One Sunday morning in April 2016 I packed sandwiches, a flask and chocolate and set off for Lyme Hall, the stately home in Disley, Cheshire. I had a map showing some walks around the vast 1360 acre estate but I threw my bike in the car as I thought it not too muddy to do some cycling.
I’ve been many times but this time I would be looking for a specific pond on the sprawling deer park behind the house. Lyme Hall was “Pemberley”, a filming location from the hugely successful Pride and Prejudice television series broadcast in 1995 (based on Jane Austen's novel.) The mini-series was bruised by a shower of accolades and fired television versions of other Jane Austen novels.
I’d listened to the audio book recently and it’s still engaging. The television version injected palettes of colour and patina of gloss to a novel that doesn’t really need propping up. Jennifer Ehle played Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth played Mr Darcy in this story that approaches love than is about it.
The main scene which seems to appeal to certain women of a certain age features Mr Darcy bumping into Elizabeth Bennett at Pemberley after he’s been swimming in the pond. He’s wet even though still wearing linen shirt, breeches and boots. This scene is recognised as "one of the most unforgettable moments in British TV history". Not sure I agree (there’re fewer things more unappealing than a man’s body.)
The scene of them talking was filmed on the well-manicured lawns just behind Lyme Hall however the pond scene where Darcy had dove in for a swim was what I was seeking, the bike ride secondary. I parked on a street and, on two wheels, by-passed the long queue of cars snaking through the estate’s main gate.
On the left hill is the original hunting lodge. When I saw two people on bikes burning down the hill I decided I’d end the afternoon up there and zoom down the hill myself. I had an apple and decided I would not eat it till I reached the lodge in a few hours.
I cycled up the long drive up to the hall. Once when I was walking up that drive I got behind a group of Brownies who started singing. Do girls join the Brownies these days? Or is it The Otters or The Beavers?
I had a short bike ride then went to the office/café for the punters. A girl with purple lipstick asked if I wanted a map. “Please - only if it’s free,” I said as I didn’t want to break into the pound coin in my pocket (map was free.)
I pushed my bike uphill behind the stately home assuming the pond was out on the 1360 acres of deer park. Soon I found myself in a wood, panting hard after going uphill. A courting couple sat on a big log didn’t look old enough to have been alive in 1995 when filming took place; I didn’t bother asking them if they had passed a pond.
However I had my magnifying glass in my bag (Ł1 from Poundworld) and I spotted a few blobs of green that may be ponds. Luck winked at me and within about 40 minutes of cycling through fields (upsetting sheep with new lambs) and whizzing through another wood I found the pond. It was behind a wall, easy to miss. I had printed some snapshots from the DVD and soon matched up these with the contours of landscape.
I had the pond to myself for twenty minutes. Not one person passed by. A duck scudded onto the water but soon left when I attempted quacking noises. The television scene was a little different in real life; those camera crews are crafty and had made the pond seem bigger and slightly cinematic.
I stood where Mr Darcy had stood before diving into water browner than HP Sauce. A stuntman was used to dive into the water (note the brevity of the shot) as it was feared Colin Firth may picked up Weil's disease. The underwater scene was filmed in a special tank at Ealing Studios, West London. Here is the scene...
Afterward I had another bike ride and eventually returned to the hall. I went round the back to see the lake at the rear of the stately pile. It was here on the plush-green lawn Elizabeth Bennett bumped into the wet Mr Darcy (by accident.) A blur of finches landed on a tree, had what seemed like a mass argument then left. They were probably protesting at my refusal to pay Ł7 to enter the gardens - I stood on my bike seat to take the photo of the back of the hall.
Eventually my legs were tiring and my bum hurting so I made my way up to the wind-bashed hunting lodge where a line of people were attempting to fly kites. I was going to reward myself with the juicy apple but it had gone from my bag. I’d done quite a bit of rough scrambling on the bike, a few jumps even – the apple had fallen out of my bag. At least my Dictaphone or car keys hadn’t.
I zoomed gleefully down the hill to entrance lodge and returned to the car for coffee. Bum hurt, back ached but it had been an enjoyable afternoon (despite youngsters overtaking me on their bikes as we cycled uphill.) I’m going to get the Pride and Prejudice DVD set out again. Who would have though a novel Jane Austen wrote in 1813 would one day propel a geek like me to go and seek out a filming location? I returned home, had a shower and made a big mushroom omelette to replenish energy spent on the bike ride. On the 1360-acre deer park I had not seen one deer - nor one goose.
Is this it?
Mr Darcy arrives with his horse..
From another angle…
The pond from a distance…
To the rear of the house…
If you ever want to find the pond it’s here…