CASTLES, Cathedrals, Abbeys and Stately Homes 



One of Britain's foremost Elizabethan houses and a magnificent statement of the wealth and authority of its builder, Bess of Hardwick. Like a huge glass lantern, the house dominates the surrounding area and contains outstanding collections of 16th-century furniture, tapestries and needlework. Walled courtyards enclose fine gardens, orchards and herb garden, and the surrounding country park contains rare breeds of cattle and sheep

Note: Due to limited lighting, visitors wishing to make a close study of tapestries and textiles should avoid dull days early and late in the season. To avoid congestion, access to the house may be limited at peak periods. The remains of Hardwick Old Hall in the grounds are in the guardianship of English Heritage

One's first impression probably echoes the old saying 'Hardwick Hall more glass than wall', because it is impossible not to marvel at the huge expanses of glass rising skywards as one approaches. Neither can one ignore the initials 'ES', Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury, more familiarly known as Bess of Hardwick, emblazoned on the frontage.

But these impressions are swiftly overtaken by the rich complexity of the architectural design, matched only by the complex personality of Bess herself, whose progress towards enormous wealth and status through a series of fortuitous marriages, became entwined with the architectural talents of Robert Smythson.

By the time Robert began the design of Hardwick, he had already worked on Longleat House, Wollaton and Worksop Manor, the latter on behalf of Bess's fourth husband, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, an immensely rich and politically influencial figure.

Hardwick, largely completed in 1597, is regarded as one of the finest and most complete examples of Elizabethan architecture and represents the supreme culmination of Smythson's architectural themes.

Undoubtedly, it was built to reflect Bess's wealth and status, with six imposing towers (further heightened during construction) and a vast array of windows using more glass than in any other Smythson building. At the time, glass was an extremely expensive material, and to use it on this scale was a display of extravagance.

But the effect is spectacular and all the more fascinating because some of the windows are false to conceal chimney pieces, whilst others appear to illuminate one room, but in fact, let light into rooms on two storeys.

Walk around the outside of the building and the complex symmetry unfolds an ever changing pattern of perspectives. Inside, the arrangement and proportions of the state rooms, containing many rare and beautiful tapestries, testify to Smythson's remarkable ingenuity.

Close to Hardwick Hall is its predecessor, the Old Hall, which was transformed into a large house from modest origins by Bess of Hardwick in the 1580's. Remains of the Old Hall still survive today and the views from the top floor are spectacular.

And on the vast property you will find many interesting things.




Mary Queen of Scots at Hermitage Castle

In 1566 James Hepburn, the Fourth Earl of Bothwell, lay wounded in this remote stronghold after a local skirmish. Here he was visited by his lover Mary, Queen of Scots, who rode over the wild and dangerous hills from Jedburgh and back in one day, a distance of about 40 miles.

Exhausted when she returned, she lay in a fever for some weeks in a house in Jedburgh, now known as Mary, Queen of Scots House, until she recovered.

Hermitage Castle, North of Newcastleton off A6399, was a 14th century stronghold of the Douglases. Built originally as a fortified manor by an Englishman, captured and rebuilt into a mighty tower-house by a Scotsman, its importance in the protracted 300 year "Border Wars" between the English and Scots is immeasurable. Granted by David II to Sir William Douglas, the "Knight of Liddesdale", Hermitage became known as "the strength of Liddesdale". The castle passed to the Earls of Angus and was traded by Archibald, 6th Earl of Angus to the Earl of Bothwell in exchange for Bothwell Castle in 1492.

Hermitage Castle in Liddlesdale was built circa 1242. The castle was owned by many people throughout its lifespan including the families of De Soulis, Douglas, Dacre and Bothwell. In 1342 sir Alexander Ramsay was imprisoned and starved to death in the dungeon here by Sir William douglas. In 1566, Mary Queen of Scots rode over fifty miles in one day to Hermitage Castle to visit her wounded lover, The Earl of Bothwell. Lord William De Soulis is reputed to have practiced the black arts at Hermitage. The Ghost of Alexander Ramsay reputedly haunts the Castle and has been seen by numerous people over the years. A regal figure beleived to be Mary Queen of Scots has also been seen. Cries, screams and anguished moans have been heard in the vacinity, which is hardly surprising when you consider alexander Ramsay's fate. A couple of years ago my wife stumbled on the steps at hermitage and she reached out to grasp a hand which had offered assistance. The reason I mention this? She was the only person on the stairs. The rest of us were down in the courtyard reading the information signs at the time and we were the only people at the castle that day.



The majestic, almost regal, appearance of Rievaulx looming from the depths of a narrow river valley symbolises the power and importance of monasticism in medieval England. This enormous Cistercian house, numbering some 150 monks and 500 lay brethren at one time, was the nucleus from which several other northern abbeys were colonised.

Although the early 13th century church – reputed to have been one of the finest monastic churches in the North - remains substantially intact, less than half of the outbuildings, recorded at the time of the suppression in 1538, are still in existence.

Rarely did the Cistercians break with convention when planning the layout of a monastery, but at Rievaulx the church had to be built more on a north-south axis (as opposed to the traditional east-west) because of severely sloping ground levels. The model for the first church built c.1135 to 1145 was probably based on the Mother House at Clairvaulx, and certainly reflected the functional austerity of that time. However, following partial demolition of the ‘eastern end’, the community undertook a rebuilding programme in a far more elaborate style with clustered columns, heavily moulded arches and elegant lancet windows.

Across the 15 acre site, there are many outbuildings standing to a good height and virtually the whole range can be identified at foundation level. Another of the impressive architectural treasures still very much in evidence, apart from the church, is the monks’ refectory. This beautiful dining hall, some 124ft long and an amazing 50ft high, was supported by an undercroft built into the terraced ground. A good deal of the arcading, and several of the gracefully, arched lancet windows of the refectory survive to give a clear indication of the former glory of this communal hall.

Fragmented sections of the ancient precinct wall can still be seen, although depending on the time of year, they are often obscured by spreading climbers and over zealous weeds. On one occasion when we visited Rievaulx in the spring, we are able to capture this colourful image of delicate, deep pink blossom bursting over the crumbling stones.



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