Walking to Pemberley

We took the train to Disley, and from there walked over to Lyme and back again. A glorious walk, highly recommended.

Lyme is, of course, the house used as the outside of Pemberley. Pemberley! The home of not just any Mr Darcy but of Colin Firth playing Mr Darcy in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Oh my days.

I saw Pride and Prejudice for the first time in 1998. I lived in LA, alone, just off Sunset, in a tiny studio in a back second floor of an old apartment building. The front faced Los Globos (Los Globos! Cabron, que lugar but still not as bad as the bar just across sunset with its incredibly large women in incredibly little clothing who were playing pool and killed me with their eyes the one time I walked in one Sunday afternoon trying to find somewhere to watch the World Cup).

This particular night a woman was off her meds or on the wrong ones or enjoying some kind of crazy cocktail in the dirt parking area, started screaming and screaming at someone in the building. Started throwing rocks. I looked out just to see it was just her, if she was all right (I mean, as all right as she could be) and she seemed to be so I didn’t think there was much to do. But she saw me looking and then started screaming at me. Awful. I debated getting the manager but thought surely someone else had already tried. A huge rock came through the window, almost hit me, scattered glass across the bed. Still screaming but the shattering glass must have got through to her she needed to leave. Good thing, because the manager made me call the police for the insurance on the window. They took hours to arrive of course, she had plenty of time to get away, and did nothing but fill out the report.

I was so shaken, couldn’t stay there though it was late. Didn’t have a car. So my friend Katie came and got me, and sat me down on her massive sofa and put the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice on the VCR, with the sound really low so her housemates wouldn’t wake up, then she went back to bed. And I watched the whole thing and it was more comforting than I could have believed possible. Maybe just because it had absolutely nothing to do with my reality. Absolutely. Nothing. So nice.

I guess the fact I didn’t like Lyme at all doesn’t detract from that memory. It felt like there were two dirty ponds that were potential candidates for THE pond. Of course, every time I watch it, because you know I still love it, I am surprised Darcy jumps into that supremely unappetizing water. Happy, but surprised.

The house though, like every other massive house from that period scattered across the Peak District, just seemed an ugly, far-too-big, weight of ostentatious stone.

But I can’t deny it is beautifully situated, the gardens lovely. My pictures (like the BBC adaptation) make it feel more beautiful than it seemed when actually there. Somehow the picturesque comes through without the privilege and the feeling of arrogant wealth, they shift and reframe the scale somehow. Standing before these palatial ‘houses’ they are just too big, too heavy, too threatening.

To get there we had walked across incredibly beautiful moors, breathed deeply the open air, sent hearts skimming wide as the great vistas that opened before us. Picked our ways through the pits where workers dug the coal that generated the profit to massively expand Lyme’s newly Palladian pile. Other such homes scattered about are built on slaves, sugar, the West Indies or East India Company or Africa, colonial pillage. There are a limited number of options for the 18th century wealth that could build this. I always miss the old Elizabethan houses buried deep within, though I know those are not without their own injustices. Covid times though, we couldn’t go in, even if we’d wanted to.

I am really more fascinated by wild places, especially those that feel wild now but were once industrial landscapes. They are wild now, full of birds and wind. And sheep. To be fair, the sheep are everywhere and decidedly not wild. Who doesn’t love an absurdly tiny and shining newborn lamb though.

This is the landscape now:

Imagine this as a landscape of coal. We found an installation, it told us:

The Story of Coal

Extraction of Coal-Coal and fireclay have been mined in this area for over two centuries. The earliest method was to outcrop it. Then the miners followed the coal into the hillside, digging tunnels called Day eyes or Drift Mines Deeper coal was extracted by sinking shafts called Bell Pits. Horse Gins increased production, when horsepower was used to wind up both miners and coal. Finally deep shaft mines were sunk, the last being Moorside Mine in 1906, which was 360 feet deep.

Future Fuels For many years coal was the major source of fuel. However, as steel-making reduced and steam trains were replaced by modern locomotives, coal was replaced by natural gas, oil and electricity, and the coal mining industry declined. In 1963 the last deep shafts, Moorside and Water Pits, were finally filled and capped

Model of a Bell Pit The cage would have been raised and lowered for the miners and their tubs of coal. As the cage descended they would have passed through the different strata layers. Once the cage left the surface, it went down through a thin layer of top soil, then a wider band of shale, then sandstone, then slate, before reaching the coal seam. The fireclay layer would have been below the coal seam.

And of course these miners have a special place in my heart, though coal seems and feels so different from the winding copper and silver mines, or the great pits of my childhood. I wonder what it was like to work these bell pits, what it felt like to climb these hills everyday then descend inside of them.

So a walk of contrasts, a lovely place to head to in Spring and to eat lunch on windswept hills and reflect on the work that fueled the industrial revolution. You too can have one of these on your fridge. Absurd, but you know it’s kind of awesome.

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