Hitting the streets early on a Sunday was quite an eye opener. So many people going to places. A pack of Mods on vespas; a couple of vintage ambulances and a fleet of Morris Minors and Morris travellers. All off to shows for the day I supposed.
But my adventure was to make it to Hardwick Hall via the Pronto bus and on foot. According to the “green” agenda of the National Trust, which in my opinion is more of a pale green than a deep green, Hardwick is slightly more achievable on foot than others. Allegedly just over a mile, or two depending on who‘s information you trust. I guess we could call it a “country mile” then. (I think from Glapwell to the front door of the Hall it’s more like two!)
Time for me to test my slowly improving fitness levels, so I set off from the Young Vanish at a fairly brisk pace. If I had any hope of it being a quiet Sunday morning then I was in for a shock. I met my first traffic jam after five minutes. A farmer was trying to shoe horn a very large combine harvester through a small gate off a narrow lane. Grid lock for the cars that seemed to be going no further than their drives to the corner shop for the Sunday papers and a pint of milk. Not much room to slide past the lethal looking blades so I leant on a wall to watch the fun for a while.
“Excuse me, excuse me” A driver had rolled her window down, “is this the way to Hardwick”
I explained that if on foot then it could be but in a car then it wasn’t likely as a short walk from the lodge house would be required.
“Is there a car park then?”
“Well no, not really, you will have to leave your car and walk”
“So I can get to Hardwick?”
“Yeeees, but not all the way in your car, I think you would be better to turn around and follow the main road over the M1”
“I don’t want to go on the motorway, I don’t drive on Motorways”
”You won’t have to, the road goes over the motorway”
The “M” word was setting terror in her eyes.
“So can I get to Hardwick this way?”
This was the moment that the idea of throwing myself on the blades of the combine in an attempt to get by seemed very appealing and worth the risk. A jogger squeezed by, I made a dash for it.
“Excuse me, is this the way to Hardwick?” The jogger had been cornered,
“Well, it could be………..”
I escaped past the farm vehicle smartly.
More traffic, it was anything but a quiet country lane as I approached Rowthorne. Then just a few dog walkers as I approached the lodge house. The estate stretched out in front of me, nearly there. I made it up to the Hall, admiring the view. Quite a view and the wheat fields looking especially pretty in the morning sun. One over in the distance was really coloured with red poppies, it must have been a good year for those.
I hit the main drag, quite a lot of Chelsea tractors and high end cars rolling up. I had passed no one on the drive walking, work in progress this “green agenda” then.
Things were warming up in more ways than one in the courtyard. The house not yet open, people were trickling in so I was able to bag an outside terrace table for a coffee as a reward for my successful walk.
I let the initial rush die down as the house opened. “Bess” was in full flow on the entrance steps, regaling the visitors with cackles and stories of her husbands. Some of the children looked a little spooked by the routine and bemused by the historical jokes. Not quite Horrible Histories.
Not much has changed in the house, although a few more rooms have been opened on the ground floor. In most rooms a token effort to make the experience “child friendly” had been achieved by a “play box” full of props and information sheets coaxing them to “have a go”. In the long gallery a few tiny feet had been stuck to the floor to tempt them to “promenade” like an Elizabethan (not quite walk like an Egyptian in the fun stakes). It seemed a bit half hearted to me, but I guess it’s difficult to insert a “fun” factor for children into every room. It’s essentially a very darkly lit house, where you have to appreciate the architecture and tapestries (neither of these I appreciated when I was a child). More work in progress then.
I don’t think there was much new upstairs, apart from a desire to show the visitors how it might have been for the last inhabitant in Edwardian times. We all queued to see the privy, not really that exciting in reality. The lady in front of me remarked that “It looked very like the ones we have now” I think she thought it was Elizabethan, wrong floor my dear, keep up!
Finally I arrived in what used to be the gift shop. It has a transitional feel for now. I understand the aspiration is to offer an insight into “below stairs” There were lots of photos of the servants from relatively modern times and housekeeping records. Then finally into the kitchen that used to be the teashop. It was nice to actually see the kitchen, all scrubbed wooden tops and shinny copper utensils. Could I hear the ghostly rattling of china? It seemed so small, how on earth did they serve meals in here? With difficulty obviously otherwise they wouldn’t have build a new one in the courtyard.
And so for a turn around the garden. I crossed the front; Bess was in full flow again. I marched on to the Herb garden, one of my favourites. By the time I’d finished in the garden I was quite thirsty.
This is where I think the Trust is missing a beat as it’s a long way to the courtyard now. There were a few comments from the visitors and English Heritage has twigged in as they were brazenly tarting “refreshments” in their courtyard.
I joined the bun fight at the kiosk, grabbed a cuppa and found a quiet spot in the sun with my Kindle. Quite peaceful really, as everyone seems to gather in the main courtyard now drawn in by the gift shop, garden shop, lawn games and tasty sausage bbq buns.
I decide to return via Heath. It was a meandering walk to the Mill and then under the M1. The walk up to the Heath junction was not nice as there is no pavement so it was difficult under foot and there were cars to dodge. It seemed a longer walk but I think it’s the same distance as I took in the morning. I can see why the NT does not recommend it.
A lovely day and I felt I had passed my test. Still more work to do, but I had to try it to see if I could, otherwise I would have continued wondering.