open country

Bikers tackle a spectacular trail in Kielder Water & Forest Park.
Bikers tackle a spectacular trail in Kielder Water & Forest Park.

That night in my bedroom, I could hear long skirts rustle across the floor near the end of my bed – I was, at 10, terrified.

Such acute imagination should be expected when you have read Jane Eyre and are in the first few chapters of Wuthering Heights. Even before I left primary school, my head was filled with the dark and passionate love portrayed in the Brontes’ novels.

The only real place where the passions in their stories could be replicated was in solitude with nature. However, occasionally a historic building or painting will stir the deep-set, learned idea of romance and the dim shadow of truth that lurks over it.

Haddon Hall in Derbyshire was an unexpected surprise when I agreed to accompany my friend Daphne De Rose to her friends’ wedding celebrations. The journey down was mildly torturous as she decided to follow the A68 for the greater part.

Eventually, as night was blotting out day in an ominous surge, and after directions from a helpful young woman who was working in a petrol station in Matlock, we found Spitewinter Scout and Guide Camp (the alternative celebrations included Crestwell Colliery Brass Band and camp fire songs).

Was it the name or was it the indifference of her friend that made me long to leave there? I am unsure, but we left for a day out the following morning. I looked at the map and suggested we go to Haddon Hall near Bakewell. The walk to the hall is pleasant enough in early September sunlight. A low-sided stone bridge crosses the River Wye to reach the imposing site of this very old home.

Haddon Hall sits on a high bank looking down on the river and the surrounding fertile countryside. The house had fallen into the hands of the Manner family when Dorothy Vernon, heiress of Haddon Hall, married John Manners (second son of the first Earl of Rutland) in 1563. The hall is still owned by the Manners family.

In 1703 the ninth Earl was made Duke of Rutland and moved to Belvoir Castle, the original family home in Leicestershire. For the next 200 hundred years, the house was forgotten and left to deteriorate.

Fortunately for the sake of English heritage and future generations, the ninth Duke of Rutland decided to carry out restoration works in the 1920s. He rescued an intact Elizabethan manor whose original build began in the 11th century.

I am not sure how long I stood in the courtyard and turned, capturing the details of slightly askew traceried windows, heavily aged oak doors, castellated stone walls of different periods and Gothic arches. I was bewitched before entering the building.

The kitchen has huge oak surfaces oiled by generations of cooks who have bashed cleavers on the edges while preparing meat for the household. At the entrance to the butchery, a huge oak block is criss-crossed with frantic knife marks; the amount of movement and energy spent is carved out of a worn stone step on the threshold here.

I spoke to the house manager, who said: “Because the house is made of limestone, I like to think that everyone who visits Haddon Hall takes a small trace of it with them on the soles of their shoes.”

On the day of my visit, there was a great deal of activity as the hall prepared to receive guests to watch a premiere of the new Jane Eyre film. For the third time, Haddon Hall will be Thornfield where the unusual love affair of Jane and Mr Rochester will be acted out for our insatiable love of this classic tale.

The house is full of huge stone fireplaces, strange wooden chairs, elegant window recesses, curved wooden steps and oak panelling; it reeks of Tudors and the dark gothic novels of the Victorians. Being used for Thornfield has allowed it to be reinvented when it was lying empty and cold with only the whispers of the past and the twittering of bats, who still inhabit the 14th century chapel.