The Peak District conjures up images of sharp mountain tops but, in fact, it contains a concentration of some of the best stately homes in Britain. You may recognise them from the movies.
Designated as the first national park in the UK in 1951, the number of yearly visitors here is only exceeded by Mount Fuji in Japan. Ironically there are no real peaks, just gentle rolling hills and moorland and apart from walkers, the area is a magnet for movie addicts. The majestic country houses here have served as locations for many films including adaptations of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.
Still home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, this is the grand old lady of the area's stately homes. You can't help being impressed as you drive into the grounds covering over 700 hectares. Herds of deer run wild in this landscaped park, designed by Capability Brown to give the illusion of natural countryside. He modified the course of the river and moved Edensor village to a new location so it couldn't be seen from the house.
The 1st Duke rebuilt the original Elizabethan house in 1687 and it was then extended by the 6th Duke in the 19th century. It's an impressive building, stuffed full of treasures and surrounded by a garden with impressive water features including the Emperor Fountain whose jet tops 90 metres. Interestingly the present Duke collects contemporary sculpture and his modern examples pop up all over the house. There's no obvious conflict between the old and the new, nowhere more so than in Sculpture Gallery which houses pieces from classical masters including Canova.
Chatsworth has been a film location for Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice and
The Duchess. Anthony Hopkins starred in The Wolfman, also filmed here, although it's a movie he might want to forget.
Built for Sir Nathaniel Curzon in 1765 as a house to rival Chatsworth, Kedleston was never meant to be a family home, but a "temple of the arts" to showcase the finest paintings, sculpture and furniture. The famous architect, Robert Adam, is responsible for the interior and you can get a sense of his enthusiasm for ancient Rome, and the principles of classical design, as you stroll around the building.
In particular the Marble Hall suggests the open courtyard of a Roman villa with its 20 fluted alabaster columns supporting the heavily decorated, high-coved cornice. Niches in the walls contain classical statues and the floor is of inlaid Italian marble. Adam did away with the original windows and lit the whole from the roof through innovative glass skylights, suggesting the open sky.
Oliver Reed and Alan Bates filmed part of Ken Russell's Women in Love here in 1969 and more recently, like Chatsworth, it hosted Keira Knightley in The Duchess. Fittingly, I was treated to an open air screening of her version of Pride and Prejudice, with the local sheep adding background noises.
The oldest of the trio, the earliest parts date from Norman times, although most of the house was reconstructed by Sir Richard Vernon in 1370. The last phase of building work finished at the end of the 16th century and then the house was uninhabited for 200 years. This is what gives it its unique charm as it really does feel like the Marie Celeste of stately homes with much of the original furniture remaining.
As you approach you really do get the impression of entering a fortified medieval manor house, particularly as you stand in the extensive lower courtyard. The kitchen is one of the finest surviving examples from Tudor times, with its domed bread ovens and kneading trough. You can even see scorch marks on the timber walls where candles were placed for illumination.
The first movie, Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, was made here in 1924 with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and filming has continued ever since. Lady Jane Grey, The Princess Bride, Jane Eyre, The Other Boleyn Girl and, of course, Pride and Prejudice are just some of the many films that have used this location.
If you fancy sleeping in the same bed as some of the famous film stars who've filmed in the area, then this is the place for you. It was built as the dower house for Haddon Hall in the 17th Century and is still owned by the Earl of Rutland. Its 16 immaculate rooms are furnished with antiques and the restaurant, under Chef Dan Smith, serves some of the best food in the area. I finished my exhausting tour of stately rooms, rather appropriately, with a glorious Sunday lunch - truly the roast beef of old England.
Click here for more information about the Peak District and Derbyshire.
All pictures copyright Rupert Parker