Monday, December 21, 2009

Enjoying what was left of the snow - 20 December 2009

Winter canal scene
Extra care was needed crossing the tracksThere was more snow overnight, so we did a 'countryside' walk at Osterley, which is a few train stops short of Heathrow. We had previously done the same walk in the summer of 2001, so it looked rather different today.

Ice skating swansThe fields were still covered in snow, and part of the walk was along the Grand Union Canal towpath, which was lined with snow, and sections of the canal were frozen. On such a lovely day, it was a perfect way to enjoy what was left of the snow.

Christmas decorations at Osterley ParkChristmas decorations at Osterley Park
The walk ended at Osterley Park, where the grand house was open, decorated for Christmas.

Dickens' Christmas - 19 December 2009

St Paul's Cathedral
Snow covered carIt really feels like the Christmas (brainwashed by the Christmas cards of my childhood), with a heavy snow fall two nights ago, and the snow still lying on the ground and our car. So it seemed a good time to do a Dickens Christmas walk, with a City of London guide. Starting at St Paul's, we were taken around parts of central London which were used by Dickens in his books, and especially Millennium BridgeA Christmas Carol. This interesting walk on a glorious crisp winter's morning was a good lead in to spending the afternoon in a warm theatre to watch the latest film adaption of of this enduring story.
London Christmas lights

Monday, December 14, 2009

Deck The Halls – 13 December 2009

After spending the night in Sheffield, we started the day in the very attractive city centre. The Winter Garden is the largest city centre glasshouse in Europe, and a really lovely place to enjoy.
Sheffield Winter GardenMurray's mechanical mates
There seemed to be a large percentage of New Zealand plants, and in fact we saw our first kauri outside New Zealand. (It is going to be a real problem to them in a few hundred years.)Sheffield Millennium Gallery The Millennium Gallery can be entered from the gardens. This has an interesting history of the Sheffield Steel and Silver manufacturing history. Behind the Winter Garden is the Peace Square, another pleasant place on such a nice day, with the chateau-like backdrop of the town hall.

LSheffield Town Halleaving Sheffield, we headed for the Peak District again., this time to visit Haddon Hall. En-route we stopped in Bakewell to visit their markets and treat ourselves to a selection of Bakewell pies and puddings. The original Bakwell pudding was made by accident (as things so often are) and the derivative, the Bakewell tart, has become a UK-wide favourite.

Haddon HallHaddon Hall is an amazing place to visit at any time, but it really suited the Christmas treatment. The house was abandoned at the end of the 18th century, so totally avoided being 'improved and modernised'. The old hall was decked out with holly and other greenery. The Long Gallery had an excellent group of singers, giving new and old versions of Christmas carols, then there was a chance to listen to 'Charles Dickens' read from 'A Christmas Carol'. Christmas fare was on offer too and we tried a turkey cob with mulled wine, both of which were delicious.
Medieval banquet Haddon Hall'Charles Dickens' reading from 'A Christmas Carol'
No trip to the Peak District is complete without a stop in Hartington at the cheese factory, and after stocking up, we set off for London via Milldale, one of the Peak Districts best kept secrets.

Filling Every Hour with 63 Minutes – 12 December 2009

Christmas in Peak District country homes was the theme of our weekend out of London. An easy 3 hour drive from London took us to Hardwick Hall, one of three mansions built by Bess of Hardwick.
Hardwick Old Hall Hardwick Hall
This remarkable 16th century women was married 6 times, but kept control of her fortune, and began the building of this Hall aged 63, after she got bored with renovating her former home. Hardwick Hall Light enhancing, Tudor styleseems grim by today's standards, but was a formidable project in its day, and a home of luxury; as the abundance of large glazed windows show. Her building project were helped by her interest in architecture and the fact that this very astute business women owned lead mines, quarries and forests. Glazed windows were the new status symbol, so she set up her own glassworks.

The ruined shell of her former home, Hardwick Old Hall, next door to the 'new' one, is also open to the public, as is the nearby water mill.

Old Brampton church clockFrom here, we did a circular drive, which took in Old Brampton, on the way to Chatsworth, which is another of the homes Bess built. Old Brampton reminded us of the Kipling poem: 'fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run' (the motto of our time over here!), as it was included on the circular route because the clock-maker painted 63 minute markers on the dial of the church clock, and that's the way it stays!
Walking towards ChatsworthChatsworth
Edensor floral festivalFrom here, the drive took us to Chatsworth, where we enjoyed a circular walk along the stream to Edensor, the fascinating support village for the big house. The 6th Duke had it built with one of each style of house available in the pattern book of the day. After a delicious & huge afternoon tea at the tea rooms, we found there was a floral festival on at the church. This was stunning and delayed us so long, there was only just enough daylight left to finish our walk.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tower of London – 6 December 2009

Tower of LondonTower of London
Our annual Historic Palaces Pass is due to expire at the end of the Tower of Londonyear, so we decided to use it one last time and visit the Tower of London again. Since we visited last December, they have opened a new exhibition celebrating 500 years since Henry VIII was crowned at the Tower at the age of 17. The exhibition is excellent.

Unlike last year, the crowds were out in force, and we decided to skip the very long queue for the Crown Jewels, and fSir Walter Raleigh's roominished of the areas we missed on our previous visit with the wall walk and a visit to the Bloody Tower where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for 10 years. His room is set out as it could have looked in his day.

After starting the weekend at Anne Boelyn's childhood home, we finished the weekend at her final address.
Ravens at Tower of LondonTower Bridge

A tale of Three Christmas Houses – 5 December 2009

Hever CastleChristmas in mid-winter is still a novelty and to visit a country home decorated for the season is a delight. Today we visited three very different houses.

The first was Hever Castle, a historical castle and childhood home of Anne Boelyn, elaborately restored in Victorian times. The castle is magical, and the stunning modern Christmas decorations made it even more magical. Hever CastleMost rooms had elaborately decorated Christmas trees, with a fire burning brightly on the hall. Children enjoyed the fake snow in the entrance courtyard.

From here we went south to Standen House. Standen HouseThis was built in the arts and crafts era, and decorated in traditional Victorian style. We were welcomed at the door by the 'house-maid' in costume of the era, as were all the other 'staff'. The trees here were covered in home-made treats and decorations particular we loved the dried apple and orange slices used as decorations.

Further west is Polesden Lacy. This was the home of Mrs Grenville, aPolesden Lacy prominent heiress and hostess in Edwardian times. After paying our admission, we were given an invitation from Mrs Grenville to attend her house party this weekend. The house was glowing with lights, red floral decorations and a huge Polesden LacyChristmas tree, traditionally, cut from off the estate. The many 'staff' and 'guests' were all dressed to fit the part, and we really felt welcomed and could imagine what a thrill it would have been to attend one of her parties. The saloon is stunning. The room was transported from an Italian Palace, with large mirrors and gold leaf embellishing every vertical surface.
Polesden LacyPolesden Lacy

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Down on the River Bank - 29 November 2009

Yesterday's sunshine changed overnight to wet and cold. Just the sort of day for a museum, and we really enjoyed the Henley-on-Thames River and Rowing Museum. The well presented exhibitions give a fascinating history to life on and around the river.

To compliment this is an exhibition every child would love. The story of Wind in the Willows is told on audio as you walk past a series of excellent models and dioramas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Riots and Radicals Ramble – 28 November 2009

Lambeth Bridge over River Thames
Today's title is from a London Timeout magazine's walking route, which seemed the ideal way to start the day. Although the magazine was 18 months old, nothing changes, and the walk took us past places of historical interest where various riotous events took place over the last 350 years.
Former Doulton BuildingKennington Park
The walk started in Kennington Park, where 50,000 chartists held a protest march in 1848 for workers rights, and ended in Trafalgar Square, where we were passed by an actual march, also workers and non-workers concerned about the rising unemployment in Britain, marching as always, down Whitehall.
Brian Hawes, anti-war protestorMarch down Whitehall
There were many points of interest along the way, of particular interest to us as antipodeans, was the pier where prisoners were transported to Australia.
Lambeth EmbankmentInternational Maritime Organisation
Banqueting HouseThe Banqueting House on Whitehall is an absolute masterpiece with a real link to radical history. The building was commissioned by James I in 1622, and in 1629 Charles I paid Reubens £3,000 to paint the 9 canvasses which make up the ceiling. But only two decades later, Charles I was beheaded on the balcony here.

Big BenThe day was completed with another Daily Mail afternoon tea deal, this time at the National Gallery. Apart from the usual sandwiches and small cakes, the tea had a huge delicious scone, straight from the oven. We would have to say this was the best cream tea we have had. Following afternoon tea, we spent a very pleasant time wandering the galleries. In particular we were impressed with the new Hoerengracht exhibition, which is a walk through the Amsderdam red light district. A film about the exhibit explains how the mannequeins were made from clay models of real women. This exhibit is free to visit and well worth the trip into town.

Houses of Parliment through Burghers of Calais statueHouses of Parliment