12 JUNE 2004, Page 52

The funeral of the Duke of Devonshire

Patrick Leigh Fermor

1 t is hard to think of anyone more respected, liked and loved by all who knew him than the Duke of Devonshire. Much has been written about him since his death on 3 May, all of it good and all of it interesting: his kindness and generosity, his humour, his pursuit of love, his passion for horse-racing, his heroic and finally victorious grapple with the inherited foible of drinking too much, and (his elder brother having been killed in the last month of the war) his baseless feeling of unworthiness for the wholly unexpected succession to his great heritage. One remembers his readiness to go to prison in defence of foxhunting on his land, his fondness for collecting modern paintings, his love of books and the foundation of a literary prize and his encouragement of all that he respected, and, of course, boundless private help. He had some pride, but no conceit and no vanity.

One remembers, too, his quickness of mind, his fluency and his gift for a telling or comic turn of phrase. The other day, a chauffeur said that 'when their Graces were talking in the back, especially if children or grandchildren were there too, the jokes and the knockabout hilarity went so fast it was hard to keep a straight face.

He had great skill in arranging and stagemanaging historic scenes and pageantry connected with Chatsworth. A friend asked him some time ago, as he retreated into his booklined study, what he was working on at the moment — 'Founding almonries for greybeards yet unborn, I bet.' Andrew laughed. 'No. I'm making plans for a fitting exit,' and that is just what, a few days ago, his last journey was.

His widow, the beautiful Deborah, and Peregrine (Stoker) his successor, and sisters Anne and Elizabeth led the rough crocodile of relations and friends and admirers behind the hearse, which set off from the house at a slow walking pace. A flag flew at half-mast over the splendid façade, the only time, except for national mourning or for a victory, that one has flown there recently. The pace seemed to be set by the knell from the Victorian Gothic steeple of Edensor, the other side of the park, about a mile off — the 'surly, sullen bell' of the Sonnets — every ten seconds. Along the slow mile, over the Dement bridge, past the arbour on its bank where Mary Queen of Scots used to sit, the road was lined with estate workers, foresters, the staff of the restaurants and shops connected with the house in dark suits or aprons with wide bows; dairymen, farm hands, wheel

wrights, carpenters, gardeners and scores of others, on both sides, every few yards, all the way. Beyond them. black and white kine and still unshorn ewes with their lambs munched on regardless. Some of Debo's golden-brown chickens pecked about in busy huddles. Birds abounded, especially blackbirds, and my neighbour, Dr Christian Carritt, bringing up the tail, whispered, 'No cuckoo yet, I note.' Motionless alabaster clouds were anchored over the wooded skylines and, looking back, we could see the marquees pitched on the lawn running down to the lake between files of lime trees, which would later turn into a mixture of the Field of the Cloth of Gold and a vicar's garden party. Beyond them, a rectangle of lake ran away to Dame Elizabeth Frink's great metal horse with a ring of bronze sea-monsters in the middle where a spout shot up a glittering arrow of water, the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world, set up by a predecessor, to welcome his friend the Tsar, but in the end he couldn't come.

As the processions neared the church, all the paths were filling with mourners from the neighbourhood come to bid farewell, and the surly, sullen note changed to a descending octave, not fast, but a bit faster, dropping from treble to bass.

The church was packed, and between hymns, starting with 'I vow to thee, my country', daughter Sophy read from the brass eagle, and grandson William from the pulpit. Out in the sunlight again, the bright tunics of a section of Coldstream Guards from Andrew's old wartime regiment were drawn up under the branches, and a section of the Sherwood Foresters, but it wasn't the atmosphere of Birdcage Walk that they conjured up; much more, among the leaves, the crabapple blossom and the graves, the redcoats in the books of Hardy and the poems of A. E. Housman about a century ago; and the later spirit of John Betjeman was not far away.

Six gamekeepers carried the coffin over the grass; the Military Cross won in the Italian campaign and the Garter Star were taken off the lid, the coffin was lowered, the earth scattered and the Last Post sounded. It was a solemn and, strangely, a woodland and rustic moment. A fitting exit.

Heading across the park to the Cloth-ofGold-vicar's-garden-party, my thoughts flew back to the only facet of Andrew's character that his memorialists hadn't touched on: his penchant, in the middle life, for mountainclimbing. It was one that I shared and both cases sprang from the same source. Robin Fedden, the author, poet and mountaineer, and his Greek wife, Renee, and three or four friends, all delightful, had been climbing mountains for years, and Andrew and I, though total amateurs, were invited to join them in an assault on the Andes and we accepted with alacrity.

Kit was assembled and the seven of us flew to Peru, and after a couple of days in the misty purlieus of Lima and on Lake Titicaca we took a train to the Cyclopean Inca walls and the baroque wonders of Cuzco, then on to Machu Picchu, and set off on foot along

the Urumbamba river. The following week we climbed about the slopes of the Huantay massif Andrew was in charge of botany and wild flowers, and I was guardian of the primus stove, and, after a week or two's practice, we were, at last, promoted to roping-up and to crampons, though not to the dizzy heights the pros achieved. But we were level with the condors, gazing down over the snowy maze of hurricane lanterns on Renee's suppers in the mess tent; sheltering on our own, under snow and hail — I remember Andrew, an intermittent Henry James addict, was reading The Spoils of Poynton — descending at last through canyons and liana-webbed forests and underneath waterfalls. They were six weeks of unparalleled exhilaration and wonder, and, separating at Heathrow, we determined to repeat it.

Greece and the marvellous Pindus range came next year, when we followed the peaks from the Albanian border near Konitza and Papingo, then along the backbone that divides Epirus from Thessaly, almost to the Gulf of Corinth. Another year we climbed about the Himalayan foothills, beyond the pass of Sara Umgala, not far from the Tibetan border; but Andrew had to stay behind as he had become a minister in the Macmillan government Ca flagrant case of nepotism of Uncle Harold's'). Of course, none of these expeditions were exalted exploits by proper mountaineering standards; but to their participants they were an unforgettable paradise; including the last, which was ten years ago, bound for the Pyrenees. Time had reduced the company to three: Andrew and Xan Fielding, a lifelong friend from wartime Crete, and me. Setting off from Derbyshire, Andalusia and the Peloponnese, we assembled at Pau in southwest France, and took a bus next day for the Cirque de Gavarni. It was packed with pilgrims to Lourdes, all cheerfully singing and passing bottles and cracking jokes, 'just like the Canterbury Tales', as Andrew observed. From here we climbed to the pass of Rolando, then crossed from France into Spain, working our way down through the chesmut forests along a deep gorge nearly blocked by hundreds of cows leaving their summer pastures, while the canyon echoed the tumult in eerie thunder. The gorge opened onto a wide, wooded plateau in Aragon with a tavern among the trees, where gangs of drovers were celebrating a marriage, and dancing the paso doble. After that we zigzagged between Spain and France for a fortnight.

When, the other day, I got back to the house and the tents, on the lawn, I suddenly remembered that, before our first Peru adventure, Robin was determined to try out our new gear, and especially break in our climbing boots, on the slopes of the Peak District, a few miles away. It had been a scalding day, and we got back in a muck-sweat, pining for showers and drinks. Andrew pressed the electric bell for the lift two or three times, but nothing happened. He laughed, and said 'I'm sorry, but Waygood-Otis regrets he's unable to lift today.'