Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Steph and I began planning a short, one week break in Cornwall way back in the Spring. As followers of my blog will know by now, we are avid members of the National Trust and English Heritage, and throughout the year we try to make as many visits as the weather and other commitments permit. In Cornwall, we wanted to explore as many NT and EH properties as we could fit into the six days, and the two days of travel. Eighteen was our tally!

We chose a small studio cottage, suitable for a couple, just north of Helston on the south coast, a round trip of more than 500 miles (including the side trips to a couple of National Trust properties on the way there and back – see map). Dovecote Cottage was located at the end of a 2 mile drive down a narrow lane (with passing places), next to a former farmhouse. It was very peaceful, and comfortable.

Dovecote Cottage

Our home (in Bromsgrove, in northeast Worcestershire) is less than 5 miles from the M5 motorway, the main arterial to the southwest. The M5 and roads south into Cornwall like the A30 can be notoriously busy during the summer, and delays of many hours are not uncommon as lines of motorists (many towing caravans) snake their way to the coast and sunshine. On the way south we had a traffic-free journey, but on our return on the following Saturday we had to make one detour to avoid a jam at road works near Tiverton (on our way to Knightshayes), and we also hit a long queue of traffic attempting to navigate the bridge over the River Avon, backing up about 10 miles although constantly moving.

During the six days touring Cornwall we clocked up another 500 miles, for a total of 1086 miles for the whole holiday.


Heading south, and just 12 miles east of the M5 near Taunton, we visited Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house built between 1538 and the 1550s. It was the first house acquired by the National Trust (in 1907) and became the residence of Col. Abram Arthur Lyle (of the sugar refining company Tate & Lyle) who refurbished the property, installing his collection of historic woodwork, and converting the next door 17th century stable block, Strode House, into a residence. Check details of Barrington Court on the National Trust website.

The south face of Barrington Court (on the right) and Strode House on the left. The connecting corridor between the two can be clearly seen.

Barrington Court is unfurnished, but that also permits better appreciation perhaps of the fine woodwork. The long gallery on the top floor is particularly impressive.

In several of the bathrooms, reclaimed Delft tiles surround baths and wash basins.

During the 1920s refurbishment Lyle had asked Gertude Jekyll to design a series of formal gardens surrounding the house. In the eventuality not all were constructed, but what there are now are beautiful accompaniments to an elegant house.

A full album of photographs of Barrington Court can be opened here.


A week later, and we were headed north to take in Knightshayes, an imposing Gothic Revival mansion standing on a hillside overlooking Tiverton in Devon.

Knightshayes is a late Victorian house (built between 1869 and 1874), designed by William Burges, whose design excesses never made it completely into the interior of the house (although the National Trust has refurbished one room following his designs). The gardens were designed by Edward Kemp.

It was the home of the Heathcoat-Amory family for more than 100 years, and was handed over to the national Trust in 1972. The last occupants, Sir John Heathcoat-Amory and Lady Joyce carried out extensive work on the gardens in the 1950s and 1960s; both were awarded Gold Medals by the Royal Horticultural Society. Lady Joyce (née Wethered) was a world class golfer with many titles to her name.

The interiors at Knightshayes are impressive indeed.

The woodwork and decoration on the ceilings in many rooms is quite stunning.

A few photographs displayed here cannot do justice to Knightshayes, so please take a look at a more complete (and annotated) album of photographs here.

Knightshayes also has one of the largest walled gardens we have ever seen, and on the day of our visit there was a ‘heritage tomato event’.

One of the paintings on display at Knightshayes was recently featured in BBC Four’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces. A small painting, not much more than 12 x 15 inches perhaps has been attributed to Rembrandt. Using the tool beloved of all art historians, a torch, we could highlight and see the detail in this beautiful small painting.

Rembrandt as a young man – self portrait attributed to the artist

But is it a Rembrandt? Perhaps.

‘High hills surround the valley, encircling it like a crown’ (Walter Daniel, 1167)

After the Normans conquered England in 1066, they quickly achieved hegemony over much of the country. By 1086 the ‘Great Survey’, the Domesday Book, had been completed for much of England and parts of Wales.

At the same time, different religious orders began to spread their influence and established communities around the country. In a peaceful and secluded valley beside the River Rye in the heart of the North York Moors near Helmsley, a Cistercian community founded Rievaulx Abbey in 1132, their first monastery in the north of England. A second magnificent Cistercian monastery, Fountains Abbey, lies about 27 miles west of Rievaulx.

Originally a cluster of wooden buildings, the abbey expanded over the next four centuries until Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries (after 1536). The abbey was abandoned and became the ruin we see today, still standing proudly in the landscape where it was founded. Not much can have changed in the intervening centuries. Rievaulx still exudes a profound sense of peace and tranquility.

It’s not my intention here to provide a detailed history of Rievaulx Abbey. English Heritage owns and manages the site, and a detailed history of Rievaulx’s founding and growth can be found on its website.

I first visited Rievaulx in the summer of 1968 at the end of my first year at university, when I went on a youth hosteling holiday on the North York Moors. Fifty years ago! I can hardly believe it.

Then, in July 1988, when Hannah and Philippa were ten and six, we made a family visit while on holiday near the coast north of Scarborough. In 2013 we visited the National Trust’s Rievaulx Terrace that overlooks the abbey ruins (see below).

A week ago we took the opportunity of a visit to our younger daughter Philippa and her family in Newcastle upon Tyne—and the improving weather—to visit Rievaulx once again. It’s actually only a few miles off the usual A19 route we take when traveling to Newcastle these days.

It was a glorious sunny day. In fact, we enjoyed the first sensations of summer (the weather has since deteriorated, and it feels more like autumn as I write this blog post). The drive north from home (in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire) took a little under four hours, including a 35 minute coffee and comfort break at the Woodall Services on the M1 south of Sheffield. On arrival at Rievaulx, we enjoyed a quick picnic lunch, then headed off to explore the ruined abbey and museum for about an hour and a half.

Rievaulx Abbey ground-plan (courtesy of English Heritage). Click on the image to open a PDF file of this plan, another one and a map of the valley where the abbey stands.

One’s first impression of Rievaulx are the ruins of the church, with tiers of pointed gothic windows on each side. There are some rounded and earlier Norman arches around the site. The eastern end of the church (enclosing the Sanctuary and Choir) was for use only by the monks. The western end, the nave (now completely demolished except for the bases of the main columns), was used by the lay brothers.

The Cloister and its Arcade must have been magnificent in the abbey’s heyday. Just one small fragment of the Arcade has survived, in the northwest corner of the Cloister. Immediately east of the Cloister are the remains of the Chapter House where monks came for their daily meetings. Several abbots are buried there, but the body of William, the first abbot was moved to its own shrine in the 13th century

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To the south of the Cloister is large building housing the Refectory, and kitchen. The Day Room is located to the east of the Refectory, and this is where the monks worked on various activities, from mending clothes to copying manuscripts. South of the Day Room are the Tanning Vats where leather was prepared.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Further east is the Infirmary Cloister and a staircase to what became the Abbot’s House. Above the doorway is an original in situ figurative sculpture of The Annunciation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is a small museum displaying some interesting artifacts that have been uncovered on the site, as well as sections of sculptures that once adorned the various buildings of the abbey.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During its 400 years Rievaulx Abbey suffered several changes in fortune. There were raids from across the Scottish border, and the Black Death hit during the 14th century. The abbey was finally suppressed in December 1538, and the monks were cast out although they received a pension. The abbey was sold to Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland although the most precious items were reserved for the crown. Thereafter the abbey buildings fell into ruin as we see today.

But there has long been a fascination with Rievaulx Abbey, and in the mid-eighteenth century, Thomas Duncombe II constructed Rievaulx Terrace high on the hillside above the abbey ruins where his guests could be entertained and walk. There are some spectacular views of the abbey from there, as we experienced in 2013.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Peeling away the veneers of history

Witley Court. Just a few miles west of Droitwich in north Worcestershire. A shell of a ruin, having been destroyed by fire in 1937. It had been the home of the Earls of Dudley.

The grand entrance to Witley Court, with the Church of St Michael and All Angels to the right

Witley Court, fountain and gardens from the south. The golden dome of the Baroque Church of St Michael and All Angels can be seen to the rear on the left

I’m not sure who actually owns Witley Court today; it’s managed by English Heritage. And being just 30 minutes by car from home, we consider it as one of our ‘local’ heritage destinations. We’ve been visiting Witley Court since the 1980s. Then it was freely open to the public. There was no paid access as there is now. Alongside the ruin stands the proud Baroque Church of St Michael and All Angels, not actually part of the English Heritage management of the site, and still in use as a parish church to this day. It must boast one of the most illustrious interiors of any church in the country.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, and it being a fine bright day yesterday, we decided to make another visit, have a walk through the grounds, see the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain fired up (every hour on the hour from 11 am onwards, for about 15 minutes), have a picnic lunch, and still have an afternoon to spend at home. I didn’t feel like making a long journey as we will be off to Northern Ireland a week hence, exploring that Province and all the National Trust treasures it has to offer.

And wandering around the grounds, I took time to carefully read the various information signs that I hadn’t bothered with in the past. And I learnt several new things about Witley Court.

There’s been a house on the site for several hundred years, being transformed from a relatively modest 17th century Jacobean mansion, to the magnificent, somewhat ostentatious Victorian mansion, the ruins of which are still standing.

One of the glories of Witley Court today is the East Parterre. Planted with a variety of plants, the lavender was past its best, and perhaps the overall was not as vibrant as when we saw it in 2016, almost exactly one year ago.

After the 1937 fire, most of what was not damaged was stripped from the house. The grand conservatory on the west side of the house was not damaged in the fire, but was nevertheless stripped. Today it’s planted with lavender, and gazing through the empty windows towards the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain, one can imagine what the house must have been like in its heyday.

Probably the most admired feature at Witley Court is the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain, that was completely refurbished in 2003 (at quite a staggering cost, more than £1 million). But it was worthwhile. It’s magnificent! It was undergoing further renovation in August last year when we visited, but was re-opened in April this year.

There are also woodland walks, taking around 30-40 minutes, the ubiquitous shop, and a tea room is open at the church (but not managed by English Heritage). Entrance to the church is, by the way, free.

To appreciate more fully what the Witley Court estate and ruin looks like, I came across this aerial video on YouTube, taken by drone.

Royalty and religion (and oak trees) in Shropshire

Charles II in exile, 1653

3 September 1651. Just over 33 months since his father, Charles I, had his head removed from his shoulders on a scaffold outside Whitehall in London, the young Charles II (not yet crowned king) was on the run. A fugitive. His plans to defeat the Parliamentarians under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell had come to nothing. Superior forces of Cromwell’s New Model Army had defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester, bringing an end to the Civil War.

Charles had to escape, but how to return to France and safety? His escape route took him north through Worcestershire (close to where I live, some 13 miles north of Worcester), and through Staffordshire and Shropshire to reach Boscobel House. The Boscobel estate straddles the Staffordshire-Shropshire county boundary (map).

In 1651, Boscobel House was a hunting lodge in the forest. Charles found refuge there, not only hiding in a priest hole overnight, but also among the canopy of a large oak tree (the famous Royal Oak) close by, as Parliamentarian forces searched high and low for him. He was also hidden at nearby Moseley Old Hall (about 10 miles due east of Boscobel, now in the hands of the National Trust, and which we visited in April 2014).

Boscobel House and the nearby White Ladies Priory (which was a converted residence when Charles sought refuge there in 1651) now belong to English Heritage. Yesterday, we made the 45 mile trip north to visit these two sites, and another English Heritage property, the ruins of Lilleshall Abbey, just over seven miles northwest from Boscobel.

Boscobel House and The Royal Oak
The house has Tudor, 17th century and Victorian extensions. The farmyard buildings are Victorian. It was owned by the Giffard family who lived at White Ladies Priory. The lonely Royal Oak that stands in a field a short distance from the house is a descendant of the original tree in which Charles hid.

(1) Hunting Lodge; (2) Garden; (3) Cowhouse; (4) Stables; (5) Dairy display; (6) Smithy; (7) Family room; (8) White Ladies Priory – about 1 mile, 20 minutes walk; (9) Royal Oak – approx 5 minutes walk.

White Ladies Priory

Lilleshall Abbey

It’s all about Trust and Heritage

When I fell over last January and broke my leg, and was incapacitated for almost three months, I never thought that we would be able to get out and about for National Trust and English Heritage visits as we had in previous years. How wrong I was!

Once I’d been given the all clear to drive, around the end of March—and relying on my trusty walking stick—we managed to visit eleven National Trust properties (including four times to our ‘local’ Hanbury Hall), and to five run by English Heritage. I have indicated the distance from my home in Bromsgrove, although we visited some properties while we were on holiday in the south of England in July.

National Trust
During our holiday in the New Forest we made a day visit to Corfe Castle, and on the way home a week later we stopped off at Kingston Lacy. Further on, we passed the entrance to Dyrham Park, north of Bath, but didn’t have time to visit then. So we decided to return later in August.

Not long after I gained my mobility, we visited three properties that are quite close to home, not to visit inside the houses, but to enjoy the gardens, and relax with a cup of coffee or a bite to eat for lunch. The restaurant at Packwood House, renovated over the past couple of years or so, is particularly nice.

If I wrote a specific blog post about each of these visits, I have included a link below.

Hanbury Hall (10 April, 4 May, 29 August, and 18 November) 6 miles
Hanbury is our local National Trust property. I think we’ve been inside the house only once, several years ago, but during the year we did pop over there, in about 15 minutes, to grab a cup of coffee, and walk through the gardens. Of particular interest for me is the glorious parterre, kept immaculately by the resident gardeners and volunteers.

Packwood House (20 April) 17 miles

Baddesley Clinton (12 May) 19 miles

Shugborough Hall (22 June) 53 miles
One of the things we particularly liked about Shugborough was the number of rooms open to the public. As always the volunteers were most helpful in pointing us towards items of interest.

Read about our visit here.

Avebury (2 July) 81 miles
We stopped in Avebury on the way south to our holiday in the New Forest. It was a good halfway place to have coffee and lunch. There’s much to see, with the stone circle and the house (with each room decorated in a different period).

Read about our visit here.

Corfe Castle (5 July) 176 miles
We visited Corfe Castle on a day trip from our holiday home in Dibden Purlieu on the east of the New Forest. The drive west was about 47 miles, on quite busy roads.

Read about our visit to Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy here.

Kingston Lacy (10 July) 134 miles
Kingston Lacy was owned by the same family as Corfe Castle, about 19 miles to the north. This must be one of the National Trust’s premier properties – it’s full of treasures. Well worth another visit sometime.

Claydon (19 July) 67 miles
Our visit to Claydon was a delight. Normally, photography is not permitted inside the house, but when I explained that I write a blog about our National Trust visits, they gave me permission to photograph many of the architectural aspects I am interested in. And I have to say that the volunteers at Claydon were some of the most helpful and friendliest that we have come across.

Read about our visit here.

Dyrham Park (12 August) 77 miles
It’s quite a walk from the car park to the house and gardens. Thank goodness for the shuttle service. On the day of our visit the weather was beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Read about our visit here.

Brockhampton Estate (26 August) 25 miles
We made our first visit to Brockhampton in September 2012. It was great to see that other parts of the medieval house had been opened to the public.

Greyfriars’ House and Garden (14 December) 12 miles (by train)
This was our last visit for 2016, and we hopped on the train from Bromsgrove for the 20 minute ride to Worcester Foregate. From there it was a less than 10 minute walk to Greyfriars’. Nice to see the rooms decorated for Christmas, and we had an excellent tour guide.

Read about our visit here.

English Heritage
This was our second year as members of English Heritage, and we didn’t visit as many properties as we would have liked. But that will be rectified in 2017!

Buildwas Abbey (27 May) 36 miles
We had tried to visit Buildwas in 2015, on our way from Wenlock Abbey to Ironbridge. But it was closed. We had the place to ourselves when we visited in May. Peaceful!

Read about our visit to Buildwas and Langley Chapel here.

Langley Chapel (27 May) 11 miles from Buildwas Abbey
Standing isolated in a field, this is a delightful example of a 17th century chapel catering to a Puritan rural population.

20160527 007 Langley Chapel

Calshot Castle (9 July) 136 miles
Calshot was just a few miles south of our holiday home in Dibden Purlieu. We were amazed to discover how well it had been maintained over the centuries. I guess this is not really surprising considering the active defensive role it has taken on all that time.

20160709 009 Calshot Castle

Read about our visit here.

Bolsover Castle (17 August) 90 miles
Bolsover Castle sits on the skyline to the east of the M1 motorway in Derbyshire. Whenever we travel north to visit our younger daughter Philippa and her family, we have to pass Bolsover. And for years we were intrigued by it, and what it might offer. We had also seen in the past few years a BBC program about the castle presented by historian Lucy Worsley. We were not disappointed in our visit.

Read about this interesting visit here.

Witley Court and Gardens (26 August) 16 miles
Witley Court is one of our local visits, just a few miles west of Bromsgrove on the far bank of the River Severn. We have been visiting Witley Court since the 1980s when you could just wander into and around the ruins. We had last been there in July 2015.

Apartments fit for a King – Bolsover Castle

20160817 012 Bolsover CastleBolsover Castle stands proudly over the northeast Derbyshire landscape, a prominent feature on the eastern skyline as one travels along the M1 motorway. It is owned and managed by English Heritage, and is just a few miles north of Hardwick Hall that we visited in 2015 almost exactly a year ago.

The histories of Bolsover Castle and Hardwick Hall are intertwined.

Bolsover_Castle_-_geograph.org.uk_-_205752

So who built Bolsover Castle? Standing on the site of a medieval castle, the castle we see today dates from the early decades of the 17th century. It was the vision of Charles Cavendish and his son William.

20160817 049 Bolsover Castle

20160817 050 Bolsover Castle

20160817 047 Bolsover Castle

William was married twice.

20160817 046 Bolsover Castle

20160817 044 Bolsover Castle

William’s wives: Elizabeth Bassett (L) and Margaret Lucas (R).

Although one part of the castle was demolished (slighted) by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil Wars, the Little Castle and its exquisite interior decoration has survived until today (although with some restoration by English Heritage).

The Little Castle

20160817 007 Bolsover Castle

The Fountain Garden, the Walled Walk, the the Riding School Range in the distance, and the demolished Terrace Range on the right.

Seen better days – the Terrace Range
The Terrace Range is now in ruins, but when it was originally built it must have been spectacular, not only for the grandeur of the building itself, but also for the views over the Derbyshire landscape.

The heyday of Bolsover Castle did not last long.

20160817 048 (2) Bolsover CastlE

20160817 048 (3) Bolsover Castle

The Ante Room
Just inside the main entrance, and to the left, of the Little Castle is the small Ante Room, with wonderful wood panelling and wall paintings.

The Hall
The next room is the main hall, with fine vaulted ceilings, a large stone fireplace, and more paintings high on the walls.

The Pillar Parlour
Beyond the Hall, and on the left before climbing the stone stairs to the first floor, is the Pillar Parlour. This is one the finest rooms in the castle. It has, like many rooms in the Little Castle, a fine marble fireplace with insets of black marble, a common theme throughout the building.

The Star Chamber
On the first floor is the Star Chamber, named after the beautiful light blue ceiling decorated with gold stars. The tapestries hanging from the walls are not original, but have been installed to show what the room might have looked like four centuries ago. Again there is a fine white and black marble fireplace, and exquisite paintings on the wood panelling.

The Marble Closet
Just off the Star Chamber is the Marble Closet, furnished in black and white marble, with more wall decoration.

The Heaven Closet
This one of the most beautiful rooms in the building, so called because there is a figure of Christ is the center of the ceiling paining. It was completed in 1619.

The Elysium Closet
Decorated in a Greek style, this small room off William’s bedroom, has a theme that is quite the opposite of the Heaven Closet.

The Lantern and top floor rooms
On the top floor, underneath a cupola, is a series of rooms leading off this central feature. It must have been a place where residents and guests met because of the way that daylight floods down to highlight the golden walls.

The Kitchens
There are several rooms in the basement, kitchens and storage rooms, that must have always been busy to satisfy the culinary need of the residents upstairs.

20160817 173 Bolsover Castle

The Fountain Garden
Outside the Fountain Garden is dominated by a statue of Venus, and the planting reflects plants that would have been available during the 17th century. The Walled Walk provides great views over the garden.

The Riding School Range
Just through the main gateway to the castle, and to the left, is along 17th century building with a riding school. It’s possible to climb to the top floor and see the intricate and splendid wood beams holding up the roof.

We have passed Bolsover Castle so many times when we travel up to Newcastle upon Tyne to visit our younger daughter Philippa and family. It was a day trip of more than 180 miles, but well worth it.

In Bolsover there is just a small car park close to the castle entrance, that was already full when we arrived. Just a little further on, and through a rather discreet entrance is another overflow car park – not signposted at all – where you can park free of charge on what must have once been part of the castle terrace.

 

 

 

 

Here a henge, there a henge . . .

On 2 July we set off from home just before 10 am, heading south towards the New Forest in Hampshire, where we stayed for a week with our daughters Hannah and Philippa and their families.

The trip south was about 143 miles, on the route we took. That was south on the M5 motorway, over the Cotswolds to Swindon, then on south via Salisbury to our destination.

We broke our journey at Avebury in Wiltshire, a World Heritage Site, a dozen miles south of Swindon.

Avebury has two attractions: Avebury Henge and stone circles, and Avebury Manor, once the home of Alexander Keiller (of the marmalade family) who spent many years in the 1930s discovering the archaeology of this ancient Neolithic site.

aerial-avebury (eng-heritage)

Avebury village and stone circle.

There is something enchanting about stone circles and , lost in the mists of time, it’s hard to imagine why and how ancient Neolithic people erected these thousands of years ago.

Entering Avebury you certainly do not get an impression of just how big the earthworks are. It’s only when you are on the ground, and see the massive ditches (the henges) that the full impact of their construction—by hand—using the most rudimentary of tools like antlers, really hits you. Of course there are other henges in the vicinity: Stonehenge and Woodhenge, to name just a couple. But this Wiltshire landscape for some reason is an area of considerable Neolithic activity. Due to my current disability, and not wanting to spend too much time walking over uneven surfaces, we did not explore the henge and stone circle as much as I would have wanted.

20160702 055 Avebury

20160702 004 Avebury

20160702 005 Avebury

20160702 009 Avebury

Avebury Manor is a 16th century building, that was restored by Keiller. But in 2011 its refurbishment was the subject of the BBC TV series The Manor Reborn, by a group of experts in collaboration with the National Trust. There is no consistent theme throughout the manor’s decoration, each room representing a different period in its history. It’s an interesting concept, but from my perspective this doesn’t allow a visitor satisfactorily to develop a solid impression of the house and its worth. There’s no doubt that it is a beautiful building in a rural setting. I thought the mishmash of historical themes was inappropriate and it would have been better to have chosen a single era for its decoration. nevertheless I do recognise that the BBC’s and experts’ involvement in this way have probably helped save the building in a better state for the future.