Monday, August 21, 2006

Boats and Bricks - 19 & 20 August 2006

A study in vanishing point convergenceReading probably does not figure highly in the list of “must visit” places in Britain but we were pleasantly surprised by what we found. Storm clouds over the ThamesThe local museum has an interesting presentation on the history of the town and, amazingly, a full-scale copy of the Bayeux Tapestry; made in the early 1900s.

Heather is back in bloomReading Abbey was founded by Henry I as a place to be buried but, most inconveniently, he died in France. To preserve his body for the one-month trip back, it was sewn into a bullock’s hide. (I would not have wanted the task of opening the stitching at the journey’s end.)

Aldermaston LockSeveral Henrys later (1539) the abbey suffered the same fate as other abbeys in The Dissolution and was recycled as building material by the locals.

The town was founded at the confluence of the Thames and Kenet rivers and thus provides plenty of riverside walks.

Narrowboat holding up the trafficKenet & Avon Vistor Centre
Sunday we explored Aldermaston lock, unusual in that it has scalloped sides. Just below the lock is a lifting bridge that creates a reasonable delay for the traffic while the bridge lifts, the narrow-boat passes underneath and the bridge returns to the horizontal.

Dorney CourtEn-route back to London we stopped of at Dorney Court an amazing timber and brick Tudor Manor House that has been in the ownership of the same family basically since it was built. It is often used as a film set.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Turvey & Turville - 5 & 6 August 2006

Jonah watching the bridge at TurveyThe weekend was spent exploring small and attractive villages (now's there's an original idea for this country!!)

Saturday was spent in Northamptonshire / Bedfordshire border, cruising around villages on the River Great Ouse. Our favourite was Turvey, where we did a walk from the village, and ended up having a late lunch at the pub alongside the river - excellent value.

The almshouse 'cloisters' at Ewelme Sunday was spent in the Chiltern hills. Neither of our destination villages were on a riverbank, but very appealing non the less. Ewelme has escaped being modernised, and they think the church escaped because even Cromwell's troops could not find it. The church, almshouses and school are like another film set.

Turville housesCobstone Mill overlooking Turville We finished up at Turville, apparently used as a village base for the Midsomer Murders TV series. Most attractive architecture, and even has a windmill on the hilltop beside the village, with wonderful views over the entire village. The pub is very popular, but having sampled its wares we decided that its popularity is because of the charm of the surroundings, not the excellent value of its food.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Garden getaways - 29 & 30 July 2006

LongleatAn idyllic summer outing is a visit to a beautiful English country garden, so we spent the whole weekend in Dorset around this theme.

Saturday started with Longleat: an amazing statement of wealth and power. Many of the features in this stately home were inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice and although we have seen the original, we were still impressed.

Sherborne Castle from across the lakeIn the afternoon we visited Sherborne Castle, older, but more tranquil, on the banks of a 'Capability’ Brown lake. The house was originally built and owned by Sir Walter Raleigh.
The adjacent town of Sherborne as another 'film set' town, centered around the church and almshouses

One of the artifical lakes at Minterne GardensSunday was a series of different gardens. First Minterne: a lazy winding path threading through gardens built around a stream, that had been transformed into a series of lakes and cascades. The owner apparently rode over to Sherborne to get ideas from Mr Brown, as he supervised the garden alterations there.

The Italianate garden at MappertonNext was Mapperton. These were remodelled in the 1920's as Italian gardens and are a series of 4 terraces stepping down a wonderfully sheltered valley: a real treat to wander through. Equally lovely is their cafe - well worth a visit.

Forde Abbey Forde Abbey was to be our final stop. It has an impressive house remodelled from the old Abbey. The gardens are also lovely for a summer's afternoon with fabulous flower borders, and the highest powered fountain in the UK. The vegetable garden in depressingly impressive. Impressive because of the neatness and size of the vegetables and depressing because there is not a weed in sight, unlike any vegetable garden we have ever had – really discourages one from ever trying again.

Heale House Garden's Summer HouseOn the way home we decided to slip in one more – Heale House Garden. It was like slipping back in a time warp and we loved it. Apparently King Charles II hid there, and one almost expected to see him pop around the corner at any time!! Surprisingly, the Summer House in the picture has two streams running under it, the one pictured and another at right-angles that does not show in the photo.