Blog of Justin Cheuk, home to writing on London, Hong Kong, Studying Abroad, Trains and Travels.

Escape to the Peaks: ‘Househunting’

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Justin Cheuk: When HK Meets UK

It’s been a glorious summer in England, and nothing is better than swapping the September metropolis for a little retreat up North.

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Sandwiched between Manchester and Sheffield, the Peak District National Park is the most-visited national park in the UK: in fact some estimates put it as the second most-visited in the world after Mount Fuji in Japan. I cannot claim to be very knowledgeable on the countryside, or have enjoyed it particularly before, so I have decided to follow the crowd and set for four day’s cottage holiday at the Peaks.

And it was worth it. Four days certainly didn’t do the Peaks justice and compromises had to be made on where to go: we went for the country estates. Armed with a National Trust membership which I’ve gotten without much thought (but turned out to be a major bargain so far), visiting these houses were surprisingly easy, and we even went along to few unexpected places too! It’s almost as if we were on ‘Escape to the Country’, (fast becoming my parents’ favourite TV programme), the time has arrived for a proper ‘househunting’ at the Peaks!

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Let’s start off from perhaps most splendid of the lot: Chatsworth House. As the residence of the Dukes of Devonshire and rose to international fame as it was the set of the Pride and Prejudice movie. It’s an extravagant palace at its utmost order: packed with extraordinary rooms, gardens and those between it, no wonder it has been voted as the UK’s favourite country house more than once.

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And because the dukes continue to inhabit the building, other than the standard Georgian and Victorian architecture, it was also home to collections of modern art and all those confusing stuff that goes with it. However, it’s the garden that proved the most exciting for me though: a naturally-driven pump without electricity that propels water up to 90 metres high? And a staircase of water straddling on the hill?

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It truly is a remarkable house, and even if it was at the expense of a hefty entrance fee it was still worth it to see what is definitely one of the most beautiful houses in the UK.

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The second place we went was towards the northern edge of the National Park, to Lyme Park. Another of those grand houses between the Peaks on Lancashire and Derbyshire. For my untrained eye, almost Downton Abbey-esque. The inside of the house is again spectacular (I have finally figured out that the drawing room has nothing to do with the activity of drawing), but with the unseasonably glorious September sunshine, of course, the outside is far more interesting.

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The reflection lake: perhaps the best photo opportunity on the whole trip. Summoning my inner Asian roots I’ve had to get out my phone and attempt to snap a few myself.

If you have had been following television lately, you might have noticed that it’s currently starring on the BBC One show The Village every Sunday, doubling as the main manor house in the series. Sunday also happened to be the day I went.

So imagine the pleasant surprise when I saw the place that I’ve seen with my real eye, again flashing on the TV screen. Certainly earned me more points over my parents 🙂

In “Escape to the Country” (for those Science peeps less accustomed with daytime TV), the house-search the culminated in a ‘mystery property’, one that is a special surprise arranged by the host, usually quite different from what the house hunters were expecting.

IMAG0387Our mystery house took us to the far end of the timescale. Little Moreton Hall isn’t actually within the National Park grounds, and we only went on the enthusiastic recommendation of our landlady. And thankfully it had not disappointed.

This Tudor house was magnificent and truly Tudor: the very helpful guide has given us insight to this place. The owners, the Moretons, picked the wrong side in the English Civil War and duly lost pretty much all their money, forcing them to abandon the family home, that had largely remained abandoned until restoration in the modern times.

As a result, so the house was pretty much unchanged from the Tudor times, making it a rare gem in the country. The clear windows might not seem so special nowadays, but they must have been quite a sight in the middle of the country hundreds of years ago.

And as you do on Escape to the Country, we’ll have to review the houses a bit: the first property Chatsworth was certainly spectacular, however, the maintenance of the garden certainly on the high side. Lyme Park has a similarity high costs and living in a film set is not necessarily the most ideal. As to Moreton Hall, it’s the most interesting building but too much of an investment would be needed for modern living…

So after a round of touring in the Peaks, I’ve returned to London instead…

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