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Frank's travels around Britain 2011.

Chatsworth House at Christmas.


Meeting Dave & Kath. 

This was just going to be a run down to Derbyshire to meet old friends & let the girls enjoy, after a seven year break since their last visit, Chatsworth House done up for Christmas. Now before Cynthia hits me ... they are NOT friends who are old, but just friends from a long time back. In Cynthia's case, damn near a lifetime. Luckily both of them are slightly mad & we get on like a house on fire. Like me, Dave is slightly deaf, & the things we mis-hear cause the girls no end of trouble in the chuckles department ... packing emergency knickers is a must!

They are an amazing couple in many ways. Kath can map read really well & Dave will often ask strangers for directions ... all against the normal trend of the species! It was Kath who map read us to Chatsworth. I was most impressed. She guided us along main roads & B roads until we arrived at Bakewell & then she uttered that immortal phrase "There you are Dave, it's around here somewhere!"

The only thing Dave & I aren't on the same wave length about, is unfortunately football. When we met he asked, (being from near Wolverhampton), "What do you think about the Wolves then, Frank?" & I said they couldn't be released around Settle as we had too many sheep. Other than that we are the Four Must-'ave-it-'eres.

We usually try to get on the road & have a good English breakfast after about an hours travelling. This trip we knew there was a Tesco Extra en route, in the Rawtenstall area so it was our first stop ... whoops! The best laid plans of mice & men! What is happening to the English breakfast? In this Tesco it's a fully fledged Costa Coffee, the nearest thing to an English breakfast is a bacon bap! It's a long wait, over priced coffee & prepackaged snacks - well not for this couple. Quick nip down the road & eat properly at an ADSA! Rant over, it's different strokes for different folks. Thank you ASDA.

We booked into the Travelodge in Ashbourne, so it was a lovely run through the High Peaks of Derbyshire for us two. The weather wasn't good & we hit some slush on the road after Buxton but nothing that caused us any problems. It was arranged to meet Kath & Dave at the Waitrose in Ashbourne, as their website said they had a coffee shop ... unfortunately, it translates, in reality, as a bakery that sells coffee to take away, so thanks to the modern mobile phone, we were able to re-arrange it & meet at a very nice coffee shop/cafe/bakery called the Gingerbread Shop. Highly recommended! Full of good stuff, from tea to light meals. After two minutes of greetings, Dave & I could have left & had our own meeting as the girls chatted happily for what seemed a couple of hours! BTW, note to other councils/car park owners/ local businesses. In Ashbourne, during December, it's free after 2pm! That's got to be good for everyone. Dave & I could have had a kip in the cafe, without worrying we'd be fined for overstaying our welcome.

What we didn't know was that this shop was so special. Legend has it that Ashbourne gingerbread was created by a former French prisoner who made his home in the town after the Napoleonic wars. His special recipe was then handed down through generations. Ashbourne gingerbread is nothing like that made in Grasmere or Grantham gingerbread or Market Drayton gingerbread or Scottish gingerbread. Apparently Whitby and Ormskirk have their own gingerbread too! The shop was originally built in the late 15th century, in the 17th century it became the Roebuck Inn and then in the Napoleonic wars it became a bakery. It's been a bakery since 1805. They even had an example of the original wattle & daub, behind glass to show you, in the eating area

The weather forecast for the three days had been awful & this time it kept its promise. The first day was bitterly cold & damp. Just walking from the car made the inside of the Gingerbread shop so welcoming. After the extended catching up by the girls, it was decided (well they decided actually) we should walk round this very attractive town & shop ... sorry, get our bearings ... OMG, it doesn't take that much for hypothermia to set in, does it? Several shops were used as bolt holes, even Dave & I went in, it was that cold. Then it was one more brew in the Gingerbread shop before booking in at the Travelodge.

The story of how long it took us to get there, how many times we circled the town & why the hell the sound went off the Tom Tom is another story we won't bother you with. Unfortunately the Lodge itself is hidden behind a pub in what was obviously a field when Cynthia bought the Sat Nav ... oh dear, its a long story!

It was Kath & Dave's first experience of one of the modern Travelodge's. They are sparse to a ridiculous extent. It was very new, clean & sort of worked if you accepted there was only the floor or bed settee to put most of your things on. Their room had the TV controller stolen, ours had a broken window blind & no toilet seat lid! The mattress was better than normal but two nights were enough!

Alongside the lodge was a very nice pub called the Stepping Stones. We had no trouble eating there on both nights. It's new with a very good wide menu & full of staff anxious to please. The portions were huge but they did had a "light bite" section, same grub only in a smaller portions. We wish more people would follow this trend. Small eaters like us don't feel so wasteful & if gives you a chance to eat two courses without it being a belly buster. One really nice feature is their rotisserie chickens. You can see them being cooked. Dave tried half a chicken on his first night & thought it was excellent, if a huge meal!

We sat there chatting & laughing for a long time, it was such a pleasant evening, only yards from the lodge so no worries about drinking & driving. They stocked a Marston beer called Pedigree which suited Dave down to the ground.


Lets go to Chatsworth!

We planned to have a proper breakfast to start our day & we had spotted Spencers, a very nice bakery/cafe in the market square, the previous day. At the counter was a really nice guy from Poland. He made us so welcome & got all our requirements correct. Unfortunately the cafe was very hot inside & Cynthia felt quite faint with the heat. Sure enough, one of the staff came out with some water & soon had the heating turned down, they were all most attentive.

The actual visit to Chatsworth House was a big disappointment to the girls. I'd like Cynthia to explain what happened.

The last time Kath and I visited Chatsworth was about 7 years ago.  We'd been before that but went in December particularly to see the house dressed for Christmas.  We remember it as being stunning, tasteful and befitting such a gracious home. Frank had asked me what I would like to do as a birthday treat and I immediately chose a return visit to my favourite stately home in the country.

Now Frank is not a huge fan of big posh houses but he is happy to visit them for their photographic opportunities.  Who better to accompany us and share the ooos and ahhs with me than my best friend, Kath.    When you drive across the surrounding park and see Chatsworth House for the first time, a sumptuous pile of yellow stone, surrounded by gardens and fronted by the River Derwent, it fair takes your breath away.  Unfortunately for us, this time the house was undergoing necessary renovations and parts of the house looked like it had been gift wrapped in white plastic!

 As soon as we entered we knew something was amiss.  We had always entered through a stunning, huge entrance hall with an amazing, double return flight  staircase and breathtaking ceilings.  Not only did we not enter this way but we never went near it!  The first room and corridor off it were dressed pleasingly and our cameras started clicking.  However as we progressed round the house our spirits were dampened more and more.  Each room seemed to be decorated within an inch of it's life.  There was fake snow on the floors, mock sleighs with life size reindeers pulling them, clothes to dress up in and a total of 74 Christmas trees!!  It was more like a Disney film set than a Stately home, so much so that it completely obliterated the grandeur of Chatsworth.  Anyone visiting for the first time, as Frank was, would leave with no idea of how beautiful and sumptuous a home it really is.  Ah well.. I'll just have to drag him back in the Summer!

Kath commented how, on our previous visit, she had been able to take away ideas for decorating her own home, albeit on a much smaller scale. There was no chance of that this time and Frank thought it looked like a wholesalers display stand at a Christmas gift fair. Out with taste & only bigger is better!

The last time we were there the visit lasted so long that we broke for Christmas lunch in their restaurant at about midday before recommencing the tour.   This time we found ourselves out in the ubiquitous gift shop in just over an hour. Such a disappointment!

It was raining hard & we didn't know where the wind was coming from but we sure knew where it was going! Time for a brew! Just outside the gift shop were two posh tents, you know the kind, white house shaped ones with plastic windows. One was for the snacks & drinks & the other was to sit in & watch the wind try to tear it apart. We sat inside with a drink in paper cups pulling the whole trip apart, acting the fool & laughing too loudly while videoing it all. The poor souls who followed us inside must have thought we were from the Wolverhampton Home for the Bewildered. It was still early & we needed somewhere to go ... how about having a look at the town of Bakewell? It looked nice (even in the rain) as we passed through & being a bit of a pig, Frank thought a Bakewell tart would go down very well for luncheon!


On to discover the Bakewell pudding!

No matter how old you are, there's always something new to learn & we were to find out about Bakewell & it's tarts & puddings. Now we all knew a Bakewell tart wasn't a lady called Slack Alice but what we didn't know was there was a traditional Bakewell pudding.

The origins of the pudding are not clear; however, the generally accepted story is that it was first made by accident in 1820 when the landlady of the White Horse Inn (now called the Rutland Arms) left instructions for her cook to make a jam tart. The cook, instead of stirring the eggs and almond paste mixture into the pastry, spread it on top of the jam. When cooked the egg and almond paste set similar to an egg custard in texture and the result was successful enough for it to become a popular dish at the inn. The Bakewell Pudding is exclusive to Bakewell. Bakewell Tarts are a completely different confection, both in appearance, flavour and texture. These are made by larger commercial bakeries, usually with icing sugar on top, which helped spread the name of the Bakewell tart.
Two shops in Bakewell offer what they both claim is the original recipe pastry - The Bakewell Tart Shop & Coffee House sells a "Bakewell Tart", while The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop sells a "Bakewell Pudding". We choose to visit the pudding shop! Good choice! Set in a 17th century building, the Shop sells lots of tasty treats. Upstairs is the cafe. Beautifully done out (tastefully, unlike Chatsworth)  and the lady serving us was full of welcome & information. Poor old Cynthia couldn't try out our newly discovered treat but us three went ahead with a pudding for four, plus cream AND custard. It was lovely. Surprisingly short on the taste of almonds it was, nevertheless, delicious. Far too rich to eat at any time other than as a treat, but we made short work of it!

The town is lovely to walk around but in the freezing rain & high winds, we kept it short.


And so we say farewell!

That evening was another night of a slow dinner at the Stepping Stones, a couple of drink and a lot of talking and laughing.

The morning started with glorious sunshine & a hearty breakfast at Spencer's. It's a real pleasure to spend time with like minded friends & not a minute was wasted on this trip. We left each other in high spirits, blazing sunshine & Cynthia & I travelled back north into the snow & sleet the BBC had promised us.

I think we should play the return match in the spring or summer. Let's see Derbyshire warm & lit up. Give Chatsworth another go & get some decent photographs. We'd love to share it with Kath & Dave & exercise those chuckle muscles again.


Just one last aside!

On the 4th of December, two days before we left, Cynthia sent an email to Sainsbury's customer services asking if their branch at Ashbourne had a cafe, as there was some story of there being some alterations & that may have included a cafe. She received an immediate automated reply, saying someone would get back to her soon.

We got a reply on the 13th, from them, saying they were going to pass our query on to another department. That's 5 days after our return.

She sent an email saying don't bother, you took too long (after all, we'd been & gone & done it!). We quickly received an automated reply saying someone will get back about our enquiry as soon as possible.

Do you think they are paying Jamie Oliver too much & can't afford enough real people to run "customer services"?

All we wanted to know was who did breakfasts in Ashbourne ... and we still don't know if you do Sainsburys!  Mind you we don't care now either!



Links for information on this page:
Stepping Stones Pub
Chatsworth House
the Original Bakewell Pudding Shop