Doe Lea, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S44 5QJ 01246 850 430
Elizabeth Hardwick was a formidable flame-haired farmer's daughter who married well four times, finally becoming the 1st Duke of Devonshire's grandmother. If the crowds at Chatsworth House, the Devonshire's stately pile put you off, Bess of Hardwick's house is to my mind just as interesting and a lot more accessible. A rich and powerful woman, she had more than the usual amount of self-belief (which was sometimes confused with arrogance) and she certainly knew how to spend; she was Britain's 2nd richest woman, and a time when the price of glass was prohibitive, one of Hardwick's most astounding features are the millions of windows (remembered in a ditty: 'Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall'). Elizabeth's initials (ES) are everywhere in the house; it's fun to walk through and spot them, carved and embroidered somewhere in the grand, high-ceilinged rooms. Plaster friezes and alabaster fireplaces are further examples of Bess's extravagance, and the slightly haunting Long Gallery will send a chill down your spine. There are plenty of lovely walks round the 300 acre parkland, with ancient woodlands and meadows home to water voles and buzzards. So, something for everyone!
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