The Captain’s cat . . .

nt-logoSteph and I have been members of the National Trust since 2011, and over the past five and a half years, we have enjoyed some wonderful day trips to view exquisite houses and inspiring landscapes.

We have now visited 53 properties, and most of those within a 50 mile radius of home. We’ve picked the ‘low-hanging fruit’ so to speak, although we have ventured further afield from time to time. This year, once the weather improved to make outings possible, we have been constrained to some extent in our choice of properties to visit because I still recovering from that nasty accident in early January when I broke my leg.

So, in the main, we have chosen to revisit a number of properties quite close to home: Hanbury Hall, Packwood House, Baddesley Clinton, Coughton Court, and the like. Last week, however, I was determined to wander further afield. But it wasn’t my leg holding me back (although by the end of the day my ankle had swollen to almost twice the size of the other, and I was ready to put my foot up on a stool and rest it). No, it was the thought of the journey. Any trip north of Birmingham, either to the west on the M5/M6 motorways or to the east on the M42. Inevitably the volume of traffic just makes such journey tedious in the extreme. The Birmingham metropolitan area is a huge obstacle around which north-south journeys have to be navigated.

20160622 102 Shugborough Hall

So when I suggested to Steph that we should head north to Shugborough Hall, just a few miles east of Stafford, I wasn’t really too enthusiastic about the prospects for an enjoyable day out. How wrong I was!

First, making the trip mid-week, we did not encounter the volume of traffic that I had feared, so the 55 mile journey too just over an hour. Second, although I can’t say I had any high expectations of Shugborough, it was one of the nicest National Trust properties that we have visited since becoming members.

Earl_of_Lichfield_COAShugborough is the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield – the Anson family. In writing this account of our visit to Shugborough, I came across this excellent account (by archivist and architectural historian Nick Kingsley) of the Anson family, so all I need to do is describe some of those aspects of our visit last Thursday that caught my attention. The central manor house dates from 1695 (William & Mary), and wings either side were added by 1745. The portico was added at the beginning of the 19th century.

The estate was passed to the National Trust in 1960 on the death of the 4th earl, in lieu of death duties. However, the estate was managed by Staffordshire County Council (SCC) until this year when the council decided it could no longer afford the £35 million annual cost of upkeep, and the property will revert entirely to the National Trust in due course.

Patrick Lichfield

Patrick Lichfield (from the blog of Nick Kingsley)

The 5th earl, society photographer Patrick Lichfield (as he liked to be known) and first cousin (once removed) to Her Majesty The Queen, continued to reside at Shugborough, occupying first (upper) floor apartments at a nominal rent from SCC until his untimely death at the age of 66 in 2005. Then his son Thomas, the 6th earl, cleared the private apartments of personal effects. The apartments are open, almost in their entirety today, but have been ‘refurnished’ by the National Trust in the style they originally enjoyed, with just a few original pieces left behind.

Given my reduced walking capacity, I was relieved to see that a shuttle bus (and a ‘train’) operated throughout the day from the entrance up to house, a distance of about 800 m.

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Under normal circumstances it would have been a delightful walk across the parkland, but I knew that this would have been impossible for me. As it is we did walk for more than 3 miles, and my foot and leg were certainly complaining by the evening.

Not all parts of the estate are open under National Trust membership, and there is a car parking fee of £3 to everyone, only refundable if you purchase a ticket for all the attractions at Shugborough. We wanted to see only the gardens and the house, and those were accessible with our membership.

Before lunch, we decided to walk the gardens and part of the park. The weather was threatening for later on when we could at least then be under cover in the house. Behind the house, on the west side, and across a channel of the River Sow (that is very slow flowing, and controlled by sluice gates) are the formal terrace gardens.

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The west (rear) face of Shugborough Hall from across the River Sow channel

There are just a few formal parts to the gardens. To the rear, west side of the house, is a rather splendid terrace laid out with a series of sculptured shrubs.  In the grounds there is a number of features, including the Cat’s Monument (commemorating a moggie that reputedly belonged to Admiral George Anson), and the Shepherd’s Monument. A delightful bridge next to the Chinese House crosses the River Sow channel and there is walking access to other parts of the parkland opposite the house.

From the entrance hall (where there are some splendid Italian plaster casts of centaurs) you pass through the Bust Parlor and Ante Room to the dining room and its exquisite plaster ceiling.

The Red Drawing Room was originally several bedrooms on two floors. But it was opened up to form this beautiful reception room decorated in a beautiful coral pink. In the other (south sing) is the Salon. The Library also has a beautiful plaster ceiling.

The ‘private apartments’ on the upper floor are decorated now to the style they had when they were the Shugborough residence of the Earl of Lichfield. Among the most finely decorated is the Bird Room, with its ‘matching’ ceiling and carpet.

From the outside, Shugborough Hall is not particularly impressive. Its grey façade is not exactly welcoming. But what a delight the inside is, and how many of the rooms ares, unexpectedly, open to visitors. And the National Trust volunteers here are really special—friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. A thoroughly enjoyable visit.

 

Dr. M. Redux . . . courtesy of the National Trust!

It is fifteen weeks today since I went base over apex and broke my leg. But I have made good progress, and I’m pleased to say that since I saw my surgeon at the end of March, and finished with formal physiotherapy sessions, I have been able to get behind the wheel and drive again. And we have been fortunate that despite the mixed weather that April has brought us so far, there have been one or two really spectacular late Spring-early Summer days that have permitted us to get out and about.

20160410 018 Hanbury HallI still can’t walk more than about a mile and a half before I feel the need to sit down and rest my leg. The ankle and lower leg swell up quite badly, and where the various pins and screws are holding my bones together, it really does hurt from time to time. That hasn’t stopped us, however, and two weeks ago (10 April), a Sunday, we decided to head out to our ‘local’ National Trust property, Hanbury Hall.

It was a glorious morning, if not a little chilly in the stiff breeze. We were hoping to see Spring flowers in the parterre garden. And we weren’t disappointed. What a magnificent display of hyacinths!

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The Hanbury parterre

Last Wednesday (20 April) was an even better day, weather-wise. Warm and sunny, and a joy to be outside in the fresh air. So we headed southeast from home, just 17 miles by motorway (and less than 30 minutes if there’s little traffic congestion) from home to Packwood House, another National Trust site we have already visited on several occasions also, but about which I don’t appear to have posted anything on my blog. That will have to be remedied. Packwood is a much-restored Tudor manor house. One of its signature features is the Yew Garden.

Anyway, we just wanted to enjoy the gardens, the lakeside meadow, and have a bite to eat in the lovely refurbished café there.

Packwood map

The Carolean Garden, and its beautiful yellow border . . .

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The sunken garden, part of the Carolean Garden, installed in the 1930s.

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The Raised Terrace, leading into the Yew Garden, from the Carolean Garden.

Scenes around the Yew Garden . . .

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Packwood House from the Lakeside Meadow.

Until my leg heals further, our National Trust visits and walks will be limited to a wander round the gardens closest to the various properties. A walk at Croome Park, for example is certainly not on the cards in the foreseeable future. But, after being confined to a chair for so many weeks, followed by limited movement around the house, it’s great to be in the great outdoors. And our membership of the National Trust is, as always, a great encouragement to make the effort to take an outing.

 

 

2015: a great year for National Trust and English Heritage visits

Steph and I have been members of the National Trust for five years now. We even qualify for the Seniors discount from January! And we’ve been members of English Heritage for just a year.

But we will be renewing our membership of both organizations in 2016. Why? Because they both offer excellent value for money, and certainly give purpose to our trips out, whatever the weather. Be it a visit to a stately home, a ruined castle, a country park, or a beautiful garden, there are so many properties to visit and experience so many aspects of our cultural heritage.

Looking back on our 2015 visits we have certainly had our money’s worth, and annual membership has more than paid for all the entrance fees we would have had to pay in any case. And much more!

So here is a pictorial summary of our great visits this past year, beginning in early April and ending just last week when we visited Charlecote Park to see the Christmas decorations. And there are links to individual posts about each visit.

NATIONAL TRUST

Lyveden New Bield (9 April)

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Brodie Castle (National Trust for Scotland – 29 May)

Brodie Castle

Culloden Battlefield (National Trust for Scotland – 29 May)

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Inverewe Garden (National Trust for Scotland – 1 June)

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Arduaine Garden (National Trust for Scotland – 7 June)

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Rufford Old Hall (8 June)

The main entrance in the seventeenth century wing.

Tredegar House (18 June)

Tredegar House, near Newport in South Wales

Chirk Castle (1 July)

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Hawford Dovecote (9 July)

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Wichenden Dovecote (9 July)

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Hardwick Hall (12 August)

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire

Newark Park (28 August)

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Croome Park (12 October)

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Charlecote Park (16 December)

The entrance hall.

ENGLISH HERITAGE

Rushton Triangular Lodge (9 April)

Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire

Stokesay Castle (14 April)

Stokesay Castle, Shropshire

Wroxeter Roman City (14 April)

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Kenilworth Castle (21 April)

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Goodrich Castle (21 May)

Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire

St Mary’s Church, Kempley (21 May)

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Witley Court (9 July)

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Hardwick Old Hall (12 August)

Looking down six floors in the Old Hall. And the magnificent plasterwork on the walls.

Wenlock Priory (18 August)

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Ironbridge (18 August)

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ironbridge

A balmy day (and Victorian Christmas) at Charlecote Park

6 March 2013. A beautiful Spring day, and our first National Trust visit of the year. Temperature: about 13C. Destination: Charlecote Park, Warwickshire.

Fast forward to 16 December 2015, and we visited Charlecote for a second time, to experience a Victorian Christmas, circa 1842.

Temperature: A balmy 14C! Although in contrast to our first visit, it was generally overcast with occasional—but very welcome—breaks in the cloud for the sun to peek through. This is what the BBC had to report about the weather yesterday.

And what better evidence that it was a balmy day—in fact, a balmy month to date. The weather has been so mild that plants such as snowdrop that we’d expect to see in flower by the end of January were already blooming yesterday at Charlecote.

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Early snowdrops!

Not only snowdrops, but also the primulas and daisies that had been planted in the parterre on the west side of the house, alongside the River Avon, were coming into bloom. I guess these had been planted out to provide some Spring colour for next March or so.

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Daisy beds in the Parterre.

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Now these daisies should be flowering next Spring.

It’s about a 300 m walk from the car park to the Gatehouse (3 on the map below) and the house itself, down a long drive. Charlecote has several herds of fallow deer, and we were fortunate that a large herd was grazing quite close to the house in the Front Park (16). Several of the bucks had impressive sets of antlers.

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One of the herds of fallow deer at Charlecote Park.

Since the house did not open until noon, we planned a walk in the park, taking in part of the West Park (13), the Cascade (11) where the River Dene meets the Avon, and views of the house from the Paddock (10) that were quite spectacular yesterday as the sun came out and highlighted the lovely red brick against a glowering sky to the north.

Although it was a little boggy underfoot in places, we enjoyed the walk, eventually made it all the way round the lake between the Front Park and Hill Park (18). ‘Capability Brown‘ made his mark here at Charlecote, beginning in 1757.

We decided to tour the house (or the parts that were open to the public yesterday) before having lunch. Everywhere was festively decorated. The table in the Dining Room was laid out for an 1842 Christmas feast.

Then we headed for the Orangery Restaurant for something to eat—the only downside to our visit. The sandwiches we bought were fine, but the service left much to be desired. I think it was a question of ‘too many cooks’ behind the counter, staff tripping over each other, difficult customers, and a failure of planning in terms of what food would be available. I saw a number of customers disappointed because their chosen meal was no longer available. And this was about 1 pm. So it took around 30 minutes to queue up and buy our lunch and there were no more than 10 people ahead of us in the queue. I appreciate that many of the staff at National Trust properties are volunteers. I’m not sure what the situation regarding their restaurants. But clearly the staff were overwhelmed.

Nevertheless, we didn’t let this affect our day out. It was great to be out and about, especially since both of us have been fighting nasty colds and chesty coughs for over a month and haven’t felt like stirring outside at all. And, with the festive decorations, it felt good to be getting into the spirit of the season. At last!

 

 

 

Like a lady revealing her petticoats . . .

Standing proudly since the mid-16th century on the edge of the Cotswolds escarpment (map), with a magnificent vista southeast and west as far as the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire and the Mendips in north Somerset, Newark Park began life as a Tudor hunting lodge. In the intervening centuries it has undergone many transformations, but it was not until the last years of the 20th century that this building began to yield up some of its hidden secrets. It has been in the hands of the National Trust since 1949.

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The south face of Newark Park, from the lower terrace [9 on the map below].

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The view from the south terrace, towards the Mendips and the Marlborough Downs.

Built by Sir John Poyntz, Newark Park (originally the ‘New Worke’) has changed ownership several times over the centuries, and each generation has left its mark. It was constructed over four floors: ground, first and second, and a basement. The original Tudor building was aligned north-south, with the main entrance on the east face.

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Newark Park as it might have looked in 1550. Note that there are no windows on the south wall (nearest). All the windows are on the east face.

In the seventeenth century another wing was added, parallel to the Tudor one, and connected centrally, so that the overall shape of the building was like the letter ‘H’. This is what I remembered from the explanation using a model by one of the volunteers. I wish I’d taken photos of that model, which could be taken apart to show how the various building projects came together in the building we see today. Here’s my plan (not to scale).

Newark plan

Further changes were made in the 18th century, and the building was squared to the shape we see today. But in doing so, and to retain the symmetry there are several false windows on the west face, or windows placed over internal chimneys on the south side of the Tudor wing. Other windows, on what would have been the west face of the original Tudor wing, were bricked in during the 18th century and became internal walls. A side wing was added in the late 19th century, and an entrance porch added after 1971.

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Coat of Arms of the Clutterbuck family, part of a large stained glass window on the first floor over the main door leading to the walled garden on the east side of Newark Park.

In the 1700s, Newark Park became the property of the Clutterbuck family and remained so until given to the National Trust, although they had not lived there since the late 1800s. A number of tenants took over Newark Park, but by 1970 it was in a considerable state of disrepair, the gardens were overgrown, and no-one remembered the buildings illustrious Tudor past. In fact, at one stage, the National Trust had contemplated letting the building become completely derelict.

But the savior of Newark Park came along in 1971, and under the terms of a ‘repairing lease’ began to discover much of Newark’s past, uncovering many of its Tudor features that visitors can now see for themselves. Access to the Tudor basement is permitted only with a tour guide, but it’s worth it. The rest of the house is open almost everywhere.

And what a delight it is. Not only is there eclectic collection of ornaments, paintings, furniture, glassware and the like, but the renovations made after 1971 opened much of the top floor.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

So who was this ‘Newark savior’? American architect Robert ‘Bob’ Parsons was born in Texas in 1920, and served as a soldier in the Second World War getting to know the Cotswolds at that time. After the war he settled in London, and apparently was looking for a ‘country house project’ to take on. He resided at Newark Park with his partner Michael Claydon until his death in 2000. And it was due to all the repair work that Parsons undertook—far in excess of the lease commitment he had agreed with the National Trust—that Newark Park is what we see today. And that’s also why it now has Grade 1 listed building status.

The gardens were completely overgrown, and when Parsons cleared those he uncovered several interesting features like the summer house [14] and a folly (11] in the process. Today the walled garden [7] on the east side of the hall looks like it has been there forever. But it was one of Parsons’ additions, and is completely in tune with the rest of the property. The whole estate extends to some 750 acres. Just click on any of the galleries below to view larger images.

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So many features of the gardens were uncovered by Bob Parsons. Strange that their existence had been completely forgotten.

The oldest Tudor part of the house, from 1550, can be seen in the basement, accessed by 18th century stairs in the company of one of the NT volunteers. Health & Safety regulations don’t permit free access downstairs!

On the ground floor, there is a plain but elegant entrance hall through curved, wooden double doors. There is a wonderful view south over the terrace through yet another door. There are two rooms in the west (17th century wing): a dining room, and a sitting room with the most wonderful collection of Staffordshire pottery figurines, perhaps too many in the glass-fronted cabinet to do them justice. Wonderful nevertheless!

Up the stairs to the first floor, you get a wonderful view of a 17th century glass window (the bow window on the east face), and a green bedroom off to the left. It apparently still displays the bed that was brought in during filming of the BBC1 2008 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles; two other scenes were filmed in the Tudor cellars.

Then up another floor, you emerge on to the most wonderful long gallery, with bedrooms, a study and other rooms leading off on both sides. The south end of the gallery has a large window offering, once again, incredible views over the Cotswolds escarpment and south. On one side there’s a cabinet with a collection of Bristol blue glass (and ruby and turquoise; envy once again!). In one of the bedrooms at least Parsons uncovered a Tudor fireplace during his renovations. The rooms certainly had that ‘lived-in’ feel about them. At the north end of the gallery a rope hangs down from the small bell tower on the roof, which is itself surmounted by a 16th century dragon weather vane in the form of a golden dragon.

Reflecting on our visit to Newark Park during the drive home, Steph and I agreed that it had definitely been one of our best National Trust days out. Not only was the property itself interesting, and its location stunning, but from the moment we passed through the ticket office and shop, the catering pavilion (for a welcome cup of coffee), and around the house itself, all the NT staff and volunteers were exceptional in their friendliness. It was almost as if they were welcoming visitors into their own home.

Well done, Newark Park staff and volunteers! We’ll be back in the Spring to see the display snowdrops and other flowering bulbs.

 

‘More glass than wall’ – a palace or prison?

It’s unusual to find properties managed or owned by English Heritage and the National Trust side-by-side. But that’s precisely the situation at Hardwick Old Hall and Hardwick ‘New’ Hall in Derbyshire.

With the weather set fair last Wednesday, we made the 177 mile round trip from our north Worcestershire home to visit ‘Hardwick Hall’, which we regularly pass on the M1 motorway when traveling to visit our younger daughter and her family in Newcastle upon Tyne. I had visited Hardwick once before, at least 50 years ago when my father organized an outing for the Leek Camera Club.

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Hardwick Hall from the ruins of Hardwick Old Hall.

Standing on a ridge looking west over the Derbyshire countryside, Hardwick Hall was the later home of one of the most influential persons in Tudor times. Friend and confidante of Queen Elizabeth, Bess, Countess of Shrewsbury was originally from quite lowly stock, but through four and prestigious marriages (at least two of them in any case), she gained status and accumulated incredible wealth.

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Hardwick Hall proclaims the status of the owner to all and sundry. Not for nothing is her monogram ‘ES’ displayed proudly on at least three sides of each of the six ‘towers’ of the hall.

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The descendants of her second marriage, to Sir William Cavendish (d. 1557) are the Dukes of Devonshire, and Bess spent much of her married life to twice-widowed Sir William, at Chatsworth, still the ancestral seat of the Devonshires since 1549. She had eight children, two of whom died in infancy.

In 1568, Bess married George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury (d. 1590), her fourth marriage, and one that brought her close to the royal court. For a number of years The Earl and Countess were given custody of Mary, Queen of Scots until she was removed from their care (essentially house arrest) and ultimately executed.

Hardwick Old Hall is now essentially a shell. After Bess moved to the ‘new hall’, and for centuries after, the house fell into disrepair, and during the 18th centuries, the building was reduced on purpose by the Dukes of Devonshire. One whole quarter of the hall, which housed the great hall I believe has disappeared altogether. But there is still a great deal to see, and English Heritage have made the greatest efforts to allow visitors to see the ruin in its entirety. The original stone staircase leads up to the top floor where there is now a wooden platform that enables everyone to view the wonderful plaster friezes on the walls, and the fireplaces at all levels. Of course the plaster friezes were never intended to be exposed to the elements. It’s a conservation conundrum—put an expensive new roof on the building or leave them possibly to deteriorate further. The views from the top of the building are stunning—these aristocrats knew where to build.

One can only imagine what sumptuous furnishings must have adorned Hardwick Old Hall. But just cross the lawn to the new hall, and you these in all their glory. What a feast for the eyes.

Climbing a broad stone staircase to the second floor ( ground, first and second), you enter the High Great Chamber with its ‘throne’, and unbelievable painted frieze high up on the wall.

Passing through an adjoining door, you are in the Long Gallery, one of the longest (but the highest) in any stately home in this country. Everywhere the walls are adorned with original tapestries, although I did overhear one of the guides saying that in Bess’ time the walls would have been plain. But in one corner of the Long Gallery are the Gideon Tapestries, hung by Bess 400 years ago and still hanging there today!

There is some fine furniture in the Withdrawing Chamber.

Several bedrooms on this floor house spectacular four-poster beds. The hall was still occupied by a Dowager Duchess of Devonshire until the 1960s.

Tall glass windows—in fact, glass everywhere—proclaim Bess’ status as a very wealthy lady. The hall has a very pleasing symmetry to it, and as I mentioned earlier, there’s no doubt whose house this was. Formal gardens lie to the south (since the house was built on a north-south axis) with the expanses of glass windows on the west and east sides.

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Arbella Stuart, granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick.

Through her marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury, Bess became linked to royalty. In 1574, her sixth child, Elizabeth Cavendish married Henry Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox, younger brother of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Their daughter, Arbella, was thus of royal blood (since Lennox was also descended from Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, through her second marriage). Arbella was a cousin to Elizabeth I and James VI of Scotland (who would become James I of England in 1603 on Elizabeth’s death). Arbella, Bess’ granddaughter, was effectively kept under house arrest at Hardwick for years and not permitted to marry. Neither Elizabeth (and subsequently James) need or want any more possible aspirants to the English throne. Arbella had an unhappy life. I doubt Arbella appreciated the grandeur of Hardwick. For her it was a prison. She eventually did secretly marry the Earl of Somerset, but was captured before she could escape to Holland. She spent her final years imprisoned in the Tower of London, and died there aged 40, supposedly having starved herself to death. 2015 is the 400th anniversary of her death and Hardwick is housing a special exhibition now to commemorate her death.

Without doubt, Hardwick is one of the most impressive National Trust properties I visited since we became members in 2011. And it’s popular, if the full car park was anything to go by. Now, as we speed along the motorway and see ‘ES’ peeping over the trees we will remember our interesting and enjoyable visit and a glimpse into Tudor life 400 years ago.

‘When a family lives in the same place for 400 years they end up with a diverse collection of art, furniture and curiosities.’

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Chirk Castle. It’s a somewhat odd legacy of a early more violent and later, opulent past.

And seemingly incomplete, its central keep standing alone on a hillside without any visible signs of the curtain walls that surely must have surrounded it many centuries ago when it was first built in 1295. Because the first castle was constructed on this site overlooking the valley of the River Ceiriog, just north of the England-Wales border, and today about eleven miles south of Wrexham and seven miles east of Llangollen (map).

It was one of several castles built by or for Edward I along the Welsh Marches. It came into the Myddleton family in the late 16th century, and remained a family home until 2004. In the 1930s however, it was home to Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden, and apartments on the ground floor of the east wing redecorated in the 19th century in a Gothic style, including the library and chapel that was converted to a music room (and also acceseed from the Long Gallery on the first floor).

Some evidence of an earlier medieval period can still be seen in the 14th century Adam’s Tower on the south side, with its exposed stonework, narrow spiral stone stairways, and even a dank dungeon nine meters underground.

Chirk probably saw its last conflicts during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, but after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 it became a family home, luxuriously and exquisitely decorated inside over the next three centuries. From the splendid entrance hall, the elegant staircase, to the refined dining room, and the colorful ceilings in the reception rooms, designed by Victorian architect and designer Augustus Pugin, and through the seventeenth century Long Gallery, Chirk has a lot to offer.

The formal garden of yew-lined gravel paths and topiary were first laid out in the seventeenth century, and the garden stretches to the east through landscapes beds and woodland. From a ha-ha at the furthest point in the garden it’s possible (on a clear day, which it wasn’t when we visited) to see over North Wales, the Pennines to the north, and the Shropshire Hills to the southeast).

All in all, Chirk Castle has something to offer every visitor.