Definitely one of my favourite outings in the East Midlands of England was my visit to Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire. Bolsover Castle is an unlikely mix of early Norman stronghold, Jacobean manor, country house, and romantic folly. The Norman castle was erected by the Peveril family shortly after the Conquest, but today little remains of that structure. The third Peveril was exiled in 1155 and Bolsover was siezed by the crown. We do know that there was a stone keep here around 1173, surrounded by a curtain wall. Parts of the curtain wall are incorporated in the “Wall Walk” in the castle gardens.
We started our Castles exploration in what was a vast and stately Terrace Range overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale. It is now a dramatic roofless shell but still very dramatic. I felt like a small kid exploring the ruins of what was once a stately building.
In 1553 the castle was purchased from the crown by Sir George Talbot, later to become Earl of Shrewsbury. Talbot was later given the onorous post of gaoler to Mary, Queen of Scots, a duty which seriously dented his family finances. To ease the burden of debt, Bolsover was first leased, then sold, to Sir Charles Cavendish in 1612.
The buildings we got to explore are largely the work of two men, Sir Charles and his son William, first Duke of Devonshire.
In 1612 Sir Charles began what is now The Little Castle, a mock medieval keep. Cavendish built in a romantic style, consistent with his fanciful ideals of chivalry. He employed Robert Smythson to create from the Norman castle a mansion of turrets and towers in a grand mock-medieval style. Despite its imposing appearance, The Little Keep was designed with comfort, not defence. This castle provided luxurious living quarters, by the standards of the day, for Sir Charles and his retinue.
As we entered the LIttle Castle building we were informed that there were 107 steps leading to the top of the castle on the main staircase. I did count the steps but came one short….needless to say I wasn’t going to climb them again just to make sure there are 107.
I loved walking through the beautiful rooms with their elaborate decorations. There is definitely a fairytale quality to BolsoverCastle, created by the sumptuously painted walls and ceilings of the Little Castle.
I loved the intricately carved fireplaces and would have loved to see them all lit up on a cold winters night. The richly-coloured murals and panelling of the castles’ miraculously preserved and beautifully restored interiors took me on an allegorical journey from earthly concerns to heavenly delights.
We ended our visit with a walk through the small, walled garden with its Venus fountain in its centre. Here it felt as if I was walking in the footsteps of William Cavendish himself.