Friday, May 26, 2006

Cotswolds - 20 May 2006

The Thames at Wallingford The drought has definitely broken in the south of England, but before it got too miserable, we managed to snatch a few hours of sunshine on Saturday in Wallingford. Wallingford town centre
Wallingford and Burford are two picturesque towns in Oxfordshire, and great for shopping.Looking down the main road into Burford

It used to be a tennis court, now a formal water featureOur lunch spot was Kiftsgate Gardens, where we were able to wander around between rain showers. The gardens have a lovely outlook towards the Malvern Hills. Garden vista to the Malvern Hills

Chastleton HouseChastleton House is a real experience of stepping back in time. The National Trust has only carried out essential work on the property, and basically it is as it has been lived in by the same family for 400 years. Chastleton HouseTo see the house, you need to book in advance, (they only allow 175visitors per day) and the time we choose of 4pm was perfect. We reached the front door just as another rain cloud moved over. The hall had a welcoming fire, and the dimly lit rooms must have been typical of how they looked when the house was lived in. Most of the rooms did not have central electric lighting.

It is amazing to think that someone actually lived in the house as is was until 1991.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Yews and views - 13 & 14 May 2006

VannSome English country houses look so fascinating and inviting, you feel you would love to live in one & never leave. We walked around a beautiful country garden on Saturday, surrounding a house of this type. Vann across the pond and through the looking glassThe property is called Vann and is open to the public for a very select number of days each year. Photos really don't do it justice.

Old yewOur next walk was rather more strenuous. We looked around the Kingley Vale Nature Reserve, supposedly the largest yew forest in Europe, with trees up to 2000 years old. At that age yew trees have reached a stage where they have grown past being ungainly, and are handsome again. The branches sag to the ground, root at that point and put up leaders that repeat the cycle. One tree had two concentric rings of off-shoots, still connected back to the original trunk. The walk climbed a steep hill, with brilliant views, and took us on to the small village of Stoughton complete with the necessary excellent pub lunch. Typical spring field scene

Driving through the beech woods is such a pleasure with the brilliant blue haze of bluebells, seemingly floating ethereally above the green forest floor. Somehow, the pavements of Chichester, where we finished the day, just did not compare.

Tulips at VannSunday was overcast, hazy, cool, but fine. A harbour walk around Pagham Harbour was a peaceful start to the day, followed by two interesting country houses, both of which had been totally destroyed by fire. The first, Uppark, was destroyed by fire in 1989, and reopened 7 years later. They restored it to the same 'faded glory' it had before, so a visitor returning afterwards, would see it looking the same. Their display of techniques employed was very interesting. What they managed to salvage from a totally gutted shell is simply amazing.

Stanstead ParkThe second house: Stanstead Park, was burnt down in 1903, and rebuilt in a grander style. After 100 years of wear and tear, this house also has a type of 'faded glory'.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Bluebells - 6 & 7 May 2006

Thatched cottages in WherwellThe south of England is currently in the grip of a drought, after two dry winters. This has of course been great for walking, so it was somewhat of a surprise to find ourselves walking in the rain on Saturday.

Harewood Forest bluebellsWe set off from Wherwell, a beautiful Hampshire village, full of thatched cottages. The walk returned to the village via Harewood Forest. The bluebells are now out, and complimented the beech trees with their fresh foliage.

Houghton LodgeNot far away is a property nearby called Houghton Lodge. This is officially called an 'orne' which was the term for a rural retreat, when it was built at the end of the 18th century. Beware of the topiary dragonWe enjoyed the tranquil grounds alongside the Test River, and in particular the surprising topiary dragon, that puffs 'smoke' at you, when you pass by.

Rape flowers at their bestSunday was a much nicer day, and we started with a walk along one of the many chalk streams in the area. This one at Shawford (i.e. sure ford), was a very attractive walk. A second longer walk was in the vicinity of New and Old Arlesford. We were hoping to see more bluebells as the walk went through several woods, but obviously they were not the right sort of woods, instead we walked through stunning fields of rape.

Avington ParkAfter this walk, we did a tour through the grand house at Avington Park. It has been a prestigious residence with visits in the past by various royals, and today is still in beautiful condition.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Blossoms - May Bank Holiday

Kensington blossomsAn early Bank Holiday combined with a late spring, meant the weekend was like a blossom festival. After a detour through some very pretty, blossom lined, streets in Kensington we travelled to the south coast for the long weekend.

West Dean GardensA walk from Rowlinson Castle to Stanstead Park got Saturday off to an energetic start followed by a leisurely stroll around the beautiful West Dean Gardens. Some of the beautifully trained 250 varieties of fruit trees

Next stop was the picturesque town of Bosham on the coast. This is where King Canute attempted to stop the tide, and when we were there, it appeared as if he had succeeded. The tide was so far out we were able to negotiate a slimy tidal causeway type path across the bay.

BoshamThe church is featured in the Bayeux Tapestry as King Harold visited Bosham Church prior to sailing to Normandy in 1064. Harold is said to have prayed in the Saxon church before making the crossing (photo) The appropriate section of the Bayeux Tapestry has been reproduce by a local needlecraft expert and is on display in the church.

After exploring our local town of Emsworth, also in a lovely setting, we had an excellent dinner at one of the many pubs.

Chichester canal and the typical British fishermanSunday was cloudy, but still fine, so we started the day with a circular walk from Chichester along the canal to the marina and back along the coast finishing in time for the 1.30pm tour of of Goodwood House. Dell QuayThis beautifully restored castle-like house in a park-like setting was built by one of Charles II's illegitimate sons. Goodwood is famous for it's races, both horses and cars.
St Mary's HouseSt Mary's House was a complete contrast to Goodwood House. This is one wing of a medieval 'guest house', where monks provided food and lodging for pilgrims walking the South Downs’ Way, headed for Canterbury. The house is so old, but still cosy & very liveable.

St Mary's is in the pretty village of Bramber and next door is another historical town - Steyning, which has 125 listed buildings.

Arundel CathedralMonday morning began exploring the town of Arundel, which boasts a huge castle & cathedral, both set on hills above the town, a really lovely setting. After a stroll around the town we did a 'proper' walk from 'Lord's Piece' enjoying the bluebells starting to flower and the trees all bursting into leaf at once, after being held back so long by the cold. There was a track marked on the map that seemed to cut off a rather unnecessary dogleg so we followed it down until it ended at gate into a garden. This is not unusual in England and since the gate was not labelled “Private” we opened it and continued along the fence line towards the far gate. About halfway across we were shouted at by the irate landowner for being on his private land and thereby discovered why the dogleg existed in the published walk. .

Turf MazeOur final excursion was to Parham House. An Elizabethan mansion that has been restored to how it would have been. The gardens are beautiful, with many interesting flowers and plants even though it was early spring. It is also home to a rather infuriating turf maze.