Short break - The Devonshire Arms at Beeley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 August 2014
The Devonshire Hotel Group, conceived and owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, contains a small but perfectly formed selection of country hotels and pubs, all of which bear full investigation! Kate Houghton writes.
I grew up in Derbyshire, which put Chatsworth House right at the top of my various schools’ lists for class trips. My memories are, however, limited to ducks, rain and a fountain and now I’m all grown up, I decided it was time to re-visit the glorious stately home that I’d paid so little attention to previously.
The Devonshire Arms at Beeley is but a five minute drive from Chatsworth, and knowing the reputation of the Devonshire Hotel Group, I was excited to book a room and dinner there.
It was definitely a decision to award myself ten out of ten for! Beeley is a tiny Derbyshire village filled with sturdy cottages built from local golden gritstone, probably taken from the nearby quarry, recently re-opened for the exclusive use of Chatworth House in its various restoration projects. Roses round the door and front gardens filled with tumbling flowers make this an English chocolate box of a village; it even has a stream running through it.
The hotel retains its village pub character with low ceilings, small windows and large fireplaces but this is where the connection to ye olde days ends. Our room was a carefully and cleverly designed space in what looked like the old village school, across the road from the main pub. Almost wholly filled with a ridiculously comfortable bed, and with a vast bathroom, it seemed a haven for the more energetic visitors common to the area, as well as the perfect location for sleeping off the fabulous meal chosen and devoured in the hotel’s startlingly contemporary and seriously good restaurant.
Oh yes, even if you’ve no plans to hit the Derbyshire Hills, it’s worth the 40 mile trip across from Cheshire to experience the menu at The Devonshire Arms in Beeley! It’s actually rather a nice journey, all green and undulating, but knowing there’s a meal of this quality at the end of it is an extra bonus.
Chef Patron Alan Hill delivers a menu filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients – most of which are sourced from the Chatsworth Estate and local farms. A twice-baked Colston Basset Stilton soufflé disappeared too fast for my husband to grab a taste of, though I did manage to hijack a tidbit of his seared pigeon breast, which was equally delicious. Our main courses of Confit Shoulder of Derbyshire Lamb, with sweet potato fondant and ratatouille and Derbyshire Free Range Chicken Breast with balsamic marinated red cabbage, creamed mash and an olive and basil jus were equally hard fought over, with both of us claiming the winning choice.
Every dish is incredibly well considered, beautifully cooked and perfectly presented. There’s no fuss, no unnecessary flourish and not an ounce of pretension. The staff are all lovely and the general manager incredibly well informed. Having joined the team from a role as sommelier in a Lancashire hotel he was able to help us select the best wine for our meal and made enthusiastic recommendations for desert wines to best match our pudding choices. I have to say, putting an All Saints Rutherglen Muscat alongside my Warm Fig & Honey Frangipane was a stroke of genius!
After fresh coffees, we wandered (very slowly) back to our room, unable to imagine that breakfast would be welcome for days.
There’s something very special about a hotel breakfast (when it’s done right) that makes you perfectly able to consume a full English regardless of the over indulgence of the night before. So we did. Everything you’d expect, served with a smile and lashings and lashings of hot tea.
Chatsworth House is a quite astounding place. A vast edifice set with the words Cavendo Tutus (The Cavendish family motto, meaning Security Through Caution) emblazoned in gold leaf across the rear elevation. The first Duke of Devonshire clearly didn’t believe that caution should extend to his expenditure, as he threw around the gold leaf with somewhat wild abandon. The family love for adorning their home with beautiful objets, art and sculpture has never dissipated, thank goodness, and even today the current, 12th, Duke is a collector and passionate supporter of the arts, with annual sculpture exhibitions in his grounds and regular additions to his own collections.
As the day shone bright and warm, we chose only to visit the gardens and return to experience the glories of the House itself another time (perfect excuse for a return visit to the Devonshire Arms!) My memories are now updated with new sights and sounds and I stand in complete awe of the sheer genius of the generations of Cavendish Dukes who have created such a wondrous place. The rock gardens echo scenes of Switzerland, and yet were built using manpower and a steam-engine specially invented for the purpose, which was later put to good use moving full grown trees around the estate. The maze is brilliant (confession: I gave up) and the centuries-old greenhouses incredible – a return visit when the camellia are in bloom is a must, I think.
Heading back to Cheshire, we made a quick detour to the Chatworth Estate Farm Shop, where locally raised pigs made a generous contribution to that night’s barbeque. Oh I do love a good farm shop!
Chatsworth and the Derbyshire Peaks may only be a short drive away, but that’s no excuse for not staying over, not now you know there’s such a gem as the Devonshire Arms in Beeley to discover.