Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wandering Wimbledon - 30 August 2008

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis MuseumDepending on the age of your children, Wimbledon is either known for one or two things: The Wombles and Lawn Tennis. There are other interesting sights in the area so we set off across the Thames to explore Wimbledon and Wimbledon Common, it being 7 years since we first wandered over the Common.

Commons are a wonderful remnant of the past that provide fabulous green spaces for public enjoyment, in this case over 1000 acres, so, even with two visits, there is much we have not seen.

Millennium Fountain, Cannizaro ParkTucked into the southeastern corner is Cannizaro Park, the grounds of a grand house that is now a hotel. The Park is owned by the Council and is a rhododendron showplace at the right time of the year. Other than the Millennium Fountain, there was nothing overly spectacular on display as we circumnavigated the Park.

Wimbledon WindmillFrom there we went to the Wimbledon windmill, the focal point of our 2001 walk and then set off for Southside House (very close to Cannizaro Park but it was not open when we were in that area).

Southside House is a real treat: it was the poor-relation amongst the many houses that the family owned and has never been upgraded so there exists a rare example of a perriwig powdering closet in a room entirely covered in painted hessian (the poor man's tapestry). Our guide demonstrating the use of the perriwig powdering closetUsually such rooms have been re-decorated and the painted hessian discarded - in the same manner one discards stripped wallpaper - so it is very rare to have a complete set of painted hessian wall-coverings in-situ.

The whole place is delightfully quirky and eccentric. One Horton ancenstor had amassed the largest collection of portraits (with many van Dykes) but a descendant forfeited them to the crown in the Jacobite Rebellion. From the government coffers they ended up on Walpole's wall and thus his son "inherited" them and sold the collection to Catherine the Great and so they now hang in the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis MuseumLeaving the Common we set off for "The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club" better know simply as "Wimbledon", the home of tennis and "Centre Court". Even for tennis avoiders like us, the award winning Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum on the grounds is worth a visit.

Buddapadipa TempleWandering back to the common we passed the Thai Buddapadipa Temple, looking tranquil and serene but completely out of place (it is one of only two outside Asia) among the substantial houses in the area, before arriving back at the Windmill.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Notting Hill Carnival - 25 August 2008

The largest Carnival in Europe happens at Notting Hill every August Bank Holiday, but since we are typically off somewhere else on holiday weekends, we had never seen it. So this year we stayed put in London.

The information in the press and on the web said that the parade went from 10 am to 7 pm. Although we wondered how the performers handle a parade that long we set off bright and early only to find the area basically deserted apart from the food stalls getting their barbeques going.

One policeman told us that the parade started at 12pm another suggested it was a bit random with the best not happening until 3pm. As it turned out, a Chinese section celebrating the Olympic Beijing-London handover passed about 11:30 and then after a short break other parade participants perambulated past periodically.

We had bagged a prime spot for photos but were continually frustrated by parade “Stewards” who seemed to perform no function whatsoever except annoy the photographers behind the barriers by blocking their sight lines.

So what with the fixed parade stewards, the mobile stewards accompanying each group, the police and the press photographers it was a constant challenge to get any decent photographs at all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Henry was here too - 23 August 2008

Our friendly weather forecasters predicted that east of London would be a better bet today, and promised fine weather, so we fired up the MG and set off for Mill Green.
Blackmore churchBlackmore church
Our walk took us from there to Blackmore, the location of the Jericho Priory, birthplace of Henry VIII’s bastard son Henry Fitzroy. Also in the area was a bordello that Henry VIII is supposed to have kept and this has given rise to the phrase ‘gone to Jericho’, as the courtiers would use this as code-speak for when the King was off visiting the ladies.
Espalier pears at Ingatestone HallIngatestone Hall

Ingatestone Hall GatehouseReturning to Mill Green we enjoyed a picnic during rare spot of English summer and then visited Ingatestone Hall, a sixteenth century manor house built by Sir William Petre, Secretary of State to four Tudor Monarchs. Sir Mountnessing windmillWilliam's descendants live in the House to this day.

After a brief afternoon tea stop at the foot of the Mountnessing windmill we meandered our way back to London via the back routes and several quite forgetable villages.

A Tudor Rose? - 20 August 2008

KnaresboroughAnother depressing weather forecast encouraged us to head back towards London to see if we could visit Chenies Manor House, a stately home we first came across by accident in 2001 but which is only open during the week and at bank holidays, Since we are normally working during the week and away on bank holidays we had, so far, not returned to visit.

We thought we had time for one side trip, so we left the motorway and detoured through Knaresborough to Old Mother Shipton’s cave.

Old Mother Shipton's CaveBilled as the oldest tourist attraction in the country, Henry VIII is even said to have visited. It consists of a cave where Old Mother Shipton is said to have taken refuge by a spring that discharges water with very high calcium content. This “petrifies” anything that it runs over – so the edge that the water cascades over is festooned with ‘stuff’ to be petrified – mainly small teddy bears.

It is quite a pleasant place to break a journey and spend a bit of time exploring, but we had places to go and things to see so we were in and out in quick time and back on the road.

We made it to Chenies just in time for the last tour of the day. Chenies Manor House used to belong to the Russell family – The Dukes of Bedford, but when sold to cover death duties in the 50s it was purchased by a couple who have restored and refurnished it.

Chenies Manor HouseHenry VIII also visited Chenies; it was quoted in the trial of Catharine Howard as one of the locations she committed adultery. Unfortunately the guide we had for our tour was new, so could not confirm the story we had heard when we fist visited the church at Chenies in 2001.

View to the churchThe story we were told then was that the side chapel, which is a mausoleum for the Dukes of Bedford, is only opened once a week when a florist delivers one red rose to be placed on a grave. Apparently a son did this for his mother and left a bequest for this to continue after his death: all very sweet, and unverified.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Coldstream, Chillingham and Cragside - 19 August 2008

Coldstream bridge on the borderPopping briefly back across the border we visited Coldstream, birthplace of the Coldstream Guards. Also on the Scottish side of the Tweed and further upstream is Floors CastleFloors Castle so we stopped in for a look around. The Castle is impressively large with Victorian embellishment turrets that make it quite fairy-tale-ish. They have recreated a French style parterre for the Millennium but there is nowhere suitable to view it from in order to get the full effect. Floors CastleThe 'hot' border in adjacent walled garden was at its peak and because cottage garden borders have to be seen when the blooms are in their prime was one of the best we have experienced on our travels.

Back in England we stopped at Chillingham Castle for a complete contrast. There was very little information about the recent history but we gathered that the current owner had inherited the Castle in a completely run-down state. He has ripped out many of the Victorian 'improvements' and now the Castle appears to be much as one would have seen it in its baronial days, rough Chillingham Castlestone walls covered in all manner of hunting trophies, shields, swords and pikes; a far cry from the splendour of the State Rooms at Alnwick yesterday.

Stepping forward several centuries we arrived at Cragside, the Victorian home of Lord Armstrong whose Castle we visited yesterday at Bamburgh. This was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity and is also home to the biggest hand-made rockery in the world and Chillingham Castleone of the largest collections of Douglas firs. As with many of these splendid homes a lack of descendants and the punitive effects of death duties meant that the family simply walked away, handing the property, house, furniture and contents over to the state. Having been rescued by the National Trust it means that anyone can now enjoy the results of Armstrong's Craigsidebrilliance as his inventions and industry provided the financial resources he needed to build this as well as spend £1 million restoring Bamburgh Castle.

We stopped by a couple of cute Estate villages, Ford and Etal before enjoying a delightful meal at the Red Lion in Milfield.

What to do when it rains - 18 August 2008

Stephenson's famous bridge across the TweedAlthough it was supposed to be summer, the weather was not co-operating and the misty rain set in as we were halfway round the Berwick upon Tweed city wall walk. By the time we got back to the start and could explore the town itself the mist had become proper rain.

Berwick-upon-TweedWe headed down the coast hoping for a change but it was not too be, so we visited Bamburgh Castle in the rain. It houses quite an interesting display of the various things Lord Armstrong got involved with; ranging from experiments with static electricity, through hydraulics, to the production of 285 ton guns mounted on railway carriages.

Alnwick Castle's TreehouseA little further south is Preston Tower, a remnant of a fortified dwelling from the time when the Scottish-English border was hotly disputed. We just had time to fit in a quick Alnwick Castle's Treehouserepeat visit to the State Rooms at Alnwick Castle before sitting down to a delicious dinner in the rather quaint Tree-house Restaurant.

Biscuit tins to Chippendale - 17 August 2008

Preston MillLeaving Edinburgh we set off to explore the area between there and Berwick-upon-Tweed - the most fought over settlement in European history. (Currently in English hands). The A1 takes a more direct route so we set off around the costal route stopping at North Berwick and Dunbar before heading inland to visit Preston Mill.

St AbbsBack to the coast to see St Abbs then inland once again to visit Manderston, the home of Lord Palmer of Huntly and Palmer biscuit fame. A feature display in the old servants' quarters was a collection of Huntly and Palmer commemorative biscuit tins. ManderstonThe house is also home to the only silver balustraded staircase in the world.

Paxton House was the next stop, and the family story behind this home, now in the care of a Paxton Housecharitable trust, is one of lost love, murder (the butler did it - honest!), failed marriage and so forth, all quite depressing, unlike the interiors: Chippendale was the original interior design consultant and the Hall now houses the largest collection of Chippendale furniture in Scotland (63 of the original 100 pieces), Dunbarand all the pieces are in the rooms that Chippendale originally made them for. Adams was also heavily involved and many rooms have stunning Adams ceilings. The Withdrawing Room is a stunning combination of the work of these two as the marquetry on the side tables reflects the Adams ceiling above.

Edinburgh Tattoo - 16 August 2008

Having watched the Edinburgh Tattoo from the other side of the globe we felt that we could not be in the UK without seeing it live at least once, so this was the year. JedburghWe had travelled as far as Wakefield on Friday night to break the journey and leaving there this morning we left the A1 and took the A68 towards Edinburgh stopping and enjoying a walk around both Hexham and Jedburgh. The A68 delivered us very nicely to the Sheriffhall Park and Ride so we parked and rode into the throngs that fill the Edinburgh streets at Festival and Fringe time. The Royal Mile leading up to the Castle gates was simply crammed with people wandering or watching the various street entertainers.
Fringe street sceneFringe street scene

Fringe street sceneFringe street scene
After catching up with some Kiwi contacts in Edinburgh it was time to queue for the Tattoo. The weather forecast all week was for rain, then showers, then sprinkles but in spite of the brave and up-beat sentiments on the Tattoo website "[If it rains there] is a feeling of mutual sympathy which forms an even stronger bond [between audience and performers] than usual." we were fortunate to only have to contend with a slightly cool breeze as it stayed quite dry.
Edinburgh TattooLochiel Marching Display team

Highland dancersEdinburgh Tattoo
We thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being among the crowd at the Tattoo and seeing a touch of home with the performance by the Lochiel Marching Display team.