Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Birds of a different feather - 20 July 2008

The MG outside Lamport HallWith an MG Saloons Day as an excuse we headed north to Lamport House, had a look at their cars while they looked at ours and then wended our way back home via Holdenby House and the back routes, byways and little villages of Buckinghamshire.

Holdenby HouseHoldenby House
Holdenby House was, at the time of building, the biggest home in England. To see it now you need to visit Northampton where a whole street of houses was built from the recycled stone after 7/8 of it was demolished.

The fateful archesThe kitchen wing (since extended somewhat) and two arches left standing in a field near the house are all that remains of the place where Charles I was ‘imprisoned’ and it was through the arches that the Parliamentarians came to deliver the news of his death warrant and to take him away.

Peregrine FalconBarn Owl
Charles and his father, James I, used to visit the House to indulge in falconry and that option is still open today in the form of corporate experience days at the falconry based here. We were treated to a falconry display on the front lawn; an entirely different sort of aerial acrobatics to yesterday.

WinslowFrom there it was a leisurely trip home, enjoying the summer scenery of roadside wild flowers and fields of ripening grain as we dawdled through Buckinghamshire’s delightful villages

Farnborough Air Show - 19 July 2008

Red ArrowsRed Arrows

Two years ago we got rained and frozen out of the Farnborough Air Show and since this year was the 60th Anniversary year we decided we would try again.

CatalinaBecause it was the anniversary year we were treated to an extended flying display that included nearly 30 minutes of the Red Arrows – always a treat. Other acrobatic displays were the Blades Extra team, the Aerostars YAK-50 team, the Indian Air Force Helicopter team, the Swift Acrobatic team with their gliders and one other team.

Parachute displayA huge favourite with the crowd was the second public flight, since 1992, of the Vulcan B2 bomber XH558, the only one of its type now flying. Even though there were nearly two hours of display still to come after the Vulcan landed, there were many comments around us along the lines of, “Well that’s what we came to see – lets go.” and many did at this point.

Indian Air Force Helicopter Display TeamHonouring the past in other ways were a Spitfire, a Vickers Vimy, a Hawker Sea Hawk and a display of 8 WWI aircraft taking part in a mock dog-fight. Throw in a dash of the unusual, the Bell Augusta Tilt-rotor; the roar of the jet fighters including the new Eurofighter Typhoon; and the plain crazy, an Alenia C-27 transport plane doing a loop; and a great day was had.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Two Towers - 13 July 2008

Naze towerOn the headland at Walton-on-Naze in Essex, is a tower built in 1720, as a navigational aid for shipping. It was recently bought a local resident and, after 284 years, first opened to the public in 2004. The climb to the top involves 111 steps, and the reward is art works displayed at each level on the way up, and a great view from the top.

From the tower, we did a 3-mile circular walk around the Naze headland. It is a beautiful remote feeling spot, with golden sand on the beaches. Beach huts below the towerThe builder of the tower was sensibly far-sighted, as, under the waves, 9 miles out to sea is the site of the original Walton township. The cliffs have eroded over the years, leaving the tower uncomfortably close to the sea.

Layer Marney TowerThe second tower of the day is also privately owned, Layer Marney Tower. This was originally intended as a rival to Hampton Court Palace, but, due to the early deaths of the first and second Lord Marneys, only part of the complex was built. The tower (this time only 101 steps) is the only part open of the main building to the public, and it gave a real sense of stepping back in time. Built in the 16th century, it is a total Tudor experience. The gardens are so tranquil, church just across the garden to one side, great hall and barn, both close to the tower. It certainly didn't feel like only 50 miles from London.

Thistle flowerBefore returning, we visited the nearby picturesque town of Coggeshall where one can find Paycockes; the preserved town house of a wealthy Tudor merchant, complete with another lovely garden. Grange BarnNearby, in this must-see town, is the Grange Barn. Built in the 12th or 13th century it is the oldest and one of the best of its type left in Europe. It is amazing to think of it as a huge storehouse of produce. As we drove home we passed an enormous supermarket chain distribution centre warehouse, presumably the modern-day equivalent.

National treasures - 12 July 2008

Stratfield SayeAs Kiwis from the other side of the globe, it is amazing how much of what we learnt in history is tangible and preserved in the UK.

A one-hour drive from London takes you to Stratfield Saye, the country home of the Duke of Wellington, purchased with funds given by a grateful nation to a national hero and national treasure.

EtonWellington originally had plans for a grand palace, not unlike Blenheim Palace, from the designs on display, but he eventually decided to make the existing dwelling on the property more comfortable. The result is a homely house, still very similar to the way it was when the Duke came down from London, and still lived in by his descendants.

Eton quadHis favourite charger, Copenhagen, survived all the battles with Wellington and lived to the ripe old age of 28. The horse was buried with full military honours and, so the story goes, the enormous oak tree growing on the grave, grew from an acorn tossed in the grave by his housekeeper. This was one of many stories told by the elderly tour guide, who made the tour extremely interesting with anecdotes from the lives of the family.

Windsor CastleFollowing in the footsteps of Wellington's and his three sons, we went to Eton, in time for a guided tour of the school. It was interesting to hear the history of the school, and have a look around the original school, including the first classroom - one of the two earliest existing classrooms in England - the cloisters and chapel. Eton was set-up by King Henry 6th, as was Kings College in Cambridge. As the alma mater of 18 British Prime Ministers Eton must rank as a national treasure.

Along the shortest street in EnglandWe then followed a very pleasant figure-of-eight walk, which crossed the River Thames to Windsor, with a walk past the castle walls and up the Long Walk Walk as well as a short walk along the shortest street in England; Queen Charlotte St – 51’ 10”. The number of tourists drawn here by the Castle and spending their tourist pounds makes Windsor our third national treasure for the day.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Highclere Castle - 6 July 2008

Highclere CastleAfter our trip to the Valley of the Kings at Christmas, we thought it only right and proper to visit Highclere Castle, the home of Lord Carnarvon who financed Howard Carter’s Egypt expeditions.

Highclere Castle gardensLord Carnarvon was an early adopter of the new fangled motorcar and was even cited by the local bobby for travelling downhill with reckless disregard for others at speeds up to 25 mph. As a result of this wanton speed he suffered a few motoring accidents and, consequently, was advised by his doctor to spend the winters in warmer climates.

So he chose Egypt, became interested in archaeology and the rest, as they say, is history.

A lovely SS 100 Saloon in front of Highclere CastleClosing the motorcar – Highclere - Egypt – Highclere – motorcar loop was a Jaguar day in the grounds celebrating the XK Jaguar register’s 40th anniversary. Unfortunately it was an absolutely awful day for the owners to have their open top sports cars out for a spin as it rained most of the day.

We enjoyed a small patch of sunshine against the black foreboding skies as we left.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A little day out - 5 July 2008

There are a number of model villages in the UK and we have visited those at Godshill in the Isle of Wight, Bourton-on-the-Water and Wimborne Minister but it has taken us seven years to get around to visiting the largest, oldest and certainly our closest model village; the Beckonscot Model Village at Beaconsfield.
Beckonscot Model VillageWe must have driven past the sign at Exit 2 on the M40 hundreds of times in those seven years, often remarking that we must call in one day; but we were always rushing off to somewhere or on our way home late in the day, so never made it.

So today was the day, and well worth the detour it was too. Unlike the other villages, this one is very much alive with model trains, trams, sailboats, cable cars, merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, and even a house fire - all operating. Beckonscot Model VillageThe other three are models of the town in which they are situated; and in each of them one can find the model of the model in the model. This one is not modelled on any real village; it just echoes many familiar English scenes. One “real” model is of a house that no longer exists, Green Hedges, the Beaconsfield home of Enid Blyton.

Beckonscot Model VillageOriginating as a back-yard hobby in the 1920s, the owner chose a scale of one inch to the foot (1:12) and this has become the standard scale for dolls’ houses to this day. Over the years the village changed with the times until the decision was taken in 1993 to restore the village to the idealised 1930s that its creator started with. There are a few cars scattered around that are a little later than the 30s but the overall effect is quite captivating.

Long Crendon ManorIt is riddled with merchant’s names to amuse, if you are fond of cringe-worthy puns. Argue & Twist, Solicitors; W.E. Humpit & U.Burnet, Coal Merchants; Juan Coat, Painter and Decorator; Chris P. Letis, Greengrocer and so on.

Princes RisboroughWe stopped briefly in Princes Risborough where we bumped into the Street Parade and fancy dress that begins their annual town festival. Children from the various educational establishments, along with a few parents, were making their way down the main street.

Old Courthouse, Long CrendonMuch, much less busy was the village of Long Crendon where, at the end of the very pretty High Street, one can find the Old Courthouse. Built in 1500 it is a beautiful old timber framed building that was saved from demolition in 1900 and placed in the care of the National Trust as one of the Trust’s first few properties.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Summer pursuits - 28 June 2008

West Green GardenSummer is a great time to visit gardens and see them at their very best and today was a beautiful summer day for doing just that. We recently became aware of a garden that is in the top 50 in the UK and although the National Trust owns it, it is not strictly an NT property. West Green GardenNevertheless, free entry was available to NT members on Saturdays and, as NZ Historic Places members, that included us - so off we went. West Green Garden is really quite a delightful setting with many different “rooms” and some interesting water features.

The VyneAs we were “in the area” we called by and re-visited The Vyne. We were last there in September 2001 and had forgotten many of the lovely features of this fine example of an English Country House.

West Green GardenAlso nearby is the site of Roman town of Silchester. All that remains now are the town walls, of varying heights (up to 4m) and the gaps for the gates. The walk around the walls is, from memory, 2.8km and just outside the walls are the remains of the amphitheatre.

The digInside the walls we came across the Reading University Archaeology Dept Summer Dig. For six weeks every summer since 1999 a small area of the old town is turned into a hive of activity as students and others, dig, scrape, sieve, sort, wash, measure and document.

While walking around the walls we picked a few elderflowers to indulge in the very English pursuit of making our own elderflower cordial, and very nice it is too. A cruck-framed thatched cottageOne can’t help wondering how many casualties there were along the way as people discovered that all the green parts of the plant are poisonous but the flowers can be eaten or turned into a drink.

On our way home we stopped for a short walk around Watlington, a delightful little Oxfordshire village at the foot of the Chilterns.