We depart by coach from our pick-up points and head north, breaking our journey with a visit to Calke Abbey. With peeling paintwork and overgrown courtyards, Calke Abbey tells the story of the dramatic decline of a country house estate. The house and stables are little restored, with many abandoned areas vividly portraying a period in the 20th century when numerous country houses did not survive to tell their story. We will discover the tales of an eccentric family who amassed a vast collection of hidden treasures as we visit the beautiful, yet faded, walled gardens and explore the orangery, auricula theatre and the kitchen gardens. We can also explore into the ancient and fragile habitats of Calke Park and its National Nature Reserve. Lunch is available here (not included).
We continue to Derbyshire and our comfortable hotel, the Menzies Mickleover Court Hotel. Dinner is served in the evening.
After breakfast we depart for a visit to Hardwick Hall. Like a huge glass lantern, Hardwick dominates the surrounding area – a magnificent statement of the wealth and authority of its builder, Bess of Hardwick. Designed by Robert Smythson, the house is remarkable for being almost unchanged since Bess lived here, giving a rare insight into the formality of courtly life of the Elizabethan age. There are outstanding collections of 16th-century embroidery, tapestries, furniture and portraits. Walled courtyards enclose fine gardens, orchards and a herb garden, and the surrounding country park contains rare breeds of cattle and sheep. In the grounds are the remains of Hardwick Old Hall, which Bess continued to use after her new house was built. Lunch is available here (not included).
We continue to Haddon Hall, an intensely romantic and hugely historic house set in hilly wooded countryside. The castle was built between 12th and 17th centuries, with turrets, crenellations and tracery windows and as such has often been used as a film location. The gardens still have some of their 17th Century character, particularly on the upper level where there is a fine knot garden. Descending on a series of terraces that lead down towards the river that loops through the rural landscape below, there is a pond and fountain, an immense collection of roses and fine herbaceous borders, all set against the ancient stone walls of the castle.
We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
Following breakfast we depart of a guided coach tour through the Peak District National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty which attracts millions of visitors every year. There will be many highlights, from natural rock formations and high peaks to panoramic views and picturesque villages. We will also call in at the private garden of Craigside at Whaley Bridge, a one acre garden with magnificent views across Todbrook reservoir towards the Peaks.
In the afternoon we visit the private garden of Gamesley Fold, near Glossop. This charming and old-fashioned cottage garden features herbaceous borders, shrubs and rhododendrons, wild flowers and herbs in profusion to attract butterflies and wildlife.
We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
This morning, after breakfast, we will leave the hotel and head for home, breaking our journey with a visit to the award-winning gardens of Trentham Hall in Staffordshire, which have benefitted from the nurturing hands of gardening superstars past and present. The contemporary revival of the famous Italian Gardens was led by renowned designer and multi-Chelsea gold-medal winner Tom Stuart-Smith. To the east of the Italian Gardens are the Rivers of Grass and the adjacent Floral Labyrinth. Both these schemes were designed by eminent Dutch plantsman, and Chelsea gold medal winner, Piet Oudolf. At the centre of Trentham Gardens is the mile long, Capability Brown designed, Trentham Lake. Take the circular lakeside walk all the way round as it takes you beside the River Trent, by the bird hide, through Capability Brown’s cascading weir and along atmospheric woodland trails. The show gardens offer further inspiration to gardeners on a more domestic scale. Lunch is available here (not included).
Following this, our final visit, we head for home, with arrival due back at our original departure point in the evening.