My family and I love to return to Calke Abbey in Ticknall, time and time again, we seem to find ourselves discovering more trails to walk each time and uncovering more of its secrets on every visit. The house is wonderful, in fact, my favourite stately home simply because of its quirky eccentricities which show through the reclusive, quirky character of the Harpur-Crewe family. Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe 10th Baronet especially so, he was an avid collector, his main collection, among many other things and his main compulsion was with his collection of stuffed animals, of which there are hundreds!
Calke Abbey in Ticknall, Derbyshire is not actually an Abbey but a grade I listed country house which was owned by the Harpur (Harpur Baronets) and Harpur-Crew families for over 300 years. Originally an Augustinian priory in the 12th century until the dissolution act of Henry VIII. The building today is a Baroque mansion built 1701 – 1704 and is currently in the care of the National Trust who have maintained Calke Abbey, it’s gardens and grounds as an un-stately home, keeping it maintained but showing it in decline as it was when they took over its care in 1985. As I write, in the winter months the House is closed for its annual deep clean and conservation work commences throughout the public access areas, but I can feel another write up regarding the house and walled gardens happening in the summer months. Calke Abbey park land however is open all year, is full of walking opportunities and is a joy to explore.
The grounds and park land of Calke Abbey are wide ranging 600 acres and not only contain a working farm but beautiful woodland areas with ancient trees, meadows, ponds, a herd of red and fallow deer and fun nature trails for the family. Walking trails vary in length and variety including if you choose to, a walk to the close by Staunton Harold reservoir. My family has a fondness for Calke Abbey and its grounds and we’ve spent many happy days exploring the grounds, having picnics, walking the dogs here and every time finding a new route.
The parkland changes dramatically through the seasons so much that it’s a great experience to share, for instance this year we’ve been able to witness the deer rut in late Autumn and hear the fantastic sound of the stag close by roaring, such a fantastically deep guttural sound, I love it.
On our most recent winter visit it’s been lovely to see frozen ponds and the remnants of snow still laying on the ground and the longhorn cattle wandering up towards the main car park for a drink at one of the drinking troughs and waiting in line to take their turn patiently to drink. We had a relaxed stroll in the rain at times a brisk pace to keep warm against the cold but loving every minute of it. The sheep sheltered against the cold and rain whilst having a good feed as we walked by.
The springtime is a lovely time of year at Calke to see the young lambs and to witness the parkland coming back to life, the trees budding and bluebells in abundance. Next spring I’ll be back to see the changes across the parkland too.
Summer again and we see new sights and new activities in the park such as a kid’s nature trail with riddles to solve and a bug hotel in a clearing in the woods. Walking becomes easier under foot on the outskirts where it can become muddy, especially routes that take us through the cow fields, but if we’re blessed with a few good days of sun they’re much more doable. Most trails here are on compact sturdy pathways and are good to walk all year round but we do love a challenge on our circular walks. We don’t generally take a route if it’s through a field of cows especially if they are with calf because in years gone by we did have a scare when we were chased out of a cow field while out walking in the peak district, unfortunately the public footpath took us through the middle of a field of cows who were with calves and to complete the circular walk we were forced to go for it.
All was fine until half way across the field and everything changed, we noticed a change in behavior of the cows as they started to follow us and then suddenly they began to run, quite fast too as I clearly remember, these events do stick clearly in your mind as your heart is pumping. Well we learnt a lesson that day and survived. I must say we have never had this problem since and not at all while walking at Calke Abbey.
After a good walk the perfect finish is a damn good coffee at the café or even a fantastic hot dinner in the restaurant which I can vouch for as being delicious and lots of the seasonal ingredients are produced in Calke Abbey gardens too.
As afore mentioned I can feel a follow up all about Calke Abbey country house quirky and full of curios, its beautiful walled gardens, the tunnels, Victorian grotto, not forgetting the ice house and that’s just a taster. All in all I can recommend a visit in any season, there’s always lot’s in store to explore and something for everyone.