Monday, August 10, 2009

Is there anywhere so fine as Pemberley?

So, in August we headed over to England and visited family and friends, and we continued our exploration of all things Jane Austen. The focus of this year's trip was Pemberley which took us to the Peak District in Derbyshire county. Because there are two superb Pride and Prejudice movies, it is only suiting that there are two gorgeous Pemberley houses: Lyme Park (BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) and Chatsworth House (the Hollywood version with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen). And the big question is: Which house is more deserving of the title of Pemberley?

We visited Lyme Park first because it was closest to the Macclesfield train station, not a great reason, but a reason nonetheless! The drive there was interesting... the roads are tiny, very narrow and people fly down this thing at 50 MPH. It wasn't helpful that I was a total disaster with the map too, but we eventually made it there and had plenty of time to enjoy the park.

On the drive up from the ticket booth to the house they give you a CD to pop in and listen to some history about the house and grounds. It was a nice little treat and the accompanying music was very pleasant. This house was exactly what I had expected, a happily settled house on gorgeous lands, breathtaking. And everyone there was very pleasant too, the employees seemed to really love working at the house and I was relieved when they didn't scoff when I asked for directions to "the lake". The gardens and lakes were beautiful though and "the lake" where Mr. Darcy dove in to cool off was worth the trip (let's ignore the fact that it was actually a stunt double that dove into this pond/lake, Darcy does end up taking a swim in one of the other lakes on the property, so there was swimming to be done somewhere in the area). These grounds have the appearance of understated elegance and easy natural beauty.

The next day was spent at Chatsworth which was set in a valley of two peaks, from the house you could see one dotted with sheep and the other decorated with man made waterfalls. The park had so many different themed gardens, each with a different entertainment feature, and most of those revolved around water:
there was a water cascade (pictured), a willow tree shaped fountain that spouts water from its branches, a trough waterfall, a lily pad pond, and near the private entrance was a grand rectangular reflection pool with a water fountains. There were large scale modern art pieces throughout the estate, a particularly difficult hedge maze (we had an unsuccessful attempt, we were foiled by the foliage I guess you could say, after a half-hour within its walls we were no further from where we started and we attempted every entrance-I swear! Eventually the prospect of rain forced us indoors) and a man made rock garden/mountain overlooking all of these various water elements.

And that's just the gardens, walk into the house and every sight is astounding. It had floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall artwork (and movie paraphernalia!) to take in, and equally interesting was the history of the house and its famous owners Bess of Hardwick, who at one point was the most powerful woman next to Elizabeth I. The quality and attention to every detail has not diminished with time. What took my breath away was the wall murals (pictured). They covered every inch of the rooms with vibrant colors and gripping passion. I only wish I could have seen the private rooms, as I bet the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire have saved the best for their private enjoyment.

I love both houses, and think they are each deserving of the name. But, I cannot say which one I think is the better fit as Pemberley. One house has simple elegance and the other striking beauty. I just can't decide, but I also can't decide which P&P movie I like better either...but one thing is for sure...Macfadyan has nothing on Firth! :)