This is one of those stories about how the journey is better than the destination. If I were older and wiser I would appreciate this as some grand metaphor for life or whatever you do when you’re older and wiser. As it is now, I’m in my twenties and therefore believe I know everything already. Sometimes the advice of the universe can be a little wasted on people like me.
Before I came to England, I decided the one thing I absolutely had to do was visit Chatsworth House. I knew nothing about the place except that it played Pemberly in the most recent Pride and Prejudice film. Don’t ask me why I fixated on this. Maybe it’s just because Matthew Macfayden is so dreamy. Or maybe because I haven’t fully excepted that Mr. Darcy is fictional. No matter the reason, I found myself delayed on the Tube last Wednesday morning and missed the first train out of St. Pancras to Chesterfield.
Late and annoyed that I was late, I wonder around St. Pancras (it’s difficult not to call it St. Pancreas) for about 20 minutes waiting for the next train. Thankfully, it’s an international train station with lots of posh shops like L.K. Bennet (which I only know about because People Magazine is always talking about how Princess Kate shops there). I did that awkward thing where you wander into a store, telling the clerk that you’re “just browsing” even though you’re going to leave in about 5 seconds and you don’t have the heart to tell them you’re not in the mood to buy a 200 pound dress before taking a 2 hour train ride.
I made it on the next train. Apparently they divide their platforms into “a” and “b” so for example I left from platform 9a which was just farther down the same platform as 9b. Considering the success of Harry Potter and King’s Cross being right next door, you’d think it’d be platform 9 then 9 3/4. That just seems like a real missed opportunity.
After two hours on the train to Chesterfield, I walked from the train station to the bus station. Which was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Chesterfield is lousy with signage. Then I had to take the bus to Baslow (What? You’ve never heard of any of these towns?).
I don’t like buses. The fact that I have to press a button to make it stop seems kind of stupid to me. (Why doesn’t the bus just stop at all the stops? That’s what campus transit does back home.) So I’m standing at the bus stop with these older British women, and I finally ask in my grating American accent “Do you know how much a ticket to Baslow will cost?” They said they didn’t know because they had Oyster cards. As the bus pulled up, one of the ladies goes, “Would you like to go first?” But in like a sweet way. Not condescending.
Bus ticket sorted, it dawns on me that I have to figure out which stop will take me Chatsworth house. And there’s all these “Chatsworth Fish and Chips” “Chatsworth Hardware” that’s kind of confusing considering that we were still miles (kilometers?) from the House. I started to panic a little: I’ve never been to Baslow! How am supposed to know where to get off?!
Finally I ask the older couple next to me. From what I could understand Baslow was still a ways away. I couldn’t hear them that well, but I thought it’d be rude to ask them to repeat it for a third time so I just said “I’m not from here.” Good thing I said it too because I had obviously fooled them into thinking I was a local.
As we turned a corner into some other obscure town, I saw the view for the first time. All these beautiful hills and fields with little cottages tucked away. I wish I had a photo to show you but I don’t think a picture taken on an iPhone through the window of a moving bus would do the moment justice so just take my word for it.
My nice older couple got off the bus after that and I frantically asked them again where Baslow was. The desperation in my voice must have carried because the nice guy behind me (who was kind of dressed like Jesse from Breaking Bad) told me he’d let me know. I actually relaxed after that.
Once I finally made it to Baslow with help from the Nice Guy, I actually started laughing. Giddy with relief and excitement: I made it to Baslow! I just made a total ass of myself to those nice people on the bus and I don’t care! I’m so hungry!
I got directions from the local pub: Chatsworth was a 30 minute walk on the trail. Thankfully that trail is beautiful with lots of pretty houses along the way. Then you get to enjoy the Chatsworth grounds with all the sheep (more British sheep!). I listened to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack on the walk. I’m so cool.
Chatsworth was beautiful. Apparently the Duke and Duchess host exhibitions there every year and this one had the hashtag #MakeYourselfAtHome and it was this collection of funky chairs scattered throughout the house. My favorites were these top-like chairs that you spun around in to get a view of the painted ceiling. Picture me and another older British couple (older British people are in this story a lot in case you haven’t already noticed) rolling around next to the grand staircase trying to see this ceiling. This beautiful ceiling that has all these ancient allegories about power and Roman Empire (If art history has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t have a good ceiling fresco without at lease one personified virtue) and we’re just rolling around while the uniformed guides say things like “You’ve got to hold on or you’ll fall out of the seat” and “Yes, just throw your weight all the way back and you’ll spin all the way around.” And we call ourselves adults.
Those were basically the only chairs I sat in throughout the exhibition because I feel really uncomfortable being told it’s okay to touch things in museums. But can I just say good for the Duke and Duchess of Whatever for having exhibitions at their house? I don’t know if that’s a common thing that most grand houses do, but I think that is an excellent way to use their home and influence in the country by giving a platform for new, young artists.
I wandered around through the house (apparently Mary Queen of Scots was there for a while), and eventually got to a long hardwood floor hallway. Where my shoes made the loudest squeaking sound possible. There was nothing I could do. And there are guides everywhere in this house. Like, several in every room. So they got to listen to the squeak squeak squeak of my shoes. Every. Single. Step. The carpeted halls were a glorious relief. Somewhere along the way they have the veiled woman sculpture that’s in the film. It’s in this dark alcove that’s lit to accentuate the folds in here veil. Absolutely stunning.
In their dining room, I talked to the guide about how they decorate for Christmas every year with a new theme. This year will be themed Toad of Toad Hall, but he said they did The Chronicles of Narnia one year and had an animatronic Aslan in the library that looked like it was breathing. He recalled that it was like “sardines” in the house that year. Children everywhere.
I finally got to the marble sculpture hall that was in the movie that (naturally) leads into the gift shop. They’d covered the floor with something for the chair exhibition so I couldn’t see the black and white tiles that are in the film. Tiles or no tiles, the hall was beautiful. All of these stunning white marble statues in one room together is overwhelming. Also the space is a lot smaller in person than it looked on screen. I took tons of photos, but it was still a little odd not to see the bust of Mr. Darcy that’s in the film. Until I saw it. Through the doors of the gift shop.
That’s right. The original is on display alongside smaller replicas that you can buy. So now I am the proud owner of a miniature Mr. Darcy bust– okay, I’m kidding those things were expensive, but still how funny would that be to have? I settled for some postcards and commemorative stamps then left to see the gardens.
I really wish that I’d left more time for the gardens. They were so beautiful and the hills were a great change from the flat lands around London. These pictures really don’t do it justice.
I snapped some pictures of the house where Darcy catches Lizzy after she’s just seen Georgiana playing the piano. Then it was ice cream and the walk/bus/train/Tube ride back to school.
I would like to take a second to thank the lovely people who gave me directions along the way. I will never know your names or see you again. But thanks all the same. I literally couldn’t have done it without you.