I’m really looking forward to reading this book. But it won’t be until the new year as I have a number of others to get through before I start on Lucy Worsley‘s ‘Cavalier: a story of chivalry, passion and great houses‘. I heard Ms Worsley speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August this year. But even before that I was a fan of her ‘If Walls Could Talk’ shown on BBC television in the spring. In this fab programme the lovely Lucy trots around our modern day homes pointing out all the historical details and stories of the evolution of our bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms and kitchens from the earliest times until the present day. She even volunteered to dress up and play various roles in order to represent to us the differences between previous generations and our own.
For many years Lucy Worsley (she is now Chief Curator of The Historic Royal Palaces) was based at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire and over ten years she researched the story of William Cavendish and his family and the result is ‘Cavalier’.
Bolsover Castle itself isn’t really that far away from me – about 60miles south straight down the M1 motorway.
“First, forget the idea of castle. Seen from the M1 Bolsover may look like a fortress but it is rather a fairytale palace on a hill” says Simon Jenkins in one of my ‘bibles’ “England’s thousand best houses“. As you can see we chose a very atmospheric day to take a trip to Bolsover and give it the once over. The fog should have lifted but try as it might the sun just could not get through all day.
The Riding House from the Shoeing House – complete with cardboard cavalier!
After the obligatory cup of tea in a very nicely appointed cafe and a quick glance round the English Heritage gift shop we switched on our audio guides and made our way falteringly towards the castle itself, stopping every so often to listen to the character actors and narrator tell us more about Bolsover and its creator and inhabitants. Once through the huge entrance gate (or tradesman’s entrance as it was called on the audio guide) you’re in an impressive courtyard.
The Riding House
The first building on the left is called The Riding House Range and it contains “the finest surviving example in England of this rare, specialised type of building” (Bolsover Castle guidebook, also written by Lucy Worsley). Like the famous act by the white stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna this huge room was for training horses in the art of “manege” (circling, leaping, jumping). William Cavendish, 1593-1676) was the cavalier responsible for the greatest part of the building and development of the site at Bolsover. He had two obsessions – women and horses – and Bolsover was his “pleasure dome”.
The great oak roof of the Riding House
In the stables is an exhibition about the history of Bolsover and its place in English history, an excellent 15 min. video about The Little Castle and even a large model of it. We seemed to gain enough information from this room to make the audio guides superfluous.
Walk-in model of the Little Castle in the Stable
A walk around the Terrace Range, (with all the usual appointments of chambers and kitchens etc) and from where we should have had (but for the persistent fog) a long-ranging view over the valley and down towards nearby Hardwick Hall, lead us quickly to the romantic Little Castle itself.
Terrace Range and approach to The Little Castle
Here we saw for ourselves the incredibly preserved and restored artwork: the Pillar Parlour, the Star Chamber, the Marble Closet, the Bedchamber, Heaven and Elysium. This final chamber with elaborately decorated panelling depicting the heaven of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece appropriately overlooks the garden and its Fountain of Venus.
Bolsover, I’ll be back on a sunny day to walk the terrace, admire the view, picnic in the gardens and relax in full view of your Venus fountain!