Sunday, April 23, 2006

London Kaleidoscope - 22 April 2006

Rutland - Easter 2006

StamfordRutland Water is the largest man made lake in Western Europe, and a very pleasant place for a sunny spring day. We spent a relaxing afternoon on Good Friday by the lake after a walk from Stamford to Ryall.

Stamford is a very beautiful stone town, used for all the town & village scenes in the latest production of Pride & Prejudice. The town escaped the industrial revolution because the family at the nearby great house of Burghley House refused to let the rail-way come & spoil 'their' town. This was probably an economical blow to the tradesmen of the time, but a bonus for the current tradesmen.

Eyebrook ReservoirEaster Saturday started very misty & we walked from the picturesque town of Lyddington past another reservoir, used by the Lancaster bombers in WWII to practice night time bombing. We then visited the Bede House in Lyddington, originally a Bishop's Palace, stayed in by Henry 8th, later an Almshouse. A tour of the accommodation made us less than enthusiastic to have been a resident!

Exton cottageWe then did a very interesting guided walking tour of Stamford, followed by a circular walk around Exton described as one of the loveliest villages in Rutland. It is certainly rates as one of the best we have visited. Fort Henry The walk went from the estate village to a folly known as Fort Henry; built in 1788 by William Legg for Henry, Earl of Gainsborough the owner of Exton Park.

Sunday was lovely and sunny again. We did a morning walk around Belton-in-Rutland, and spent the afternoon visiting two country homes. The first, Deene Park, has a beautiful position, with gracious rooms opening onto a terrace leading to formal gardens with a lake beyond. It is still a beautiful home, obviously much loved by the current family. The second, Southwick Hall, was Deene Parktwo centuries older and consequently less comfortable, but obviously has had an interesting past.Southwick Hall

We finished the day with a walk around Oundle, smaller than Stamford, but equally attractive. From there, we did a short walk to Ashton, a delightful village of thatched stone houses, rebuilt by the Rothschild family just over a hundred years ago. We had a lovely dinner in their equally beautiful thatched pub. Ashton Mill

Easter Monday started with brilliant sunshine. We started the day visiting Hallaton, which has a fascinating Easter Monday tradition. First they share a hare pie & then compete with a near-by village in a 'bottle-kicking' competition. The 'bottles' are actually small casks of beer. We were too early for the action, so left to visit Grimsthorpe Castle. On the way we passed through Oakham and visited the castle. All that is left is the Great Hall, built 1190, the earliest surviving aisled stone hall in the country. Oakham Castle HorsehoesThey have a tradition that visiting peers of the realm and royalty must present the Lord of the Manor with a horseshoe. The oldest to survive was presented by Edward IV in 1470 & the most recent by Princess Alexandra in 2005. The “horseshoes” are horseshoes in shape only, rather large and grandiose, depending on the donor.

Clipsham Yew Tree AvenueThe next interesting place we stumbled over was a topiary by Clipsham, an amazing driveway to Clipsham Hall, now looked after by the Forestry Commission.

Grimsthorpe CastleGrimsthorpe Castle, when we reached it, was most impressive and interesting. The family has the hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain. This means they have a collection of thrones from the House of Lords, used by previous monarchs.

The sun had been replaced by thunder storms by the time we left Grimsthorpe, and by the time we reached our final destination of Rockingham Castle, there was a terrific hail storm. Rockingham CastleRockingham Castle is 900 years old, and would have withstood many such storms and much worse over the centuries. For half of that period it was a royal fortress and the remaining 450 years a family home. An excellent video captured the sense of history very cleverly. The castle gave us a feeling of the past, but we enjoyed the grounds and the amazing view over the countryside more.

Bank holiday traffic never ceases to amaze us, and we returned to London in less than 2 hours.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Newbury - 8 & 9 April 2006

Rolling fieldsThe Ridgeway is one of the many long distance footpaths in Britain. We explored a small section of it in glorious sunshine, the day before the south was once again unseasonably covered in snow.

Waylands Smithy Typical vistas are of large fields and a gently rolling landscape. Along the way we came across one of many burial barrows in the UK, Waylands Smithy. This one had already been looted when excavated in 1920. Further along the Ridgeway was one of the most stylised White Horses we've seen here. They also date from 1000BC and are stunning on the green hills, the shape revealing the horse in the white chalk beneath.

Weathervane HillFor the Kiwis, we found a replacement tree and obelisk for One Tree Hill!

Ashdown HouseThe walk also included Ashdown House, built 1663 in a Dutch style for a sister of Charles I. The house contains her collection of family portraits. The amazing feature of the house is the huge wooden staircase that occupies 25% of the floor area of the building.

In spite of the recent discovery of bird-flu in the swan up north, we dined in the Swan down south. The staff at our accommodation made the recommendation, not difficult in a country teeming with picturesque pubs serving tasty food. The Swan

The Sunday weather forecast was for rain mid-afternoon, so we set out for a morning walk to beat the weather. The walk included several small Berkshire villages. We lunched at the final village - Brimpton Common in a pub called The Pineapple. Unlike our understanding of pineapples these days, the name refers to the fruit of a pine tree, which we know as a pine- cone. When pineapples did arrive here, they were exotic and only enjoyed by the rich. Not likely to be served at a pub.

Stonor HouseWe decided the rain wasn't about to arrive for a while and drove in lovely sunshine to look at Stonor House. By the time we parked, the sky had darkened & we just made it inside before the hail made it extremely cold and unpleasant. The house had an interesting history, as they all do! We saw a priest hole where, during the reign of Elizabeth I, a printing press was secreted in the roof space to publish Catholic literature. The printer was Edmund Campion: captured in 1581; sent to the Tower; tried then hung, drawn & quartered (nasty habit they had). In 1970 the Catholic Church made him a saint.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Kent - 1 & 2 April 2006

Morris galsKent in the spring proved to be a very interesting weekend. We started at Chilham, a village that is reportedly the most photographed village in England, and has been used in films (Moll Flanders) and TV series such as Miss Marple. Morris Men
As we had a cup of tea in the very quaint tea-rooms, we watched with interest as people in unusual costumes kept arriving. We seemed to have picked a good day to visit, as they had displays of Morris dancing. We gathered that 1 April was a significant date in the Morris dancer calendar. (There were male groups and female groups. What does one call female Morris Men?) Leader of the packThe leader of the Morris dancers had his face painted half green & half white to represent spring chasing winter away.

Lunch was a bowl of absolutely delicious, home made, parsnip apple & curry soup cooked by Lady Fitzwalter of Goodnestone, whose garden we visited.

Suitably refuelled we enjoyed a relaxing walk from Sandwich to the coast and back. Sandwich has a prestigious past as one of the original Cinque Ports and remains a very picturesque town, somewhat larger than Chilham.

The Red Lion, HernhillFinally, we then visited two more picturesque villages - Elham & Hernhill, where we had an excellent dinner at a pub with the most popular name in England.

Sunday started with a visit to the St Augustine Abbey, part of the Canterbury UNESCO World Heritage site, which also includes the Cathedral and St Martin’s church – the oldest parish church in England. The abbey ruins with the Cathedral behindSt Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory to re-establish Christianity in Britain. He was granted land to build an Abbey, of which only very small sections of ruins are left. Most of the visible remains are from the later (Norman) buildings.

FavershamNext stop was nearby Faversham, another old Cinque Port, and also a beautiful town, with over 500 listed buildings.

The season for visiting stately homes seems to have arrived with April, so we had a relaxing afternoon strolling around the lovely grounds of Belmont House. The Folly at BelmontThey will be stunning in the summer. We found the brilliant use of espalia type fruit trees very intriguing. This was the first time we had seen apples trained on such low wires, a system is called “step over” for quite obvious reasons. The conducted tour of the house gave a real insight into its history and furnished us with heaps of useless horological trivia as the penultimate resident Lord Harris amassed the world’s largest private clock collection.