Four ducal seats, collectively known as the Dukeries, run through the coalfields of Nottinghamshire south of Worksop.
This area, rich in aristocratic heritage, holds abbeys, stately homes (ruined and whole), estate park, wood and heathland, as well as lakes and meadows edged with lodge cottages of decorative chimney stacks, leaded windows and bargeboards.
Two of the estates – Welbeck Abbey and Clumber Park – reflect their dukes’ love of art and architecture down through the centuries. Walking between them along the Robin Hood Way is a great way to explore that heritage.
At Welbeck, the Portland dukes amassed a rich and eclectic collection of portrait paintings, miniatures, silver and objet de curiosité, beginning with the extremely wealthy and influential Bess of Hardwick in the 1600s and continuing right up to the Second World War. Besides the historic Portland Collection, the Harley Gallery (free, open daily) hosts ever-changing exhibits from contemporary artists.
Once you’ve fuelled up at the Harley Café, head east along Robin Hood Way to Clumber Park (£4.50, open daily), the seat of the Dukes of Newcastle and now in the hands of the National Trust. The path crosses Welbeck estate farmland behind the gallery, cutting between Shrubbery Lake, Great Lake and the woodlands of Manor Hills before dropping down into Clumber estate.
Cathedral in Miniature
The Dukes of Portland liked to express their grandeur and wealth through landscaped parkland and buildings of architectural merit, as well as through art and design. Clumber Park is no different, with its long avenue of lime trees and estate church with its soaring spire – the so-called ‘Cathedral in Miniature’.
Take time exploring Clumber Lake, the Greek and Roman Garden temples and the interior of the Chapel of St Mary the Virgin. It oozes Gothic atmosphere with its Charles Eamer Kempe stained-glass windows and highly ornate woodwork in the chancel, filled with finely-detailed angels and saints.
Return along Robin Hood Way on the south side of Clumber Park through mixed woodland and back along estate lanes to Welbeck. As winter draws to a close, the light still has that low-lying intensity. A flock of bramblings may rise up in front of you. Squirrels will scoot across your path while herds of deer run for cover on the heath’s edge.