Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hampton Court Palace - 21 March 2009

Formal gardensFormal gardens
Sunday thrust us into the Tudor era of Henry VIII again; that man seems to dominate so much of English history. Mothering Sunday was probably not a good time to visit Hampton Court Palace, as it seemed many other Londoners had the same idea. But it is such an extensive complex and there was plenty of room for us all.
Tudor towersTudor towers
Henry took over the Palace from Cardinal Wolsey, and the original Tudor areas are the most stunning. Later Monarchs remodeled wings of the Palace, and somehow the different styles manage to live harmoniously side-by-side. Audio tours took us through Henry's apartments, William III quarters, Queen Anne's wing and the Tudor kitchens and with the various costumed performers acting out tableaux from Henry's life there was plenty to keep us occupied for the day.
The palace from across the ThamesHenry gambles in the wine cellar
The gardens are worth a visit in their own right. Today, the wilderness area was full of blossom trees and daffodils. The formal gardens lead to the oldest and largest grapevine in the world.

Spring in Suffolk - 21 March 2009

Cavendish Almshouses
This weekend saw London at its best. The sun shone, temperatures were mild, with spring flowers everywhere.
Part of the old Abbey wallNowton Park daffodils
On Saturday we headed north-east to drive a circular route starting at Clare. Leaving this pleasant market town we headed on to Cavendish, with its attractive almshouses and then on to Nowton Park just outside Bury St Edmunds. Once the garden of a stately home, the lime avenue is a blaze of daffodils in the spring, and we were there on the perfect weekend to enjoy their 100,000 bulbs.
The Tudor PorchIckworth House
From there we drove into the centre of Bury St Edmunds, to enjoy the Abbey, now a ruin, courtesy of Henry VIII. Nearby is St Marys church where Mary Tudor, Henry's sister, is now buried having been moved from the Abbey. Bury claims to have the smallest pub in the country, which can only comfortably seat about six people. We were fortunate and found The Nutshell fairly empty so occupied a significant portion of the seating and enjoyed a drink.

The NutshellTo the west of Bury St Edmunds is Ickworth House. This stunning country pile, has some very interesting characters in its history, including an agnostic Bishop of Ireland. We enjoyed the gardens as well as looking round the house. One entire wing of the house was built just for the sake of symmetry and for most of its existence had no function; it served as a grain store for the farm for a period but was mostly just a shell.

Bury St Edmunds CathedralThe circular drive took in other towns, the most interesting features were two churches: one, at Great Bradley, with a genuine old Tudor porch and the other, at Kedington, just old and untouched. Old uneven flagstones, old C15th pews, antique triple-decker pulpit and so on. Although this may sound like many churches in England, this one was a real step back into history.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bremen - 14 March 2009

Just an hour's flight from London is the picturesque city of Bremen.
The marktplatz and the Rathaus
Theatre troup performing in the squareThe square in the old town is almost entirely bordered by old gabled buildings but the crowning glory is the Rathaus, reportedly saved from destruction (along with the 1404 statue of Roland) in WWII by an Allied bomber who deliberately missed his target.

Roland, who has stood here since 1404The Rathaus was built in 15th C but many other 'old' buildings are modern reproductions restored after the destruction of WWII.

One of Bremen's claims to fame is the huge Becks brewery; another is the Bremen Town Musicians made famous by the Brothers Grimm. The 'musicians' are a donkey, a dog, a cat and rooster. The Town Musicians (official statue)Fearing for their lives they meet up and set off for Bremen to start a new life as musicians but after settling down in a robbers den never actually make it to Bremen. This has not stopped the merchants of Bremen milking the Musicians of Bremen for all they are worth, taking the tourist cash for all manner of copies of the famous, post-war, statue of the Musicians that now stands by the side of the Rathaus.

The Town Musicians (unofficial statue)Bremen is a City State, a self-governing area run by the city merchants rather than the nobility. It has a strong maritime history although the Weser has since silted up preventing the larger ships from reaching the city. A savvy mayor, realized this was going to be a problem so purchased land at the river mouth and created Bremerhaven, now one of the largest container ports in Europe. Although not joined to Bremen it is part of the same City-State and has been the departure point for thousands of Germans setting off for a better life, just like the mythical Musicians.

Carillon and rotating displayAn interesting feature, just outside our hotel window was the carillon. Its unique claim to fame is that the bells are all made from Meissen china. It is situated in a quaint street built in the 1920s by Ludwig Roselius, the man who invented decaffeinated coffee.

The windmillHitler wanted the street destroyed as it was 'corrupt' art but Ludwig convinced Hitler to preserve it as a good example of a bad example to help prevent others straying from all that was Aryan and pure: and we are fortunate that he did as it is a wonderful example of the brick mason's art.

The DomThe oldest area of the town is the area that once was home to the fishermen. Today it is easier to find a pricey fish restaurant than a fisherman, as it is now a twee tourist trap full of boutiques, galleries, restaurants and tourist tat. Many quaint old buildings remain or have been restored making it a pleasant area to stroll around.

The highlight of the trip was the guided tour of the Rathaus, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main room is quite amazing with huge roof beams allowing the builders to avoid pillars.
Inside the RathausInside the Rathaus

Four huge model galleons hang from the rafters and the, rather At the foot of the Dom stairsout of scale, canon are used to fire a salute to honour achievements rather than pin medals on the recipient. According to our guide, this act has blown out the windows on occasions when those in charge forgot about the air pressure waves and forgot to open the windows before firing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Austin to Austen - 8 March 2009

Gathering before the Run
The Winchester MG Owners' Club invited neighbouring clubs to a 'season opener' Cobweb Spin Run so a few of the F/TF drivers met just out of London for a run down to join the Winchester group.A fine group of old Austins It was a beautiful day for a run in a convertible but the weather forecast was for wintry showers and a possibility of snow blowing through so we kept our hard-top firmly fitted. As it turned out it was only a few brief heavy showers so while all the soft-top owners rushed out to put their tops up we smugly stayed warm and dry.

Samuel Wilberforce's fine memorial (he is buried in Lavington)Leaving the club outing, held at IBM's country estate headquarters in Hursley, we went in to Winchester for another look at the city sights. We never imagined that in the late 60's when we were singing "Winchester Cathedral, you're bringing me down stood and you watched while my baby left town." that one day we would be walking along its nave, the longest Gothic cathedral nave in Europe.

Winchester High StThe cathedral is home to the (supposed) bones of King Canute as well as other early Wessex Kings from as far back as 600's. More modern bones in the Cathedral are those of Jane Austen whose grave makes absolutely no mention of her stature as one of the most beloved writers of English literature. Since she published anonymously during her lifetime, this is probably not surprising.

'Arthur's' TableWinchester Cathedral
The Great Hall, built in the 1220s is all that remains of Winchester Castle. It contains the 'original' Round Table of the Knights of the Round Table with their names inscribed at their positions around the edge. Unfortunately it is a 700 year old fake but impressively big, nevertheless.
Winchester Cathedral
And then, I sat and I drove while my baby left town.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Royal Flush - 7 March 2009

The Thames from Richmond Bridge
Waiting for its owner473 years ago Henry VIII stood on a knoll in Richmond Park waiting to spot a rocket fired from the Tower of London to tell him that Anne Boleyn had been executed. Today the spot is known as King Henry VIII's Mound and although you can't see the Tower of London and no one was firing rockets for us to pin-point it, St Paul's, 10 miles awayamazingly there is a beautiful framed view of St Paul's Cathedral, 10 miles away to the east. The mound also affords a panoramic view from the northwest to southwest with Ham House and the Thames in the near foreground.

We came across this amazing view on a walk from Richmond station, across the Green and past the site of the Tudor Richmond Palace, The old Palace Gatehousea favoured home of Edward III, Henry VII, and Elizabeth I who all died there.

From Richmond we followed the Thames for a short distance before climbing to Richmond Park then down through Petersham and out to Ham House on the riverbank. Ham House was gifted to the Earl of Dysart by Charles I, possibly as a thankyou to the lad that had grown up with him and been his whipping boy. Ham House gardenBecause it was forbidden to strike the royal personage another lad was given an education and a privileged upbringing in return for taking the royal prince's punishments.

After a tour through a few of the rooms that were open for winter viewing we followed the river back to Richmond to catch a train home.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Marching into history - 1 March 2009

FairfordThe excellent BBC weather forecast promised that the day would clear, so we bravely set off in low cloud for The Vale of the White Horse and beyond.

St Mary's windowWe explored two ‘film set’ villages – Fairford and Lechlade on Thames.

St Mary’s in Fairford is famous as the only parish church in the country still retaining a complete set of 28 medieval stained glass windows.
St Mary's, FairfordThe Ox pens
They are amazing, and have been carefully preserved by whitewashing to protect them during the Reformation and by removing them altogether during the Civil and Second World Wars. Lechlade BridgeJust outside the town are the Ox pens and a charming mill house. We stopped in the picturesque pub for morning coffee.

Lechlade although slightly bigger, is just as scenic, and because of the Thames running alongside the town was once a prominent inland port.

Driving back through the Vale of the White Horse, we arrived at Kingston Bagpuize.
SnowdropsKingston Bagpuize
Although a stately home is it is smaller than most we have visited and feels intimate and very liveable. The garden was full of snowdrops, by far the best display we have seen this year.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Doordling around Ewell - 28 February 2009

Nonsuch Mansion, not even in the same place as the palaceWhat do Tudor monarch Henry VIII and Victorian painter Holman Hunt have in common?

The new, 'old' Upper MillThe answer was in our walk; both are connected to long gone doors within walking distance of Ewell West station.

Where the Lower Mill wasHenry’s doors were on the fabulous Nonsuch Palace pulled down, 140 years after he proudly built the most advanced palace of its time, by a mistress of Charles II. I wonder what public opinion was regarding that!

The pack horse bridgeThe other missing door was on one of the disused huts of the Gun Powder Mills in the Hogsmill Valley, a short walk from Nonsuch Park. This door’s claim to fame is that Holman Hunt posed his model beside it as inspiration for his famous painting of ‘The Light of the World’, now hanging in St Paul’s.

The area is peaceful, within the M25, but feeling quite rural, with a picturesque watermill, tranquil millponds, and lots of disappeared history.