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East Lodge, Hardwick Hall - just astonishing

Jonathan Schofield loves, no really, really loves this self-catering experience

Written by . Published on May 11th 2011.

East Lodge, Hardwick Hall - just astonishing

UP until last week these were the best self-catering places I’d stayed in: a beach view apartment in Galicia; a cypress-clad villa in Tuscany; a mad hut in Norway with turf on the roof.

But none of these compare to East Lodge at Hardwick Old Hall.

The whole East Lodge experience is so rare and of such calibre that apart from food shopping you scarcely need to venture anywhere else. 

The difference between East Lodge and the best of the rest becomes apparent at 5pm.

That’s when you become king of your own castle.

On our visit when the tourists had gone home we came into possession of a one acre lawn and ruined palace. This was exclusively ours, with the only access through a huge wooden gate operated by a nine inch key.

“Dad, do we get all this?” asked my ten year old, Ralph, when Beverley the kind woman from English Heritage, had left.

“I believe we do,” I said in shock.

“What? We can play here without anybody telling us not to do anything?” he said.

“Oh yes,” I said to the blurred back of the boy as he sped off to wreck gentle mischief.

I tucked into the bottle of red in the hamper provided by Beverley and watched him mess around. I was sat on a flower bedecked terrace in late evening sunshine. After a while I joined him for a game of footy.

Inside East Lodage was as lovely as the outside.

There's a large combined dining and kitchen area. Everything was in place and, unlike in much self-catering, not even a spatula or an eggcup was awry or mucky. There were at least two bottle openers.

Down a corridor, the living room was kitted out with wood for a fire. There were games, magazines and books for both kids and adults. Attention to detail was shown by the provision of Ordnance Survey maps for people who like country walks. Best of all was the window with its eight foot long cushion on its two foot wide ledge, a perfect perch for reading or dreaming.

That window seat was repeated on a landing half way to the two bedrooms and the five star bathroom. The height of the rooms, at least ten feet, added to the tranquility.

With Ralph reading one of the Horrible Histories books provided by English Heritage, I swirled my wine, and through leaded windows, gazed out at one of the UK’s great domestic treasures a 100 metres away.

This is the New Hall at Hardwick from the 1590s, run by the National Trust, and a masterpiece of English Renaissance design. Despite the M1 being just a couple of miles away, the silence, broken only by birdsong, was profound.

At midnight I walked out into my new domain and strolled the boundaries. I wore a bowl from the kitchen as a crown. Maybe I’d drunk too much wine.

Hardwick 'New Hall From The 'Old'Hardwick 'New Hall From The 'Old'

If you stay at the lodge you get a free pass for the New Hall. This was built by one of the richest women in the England of her day, the celebrated, much married, much conniving Bess of Hardwick. Grander and more gracious than the older hall nearby, it took over as the main residence at Hardwick - hence the ruined nature of the complex within which the East Lodge stands.

A visit into the newer property is thrilling. It is one of the great British buildings, exquisite in concept, a work of genius in execution. The architect was Robert Smythson. Before the cold but magnificent logic of Classical architecture took over the English country house – think of Tatton Hall, Harewood Hall, Croxteth Hall in the North – charm as well as power seems to have remained part of an architect’s armoury.

The compact internal planning of Hardwick is the key to Smythson’s brilliance with the long gallery, the great chamber and the staircase the climax to the skill manifest everywhere. 

The matrix of windows on the exterior floods the building with light, and might have made a Bauhaus Modernist swoon. The garden shouldn’t be missed.

Indeed the whole East Lodge experience is so rare and of such calibre that apart from food shopping you scarcely need to venture anywhere else. There are lovely walks over the grounds and further afield past ponds and through woods. The Peak District lies ten miles to the north west if you feel the excursion itch.

The nearest pub is the Hardwick Inn, a quarter of a  mile down the hill. This is huge and hugely popular. We ate one meal there that was low on quality and silly in size.

Ralph And The Hardwick Inn - Left Middle DistanceRalph With A Football And The Hardwick Inn - Left Middle Distance

The sole, for under £14, came on a plate so large a hobbit could surf on it. It was surrounded by mountains of veg and salad. Still the food filled us up for the walks.

Looking back over this piece I seem to have drowned in purple prose. It reads like a roster of unequivocal joy. 


But what can I find to critique? Oh yea it’s quite hard to work that key on the big gate to the Old Hall. The place could do with WIFI - although maybe that would be a needless intrusion.

My advice is gather four friends or the family and bag this place as quickly as you can.  

Here's an incompetent mobile phone video clip to help you gauge the place. You might need to turn the volume up. Click here

The Lodge is at Hardwick Hall, 
Doe Lea, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S44 5QJ, 1,5 hours from Manchester, 2 hours from Liverpool and fifty minutes from Leeds.
To reserve a break at any of the cottages (there are sixteen across the country) in the English Heritage portfolio, contact Reservations on 0870 333 1187.

Full details, prices and availability for the entire holiday cottage portfolio can be accessed at herewww.englishheritage.org.uk/holidaycottages

Letting rates are as follows: 3 days from £372, 4 days from £377, 7days from £631.

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Jamie SpenceMay 13th 2011.

This place looks amazing

YorkieMay 13th 2011.

If you fancy trying another slice of history have a look at the properties rented out by the Landmark Trust (http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk).

I've stayed in a few of their places and they've all been good. For a stunning place near the Roman baths in Bath, try Elton House (sleeps 10).

For a bigger house and a bigger party (sleeps 16) look at Gargunnock House near Stirling.

The Trust has a fantastic handbook for a tenner with photos and info on all its properties - and when you book you even get your tenner back.

I've no connection with the Trust except enthusiasm for what it does.

Connie BaxterApril 6th 2012.

Lovely place. Hardwick is the best

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