FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Bolsover Castle

Posted in Chesterfield, England by folkestonejack on April 10, 2016

The second day of our short trip to Derbyshire saw us visit Bolsover Castle, a delightful 17th century aristocratic retreat and entertainment complex perched high above the surrounding countryside.

The Little Castle

The Little Castle

Bolsover Castle is quite unlike any castle site that I have visited before, although it began conventionally enough with a motte and bailey castle in the eleventh century. The castle we can see today was the creation of Charles Cavendish, the youngest son of Bess of Hardwick, who clearly inherited her artistic flair, working with the architect John Smythson (son of the architect who worked with his mother at Hardwick) to design the Little Castle which sits at the heart of the site.

The castle was constructed between 1612 and 1617, with the interiors completed by his son William in 1621 following the death of his father in 1617. William also added a magnificent Terrace Range between the 1620s and 1660s with a large state appartment and long gallery, serviced by kitchens and cellars of sufficient capacity for entertainment on a lavish scale. In particular, it seems to have been designed to impress Charles I who visited with his wife in 1634.

The State Apartment and Terrace Range

The State Apartment and Terrace Range

The Terrace Range was remarkably short lived. It was plundered for building materials during the Commonwealth, the State apartment was taken apart in the 1680s and the long gallery was converted into stables. The whole thing was a ruin by 1770! Nevertheless, as ruins go, it is still pretty amazing.

Across the courtyard lies the riding house, shoeing house and smithy – all of which date to around 1660. The interior of the rising house gives the impression of a great hall and it was incredible to see it in use for a demonstration of live horsemanship with a commentary explaining William Cavendish’s enlightened views on training horses in the art of manège.

The Riding School

The Riding School

However, it is the Little Castle that is the highlight of a visit and a sight that can be savoured from every angle, including the restored wall wark (re-opened in 2014 after a gap in use of 250 years). The interior doesn’t fail to delight either, offering up some exquisite spaces and stunning wall/ceiling painting.

The hall is a strange beast, combining classical columns, gothic rib vaulting, wood panelling painted light blue, some rather stunning paintings of Hercules and a beautiful stone chimney. Somehow, it works! There are plenty more visual treats to discover as you wind your way to the top of the building, including the intimate ‘elsyium closet’ and ‘heaven closet’ with richly painted ceilings of olympians and cherubs respectively. As ever, words are inadequate here.

The lodges guarding the entry to the Little Castle

The lodges guarding the entry to the Little Castle

Bolsover Castle is a short bus ride away from Chesterfield, taking around half an hour to wind its way to Bolsover Market Place. The 82/83 bus was running on a half hourly frequency when we visited, on a Sunday, but for the rest of the week you can expect to wait fifteen minutes at most. Admission currently costs £11.20 for an adult, with an additional fee to see the horse displays if they are running. The castle and grounds open at 10am, but if you turn up early there is a pleasant walk along the ridge (look out for the Cavendish Conduit Houses, built along the line of a water pipe into the castle) or you can follow a very short historic trail around the town.

Our visit, at a very leisurely pace, took around two and a half to three hours. This gave us ample time to appreciate the Little Castle, explore the Terrace Range and see a twenty minute demonstration of horsemanship in the riding house. After leaving the castle we took the public footpath into the field below the castle to get a sense of how the complex fits into the landscape before heading back to Chesterfield by bus.

For our one night stay in Chesterfield we opted for a room at The Portland Hotel, a pub in the Wetherspoons chain, with an unexpectedly sleek and smart room. It also had the great, if initially unnerving, decoration of paintings of the devil by local primary school children! The rather less alarming explanation for this is the local legend that attributes the crooked spire of the parish church to the devil, after twisting his tail around it.

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