Lyme Park House has to be one of the most spectacular properties in the National Trust’s portfolio. Set within spectacular surroundings, and featuring a striking mixture of Baroque and Palladian architectural styles, Lyme is one of the loveliest Country Houses in England, and somewhere I had been desperate to visit for many years.
Parents of young children however, will sympathise with me when I say it can be challenging trying to get out and about with the little monsters in tow. And, with the added problem of Covid causing havoc around the world, for me it has been particularly difficult trying to venture outside of Yorkshire.
That said, with things evidently getting back to some sense of ‘normality’, I decided to refresh my National Trust membership, and make the effort to visit Lyme. I am fortunate to have a bubble of support in the form of my mum and dad, so with them in tow to help keep my three year old entertained, I pointed my car in the rough direction of Manchester, and enthusiastically embarked on the two hour journey down from North Yorkshire.
A brief history of Lyme Park
Lyme is a particularly beautiful Stately Home, and many people with recognise it from the BBC’s TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Standing in as Mr Darcy’s fictional country estate ‘Pemberley’, Lyme is every bit as gorgeous in real life.
Today under the careful management of the National Trust, Lyme is very much open for the public’s enjoyment. You would be forgiven for thinking that the house dates back to Georgian times – after all it’s Baroque/Palladian styles are synonymous with the period – but the current house is much older than it appears, and actually dates back to the late Tudor Period.
The estate however is much older, dating back to 1346 when it awarded to Sir Thomas Danyers by King Edward III, in recognition of services to the Black Prince. When Sir Thomas died, the Lyme estate passed to his daughter Margaret, and then to her husband Piers Legh when they married in 1388. Lyme then, remained in the hands of the Legh family until it was eventually handed to the National Trust in 1946.
The current house is Tudor/Elizabethan at its core, and was constructed in the mid 16th century by Piers Legh VII. Built to an L-shaped design, Lyme house comprised two main ranges. Although further alterations and improvements were made in the 17th century, it was in the 1720’s that Lyme underwent a massive upgrade, resulting in the striking Neo-Classical mansion we know and love today.
The man responsible for this remarkable makeover was venetian architect, Giacomo Leoni. A champion of Palladian architecture, Leoni added the collosal South range, incorporating both the Baroque and Palladian styles. As part of this expansion the delightful Italianate courtyard was also created, and by retaining some of the Elizabethan elements of the original house, Leoni was able to create an absolute masterpiece of a Country House.
Although some minor piecemeal alterations were made over the following years, the most recent renovation took place in the early 19th century at the hands of Thomas Legh. Most of these alterations were made to the interior, but the interesting tower like structure was added to the South range, serving as accomodation for the servants.
Today, Lyme serves as the largest house is Cheshire, and has become famous as the home of Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) in the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Lyme is truly the marvel of its age and stands as one of the most striking examples of early Georgian architecture in England.
Lyme Park House is one of those places you absolutely have to visit before you die, and it’s fair to say I was utterly impressed as soon as we arrived. The drive in to Lyme takes you right through the enormous surrounding Dear Park, and it becomes immediately apparent why the Leghs remained at Lyme for such a long period of time. The fact that the entire estate is surrounded by the beautiful Peak District, further enhances the appeal. We were all in agreement – Lyme is one of the most beautiful country estates we had ever visited.
Desperately trying to keep my eyes on the road, I just barely managed to steal a glimpse of the folly known as the ‘Cage’ which sits a top a hill to your left on the drive in. Previously used as a hunting lodge, the Cage later became a cottage for the park keeper., and later a prison. Excited to see more of what Lyme had to offer, we eventually parked up in the car park and spent a few minutes taking in our surroundings.
To one side of the car park is situated a lake, followed by the National Trust shop and restaurant. To the other side is situated the house. We decided to go straight up to the latter, and after a short uphill walk we were greeted by the house’s North range. Comprising of 15 bays, the North range is perfectly symmetrical, with the slightly protruding central bay serving as the entrance to the inner courtyard.
The main doorway from within the internal courtyard.
The Dutch Garden.
As you pass through the North range, a small entry booth is situated just within the doorway on the right. Having shown our National Trust membership cards, we emerged into the stunning internal courtyard, our minds suitably blown. This is truly a magnificent space and features an elaborate doorway that leads into the East range. Unfortunately the house was shut on our visit due to Covid, but to be honest we had come more to gawp at the architecture than anything else, and will be happy to visit again when things get back to normal.
Passing through the courtyard and under Leoni’s South range, we re-emerged into the sunshine and found ourselves within the main gardens. The South range stands as one of the most striking neo-classical structures I have ever seen, and looks out over the landscaped gardens and lake. There has been much discourse surrounding wether this constitutes Palladian or Baroque architecture. Certainly, elements of both can be found within the architecture, but most people agree it comprises more Baroque elements than anything else.
This is truly a striking structure, with a giant portico sitting at its center center. This is topped by a triangular pediment which sits atop four gorgeous ionic columns. Above the pediment stands three statues depicting Neptune, Venus and Pan. I could talk about the beautiful architecture of the South range all day, but it truly is a spectacular sight and you really do need to see it in person to appreciate it.
A view of the East side of the house from across the Terrace gardens.
The grounds occupy around 17 Acres, and although fairly modest in size, are absolutely exquisite. We worked our way around clockwise, beginning our tour at the Orangery which is situated just to the east of the house. This beautiful structure dates back to 1862 and faces out over the terraces. Just to the East of the Orangery is a lovely rose garden, with a stable block incorporating the visitor toilets sitting just behind it. I hate to be critical, but the toilets were pretty grim and fell well below the standards I expect with the National Trust. I hope this is just a consequence of Covid, but only time will tell.
Further to the East, and up a few steps, is a large lawned area, and beyond this is a woodland walk. From here there is actually a bridge that takes visitors over a ravine and to the South East of the lake. This was actually closed off due to recent flooding, so we found ourselves having to carry my daughter’s buggy down some steps to the ravine. This was actually worth the effort, as we found a lovely bench to stop and enjoy our picnic from.
The path essentially runs the circumference of the lake, and gives visitors some exquisite views of the house reflected in the water. I was pretty chuffed to bag a few shots of the house, depicting the scene from Pride and Prejudice where Lyme first reveals itself to an apprehensive Elizabeth Bennet as she arrives in her carriage.
To the West of the house, and much lower down, sits the Dutch Garden. I would have loved to have got some shots of the house from here, but time was getting on and I was very much aware of the long journey home. With this realisation then, we made our way back through the internal courtyard and, back down the hill to the car park.
I have to admit to feeling pretty guilty at this point. I had promised my daughter we would take her to the swing park for being good, but I was a little shocked to find that Lyme did not have one. Actually, this isn’t entirely accurate as there is a newly renovated play area situated just next to the restaurant. Why we were told this didn’t exist, I have no idea. We actually found this by accident just prior to leaving, but unsurprisingly it was closed.
Here came another shock. The shop was unfortunately closed and the toilets here, like within the grounds, were pretty horrible. Also, although the restaurant was serving food to people sat outside, the courtyard was a bit overgrown and tired looking, and appeared a bit neglected. Again, I assume this is due to Covid, but to be fair none of my local sites are like this. The facilities at my local Beningbrough Hall in York are always immaculate, and you sort of expect a site the size as Lyme to follow suit.
The South range with statues depicting Neptune, Venus and Pan
A close up of the South range’s portico
Anyway, by this point we were all pretty tired, and after hearing some bloke attempt to give parenting advice to the grandma of an overwhelmed toddler (because she was clearly doing it all wrong and he knew better because he had a ‘PHD’), we narrowly escaped the ensuing argument and headed back to the car.
Reflecting on the day, we were all in agreement that Lyme Park was one of the most beautiful National Trust properties we had ever visited. Not only is the house absolutely incredible, but the grounds and gardens are immaculately maintained and the surrounding area is absolutely stunning. Its a bit of a shame that the facilities were all a bit lacking, and the restaurant sitting area was a bit neglected, but we are very much looking forwards to visiting again, and to exploring the house’s opulent interiors.
In all honesty, Lyme is like a small piece of heaven on Earth, and if you are serious about Country Houses, is absolutely worth a visit. To view my cinematic video tour of Lyme Park gardens, please click here.
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