In the Deep Midwinter: Christmas at Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House, ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire, is one of England’s foremost stately homes. It’s run as a business, depending for its survival largely on the income it generates by welcoming paying members of the public to explore the stunning house and massive ornamental gardens. As with so many visitor attractions, the Christmas season is vitally important for the health of the enterprise. This is even more true in 2022, as Chatsworth seeks to recover from the damage inflicted upon the business by Covid.

Chatsworth’s famous Cascade, which dates from around 1708, flanked here by rows of eerily lit trees

And when we visited a couple of weeks ago visitors were out in force to experience this year’s Christmas extravaganza. Here’s what the website told us to expect:

Deep Midwinter: A Nordic Christmas at Chatsworth brings to life the Christmas folklore and traditions of the Arctic and Nordic regions through a series of themed roomscapes. Sculpted ‘ice’ walls, tranquil pine forests, lanterns, traditional Nordic Christmas decorations and foliage foraged from woodlands and hedgerows across the estate evoke the sights, sounds and scents of the natural world at wintertime…

Our Nordic theme continues into the garden with an enchanting Christmas light trail. Experience our ‘northern lights’ over the Canal Pond, let colour guide you along Broad Walk into a glade of glowing lights and, for the first time, see the Maze illuminated and filled with festive music.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But sadly, it didn’t live up to expectations. In 2019, the last time we visited Chatsworth at Christmas, we were blown away by decorations on the theme of “a land far, far away.” This year, however, we were distinctly underwhelmed: the Nordic associations pretty much passed us by, and the decorations lacked impact. Worse still, we paid nearly £30 (USD 37) per head for the privilege.

Some grand stately homes in other parts of the country charge quite a bit more for their Christmas celebration – Blenheim Palace, for example – but, if recent television coverage is to be believed, they offer a lot more too. Clearly, £30 per head isn’t a fortune, but that’s not the point. The question is, does it represent value for money, particularly as we are currently in the midst of a nationwide “cost of living crisis”? I don’t think so.

One of the more attractive features of the “enchanting lights trail” in the garden.

Don’t get me wrong, our visit wasn’t a total waste of time. Parts of the garden lights trail were pretty good, while the best of the decorated rooms of the House were very well done. And if you’d never been to Chatsworth before the whole show probably made a good, although very crowded, introduction to the House’s splendours. But we know the place well and – based on what we saw in 2019, and what we paid for our tickets this time – we expected rather more. The photos I’ve used to illustrate this piece feature the highlights, but the majority of “the experience” was a lot more mundane.

Maybe they had a limited budget in 2022, as a result of Covid’s impact on revenue streams? Or did they spread their resources too thinly, by having “an enchanting lights trail” in the gardens as well as decorating the House (in 2019, the Christmas extravaganza was limited just to the House, and didn’t extend into the gardens). But I can’t help worrying that Chatsworth’s trading on its name, making a calculated underinvestment in this seasonal attraction on the assumption that people will turn up anyway, just because it’s Chatsworth?

Top left: The Painted Hall. Top right: Another room, another group of trees, and a stray speaker playing Christmas music! Middle right: The Library. Bottom: The Chapel. The golden statue between the trees is by the notorious contemporary British sculptor Damien Hirst.

If so, I fear that may be a bit short-sighted, as there are plenty of other stately homes around here that also put on a show at Christmas. People who shared our disappointment with Chatsworth’s efforts this time may well choose next year to get their seasonal cheer somewhere else, somewhere offering the prospect of seeing more while paying less.

Hopefully, this is a one off, and Chatsworth will be back on form in time for Christmas 2023. Until this year they’ve had a good track record, so we’ll probably give them another chance. I’ll report back 12 months from now!



  1. Thistles and Kiwis · December 14

    A really interesting read – I guess all these places are struggling a bit. It will be interesting to revisit next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · December 14

      Thank you! Yes, lots of tough decisions have been needed in the aftermath of Covid. It’s easy to criticise from the side-lines, but surely much more challenging when you’re the one with the responsibility. Oh, I’m so happy to be retired, and to leave all that angst behind me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Paddy Tobin · December 14

    The £30 ticket would have discouraged me, I must admit, and I certainly would have expected a full blown bells and whistle tour for that amount. I share your disappointment

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · December 14

      I tried not to be too curmudgeonly when I wrote this, but I can’t pretend that I was very happy with our Chatsworth experience this year. Bah! Humbug!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Laurie Graves · December 14

    That is a lot to pay. Sorry the experience was so disappointing. (What you shared was lovely.) I wonder if they were on a tightesh budget and couldn’t do as much as they wanted. If so, limiting the decorations to the inside, as you suggested, probably would have been a wise idea. But no doubt they felt the need to decorate outside if other places are doing so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · December 15

      It’s a tough world, post-Covid, and needs tough decisions. I tried not to be mean when I wrote this post, but I genuinely think they made the wrong call this time. Hopefully they’ll be back on track next year.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. tanjabrittonwriter · December 17

    Sorry to hear the visit didn’t live up to your expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · December 17

      I suppose, though, I should be a bit grateful for the opportunity to be disappointed! During Covid and its immediate aftermath events and celebrations like this were either cancelled or so circumscribed as to be unrecognisable. At least, in 2022, some semblance of normality has returned, even if standards are somewhat variable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · December 17

        Always look on the bright side of life… 🎵🎵😊 (you are welcome for the earworm).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · December 18

        The earworm is happily drilling into my brain like a Texas oil rig! No complaints though, that song never fails to make raise my spirits. 🙂


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