustling market towns to spectacular natural beauty, but the highlight for me was the little stone cottage and surrounding farmland I’d booked for a weeklong stay. Whether enjoying a morning coffee looking out at the surrounding hills or taking an afternoon stroll through the bucolic English countryside right outside the backdoor, Spout Cottage certainly made my time in Derbyshire a week to remember. I shared the week with a dear American friend Linda, one of many such weeks we have enjoyed together over the years, indulging our passion for gardens and all the good things that Britain has to offer.

The English countryside in spring is a sight to behold and even better with a week of blue skies and sunshine. The farmland surrounding Spout Cottage has scattered pockets of wildflowers and to my great delight, I discovered a gorgeous bluebell wood. The fields are divided by old stone fences and dotted with grazing cattle and sheep, with lambs playing alongside. A smattering of mature trees adds to the rural charm, and further afield, a stony outcrop gives shelter to an array of ferns and mosses.

Derbyshire is blessed with some of the most interesting natural beauty in the country including the Peak District and the Dales. During the week we took in the views of Monsal Head, drove through the majestic and truly stunning Winnats Pass and I climbed to the top of the nearby Mam Tor, an ancient prehistoric hill fort. We enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking the picturesque Derwent Dams and pulled over in many of the back lanes and on hilltops, just to take in the sheer beauty of the surrounding countryside.

A must see of course is the magnificent Chatsworth House and Gardens, the 17th century home to the Dukes of Devonshire. Regarded as one of the greatest stately homes in the country, the 20 or so rooms open to the public are large, impressive and richly decorated, containing many priceless treasures.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped much of the grounds in the 18th century and the great Victorian horticulturist Joseph Paxton left his mark on the gardens a century later installing the Emperor Fountain and numerous glasshouses including the Great Conservatory, at the time the largest glass building in England but sadly demolished in the 1920s.

Another garden we visited and one of my favourites was Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire, the quirky Victorian creation of James Bateman. Built between 1840 and 1860, much of the garden is linked by mysterious stone tunnels which bring you out in such places as China, Egypt, a Scottish Glen, a Stumpery, a Dahlia Walk, Italian Terraces and so much more. The garden had fallen into neglect over much of the 20th century but was rescued by the National Trust. It is now restored it to its former whimsical glory. Biddulph Grange inspired some of the quirky touches I have created in my own garden in Killabakh.

No trip would be complete without also taking in a few antique centres and old book shops, a Sunday Car Boot Sale, cappuccinos and cream teas and catching up with old friends. We did all of this and so much more in Derbyshire – a week to remember.

George Hoad AM

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