Kirby Hall is a mirage. Outwardly, it looks like smoke should be swirling up from the vast ornate chimney pots. The inside is hollowed out. Time has mercilessly swept through and taken the walls, paintings, furniture and the inhabitants, leaving just a whisper of its former glory.
Do not despair. It is this time capsuled shell that makes it such a joy to visit. Especially if, like us, you arrive at 3.45pm in the off-season on a weekday and find yourselves the only people there. The absence of crowds, pushchairs and picnics really did feel as if we could have been stepping into another century.
This was once a long gallery, filled with artwork and promenading Elizabethans. I imagine the space bathed in light, and how the long shadows would have altered the dynamics of the rooms throughout the day. The fireplaces can still be seen in the mossy walls; the furnaces that fed those great chimneys.
Here and there, the rafters remain … not so different to the roof of our own, modern home. The peeling layers reveal every generation’s personal stamp of ownership, every design decision and repair. Plaster over older lime preservatives, which in turn cover up wooden beams and pale stonework.
The still-intact state rooms give glimpses of the “cutwork” garden, whilst allowing a close up view of the fine windows and curved architecture. Surely guests would have once been encouraged to stand here, at the perfect vantage point. It has the same beguiling effect on our children, who are all asking if we can go down to see the maze-like pathways.
We all smile at the politeness of this old warning to would-be defacers. An “earnest request” on behalf of the owner that visitors do not write their names on the wall.
We make our way outside. The illusion of completeness is back. The gardens have been tended with such care.
We turn a corner and explore the kitchens … and my children can never resist exploring an open doorway to some unknown place.
We find a little underground cellar-like space, which has a chill feel to it. The boys enjoy leaping back and forth through the crumbled wall.
My daughter is out of her carrier now and gently ambling after peacocks about the grounds who keep easily out of her reach.
It turns out the gravel is incredibly tricky to navigate if your feet are very tiny. It takes her four minutes (she was insistent that she would do it on her own) to reach the grass you can see on the left hand side.
The boys find a gentle slope to run down. Many, many races take place between our five children, including our daughter who only makes it half way up the little hill before they all are all running back down again. She realises she is now in front and holds her arms up in the air, calling out “I win!”
It is closing time now and we are ready to go. My daughter wrinkles her face when I tell her we only have five minutes and that is a lot of gravel.
This may take some time 🙂