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At home with Mr. Darcy

grand old house (Left to right) Lyme Park reflected in the lake, harking back to stately dinners and (below) the gardens  

Humming the tune from BBC’s mini series of Pride and Prejudice, I packed my bags and set off for Disley. I was visiting Lyme Park, which is shown as Mr. Darcy’s grand estate Pemberley in the series. I was travelling alone, and was in such high spirits that even the gloomy weather couldn’t dampen me.

After a two-and-a-half-hour journey, I reached Disley. It is a small town of little consequence to anyone except those lucky enough to live in it (a line I’ve stolen from Aunt Gardiner in P&P). I got off the train and set forth to the 700-year-old, 1,400-acre large estate that belonged to the Legh family until 1946.

When they fell on hard times, as many aristocratic families did, they gave up the old pile and the estate to the National Trust.

I moseyed along the seemingly endless road, and suddenly, there it was. The very archway through which the carriage carrying Lizzie, Aunt and Uncle Gardiner passed through.

I later learnt that this was also the oldest part of the estate. In the large and grand residence, the ground floor was where the servants spent most of their time, the first floor was where important guests were received and parties were held, and the family rooms were located on the second floor.

Today, the house is open to the public and so are its magnificent gardens. Visitors can settle down in one of the rooms and listen to the staff speak about the good old days. Everything, ranging from the dresses the women wore and the artefacts collected by the most-travelled member of the family to the books in the grand old library of the house, is there for us to enjoy.

I walked into one of the many dining rooms to find an elaborately laid table, with a stand next to it displaying the menu for the evening. I could feel the presence of elegantly-dressed family members and their guests walking through the large wooden doors.

The ‘downstairs’ gave a sense of the army of help required to keep life moving in the grand old house. The kitchen was stocked with cooking equipment and dishes, there was a table laid out for polishing the crockery and cutlery, the livery of the footmen and other staff was laid out neatly, an ironing table with a cloth spread out on it and an iron left by its side made it look like the maid had only temporarily left the room. The belongings of the butler rested in a case on the lid of which was written: “It would have been hard to find a more perfect butler than Truelove. He was tall, but not quite so tall as his footmen, and that was as it should be. Immaculate in appearance, rigidly upright, quiet, dignified, confident…”. I couldn’t help remember Downton Abbey, and Mr. Carson, the impressive butler.

Pamphlets with walking trails are available for those who want to explore the estate, and I quickly made my way to the gardens, just like Lizzie often did. I admired the perfect reflection of the house in the lake in front, and walked around the massive gardens, hoping to bump into Mr. Darcy. No luck there, so I comforted myself instead with freshly-baked shortbread. I climbed a hillock to what used to be a hunting lodge, called ‘The Cage’. Since the land in these parts was not good for agriculture, the family used Lyme Park for vacations and hunting. The Cage looked eerie in the slight mist, and the miles of rolling meadows, dotted with sheep, were therapeutic.

With a full heart and still some energy left, I walked back to Disley, fantasising about life at Lyme.

I ate a good battered haloumi at the Ram’s Head (a popular local pub), and, like Lizzie did as she rode out of Pemberly, I turned around one last time to look at Lyme Park before I set back to London.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 11:57:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/At-home-with-Mr.-Darcy/article16667517.ece

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