Perched on top of a high hill, Bolsolver is an opulent coronet of a castle. There was once a defensive castle on the site, built in the 12th century, but it fell into disrepair. It was then rebuilt in the early 1600s by Sir Charles Cavendish and William Cavendish, son and grandson respectively of one of my heroes, the formidable Bess of Hardwick (soon I must blog about her and her huge rope of pearls). Between them they combined the battlements and impressive proportions of a fortification with the comfort and elegance of a country mansion to create this most luxe of castles.
This is a fitting style for the birthplace of dressage, which is more about fancy footwork than actually getting somewhere. William Cavendish brought the manège to England – that is, coaxing horses to perform elegant exercises, an art which evolved into dressage. He wrote a book on the subject, A General System of Horsemanship in all its Branches, published in English in 1743. As well as introducing a system of training, he also wrote that horses should not be bullied and beaten into submission. This was a sadly unusual argument at the time, and one for which many horses would have whinnied their thanks. “You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else.” Bolsolver still has an intact riding school, featuring the single training pillar that was used in Cavendish’s system. We actually got to see a display of Cavalier horsemanship, in which costumed riders performed some of the exercises described by Cavendish, and the horses seemed to be having a marvellous time. Needless to say I was more excited than most of the children there. I couldn’t take photographs though, so can only direct you to engravings from the book, and show the beautiful roof of the riding school.
The rooms inside the main building (called the ‘Little Castle’) weren’t quite to my taste – usually I love a Star Chamber but the sky-ceiling was such a horrid colour I couldn’t bear to waste any film on it. I did fall in love with some panel-work and get to dress up as a Cavalier. But it’s more the grandeur and scale of the buildings themselves which interested me, from the wall walk which overlooks the pleasure garden, to the enormous galleries in the Terrace Range built to throw royalty the party they deserved. Bolsolver Castle was built to impress 400 years ago, and it’s still working.