A holiday in a National Trust holiday cottage at Hardwick is not like a stay in anywhere else. For a start, there’s the fabulous historical setting: Hardwick Hall, the ruin of Hardwick Old Hall, Elizabethan walled garden, stunning grounds and rolling Derbyshire countryside.
Secondly, there’s the welcome tray, replete with home-made cake which lives up to the reputation of National Trust café’s throughout the land.
Thirdly, the cottages have wood-burning stoves and a fresh supply of logs – just perfect for an out of season break.
And, a bonus for us was that our cottage was dog-friendly which meant our pampered pooch could enjoy the holiday too.
hardwick hall cottageshardwick hall cottages
We arrived at our destination on a Monday afternoon and after sampling the cake with a cuppa, while our dog ran around in the private lawned garden, we had a wander round the ruin of the Old Hall, walked on to the bird-feeding station and then did one of the walks in the grounds. Then it started to drizzle so we headed back to Number 4, The Stable Yard.
Our cottage was formerly the dairy for the Old Hall at Hardwick, where the cream and butter were made. In the row, there also used to be a brewhouse, a still house and a butcher’s. Our view was over-looking a quadrangle of lawn with the former stable block on one side.
The stables have recently been converted into a restaurant, state of the art toilet block, gift shop and garden shop. It’s an impressive renovation project which has made the most of the original features, such as the stalls once used for the horses, which now accommodate the garden shop stock.
Our cottage gave away no secrets to its former life, instead presenting itself as a spacious family dwelling. My favourite part of the house being the tasteful, modern, well-equipped kitchen: my husband’s favourite being the lounge – or more specifically ‘the stove’, which he stoked to his heart’s content.
A real fire is such a joy. We didn’t even switch on the TV that first evening, preferring to chat and watch the flames dancing; our dog curled up in her bed by the fireside enjoying the warming glow every bit as much as we were.
Luckily for us, we didn’t have to tear ourselves away from the fire for long to cook our evening meal as we’d taken advantage of Hardwick’s Chef’s new offer to prepare meals for visitors staying in the cottages. So, all we had to do was reheat our veggie casserole and sausage, mash and gravy – both of which were delicious and hearty and come highly recommended.
We dined in the formal dining room with its dark antique furniture and pondered what life was like ‘back in the day’.
Our cottage had two double bedrooms and a twin. We opted for the room with the king-sized brass bed but there’s also a solid oak bed if you prefer in the en suite room next door.
We slept well but when I woke about 7am, I peeped through the heavy curtains and out of the original leaded windows and was greeted by a clear, crisp frosty morning. As guests have private access top the gardens, we got up early to make the most of this luxury. Well, when else are we going to be alone in a beautiful National Trust garden out of hours?
It was magical! We wandered round the walled garden admiring the snowdrops, the orchard and the nuttery. The birds were up early and my husband was lucky enough to spot a Green Woodpecker by the ha ha.
Despite the recent poor weather, the gardeners had clearly been busy and the garden was immaculate. The snowdrops were just beginning to give way to the daffodils and there was a definite smell of Spring in the air.
After breakfast in the cottage, we drove over to a nearby National Trust property, Clumber Park. Like Hardwick, Clumber is very dog-friendly and there are even plans afoot to develop a dog-friendly cafe there this year. But, for now, we had to leave our dog in the car while we enjoyed a hot lunch – pasta bake for me and sausage and mash for my husband. It was just too chilly to eat outside – although a few hardy dog owners were braving it!
We meandered round the church side of the lake and vowed to return on a sunnier day to do the walk on the other side and to visit the walled kitchen garden, which provides produce for the restaurant. Even at this time of year, the garden was still providing produce: winter greens for the soup of the day.
Head Chef, James, told us how he had brought his love of using local produce with him from Cumbria and you can see how this is being translated into tasty dishes on the menu.
Similarly, the lunches at the restaurant at Hardwick Hall also featured local produce and the shop sells Hardwick beef – and you can’t get much more local than that. The food was beautifully presented and the side salad accompanying my jacket potato was drizzled with a tasty French dressing and peppered with fresh peppers.
The last time I was inside Hardwick Hall, I was about ten years old and yet, I could remember so much of it: such is the magic of the place and the story of Bess, former Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth I.
The introduction to the hall gave an insight into the history of the building and to Bess and her life – and how her son came to own both Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall, which he used as a hunting lodge. (Which also explains why some rooms were laid out as bedrooms when they weren’t built as bedrooms: they were used as such for the hunting parties and the beds were brought over from Chatsworth.)
While I appreciate the need to preserve the tapestries, I liked the rooms that had the new wallpaper and drapes, giving us an insight into how colourful and magnificent the rooms would have looked in their heyday.
National Trust volunteers were on hand in each room to answer visitors’ questions about the collection and the history. It was a volunteer in the kitchen who told us about our cottage being the former dairy.
And that’s the thing: when you stay in one of the cottages, you’re treated like one of the family and what a knowledgeable, friendly and happy family it seemed to be! By staying in a National Trust holiday cottage, you are also helping to preserve the country’s heritage.
National Trust cottages at Hardwick:
No 4, The Stable Yard (Sleeps 6 + cot): http://www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk/cottage/4-stable-yard-cottage-007011/
No 6, High Hazels (Sleeps 11): http://www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk/cottage/6-high-hazels-007010/
To find a National Trust holiday cottage near you: http://www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk/search/