21 September 2014

England: Lyme Park, Cheshire, England

If you’ve ever watched the ‘Colin Firth as Mr Darcy’ version of Pride and Prejudice, filmed by the BBC in 1995, you might recognise this wonderful place as his Pemberley. In fact, this is Lyme Park, a magnificent mansion surrounded by formal gardens and a huge 550-hectare estate on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  

The elegant house, built for the Legh family in the 1720s to resemble an Italian palace, nestles among rolling hills, which have lovely views over Stockport, Manchester and the Cheshire Plains, and we walked miles in the hot sun exploring the house and its surroundings.

The stables

After parking the car, we walked first to a building called The Cage, a tower set on a hill top near the house, built so that the family and their friends could dine in comfort while watching those participating in the fox hunt galloping across the fields below. The tower was also called The Cage as, apparently, it was used to imprison poachers until the authorities came to take them away.

The Cage, on the left, and The Lantern, a belvedere, on the right
We walked next around the perimeter of the house's grounds, saw some of the fallow deer that inhabit the parklands, and got a view of the reflecting lake behind the house, which does indeed give lovely reflections of the house as you can see from my photos.

All that walking gave us an appetite so we lunched in the house’s basement restaurant – good food but extremely slow service – then toured the house itself, which was full of the many splendid things you would expect of a house of such magnificence. There were luxuriant tapestries, gorgeous carvings by the supremely talented Grinling Gibbons, and sumptuous furnishings from the mansion’s Edwardian heyday. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the house, even without a flash, so you’ll just have to visit to see its richness for yourself.

The front of the house

The back of the house
To walk off our lunch, we explored the 6 hectares of lawns and formal gardens that surround the house, enjoyed the shade under the many ancient trees, and took lots of photos of the reflections in the large pond.

By the time we had done the rounds it was almost 5pm and the house and facilities were closing but the park itself was open till 8.30pm. So we grabbed an icecream and set off to find Darcy’s Lake, the pond into which Colin Firth plunged after a heated horse ride and emerged to perform the now famous wet shirt scene!

The guide map was rather unclear and there were lots of paths, none of which were signposted so we ended up walking miles, up the lovely lime avenue (these are not trees that produce the lime fruit – you may perhaps know them as lynden trees), through the pine woods, over styles and fences, then back to the car park, without finding any lake or pond.

A bridge in the gardens and the lime avenue
Still determined and with time to spare, we drove to a place called The Knot, a mile or two above the house, to search further. The Knot was really a ‘Not’ – a small hillock with nothing on top – and, when I googled it later, there was no explanation for its name – and we couldn’t see any water anywhere from the top. So, we set off down a path through another area of woodland, where efforts had been made to clear some of the huge rhododendron bushes – lovely to look at when they’re flowering but very invasive.

We figured we were heading too far in the wrong direction so veered left up another hill, thinking to see something from higher up. We did find another small building – turns out it is called Paddock Cottage, and is now abandoned – but, despite the excellent views in every direction, there was still no sign of water. It was time to abandon the search, so we headed back in the general direction of the car park via a different track.

Paddock Cottage at the top of a hill
About half way along a ridge we spotted a glint of water through the pine trees below so headed down through the long grass to check it out. In a paddock, behind a stone wall, through a gate, we finally found a small and rather murky pond. I was very dubious, and didn’t even bother to take a photo, but Sarah was convinced we had indeed finally found Darcy’s Lake. And when we got home and googled it and watched the YouTube clip of the scene, we decided she was right.    

It was a fabulous day, in sublime surroundings, with plenty of exercise – it just would’ve been so much easier and quicker to find what we were looking for if everything had been signposted!

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