Pemberley by Accident

With the road atlas spread out in front of us, I put the finishing touches to the set of complex instructions that my friend and I would have to follow the next morning as we headed south, attempting to avoid a) getting ourselves lost, b) driving into another quarry, and c) Manchester. Despite having looked forward to Yorkshire so much it had not turned out quite as we’d expected. We’d been on the road about two weeks already, and the day’s events had had a somewhat dispiriting effect on us.

‘I hope the Peak District’s good. Derbyshire’d better be better than Yorkshire anyway or I think we might have to just drive straight home.’

With the mention of Derbyshire, there were many ideas connected. It was impossible for her to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner.

‘Of course it’ll be good,’ I replied confidently, ‘Mr Darcy lives there!’


‘Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend!’

Unfortunately this proved all too true the next day, though not quite in the manner that Miss Austen intended in her beloved text. Having successfully circumnavigated Manchester we found ourselves stuck in traffic for two hours in Stockport on our way to the Peaks.

I reached for the map to see if there was anywhere to pull off.  A country park was marked in less than a mile, so I suggested we stretch our legs and have lunch to revive us for the next stage of our journey.

As we turned into the entrance we found it flanked by surprisingly formal looking pillars.  The drive lead through gently rolling parkland, a herd of deer spreading out through the landscape.

It clearly wasn’t a country park, but a country estate.  And not just any country estate.

The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent…  They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound.


Lyme Park has become one of the most recognisable vistas of an English country house, thanks to the BBC – and of course, Colin Firth in a wet shirt.  For all the jokes, we’d accidentally arrived at the location used to film Mr Darcy’s fictional home in the famous 1995 adaptation. Clearly this required more than just a stroll. After all even Elizabeth Bennet couldn’t turn down the opportunity to go poking round Pemberley, even if she did think its owner somewhat repulsive at the time. Thanks to the National Trust and its cheap membership for those under 26 we were even able to do so for free.

Entering a familiar-looking courtyard we mounted a flight of steps and were admitted to the hall.  Almost immediately a custodian stepped in to prevent photography, flash or otherwise.  Stately homes seem defined by red tape, and in this case red ropes with hanging arrows that funnelled visitors along the preferred route.  Dim hallways were lined with long windows and tapestries, punctuated by finial-legged tables, strategic lamps, and ornaments.  Among the lavish furnishings was an extensive clock collection: tall grandfathers, ticking mantle clocks, chiming carriage clocks; the functional to the elaborate, mostly working, all showing different times.

Despite the house being representational of one that so many people would consider the ideal residence, it felt strangely inhospitable. It might have been grand, but it felt more like a museum than a house. Having been so carefully designed to conform to the idea of aesthetic perfection, and then frozen in time by the National Trust to provide an example of what exactly that would have been like to walk around in was somewhat disconcerting. Stately homes that are open for public viewing are always confusing to me: partly interesting for the artefacts and architecture, some of which is beautiful, some fun to mock because of its over-decorative ugliness, but always at the same time slightly hollow. How different an experience would it have been for Lizzy to walk round a similarly grand house full of expensive furniture, paintings and posh paraphernalia, but one that was of the contemporary idea of what was desirable and stylish, and one that was really lived in?

Lyme Hall was not a house I could live in. I would have liked the run of it, though, with no one to look over my shoulder whilst I peered into cupboards and boxes, opened doors sealed for years, blowing dust from objects of curiosity, pulling those unread volumes off the shelves in the library, finding out what all those rooms really are that we can never get to see. In reality visitors are only admitted to a minute portion of the internal workings. What is in the rest of it? Truly here is the province of fiction, but the potential secrets to be uncovered are, for me, a greater thrill than the romanticism of an Austenite fairytale.

We didn’t stay long, it being an unexpected diversion meant only to be a lunch break.

There was just enough time for a quick photo opportunity by That Lake before we got back in the car. As neither Mr Darcy nor Colin Firth looked likely to appear we left the formal grandeur for wilder riches awaiting in the Peaks.

Pemberley lake

More on this?

2013 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, from which, for the less than obsessed of you my dear readers, the quotes in this piece were taken. On 27th January 1813 the first published copy of the novel found its way to the author herself

My friend and I were visiting Lyme Park (which is actually in Cheshire, but still in the Peak District), near Stockport, used for the exterior Pemberley scenes in the BBC adaptation. Sudbury Hall at Ashbourne (actually in Derbyshire) was used for the interior. Both are National Trust properties and for book lovers 2013 will be a good time to visit Lyme Park as an exhibition will be hosted there celebrating 70 years of Puffin, the children’s division of Penguin books who brought us Stig, Spot, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Chatsworth, which is often erroneously believed to be fictionalised as Pemberley, (canny readers will have noticed that Lizzy has already visited Chatsworth with her Aunt and Uncle prior to dropping in on Darcy in his ancestral home) stood in for the big house in both the 2005 movie adaptation of the book and the BBC adaptation of P D James’ Death Comes to Pemberley.

You may also like on Open the Curtains: 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Wordsworth

trying, and not succeeding, to write about a plantation of daffodils on the wooded edges of a lake without referencing the literary sister and brother who famously did the same 210 years earlier 


65 thoughts on “Pemberley by Accident

  1. It seems a fun and lovely adventure, and a worthwhile side trip. It’s remarkable when you stumble upon such great and notable places.
    Too bad, though, there’s no wet Darcy coming out of the lake in real life.

  2. Well well,I always though that Pemberley was Chatsworth house in Derbyshire. You missed out seeing the jewel of Yorkshire that is Castle Howard (Brideshead Revisited).

    1. They did use Chatsworth in the later film version actually, and in the book it does suggest that Elizabeth visits Chatsworth with her aunt and uncle on her travels before they go to Pemberley.

      As for Yorkshire, don’t worry, it’s on the to-do list!

  3. Interesting! I always thought it was Chatsworth House as well (which I’ve gone to a few times now, see my background pic haha!). Sounds lovely though. There’s so much I need to explore in England. 🙂

  4. My husband and I always found it odd that these great houses would allow admiring visitors to walk through when the owners were not at home…. the maidservant or butler serving as a tourist guide… such as Elizabeth experienced at her first trip to Pemberley. I’m not certain I would appreciate strangers traipsing through my rooms, staring at my furnishings and decor, and my family’s situation being shared by my authoritative staff. LOL

    That being said, however, as it is a museum now… it’s a shame, as you said, that they wouldn’t allow visitors to explore more of the house. Were you able to see the bedrooms, the servants’ quarters, the kitchens…?

    1. There are plenty of properties where this is still the case. Generally visitors only get to see the state or function rooms and a select few of the rest, as would no doubt have been the case back in the 19th century when the housekeeper was showing you round.

      I can’t remember exactly what we saw but it was mostly function rooms, library, dining, galleries, smoking rooms and the like, maybe a couple of the bedrooms. I much prefer going to the ones where you get to see the ‘behind the scenes’ bits like the servants’ quarters and kitchens, but it’s rare to get the opportunity to do so.

  5. Loved your post – today is all about Pemberley! I’ve been wishing to visit Lyme Park for years, but still haven’t managed to do so. But hopefully…
    In the meantime, I’ve been writing on P&P’s 200th anniversary as well, check it out if you’re interested!

  6. I love the no swimming sign! Though, I think it shoud really say “No swimming unless you look as good or better than a wet Mr. Firth.” Looks like it was a great day trip!

  7. With or without Mr. Darcy, what an experience. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time. I obviously haven’t seen the Colin Firth version, which I must transport. Kudos for resisting the temptations to write about his fruit, etc. Loved the post!

  8. Beautiful pictures, Green with envy. That is such a good road trip 😦 Love Pride and Prejudice 🙂 and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  9. Reblogged this on ghostgrrl007 and commented:
    Colin Firth in a wet shirt. Talk about fantasies…that’s definitely one of my top contenders. I can’t say I’ve ever lived in a country estate approaching the perfection of Pemberley or Lyme Park. I did grow up near one, however and I have to agree there is some very inhospitable about such remarkable homes when they open themselves to the public. It’s as if when the doors open these magnificent spaces shut away their souls. Perhaps it’s because no one really lives there anymore, or at least, not in the portions open to the public. Instead of a home, visitors are confronted by a hodge podge of what historians, travel/tourism experts and other visitors say must be. The result is a mishmash of impressions that is not just difficult to sort out but also disconcerting. To me, these places are remarkable for the people who lived here, the history they experienced or even the pop culture they inspired and yet somehow those are the very things that are lost over time and viewing. Let’s hope such accidental visitors are the norm not the exception and Pemberley can retain a little of the magic that make it the ideal home for so many Austin fans.

    1. Well said. It’s so rare to visit one of those ‘great houses’ and actually come away with a sense of the people who inhabited them. Of course the idea of it being ‘Pemberley’ is all imaginary so no one will ever be able to really visit ‘the ideal home for Austen fans’ as you put it.

      Jane Austen wrote that ‘the only way to get a man like Mr Darcy is to make him up’ – I think we can safely say the same about his house!

  10. It’s a dream visit Pemberley, it’s like live into Jane Austen stories… I hope go there one day and find one Mr. Darcy (:

  11. What a great accidental find! It’s hard to believe Pride and Prejudice is 200 years old now, and so neat that it remains beloved today in it’s original form as well as adaptations.

    I was in England last year for a while, but never managed to make it over to this region of the country, though it looks and sounds beautiful from what’s you’ve posted. I hope you enjoyed the rest of the Peaks (I’ll definitely be making it over there one day!), and congrats on being Freshly Pressed 🙂

  12. You are so lucky. And I’m a little jealous. But it is nice to know where travel around to find such notable places. But actually, for me as a German each part of England I have seen until now looked like a movie scene. That’s probably why I love England that much.

    1. I’m not sure I could ever get tired of the British landscape even living here, there’s so much to see and so many beautiful parts of the country. I feel like I’ve seen so little of it myself. Luckily we can all watch films and save a bit of time travelling!

  13. I was just randomly watching the 1995 adaptation yesterday and saw this on freshly pressed today. Good timing and great article- hope the traffic died down so you could enjoy the rest of your trip!

  14. Sounds like a happy accident!
    I totally understand what you mean about the house not feeling like a house anymore. I always try and look at visiting castles/great houses as visiting museums. Unfortunately you have to lower your expectations, but it does help with the (slight) disappointment.

    1. and sometimes it goes completely the other way and there are some nice surprises. I’ve visited some shockers, but some have been really interesting and entertaining, and some have some amazing finds tucked away among the artefacts.

  15. Funny – I watched P&P (Jo Wright version) yesterday. As a big Austen fan, I too would have been extremely curious to see the closed off parts of the house. And would love to rifle around in the drawers and shelves. If only…

  16. I’m a big Austen fan and when I saw the word “Pemberley” (the dayI started my blog),I immediately began following yours.I love the pics you add and your descriptions….hope to visit Lynne park,some day.

    Good luck,hope you had a good trip!

    1. Thank you, it was a great trip in the end. Enjoy doing your blog and thanks for following. Can’t promise when there’ll be more Jane Austen but there will hopefully be some exciting locations for everyone

  17. How exciting! This is EASILY my favorite movie of all time. My mother and I have watched it together countless, countless times. How lucky that you were able to visit it!

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