The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I take the Tube to St. Pancras instead of walking. It’s cold outside, and I can’t be certain how long the walk would take, nor do I have a map that shows the area. So I head for Blackfriars.
Man, the City is dead of a weekend morning. Which makes sense — this is the financial district; nobody’s at work — but I hadn’t expected it.
Circle Line around to St. Pancras. I swear it’s colder when I get out, and the train station isn’t much better; I shiver until my train arrives, then board, find my seat, and pass out. Apparently my body would like it to be known that it’s reaching the end of its tolerance for waking up early and walking all day. Good thing today will be easier.
I doze most of the way to Chesterfield, a two hour ride, vaguely worried I’ll sleep past my stop, and am met at the station by the most helpful guide yet, who wins her title by driving me from the station to Hardwick Hall, paying for my lunch, taking me to see at least the outside of Chatsworth, and driving me back to the station, for a total of five hours in my company. Above and beyond the call of duty, I’d say. (And she takes me up onto the roof of Hardwick. What is it with roofs, this trip?)
I’m here because Hardwick Hall is a late (and extremely opulent) late Elizabethan manor house that’s been changed very little (largely because since then the family has spent most of their time — and remodeling budget — on Chatsworth, where they still live). Also because Bess of Hardwick was an interesting lady, the second wealthiest woman in England after Elizabeth, by virtue of having bootstrapped her way up through four increasingly advantageous marriages. She started out minor gentry and ended up a countess, whose descendents are dukes; that’s pretty impressive, I’d say.
The only real “alas” here is that many of the tapestries and paintings are faded even after restoration, and the house’s many enormous windows (“Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”) are curtained to keep the decorations from fading further. So I have to imagine the generous natural light and brightly-coloured furnishings, but my guide is good about reminding me. I also learn — which I should have spotted at Hampton Court, but the modifications there obscured it — that Tudor architecture rarely included corridors. One room would instead lead to another, and you’d go through rooms to get places. More revisions necessary: before Deven and Walsingham are on that non-existent balcony, I have them in a corridor. This, chickadees, is why we came to England.
Train, Tube, back out into the cold misty quasi-rain. Ah, England. It’s against my principles, but I go to McDonald’s for dinner; it’s the only place I can find that’s still serving food at 8:30. Even Wasabi fails me.
Walking home up Ludgate Hill for the third night running, I find myself becoming fond of St. Paul’s, despite myself. I bear it a grudge for the loss of the Gothic cathedral it replaced — though I know, rationally, that neither the cathedral nor its architect are to blame — and its style isn’t my cup of tea, but its purpose and presence are right. I’m glad there’s still a cathedral there, whatever it looks like, dominating your vision as you climb Ludgate Hill, with a churchyard that people can gather in. As I said my first day: the shape of things is right, even if the things themselves are not.
Two days left. Two days whose weather may, I fear, be gruesome. I’ll go to Othello tomorrow even if I die of hypothermia after, but I don’t know what Monday will hold. If the high temperature is 46 like the forecast yesterday said, I may have to forego my farewell walks in favor of the V&A. But we’ll see.
I could always buy a sweater.