Bolsover castle was created by the son of the stone mason/architect that built Hardwick Hall, and this was for the son the Bess of Hardwick the mistress of Hardwick Hall. It was built after castles were required so is more of a decorative house in the style of a castle. Its now owned by English Heritage and open to visitors. Highlights include the sumptuously painted walls and ceilings of the Little Castle, intricately carved fireplaces and the magnificent indoor Riding School.
Bolsover occupies the hilltop site of a medieval fortress built by the Peverel family in 1155, but the wall was breached in the time of King John in 1216, from here it deteriorated into a ruin. The wealthy Sir Charles Cavendish, son of Bess of Hardwick, who already owned several other great mansions, including one only a few miles away, bought the old fortress in 1612 and began work on his Little Castle project. His son William, playboy, poet, courtier and later Civil War Royalist General and first Duke of Newcastle, inherited the Little Castle in 1617 and set about its completion, assisted by the architect John Smythson. What resulted was a kind of 'toy keep', housing tiers of luxurious staterooms. The exquisitely carved fireplaces, and richly coloured murals and panelling of its miraculously preserved and beautifully restored interiors still take the visitor on an allegorical journey from earthly concerns to heavenly delights.
William also added the vast and stately Terrace Range overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale, now a dramatic roofless shell. To show off his achievement, in 1634 he invited King Charles I and his court to Love's Welcome to Bolsover, a masque specially written by Ben Jonson for performance in the Fountain Garden. Finally he constructed the cavernous Riding House with its magnificent roof and viewing galleries, among the finest surviving indoor riding schools in the country and a landmark in British equestrianism. Here he indulged his passion for training great horses in stately dressage.
During the Civil War Bolsover Castle was taken by the Parliamentarians who slighted it and it again fell into a ruinous state. However William Cavendish added a new hall and staterooms to the Terrace Range and, by the time of his death in 1676, the castle had been restored to good order.
The Venus Fountain, with 23 new statues, plays again for the first time in centuries, and the 'Caesar paintings' commissioned by Cavendish and depicting Roman emperors and empresses have also returned to Bolsover.
It passed through the female line into the Bentinck family, and ultimately became one of the seats of the Dukes of Portland. After 1883 the castle was uninhabited and eventually given to the nation by the 7th Duke of Portland in 1945. The castle is now in the care of English Heritage.
Bolsover Castle in the Photochrome from around 1905
Since this time the total hillside in front of the castle has become dense woodland, so we can no longer see the grass running up to the base of the castle. The road is higher than the first area of forestry so its possible, as in the photo above, to look over the woodland to see the castle, and being in a higher position than the original photograph you get to also see more of the castle walls. You get quite a bit of variation as you move up and down the road.
From the bottom of the hill you can turn left into a smaller road and from here in various places you can get a more distant view of the castle, allowing a different angle photo, but also showing that you cannot get around behind the woodland to produce anything like the original Photochrome.
You can explore what you can see from the main road and the side road using Google Streetview, start with the Google aerial photo view and drag the little orange man to any road and turn him around and move him about to see different views.
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