The country houses of England are meeting the challenge of survival in the twenty-first century with commendable ingenuity. At Chatsworth the Duchess of Devonshire runs a thriving wholesale and retail garden-furniture business. At Houghton the Marquis of Cholmondely is selling reproductions of his ancestor Sir Robert Walpole's furniture. And at Swinton Park in Yorkshire, Mark Cunliffe-Lister, nephew of the present Earl and Countess of Swinton, and his wife, Felicity, have turned the historic castle into a luxury hotel.
Mark, a geophysicist, and Felicity, a lawyer, quit their jobs in London and bought back Mark's ancestral seat from an educational trust and opened the hotel a little more than a year ago. "Mark had always planned to move back to Yorkshire," Felicity says. "He will inherit the title and be responsible for the estate one day. Making the house into a hotel was the best way to make it pay for itself."
A four-hour drive north of London, Swinton Park stands at the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales, an area of England where open moorland meets the stone walls and tucked-away hamlets of sheep farmers. Some of the rugged hills are wooded, while others display the soft purple haze of heather.