A walk around the Hardwick Hall estate
- Credit: Gary Wallis
Walk in the footsteps of Bess of Hardwick, one of the richest and most influential women in Elizabethan England.
She married four times, each husband richer and more powerful than the last.
Hardwick Estate boasts two halls: the Old Hall (English Heritage), the ruined birthplace of Bess and the newer, intact Hardwick Hall (National Trust), built to show off Bess’s wealth.
This walk passes by Hardwick’s fishing ponds and its two houses before meandering through parkland and woods.
1. From the car park, the path heads up between Miller’s Pond and Great Pond, thought to be over 200 years old. Look out for swans, ducks and geese, and if lucky you might glimpse a heron or kingfisher.
2. Above Great Pond, there are a series of five smaller ponds – Row Ponds. Cross between the second and third, then steer diagonally left to continue up the hill.
3. The path climbs to the Old Hall, the birthplace of Bess and now a shell. You may have to detour on past the Old Hall to the driveway then backtrack to visit Hardwick Hall due to conservation work on the ruin.
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When opened again, it’s worth dropping in to view the remarkable Elizabethan plaster friezes, including a colourful depiction of a hunting scene.
Don’t miss the ‘new’ hall and its gardens. The house was designed by Robert Smythson to dazzle, its frontage more glass than wall.
Inside the 16th century stately home, discover the intricate needlework of the Hardwick tapestries and embroidered wall hangings, its carved furniture, paintings, ceramics and objet d’art.
4. Leaving the house and gardens from the southwest, follow the wooded path along Lady Spencer’s Walk, its woodland activity trail great fun for families.
Lady Spencer was the mother of Georgiana Cavendish, the wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. Look out for tree creepers, nuthatches and woodpeckers in the mature beech trees.
Pass the ‘Wine Glass’ avenue of trees, leading the eye back to the magnificent Hardwick Hall.
5. Cross the farm track and pass through the gate into a field, following the fence on the edge of the woods.
6. Turn left into Park Piece, an atmospheric woodland. A bench has been placed under a rustic hut with its willow-woven windshield and tufted roof. It’s a great place to stop for a picnic, especially on rainy days.
7. Emerging from the wood, drop down through the field to the road, heading for a gate.
8. Cross the driveway and continue through a field to the next gate that leads to Lodge Plantation and head west through the woodland.
9. When you reach a farm track, turn left to follow it.
10. Go through the blue gate at the end and head downhill through the parkland to the drive. Cross over and continue downhill, heading for a gate in the fence near the ponds.
11. Go through the gate and turn right to re-join the path you started out on, leading back to the car park.
Start point: SK454640
Parking: Hardwick Ponds, free for National Trust members
Map: OS Explorer 269
Terrain: Easy. There’s a short climb up to the halls.
Distance: 3.5 miles
Refreshments: There’s a kiosk at the ponds and café next to Hardwick Hall