‘Georgian grandeur on a human scale’

This is how the National Trust describes Berrington Hall, a late 18th century sandstone Neo-classical mansion overlooking the rolling Herefordshire landscape a few miles north of Leominster (see map). Designed by London architect Henry Holland, Berrington Hall was built between 1778 and 1781 for Thomas Harley.

Thomas Harley, by John Hall, after Henry Edridge, stipple engraving, late 18th century.

The estate also has a particular claim to fame. The park was the last to be created by landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who was also Henry Holland’s father-in-law).

Last Tuesday, Steph and I made our second visit to Berrington; we were first there in September 2011, the year we joined the National Trust. It was a beautiful day then, as it was this week. The weather forecast had promised a better day if we travelled westwards. Berrington Hall is 37 miles almost due west, and a little over an hour by road, from Bromsgrove in north Worcestershire.

We arrived not long after 10:30, and already the car park was quite full. After heading off to the tea room for a refreshing cup of coffee, we enjoyed a long walk around the park before heading back to the car for a quick picnic lunch, and then into the house itself.

We followed the route due south of the house towards and around the bottom of the lake, past the Boat House, around George’s Plantation, and back to the house.

Berrington Hall is not large compared to some 18th century mansions we have visited. Indeed it is quite modest, somewhat austere in appearance. But it sits so comfortably in its landscape, facing southwest, that it was always meant to be there. Eighteenth century landowners and their architects certainly knew just where to begin construction to the best effect.

A grand Triumphal Arch now hosts the National Trust entrance office, and a driveway approaches the house from the rear, before circling around the front of the house to reveal a majestic portico supported on four large pillars, strategically spaced never to block any of the windows.

As was Capability’s intention, the house is best seen from different advantage points in the park, as is the park from the steps of the house.

Brown knew how to exploit the view of the parkland from the house to best effect. It was no laughing matter. He placed a ha-ha just in front. A ha-ha is ‘a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond. The design includes a turfed incline which slopes downward to a sharply vertical face, typically a masonry retaining wall. Ha-has are used in landscape design to prevent access to a garden, for example by grazing livestock, without obstructing views‘.
 

The ha-ha at Berrington is one of the finest. The landscape just floats away, uninterrupted, from the house, the only evidence of its presence being a change in colour between the short grass of the terrace and the fields beyond, that is clearly seen in the video clip below.

On the rear of the house is a courtyard, a stables block (with clock), a dairy, and laundry. Most of the buildings now accommodate facilities for visitors: the tearoom, toilets, a shop, and the like, as well as offices.

Inside the house, the atmosphere is one of restrained elegance. None of the rooms is particularly large, unlike many other houses we have visited. Nevertheless, there are flashes of flamboyance: in the mouldings around the doors, on the architraves, and particularly the ceilings which are most elaborately sculpted and painted.

The staircase, and the first floor landing surrounding the staircase on three sides, is rather stunning, all marble pillars reflecting the natural light from the cupola.

We encountered our biggest surprise, however, when we entered the dining room on the ground floor. In September 2011 the dining table was laid out as though dinner was about to be served. On the walls are paintings reflecting the battles of Admiral Lord Rodney, whose son, George, married Anne, the daughter of the man who built Berrington Hall, Thomas Harley. On his death, Berrington passed to the Rodney family.

On this visit, the room was almost in darkness, with just spotlights focused on a sculpture, War & Pieces, that extended the length of the table. Created by Dutch artist, Bouke de Vries, this is how the sculpture is described in the National Trust brochure:

War & Pieces is a striking piece, nearly six metres in length, inspired by the grand seventeenth century sugar sculptures found on the dining tables of the wealthy. By the early eighteenth century, sugar had been replaced by exquisitely crafted porcelain depicting allegorical, classical or architectural scenes that displayed the host’s wealth and taste at their banquets.

Between the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it became popular for banquets to be held for generals and their officers on the eve of great battles.

War & Pieces is an envisioning of one of these war banquets showing deconstructed porcelain figures engaged in a deadly struggle with a giant central mushroom cloud composed of skulls, ‘frozen Charlottes’ (a nineteenth century mass produced child’s toy) and presided over by figures of the crucified Christ and Guanyins, the Chinese goddess of compassion.

The piece is composed of broken antique porcelain and glassware, as well as parts of plastic children’s toys and sugar, bringing together the notions of modern warfare and art with those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and making us reconsider our perceptions of beauty and the usefulness of broken objects.

War & Pieces

The scene of war on the table is echoed by the maritime battles depicted on the walls by Thomas Luny (1759-1837). Admiral Lord George Brydges Rodney (1718-1792), the naval hero of The Seven Years War and the American Wars of Independence, is celebrated in these paintings. Rodney was the youngest captain in the British navy and is, arguably, the tactician who first attempted the manoeuvre called ‘breaking the line’ which was used to such great success in later British naval victories. At Berrington, his grim engagements with the French and the Spanish upon his ninety gun ship of the line, The Formidable, in the 1780s are highlighted by Luny’s paintings. The Formidable is the ship depicted on the plates on the dining table that surround War & Pieces.

The handles of the knives are shaped like AK-47 rifles! Comments in a visitors’ book reflected the wide expression of opinions about this sculpture. I thought it was an inspiring commentary on the futility of conflict.

Berrington also has a large walled garden, planted with heritage apple trees that I have commented on and illustrated elsewhere in this blog.

All in all, a very pleasant second visit to Berrington. And it would be remiss of me to finish this particular account without mentioning the extremely friendly staff and volunteers who contributed to our overall enjoyment. The two ladies in the ‘dressing-up room’ on the first floor kept us entertained with their descriptions and demonstrations of the intricacies of 1770s and 1805 fashions!

Here is a short video I made of our visit.

Majesty in the landscape . . . and it was all in the mind’s eye

Majestic. Standing proudly in the landscape, silhouetted against a bright Spring sky. Many preparing to burst forth with that first flush of greenery that heralds the oncoming summer. Others, still standing, but unlikely to remain that way for much longer. The sap no longer rises as it once did. They will fall where they stand or—more likely—felled as a potential hazard to the public.

Others lie on their sides, like beached ships, slowly rusting away, a pathetic shadow of their former glory.

These are remains of an Oak Plantation planted in the 1720s at Hanbury Hall, a magnificent early 18th century house now owned by the National Trust, just seven miles from our home in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire. A few hundred meters away from these oak trees stands the hall, overlooking a parkland outside the surrounding ha-ha, that the original builder of Hanbury, Thomas Vernon would never have seen. Designed by George London, what we experience today at Hanbury, three hundred years on, as is the case at similar ‘stately homes’ across the country, was just merely a vision in his mind’s eye.

The Hanbury Ha-ha and park

So many who commissioned great houses, gardens, and parks died before their dreams were realised, and long before their visions of a transformed landscape could be appreciated to the full. Only third or fourth generation custodians perhaps would have really begun to appreciate what was originally intended when the house, gardens, and park were laid out. In the beginning each would have been a massive building site and earthworks, and a nascent park with saplings dotted around and about.

Take the exploits of Capability Brown for example, who was responsible in the mid-18th century for the transformation of so many natural landscapes nationwide. Croome Court, southeast of Worcester (and about 15 miles due south from Hanbury), was his very first commission, for the 6th Earl of Coventry, and the ‘river’ that was excavated by hand alone took 12 years to complete. Some of the trees that Brown planted can still be seen at Croome today.

Croome Court

Steph and I have now visited quite a number of National Trust properties throughout England (and Wales) and this idea of vision and imagination is strongly reinforced by examples such Stowe in Buckinghamshire and Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, Dudmaston Hall in Shropshire, and Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, besides Hanbury and Croome.

Stowe

Berrington Hall

Calke Abbey

Dudmaston

Dyrham Park

A more recent (150 years ago) example is Cragside, near Rothbury in Northumberland, built in the the late 19th century by William, 1st Baron Armstrong and his wife. The mock-Tudor mansion overlooks a wooded valley and one of the largest rock gardens in Europe, carved out of the rugged Northumbrian moorland. At Cragside, the Armstrongs planted more than seven million trees. Today, the house nestles comfortably in this landscape, seemingly for all time.

The tradition of landscape renewal continues under the National Trust. At Hanbury, for example, there are young saplings all around the park, protected (presumably against grazing by deer, maybe sheep) by picket fences. Impressively, the Trust is also recreating the Long Walk leading downhill from the Hall in a northeasterly direction.

The Long Walk at Hanbury Hall, with George London’s Semicircle (of trees) on the left

However, these full effect of these recent plantings will not be realised for many decades to come. I applaud the continuation, by the National Trust, of this wonderful tradition of leaving something behind in the landscape, just as those who built and nurtured these magnificent properties did, centuries ago.

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.

Silent witness to centuries of history

In Friar Street, close to the center of Worcester, and a couple of hundred meters or so north of its magnificent cathedral, stands a half-timbered building built around 1480 (the birth year of my 13th Bull great grandfather) that has been a silent witness to some of England’s pivotal moments in history, such as the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII in the late 1530s, and just over a century later when King Charles II (although not yet crowned) was defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the last battle of the English Civil Wars.

20161214-001-greyfriar-house

20161214-050-greyfriar-house

These photos show the double gateway looking into the garden, and from inside to the street, as well as views of the rear of Greyfriars’ from the garden. Building a half-timbered house was, according to our guide, a little bit like piecing a jigsaw together. Which pieces fitted where? Well, symbols were embossed on matching pieces of timber and these can be clearly seen in one the photos in this gallery.

Greyfriars’ is a late medieval merchant’s house that has survived the ravages of time—but nearly didn’t make it. Greyfriars’ is now owned by the National Trust. We enjoyed a visit to Greyfriars’ House and Garden yesterday, where many of the rooms had been decorated to celebrate Christmas during various times: a Tudor Christmas in the entrance hall, a Puritan Christmas (or lack of it) in one of the main bedrooms, and a wartime Christmas in the library.

20161214-069-greyfriar-house

Just 13 miles of so south of our home in Bromsgrove, Worcester is the county town of Worcestershire. But for one reason or another, and despite having been residents of Worcestershire for over 35 years (albeit with a break of almost 19 years in the Philippines) we have only rarely visited Worcester. I think the last time I was there was in December 2013 when I was called for jury service at the Crown Court (but never actually made it on to a jury).

Since becoming members of the National Trust in 2012, in the lead up to Christmas we have visited one of the Trust’s properties in our ‘neighbourhood’ – Hanbury Hall, Croome Park, Packwood House, Baddesley Clinton or Coughton Court – since there is always a special festive display to enjoy.

This year we decided to visit Greyfriar’s, making the short journey by train, not wanting to have the hassle of finding convenient parking in the city. In any case, it was also an opportunity of experiencing Bromsgrove’s new railway station¹.

We stopped off for a coffee at M&S before walking on to Greyfriars’ and arrived just in time, a little after 11 am, to take advantage of the excellent first house tour of the day. We were just three visitors, and I had full opportunity to use my camera to the full, even though light levels were extremely low. So the set of photos I came away with are certainly not my best, by any stretch of the imagination, but I hope I did capture something of the beauty of this interesting property.

Saved from demolition
Greyfriars’ was destined to be demolished but was saved by members of the Worcester Archaeological Society. In 1943, military dental surgeon M Matley Moore and his sister Elsie took on the refurbishment of Greyfriars’, eventually taking up residence in 1949.

These photos show the main entrance hall, one of the main tapestries, and some of Elsie Matley Moore’s handiwork above the fireplace.

Apparently the house was in a dreadful state when the Matley Moores began their refurbishment project, and this was not something undertaken lightly during the Second World War or its immediate aftermath when building supplies were hard to come by. Nevertheless, they were able to salvage panelling and other decoration from other buildings, in addition to keeping what original features that were still part of the building’s fabric. Elsie Matley Moore was an accomplished seamstress, and lovingly restored a number of the seventeenth century tapestries that are still on display, as well as adding features of her own, such as ceramics and a set of particularly rare Georgian green (from arsenic? – not so) wallpaper panels in the downstairs living room.

These photos show the main bedroom (apparently occupied by the man of the house), the parlour (and its William Morris tiled fireplace), and the library. All the rooms had magnificent grandfather clocks, several manufactured in Worcestershire, and at least one designed with just a single hour hand. In the fireplaces in two rooms were cast iron – and painted – door stops that Elsie Manley Moore collected. These are quite rare today. Above the fireplace in the parlour is some original carved woodwork frieze with carved dragons (there’s a close-up in this gallery), and indicating that Worcester is not that far from the Welsh border country.

Downstairs, the dining room was refurbished in a Georgian style. These photos show the majolica tiles above the fireplace, and one of the green wallpaper panels.

The garden was obviously dormant yesterday, but National Trust volunteers told us that during the summer months the garden is a haven in the center of Worcester (although traffic noise from the close-by ring road did unfortunately intrude as we explored a few of the garden’s nooks and crannies).

Each year Greyfriars’ is host to Shakespearean players who perform in the garden. I think we should look out for that event for 2017.

_____________

¹ After the Rio Paralympics 2016, the Bromsgrove station signs were all painted gold, recognising the rowing gold medal won by local sportswoman Lauren Rawles.

20161214-067-greyfriar-house

Dyrham Park: a tale of two architects

20160812 154 Dyrham Park

A few miles north of Bath, and to the east of Bristol, Dyrham Park is a National Trust property that was built in the late 17th century on the site of a former Tudor manor house.

20160812 123 Dyrham ParkIt was the creation of William Blathwayt, a senior civil servant who rose to become Secretary at War among other posts. After leaving government he served as a Member of Parliament for a number of years before he died in 1717.

Completed by 1704, Dyrham Park is an interesting combination of architectural features because it was designed by two architects, the west wing by Samuel Hauduroy, a Huguenot, and showing distinct French influences, and the east by William Talman, who also designed Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and Hanbury Hall close to where I live in Worcestershire. Parts of a pre-existing Tudor mansion at Dryham were demolished as the two wings of this house were completed.

William Blathwayt married heiress Mary Wynter in 1686 whose family owned the Tudor mansion at Dryham. Mary died in 1691, leaving William with three children, and she never saw the building of the house we see today.

From the outside, this is a magnificent building in quite an extraordinary setting.

20160812 002 Dyrham Park

The view from the east facing front door.

The estate lies to the west of the A46 (that connects Bath and Stroud), and the car park is close to the entrance. There’s a shuttle bus to the house (which I was very grateful for yesterday) or you can walk down a winding and rather steep road to the house, or across the park. It’s remarkable because Dyrham lies at the bottom of a valley, almost in an amphitheatre, surrounded by the most magnificent mature trees. From up above in the car park you would have no idea what lies over the brow of the hill. And looking at early drawings of the site, and seeing the park today, you have to wonder at the imagination of the creators of estates such as Dyrham, for they would obviously never live to see their creations as they had planned them.

20160812 009 Dyrham Park

It was the home of the Blathwayt family until the 1950s; however, Dyrham Park has been owned by the National Trust since the 1960s. Last year there was a major project to repair the roof and make the property water-tight once again. There is only access to rooms on the ground floor, but there are plans, budget permitting, to restore the house to its former glory. Most of the rooms do not have furniture, although there is a selection of oil paintings on display in many.

Unlike many houses we have visited, the Orangery is connected to the left side of the house (to the south on the east facing wing).

But, stripped of their interior decor finery, your attention is drawn to many of the fine features that exemplify 17th and early 18th century design: the fireplaces, the doors and their beautiful hardwood frames, and the two magnificent staircases. A couple of pieces of information caught my eye during our visit: the house was constructed from local materials in the main, but finished off using imported woods from around the world, marbles from Italy, and slates from Cornwall. Also, it seems that Blathwayt financed the construction of the house from his own resources rather than borrowing the money. He thus left his estate unencumbered by debts on his death.

Outside, there are quite small landscaped gardens leading down to two pools, and original 17th century iron gates at the far (west) end, and in need of some TLC.

St Peter’s Church is much older than the 17th century house, and has a beautiful stone tile roof. Actually three roofs, for the central nave and side aisles. William Blathwayt is buried in the churchyard.

Above the church are ‘Mr Blathwayt’s Lost Terraces’, now mostly overgrown.

Dyrham001

Dyrham002

20160812 052 Dyrham Park

Next to the terraces lies the deer park and, with advice from other visitors to Dyrham yesterday, we tracked down the large herd of fallow deer that was resting nearby.

20160812 083 Dyrham Park

20160812 082 Dyrham Park

Dyrham Park is on a trajectory to former glory. We look forward to visiting again in a couple of years once further restoration has been completed, and more rooms (fully furnished) are once again open to the public. And hopefully by then I’ll be able to take full advantage of the walking opportunities through the park once my leg is fully healed.

 

Homes fit for a king (or queen): one slighted, the other opulent . . .

Corfe Castle, standing on a conical hill in gap in the chalk Purbeck Hills, commands a stunning view north over the rolling hills of Dorset, and guards access to the Isle of Purbeck to the south. Today it is a glorious ruin.

20160705 035 Corfe Castle

20160705 036 Corfe Castle

Looking north over the rolling Dorset landscape.

20160705 108 Corfe Castle

South towards the village of Corfe and the Isle of Purbeck.

It was built by William I (The Conqueror) in the 11th century, underwent significant changes during the following two centuries, and remained a royal possession until the reign of Elizabeth. She sold it in 1572, and it was later purchased by Sir John Bankes in 1635. And it is through the Bankes family that the histories of Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy House, some 18 miles to the north, are linked.

During the English Civil War, Lady Mary Bankes led the defence of Corfe Castle when attacked by Parliamentarian forces. Corfe was one of the last bastions of royalist support in southern England. Lady Mary was permitted to leave the castle unharmed, but it was soon demolished by the Parliamentarians (yet another castle slighted), and these have proudly dominated the landscape ever since. Corfe Castle is now owned and managed by the National Trust.

So, what is the link with Kingston Lacy House? Having been turfed out of Corfe Castle, the family moved north to their estates near Wimborne Minster and built this sumptuous country house, rather modest but very attractive on the outside. However, what an Aladdin’s Cave inside! It must be surely among the top three of all National Trust properties in terms of the treasures on display. One of the National Trust’s ‘jewels in the crown’.

20160610 001 Kingston Lacy

Construction of Kingston Lacy House began after 1663; the family had regained its prosperity when Charles II was restored to the throne. Rather than reconstruct Corfe Castle, Sir Ralph Bankes, the eldest son, chose to construct a family home on their estates near Wimborne Minster. What is particularly interesting is that the Bankes family occupied Kingston Lacy House continually from the late 17th century until 1981, when the house and its fabulous contents were bequeathed to the National Trust.

The entrance hall and stairs are solid marble. Statues of Sir John and Lady Mary Bankes can be seen on the first floor landing (alongside one of King Charles I). There are large windows looking out over the parterre, and the stairway leads up to some magnificent (but rather gory) paintings of hunting scenes. The plaster ceiling and paintings are magnificent.

But it’s in the sitting room, the library and other salons that the magnificence of Kingston Lacy House is shown off to its ultimate best. The walls are adorned with paintings by the Old Master including Van Dyck. The ceilings are decorated in the most opulent manner.

On the top floor are the nursery rooms, but even here are opulent paintings depicting the whole family originally from Corfe Castle (including those children already deceased—with angel wings), a painting of the Circumcision of Christ, and bedrooms under the eaves painted like tents.

Even the servants’ dining hall has old paintings!

Outside there are extensive gardens and parkland—a real pleasure to explore.

There’s so much to see at Kingston Lacy House that it’s definitely worth a second visit if we are ever back in that part of Dorset. It’s a veritable feast for the eyes.

We visited both properties during our summer break in the New Forest. Our eldest grandson Callum (who is from Minnesota) told us that he wanted to see a castle during his holiday over here in England. His disappointment was evident when he first saw the ruin. “That’s not a castle,” he exclaimed. But it wasn’t long before he and his sister and two cousins, Zoë, Elvis and Felix were having a whale of a time exploring the whole site, and dressing up in medieval costumes.

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.