ONE of the ever-attentive staff at Chatsworth once told me it costs £6million-a-year to run the house, pay the employees and put a bit aside for maintenance.
This being Chatsworth ‘the house’ actually means ‘large organisation involved in everything from farming to publishing’.
And ‘maintenance’ doesn’t mean the Duke doing a bit of DIY on a Sunday morning after a trip to B&Q in Chesterfield.
And then there’s the high cost of modernisation. There are plans to remove water tanks in the attic to cut the risk of a leak ruining hundreds of treasures. It all adds up.
Chatsworth may enjoy royal links that date back hundreds of years, but to survive it needs visitors’ money.
This might explain why the car park charge was hiked 50 per cent this year. And why an ice cream from a van in the gardens costs at least £2.20. And that’s after you’ve paid for a ticket to get in.
But enough moaning, what you’re paying for is a unique venue a cut above every tourist destination for miles.
Take the Carriage House Restaurant – actually a self-service, self-clear cafe – in the 18th century stable block.
Here, amid stonework and sculptures, visitors can refuel before tackling the adventure playground or a walk in the grounds.
Outside, it offers seating on unusual purple chairs in a gorgeous suntrap of a square, complete with fountain.
Inside, the carpet is plush and the paintings are enormous. It can get busy, but once you’ve bagged a table that sense of relief and relaxation is heightened by the high class surroundings.
But what of the food?
Safe to say it has the same hallmark of quality.
On the day we went, main courses included the distinctly regal sounding wild boar with cider sauce (£8.75), slow roasted pork belly (£9.50) and grilled lamb hash with tomato chutney (£9.50). If you don’t fancy red meat, how about a mature cheese, basil and tomato quiche (£8.50)?
The tangy cheese and crumbly pastry were top hole and ably accompanied by potatoes and vegetables.
My lady bought a wild crayfish and rocket sandwich (£4.25) which was deemed to be a winning combination.
The boy had a children’s lunch bag (£4) which consists of sandwiches, crisps, an apple and a chocolate coin. While he tucked in, the grown ups agreed this appeared to be good value.
Perhaps not so thrifty are the baked potatoes at £5.50, but the chilli bean filling in particular is richly flavoursome.
We let our guards down on the drinks, paying £1.85 for a small bottle of diet coke and £2.50 for an equally diminutive bottle of elderflower fizz.
But by then we were focusing on dessert. The Devonshires serve up an impressive choice here, including passion fruit and banana posset (£3.75), strawberry and raspberry trifle (£3.85), lemon meringue pie slice (£3) and baked vanilla cheesecake (£4).
I plumped for the trifle which, although quality, lacked sherry, while the missus got busy building layers of scone and jam and cream. “Proper clotted, not whipped,” she muttered before declaring it “worth making the trip for alone.”
A so-so cappuccino (£2.50) rounded things off.
The restaurant scores for its free microwave to warm baby food, changing facilities and high chairs. It loses points at the entrance where visitors must decide if they want hot food, left, or sandwiches, right, leading to a logjam of people, especially families with children, trying to decide what to do.
But it’s a rare slip from a slick operation that offers an experience of understated class.