Fantastically popular, and certainly one of the finest stately homes in Britain, Chatsworth House, just to the east of Bakewell, was built in the seventeenth century by the first Duke of Devonshire. It has been owned by the family ever since and several of them have done a fair bit of tinkering – the sixth duke, for instance, added the north wing in the 1820s – but the end result is remarkably harmonious. The property is seen to best advantage from the B6012, which meanders across the estate to the west of the house, giving a full view of its vast Palladian frontage, whose clean lines are perfectly balanced by the undulating partly wooded parkland, which rolls in from the south and west.
Many visitors forego the house altogether, concentrating on the gardens instead – an understandable decision given the predictability of the assorted baubles accumulated by the family over the centuries. Nonetheless, amongst the maze of grandiose rooms and staircases, there are several noteworthy highlights, including the ornate ceilings of the State Apartments and, in the State Bedroom, the four-poster bed in which George II breathed his last. And then there are the paintings. Amongst many, Frans Hals, Tintoretto, Veronese and Van Dyck all have a showing and there’s even a Rembrandt – A Portrait of an Old Man – hanging in the chapel.
Back outside, the gardens are a real treat and owe much to the combined efforts of Capability Brown, who designed them in the 1750s, and Joseph Paxton (designer of London’s Crystal Palace), who had a bash seventy years later. Amongst all sorts of fripperies, there are water fountains, a rock garden, an artificial waterfall, a grotto and a folly as well as a nursery and greenhouses. Afterwards, you can wend your way to the café in the handsomely converted former stables.