The National Trust promotes Calke Abbey as the ‘un-stately’ stately home, and indeed many of the rooms in the house are in a bad state of decoration and are overflowing with masses of bric-a brac. I found it interesting up to a point to check out what appealed to aristocratic hoarders and it made me feel less concerned about the much more modest hoardings in my home!
However I found it a little disappointing on my recent visit in mid-March that the gardens also had a rather derelict feel about them. Instead of there being a riot of colour from spring flowers, there were just a few blooms in some rows of plant pots and not much else. Even the glass-houses were almost empty and the walled garden was just a grassy space. Although I gather that in the summer there is much more to see.
However Calke Abbey was not lacking visitors, far from it! I had visited during one of the lambing weekends and every child within fifty miles must have come along with their parents and grandparents.
It was a good to escape the crowds on one of the many parkland walks, passing an attractive reservoir and the Deer Park along the way, and that made my visit to Calke Abbey well worthwhile.
Calke Abbey was built in Baroque style in 1701-4 on the site of an Augustinian priory that was dissolved by Henry VIII. Nothing remains of the priory, although there some parts remain visible in the courtyard of an intermediate Elizabethan house.
The Harpur family occupied the house for almost 300 years until it passed to the National trust in 1985. The extensive collections of stuffed animals, shells, oil lamps, caricatures and very much more, reflect the interests of members of the Harpur family.
When touring the house, the first few rooms are in good order, although still rather cluttered. The rest of the house is in a bad state of repair, left as found in 1985, other than for basic remedial work.
On leaving the house, you have the choice of entering the garden or walking down an intriguing 1oo metre long tunnel leading to the brew house. This latter exit is only for the more nimble senior travellers as it is dark, the floor is uneven and there are some steep steps at the end.
The gardens are some distance from the house up a fairly steep hill, although a transport vehicle is available if this would cause difficulties. As mentioned above, although the gardens cover a large area, there is relatively little to see when I visited mid-March.
There are seven walks set out in the National Trust brochure varying in length from a mile to about five miles. The brochure also suggests discovering one’s own route on unmarked paths!
I opted for three mile Maroon Walk which initially follows around the side of the gardens before dropping down to the Staunton Harold reservoir. After skirting the reservoir, the walk leads back to the house via Little Dogkennel Pond and around the Deer Park which was had three separate groups of deer grazing.
The walk is well sign-posted with good surfaces throughout, although towards the end of the walk there is a fairly steep ascent with steps.
Facilities at Calke Abbey
There is a large restaurant and café in the stableyard and, if you have grandchildren in tow, there is a small play area by the car park. When I visited on the lambing weekend, both were incredibly busy. Fortunately there was also a portable drinks stall in the gardens.
As mentioned in previous articles, winter opening times can be a problem with National Trust properties. With Calke Abbey, although the restaurant, Gardens and Parkland are open throughout the year, the House is only open from March until October.
Joining the National Trust
If you plan to visit five or more National Trust sites in a year then it is probably better value to purchase annual membership. To receive free binoculars with annual or gift membership paid by direct debit, click on National Trust.
However if you are over 60, then you could join the National Trust for Scotland and save about 35% on National Trust membership, whilst still being able to access all National Trust sites. Under 60s can save about 15%.
POSTED 12th APRIL 2019 by STEVE HANSON. Photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.