Surprisingly close to Sheffield and a delight once discovered is the 17th century country house Renishaw Hall. The house is a haven for fans of fine art and literary history, whilst its gardens – recently awarded Garden of the Year 2015 by the Historic Houses Association – are perfect for a sunshine saunter amongst the flowers.
Renishaw Hall has been home to the Sitwell family for almost 400 years and the house harbours a fascinating history of fluctuating fortunes and eccentric characters, including the literary trio of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell. The team at Renishaw are continually working on the family archives, exploring the phenomenal amount of correspondence between the Sitwells and a vast array of writers including Dylan Thomas, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, Henry Miller and Evelyn Waugh. Book onto the literary tour in May to peek at some of the best archive material or visit the Sitwell museum in the courtyard.
Inside the hall, English and Italian furniture sit side-by-side. There's a Chippendale commode here, a Venetian figure there, gold clocks that chime, china plates and doges' thrones. There is art from every century: a Whistler of Edith Sitwell, huge Flemish tapestries collected by the fantastically named Sitwell Sitwell, and portraits of living Sitwells by Paul Benney. A painting of the family by John Singer Sargeant has an interesting story to tell involving a crooked nose. See Osbert Sitwell's impressive collection of Pipers and look out for the odd black-and-white by celebrated photographer Cecil Beeton of the striking, sometimes almost Dietrich-esque, Edith. As you might guess for a family of writers there are also 30,000 books throughout house – most are housed in the library, which is also the current Sitwells' living room.
You'll be hard pressed to pick a favourite spot in the award-winning gardens, with their soundtrack of birdsong, humming honeybees and tinkling fountains. The Italianate Garden, with its expertly sculpted 140-year-old hedges, is an eye-seducing arrangement of straight lines, statues and obelisks reflecting the architecture of the house. The colour-conscious gardening team nurture a floral paradise throughout the year, from daffodils, camellias and hellebores, through peonies and lupins, to an exotic splash of bananas and dahlias. Visit in late April or early May to stroll amongst a bevy of bluebells in the enchanting Woodland Garden, where you can also enjoy an elevated view out over the lake. The end of June or early July is the best time to enjoy the rose garden, which in a bold horticultural move boasts new breeds of roses alongside the posh Shakespeare-approved types. Find the dog cemetery (all the Sitwells have been dog lovers) or pay your respects to the Waterloo Oak, which celebrates its 200th birthday this year. Kids can follow the tree trail or attempt the willow maze. For grown-ups there's even a vineyard: book for a tasting tour or try a glass of Renishaw wine in the cafe.
Check the website for opening times before visiting. During open season it hosts tours on Fridays – you're advised to book ahead.
- Words by
- Nat Loftus