Sunday, August 25, 2013


People have a lot of different reasons for what they choose to see when they’re on a trip to England. What I visit depends on if I’m there with my husband or my daughter or my sister. This July was a new adventure for me: my husband and I took our two oldest grandsons, Josh who is 13, and Marcus who is 11.

My husband is a steam engine nut, and so we saw (and traveled on) a lot of trains.
More about that in another blog. England is so rich in history, much of it before anyone was thinking in terms of North America, so we went to a lot of historical sites. We saw the Tower of London; Bodiam Castle—built in 1385, the perimeter walls are intact and the moat is still there; Middleham Castle, which belonged to Richard III (he’s the one whose body was so recently discovered under a parking lot) and which still has enough left so that you can get a sense of what living in a castle might have been like, and Sissinghurst Castle. Sissinghurst is more notable for its wonderful rose gardens and literary connections (Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf), although its history goes back to before the time of the first Queen Elizabeth. We got to introduce the boys to our oldest friends as a married couple—we’re all grandparents now—and to my husband’s cousin and his wife. My husband and his cousin have been obsessed with trains since they were about five years old. Both still are. And the boys were intrigued

Me? I wanted to see Chatsworth House.
I’d read about it and its magnificence, and when I followed the fascinating story of the Mitford family (six amazingly talented—and different—daughters who were authors and celebrities in the 40s and 50s) I discovered that the youngest of them, Deborah, who is the only survivor, had been the Duchess of Devonshire (now the Dowager Duchess) and she and her duke had managed to make a business of the estate and kept it surviving when other great houses were torn down because their families could no longer pay for them. The Devonshire estate was hit with death duties of 90% of the estate’s value in the early postwar years when the government was desperate for money to rebuild after the war damage. It took them until 1980 to pay it all off, but they are the 15 th generation to live there and the present duke (Deborah’s son) has a son, who has a son, so as a member of the staff pointed out to me, they are safe now to reach the 17th.

I’m pleased to say the boys were fascinated. There was the overwhelming grandeur to start with, and the collections of various Dukes—magnificent works of art and insects and stuffed animals and minerals (great chunks of valuable minerals) and statuary. There I must say we parted company: their favorite gave me the creeps. It is a modern statue of St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive, holding his skin in his hands.

But obviously other people came to Chatsworth for different reasons, as I discovered. There’s a long pool extending down from the house with a great high fountain up at the house end. Because of the length, it looks narrow, but you’d have to shout to be heard all the way across.

I was standing well down the pool from the house, watching some ducks on the far side, when a movement caught my eye. There was a couple across the pool from me, and the young man had dropped to one knee in front of the girl with him. Of course my eyes widened and I couldn’t look away. And was very grateful the pool was wide enough so that they weren’t aware of an onlooker.

He talked to her very earnestly. She placed one hand on his shoulder, and then he fished around in his pocket and pulled something out.  They were too far away for me to see what it was, but I was sure I knew: he took her hand and (I assume—couldn’t see) put a ring on it. She threw her arms around him in a rapturous hug.

My husband came up about them and I hissed at him, “Take a picture!” So he did. It’s a pity there was no way of letting them know we had a picture of the moment, because by the time we got to either end of the pool, around to the other wise, and then back up to where they were, they would have been long gone. I suppose I could have jumped into the pool, thrashed across, and . . . but that would have rather spoiled the moment, would it not?

May they have a long and happy life together!


  1. I remember you telling this story at Nationals. It's so sweet. My next trip to England will include Chatsworth!

  2. Oh good, Ella! It's an amazing place. I'll be interested to see if there are any results to a crazy thing my husband did: he's sent a copy of the blog to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire!

  3. Wow, what a place Chatsworth is! I can't imagine living there (though I wouldn't mind trying, lol).
    I'm so glad you sent a copy of this blog to the Duke and Duchess, Beppie. Please be sure to let us know their response.
    I, too, wish the best for that newly engaged couple. How very sweet to see that!

  4. It was my dear husband who sent it. It would never have crossed my mind!