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Maureen onMonday; It took a visit to a country house to get me in Christmas mood.

Byline: MAUREEN SPRING

I NEARLY said 'no thanks' when a friend asked me if I'd like to go with her on a day trip to Chatsworth.

I do like a mooch around the odd country pile, imagining what my life might have been like had I been born into landed gentry, but not in dreary November. You need long hot days to explore acres of grounds but as far as I could see it would be practically dusk before we'd managed to get round the house let alone wander the grounds. The warmth of my little front room had more attraction I have to admit.

'Go on, you'll love it.' If anything makes me instantly rebellious it's somebody telling me I'll love whatever it is - even famously handsome Chatsworth.

I must be one of the few people never to have set foot in Derbyshire (let alone the Duke of Devonshire's little 297-roomed pad) though I had watched a series of TV programmes about the place, so wouldn't have minded having a proper look. But as I said - not in dreary November.

Not one to accept a first refusal, especially from me, my friend began to nag - for my own good she said.

"It'll buck you up after your feeling off colour patch," (Off colour? OK, as regular readers have been only too aware lately, I have made a fuss about the state of my health - but 'off colour'? I wouldn't wish the dreaded shingles on my worst enemy, which was what she was going to be in a minute if I didn't put a smile on and listen. "If nothing else it'll make you feel Christmassy. For Heaven's sake think positive. Just say Yes". So I did. It was quite easy really.

And before I go on, can I suggest that if you're finding it difficult to get into Christmas mode (or mood) take a day off from making lists, shopping and trying to decide whether it's safe to feed turkey to the family this year, and treat yourself to a day at Chatsworth - it's absolutely magical.

From now until a few days before Christmas the house is decorated with foliage, fairy lights and candles everywhere. Honestly, it's like a living Christmas card.

Windows glowed with coloured lights, Christmas trees reflected in lakes beside floodlit fountains and the moment you step inside you're in another fairytale world. You can certainly see why they chose to use Chatsworth as Pemberly in the new film of Pride and Prejudice - it's perfect.

Being the kind of stately home it is, there are wide sweeping staircases, all festooned with garlands of pines, berries and baubles. A giant Christmas tree stands in the marble hall, the dining table (large enough to stand my entire bungalow on) is set with sparkling crystal, crackers and luscious festive fruits - you feel almost like an invited guest and have to fight the urge to sit down and wait for a servant to come in bearing a steaming turkey. And everywhere dancing candlelight. If that doesn't make you feel festive, the gift shop certainly will.

You'll come home counting the days until you can put up your own Christmas decorations - I have.

Not that I can compete with the Duke of Devonshire, but then think of the fun he misses having to rely on servants to test his Christmas tree lights or twiddle his garlands in a different place from last year for a change - like we can.

Nevertheless, his house looks absolutely wonderful. And in five weeks time - so will mine. Three hundred rooms or three - you can still make them magical for Christmas.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Nov 21, 2005
Words:605
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