A Sculpture Walk in the Park – Chatsworth House

Whatever time of year you visit, the gardens at Chatsworth have something special to offer.  They are far removed from being your stereo-typical clipped lawns and neat hedges.  Yes, there is some of that, but the extensive gardens sprawl up the hillside into wilder woodland and the paths take you on a true journey of discovery.  There are secret glades, rock gardens, mazes, “sensory” plants and outposts hiding the coal tunnels and mysterious mechanisms of the Victorian heating system; then, of course, there is the more formal but spectacular cascade and canal pond with its amazing fountains.

As you wander, you will also come across some rather wonderful sculptures – seemingly placed at random, but actually carefully sited to make the best impact by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Sculpture is clearly a passion here, as for the last four years the “Beyond Limits” exhibition has been held in the gardens each Autumn showing work by internationally acclaimed artists. However, there is no need to wait for these modern installations to appear, as the existing works of art are equally, if not more brilliant than the temporary visitations.


If you head upwards from the house, (“our dump”, as Dowager Duchess Deborah Devonshire once described it), before reaching the restaurants and gift shop, you will discover the first of the permanent sculptures; Laura Ellen Bacon’s “Woven Space” was created on-site by knotting and interlacing willow strands into yew trees.  Moving away from this unusual piece, you will approach the restaurant and gift shops on the left – inside the quadrant is Elizabeth Fink’s imposing “War Horse” appropriately housed at the entrance to the stables and the first sculpture installation at Chatsworth for 150 years.

Continuing beyond is the Cottage Garden area near the glasshouses – comfortingly overgrown in places – where surely any serious gardener would find a wealth of delights; but for the casual visitor perhaps the nearby “sensory garden” is even more attractive.  It is, just as it says, very sensory, but attempting to track down the particular plants exuding heavenly Mediterranean smells is nigh on impossible, though you can spend a happy time trying!

Climbing upwards from here, look for a fountain on the way – not just any old fountain, but one which houses the stainless steel “Revelation”; powered entirely by water pressure, this opens and closes over a period of five minutes; it was created by Angela Conner in 1999 especially for this garden.  Moving still further from the house, the garden becomes wilder and more wooded; Simon Thomas’s “Moon Beam” sits brightly under an old oak tree and close by is Marzia Colonna’s darker “Metamorphosis”, inspired by the body’s changes through life; its form merging into landscape.

These upper reaches of the garden are incredibly peaceful; walking amongst the mature trees one gets a sense of having left the rest of the world behind, until that is, you stumble across yet more marvellous sculptures.  Clustered towards the north-eastern part of the gardens are some outstanding pieces; Damien Hirst’s bronze “Saint Bartholomew” – possibly one of his best works –  is situated near Morton’s Pond and is a short distance from another by Elizabeth Fink – “Lying Down Horse”.

Close to the path, this gorgeous sculpture was sited perfectly in a clearing when an old cedar tree blew down in 2007.  Not only beautiful, but robust too – it has to be – to withstand the hoards of children that clamber on its back throughout the year!


Close to the lower eastern end of the Grotto Pond is William Turnbull’s “Figure of a Man”, blending in amongst the pines; “calm and dignified” is how the Duke of Devonshire describes it.  Then, at the western end of the pond is the first of Barry Flanagan’s “hares”.  This one, called “Drummer”, is strikingly tall and is an amazing statue – the Duke of Devonshire was so inspired by it that when he sold a race-horse, he put the proceeds towards its purchase. Prior to acquiring “Drummer”, the Duke had bought Flanagan’s “Hare Jumping over Curly Bell”, and this can be found as you descend, along the middle path, leading down to the maze.

The large maze is great fun for adults and children alike. It was planted with over a thousand yews in 1962 on the site which used to house the great conservatory – once the largest structure of its kind in the world.  If you can find your way out of the maze, waiting for you at the western end in the rockery, is Emily Young’s stone head, named “Lion Woman”.  However, the rockery itself is a giant sculpture; built by Joseph Paxton in the 1840’s, its huge rocks seemingly balance precariously atop one another and a waterfall cascades down into a small pond. The water flows from here to another pond – The Strid, where luxurious vegetation clings to the rock-fringed sides.

There are other pieces dotted around the grounds – both ancient and modern – which may take a little finding; for example, “Forms that grow in the Night” by David Nash is three charred wooden oak stumps which blend perfectly with the trees in the Pinetum, and Allen Jones’s “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” is sited in the far end of the garden – near the outer path not far from where the Canal Pond ends.

Stroll back along the Canal Pond to get the most glorious view of the fountains and the stately home behind, and you have almost completed the rounds of this incredibly diverse and magnificent garden.  The Salisbury Lawn awaits you at the bottom of the 300 year old Cascade – voted England’s best water feature in 2004!  On hot sunny days, (although surely not to be encouraged), it is hard to dissuade children from paddling in the broad, shallow steps of water that tumble down the hillside – but that is the beauty of Chatsworth; it is remarkably un-fussy and informal – ideal for a family day out.

If you fancy stopping off at a different watering hole on your homeward journey, close by the village of Baslow offers a variety of places to eat and drink; The Devonshire Arms, Cavendish Hotel, Goose Green Tea Rooms, The Wheatsheaf Hotel and  The Rutland Arms.

There is also the pretty Estate village of Pilsley, west of Chatsworth. This has the picturesque Devonshire Arms (a popular pub name around these parts!) and to the south, in another Estate village – equally attractive – Beeley, where there is yet another…yes, you’ve guessed it… Devonshire Arms!

Judy Meetham & Simon Corble