What better way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon than strolling through some beautiful gardens and enjoying a spot of lunch?
That pleasant prospect awaited my friend Kate and I when we visited Renishaw Hall at the weekend.
The gardens at the stately home of the Sitwell family on the edge of Eckington near Chesterfield are in their full summer show right now, looking absolutely glorious.
Visitors can stroll around the lovely formal gardens, separated by dramatic clipped yew hedges, with long borders overflowing with flowers and an ornamental carp lake presently full of waterlilies in bloom.
When we visited it wasn’t packed out with visitors, which added to the relaxing feel of the place.
The newest area is the Experience Peak District and Derbyshire Garden, designed for last month’s RHS Chatsworth show, and now transplanted to Renishaw.
Many visitors are pensioners on a limited budget, so they want everyone to feel welcome
Designer Lee Bestall, whose firm is based in Renishaw, designed the garden, which was inspired by the estate.
There are benches dotted around the gardens to sit on and admire the views and sculptures to discover, such as a charming group of moon-gazing hares.
A fantastic Fiore De Henriquez sculpture of celebrated cellist Amaryllis Fleming, the daughter of artist Augustus John and half sister of James Bond author Ian Fleming, also caught the eye on our wanderings.
Visitors are given a map of the grounds at the entry kiosk which will also help guide you on a longer walk around the lake beyond the formal areas.
All that wandering around will undoubtedly work up an appetite, so we headed of to the newly-renovated courtyard cafe.
Visitor services manager Rachael Gorman said that the colour palette includes purple and green to tie in with the gardens and the woodwork was all created by two master craftsmen who have worked on the estate from leaving school.
This place is exactly what you want to find at somewhere like Renishaw, with outdoor tables in sunny and shady spots.
It’s wheelchair accessible and also dog friendly.
Inside, there is a large, airy-feeling seating area and a food counter where you order.
There are menus on the tables but blackboards give almost too much choice of lovely dishes of the day.
After pondering for a few minutes, Kate and I gave our orders and went outside to wait for the food to arrive.
The menu includes breakfasts, served up to 11.45am, and lunches including salads, soups, quiches and paninis, as well as main courses of the day.
A delicious-looking full afternoon tea costs £12.95 but has to be ordered in advance. It’s by far the most expensive item.
Rachael said that many visitors are pensioners on a limited budget, so they want everyone to feel welcome. They are also very keen to attract more local visitors.
We made a note to return later for tea and cake, supplied by Worksop firm, Little Town Pantry.
Rachael said that the kitchen makes use of produce from the estate gardens and uses local suppliers, such as Ashover Cider and Lawns Farm Shop, as far as possible.
Estate owner Alexandra Sitwell worked with chef Gill Mason and her team to create a menu that offers fresh seasonal food.
Based on our visit, they are succeeding in that. Kate opted for the vegetarian Sunday lunch, which was an aubergine melt, accompanied by creamed fennel, roast potatoes, Yorkshre pud, carrots and peas and gravy.
I had a pulled pork sandwich, which came with a green salad, coleslaw and roast potatoes.
Our food portions were so generous that two staff arrived to deliver it.
My pork was served in a ciabbatta, alongside a huge green salad with a balsamic vinegar dressing and a little pot containing the coleslaw. The potatoes arrived in a little zinc bucket.
The crunchy potatoes, creamy coleslaw and fresh salad were all delicious and it was a hearty portion.
The pulled pork was both crunchy and soft and pleasant enough without being outstanding, and the bread was a little on the dry side, but overall this was a great lunch.
Kate loved her aubergine melt, served in a little oven dish containing a meltingly soft tomatoey vegetable casserole topped with stringy cheese.
The fennel arrived in another little dish and had been roasted in a creamy sauce, giving a lovely, subtle flavour.
Kate could have opted for a salad accompaniment to the melt but was glad she hadn’t.
We ate first, then headed off around the gardens, popping back later for something sweet with a cup of tea.
I had a lovely, large round ginger and lemon shortbread bursting with both flavours, while Kate went for an indulgent-tasting flapjack, topped with dried fruit.
Lunch with soft drinks came to £19.30, and the second course was just £7.40 with two teas.
Entry to the gardens is £6.50 and £5.50 concessions. Renishaw Hall is currently open 10.30am to 4.30pm Wednesday to Sunday.