Perhaps the first thing most visitors to Clumber Park will notice is its size. Driving in towards the main visitor car park, it actually feels less like a park and more like a small principality! There are road signs inside the park – on boards tastefully painted a dark salmon colour – to direct you to the exit that is most suitable for your onward journey, while an entire village called Hardwick is located within Clumber’s boundaries. A public road also runs straight through the park so you can drive around much of it without ever entering the fee-paid areas where the NT visitor facilities are located.
The second thing you’ll notice about it is that, while it was once an important ducal seat, it is now sadly houseless, with only the stable block, the landscaped pleasure ground, the chapel, the Palladian bridge and the walled kitchen garden left to signify the presence of a once significant abode.
Clumber Park was once part of Sherwood Forest but was developed as a sporting estate in around 1760, with a large Palladian house being built in newly landscaped parkland. Having suffered a fire in 1879, it was then rebuilt to the designs of renowned architect Charles Barry, but the house was demolished in 1938 and all that remains is a paved footpath in the grass to identify the former outline of the walls.
It was the ducal seat of the Dukes of Newcastle-under-Lyne (yes, that’s spelt differently from the actual place, Newcastle-under-Lyme; perhaps due simply to the typical 18th century disregard to spelling anything accurately!). The small guidebook available for Clumber shows the line of the Dukes of Newcastle between 1715 and 1988 and there are brief biographies of each duke down to the 10th and last who died without heirs. I read through the list but having seen pictures of the palatial house that formerly stood here, I was fairly angry with the later family members who let it be torn down on their watch (one Duke also sold the family’s famous Hope diamond in order to settle debts).
As mentioned earlier, there are still a few things that are well worth seeing at Clumber Park as what they do have tends to be bigger and better than the norm. We walked down to the Palladian Bridge (built in 1770) at the south-west end of the lake and then toured the impressive Gothic-style chapel, which was opened in 1886 by the 7th Duke, perhaps one of the more responsible and respectable of the dukes. The walled kitchen garden – created in 1772 to serve the house – is also significant, covering several acres and with separate sections walled off from others; it also has perhaps the longest glasshouse I’ve ever seen, which was added in the 1890s. The garden is home to the National Collection of Rhubarb, which, with over 130 varieties, is said to be the second largest collection of rhubarb in the world. I have no idea where the largest collection is – Clumber isn’t telling.
The extended Lincoln stable block is home to exhibitions, a secondhand bookshop (complete with a small food counter and tables at which to sit, drink and browse – very 21st century!) and the restaurant. There is also a Discovery Centre for visitors to find out about some of the nature and wildlife in the park, with the current focus on fungi. The views of the lake are also very pretty, although if you’re walking in that area you will have to do a lot of excrement-dodging as there is a sizeable goose population! Driving in and out of the park can also be an experience. We left through the Apleyhead Lodge gate, which is pretty spectacular, but the approach to this is also significant as Limetree Avenue is lined by 1,296 lime trees, said to be the longest row of double lime trees in Europe.
We had a very nice lunch and an enjoyable afternoon at Clumber, but the whole time, I couldn’t get out of my mind the thought that it would have been so much better had those pesky dukes looked after their stately home with the proper care and reverence it deserved.
And so, I have ticked off Nottinghamshire, just the second county I have completed so far (after Cumbria), although Lincolnshire should also be finished later today. And I’m just about to reach another major milestone…
Highlights: Chapel, walled kitchen garden
Refreshments: Squash, mushroom and stilton quiche with new potatoes and salad
Purchase(s): Guidebook; birthday card; bar of chocolate; ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’ by Tom Wolfe from the secondhand bookshop (which is in a small tearoom)