Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Gardens Royal – 24 July 2011

After the Royal Palace yesterday, we extended the theme today with two Royal Gardens.

We had a 2 for 1 coupon for the Savill Gardens for the month of July only. Fortunately, after all the rain this week, Sunday was a beautiful day, ideal to make use of this.

Savill Gardens are named after Sir Eric Savill, ranger at Great Windsor Park, who obtained permission from George V to turn a waste land corner into a garden, and that was the beginning of Savill Gardens. The summer borders were stunning, as was the new rose garden, with an elevated walkway, to smell the especially chosen fragrant blooms.

Morning tea in their new stunning pavilion was a must. The old pavilion had been removed, which made way for a special New Zealand Garden. The idea was germinated from the gift of plants to the Queen from New Zealand.

Following the visit to this royal garden, we then made use of our membership to again visit Wisley Gardens and see how their summer borders looked. We spent even longer at Wisley, as the gardens were absolutely stunning. Our favourite had to be the new Bowes-Lyons rose garden. It was so much more than a rose garden, beds of vibrant flowers complemented the roses.

We finally dragged ourselves away from Wisley, and checked out the church in Wisley village. This old 12th century church is simple, yet timeless and quite moving to think of all the lives who have been involved in it's history.

Just down the road is The Anchor pub, on the Wey Navigation. The pub was chockka when we arrived, but we had come armed with a 4 mile walk designed to be done in conjunction with a visit to the pub. By the time we had completed this, there was a smaller queue for tables, and we enjoyed a delicious salad beside the canal. British summer at it's best!

Royal Garden Party – 23 July 2011

'The Dress' dominated news broadcasts, at the time of the Royal Wedding in May. When we visited Buckingham Palace last August, and had our tickets converted into an annual pass, we didn't even know there was going to be a royal wedding. So to learn the dress was going on display at the Palace summer opening, was a bonus.

We planned to meet David Smith at the Palace, but before then, we decided to complete the Grosvenor Estate walk that we had to abandon last Palace visit, because of rain. The Grosvenor Estate is recognised as the largest and best preserved Regency estate in Europe. There is a real mixture of top quality housing, once the residences of aristocracy, side streets occupied by tradesmen (we saw an old time motor repair garage still operating) and even experimental social housing.

The mix still applies, as the social housing is still there, and the best streets still have private residences, even including Lady Thatcher with an armed policeman outside.

The Palace is, of course, stunning and we enjoyed the chance for a second visit on our tickets, purchased last year. This year the special exhibition was the royal collection of Faberge. The display was amazing, and certainly far more than we have seen previously. The wide range of objects made was intriguing, even a kiwi.

The Dress was fascinating to see up close, and the welcome chance to sit and watch a video about it's design, was great too. We also enjoyed seeing reproductions of the wedding photos, displayed in the Throne Room, where they were taken.

Lunch of course had to be at the pavilion just outside the Palace, beside the large lawn used for garden parties. As we left, we were approached by an ITV reporter, and asked our impressions of The Dress. But unfortunately we didn't appear on the news clip that night.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Floral Feast – 17 July 2011

Gloucester Cathedral is one of our favourite cathedrals. Not only is there the family connection with Bishop Hooper, the tomb of William the Conqueror's eldest son always fascinates us, the massive pillars and elegant cloisters are a wonderful mixture. This was all enhanced this week with the cathedral's Floral Festival.

We had planned this weekend away to fit in with the festival, and it turned out to be even better than expected. The advertisement that encouraged us to attend told about a floral carpet which filled the aisle, but in fact there was so much more. The whole cathedral was filled with floral arrangements from groups all around the area. The ticket suggested allowing two hours to see it all, and this was certainly required.

The morning had started with heavy rain, but by the time we finished the floral festival, the sun had come out and we were able to enjoy the rest of the day in sunshine.

Southwest of Gloucester is the lovely property of Rodmarton Manor. The house is relatively new, having been built in 1909. It took 20 years to build, and was made by local craftsmen using local materials and traditional methods. The effect is that of a much older house, quite simple and quite special.

The garden is advertised as one of the finest in Gloucestershire, and that's not a false claim. We really enjoyed the variety of garden styles, the colourful borders, the formal clipped trees and old fruit trees. It was a garden to inspire budding gardeners.

The trip back to our hotel was through a variety of lovely Cotswold villages, all just as lovely as Wroxton, the village we are staying in.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Going west to see the East – 15 July 2011

Sezincote was the inspiration for George IV, when he built his Brighton Pavilion. We have enjoyed visiting his eastern fantasy palace in Brighton so decided to take Friday afternoon off work to visit Sezincote, which does not open on weekends.

The house was originally a standard country manor house and was purchased by someone who had worked for the East India Company and when it was inherited by his brother, just three years later, the brother – who also served with the East India Company – continued with the plans to convert the house into an Indian Palace. Having stayed at several Indian country palaces (one was ex British army officer's house), we could immediately see the similarities.

George IV heard about Sezincote, so when he was staying nearby he drove over to see it and was so impressed, that he instructed his architect to change the theme of the Brighton Pavilion from Chinese to Indian. As he was part way through the project, the end result at Brighton is a bit of an eastern mish-mash, unlike Sezincote

We loved the house, and can understand why the family of the current owners rescued it from demolition and restored it to its former glory. During WWII, it was so dilapidated it was nearly demolished but, unusually, buyers were available despite Britain being at war. They have done a wonderful job of restoring the house, and the gardens are delightful. A cascade of colourful bushes follows a stream down the hillside.

We spent the night at a quintessentially Cotswold hotel in Wroxton. Thatched roof and lovely old stone walls, excellent dinner in the low beamed ceiling restaurant – the perfect English weekend!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Field of Dreams – 9,10 July 2011

The Metro this week had a photo of a beautiful wildflower meadow in Somerset, and as we have a weakness for wildflowers, we decided to base our weekend in the area.

Only two hours from London, is the old-time seaside town of Clevedon. Unlike the beach-hut/amusement arcade style seaside town, Clevedon is delightful. With a maximum tide range of 47 feet at the Listed Pier, and an abundance of great cafes, this is an interesting place for a lunch stop.

From Clevedon we started a circular drive, through a series of small towns, which 500 years ago, were trying to outdo each other in building bigger and more ambitious churches. We inspected them all, and the monuments to the “worthies” buried in each.

On Sunday we headed south to the flower meadow, passing through the wonderful town of Wells. The town developed around the freshwater wells over 1000 years ago, and was obviously very prosperous, from the wealth of wonderful old buildings.

The wildflowers lived up to our expectations, and from the number of cameras in evidence, everyone else thought so too. There were two acres of flowers, 57 different types of seeds used, on a piece of what was waste land.

We have never really seen a display of natural wildflowers to match what others rave about, the best so far being the Alpe de Suisse. Although this field was stunning it was also unnatural as the seeds had come from various parts of the world and were planted here to create a sight that would not ever occur naturally.

Near here is Lytes Carey Manor, a restored 15th century house, where we enjoyed a different type of beautiful garden,.

Not far from here we drove past Haynes Motor Museum, and decided to include this in our day. The cars were a lifetime collection, and were a stunning visual display, especially the 'red room'. Here all the cars were red, regardless of what make or age.

We followed a circular drive back to Wells, stopping at the lovely small town of Nunney, which is dominated by the ruins if a 14th century castle.

Not far from here, but which proved difficult to find, is a Victorian Abbey, part of a school. Downside Abbey is definitely worth a detour. It is massive, yet crisp and still looks new.

The final stop of the day was another garden – Milton Lodge on a hillside above Wells. The garden was stunning as was the view, with Wells Cathedral in the sunlight dead centre of the vista, the perfect way to end the weekend.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Writer's block – 3 July 2011

It's impossible to sleep in, in a tent. So we were up at 7, and ready with our boots on at 7.45, for a walk along the Heritage Coast. But sadly, as we threw the loose items in the car boot, this included the car keys. Owning an MG sports car, we have been very aware of the problems this would cause, as there is no internal release, and an engine between the car and the boot, so no way of breaking through. Fortunately the AA have a trick up their sleeves for this situation, the sad part was they took three hours to turn up. So Murray had to wait patiently for them to arrive, where there was cell phone coverage, while Christine had a mini walk along the coastal path, returning a full hour before the AA turned up.

It was a quick ten minute job once he arrived, and we were on our way in the sunshine just after 10 o'clock. The morning seemed to feature Thomas Hardy. We started in Dorchester, which he knew well and featured (renamed) in novels. Nearby is the tiny hamlet of Stinsford, where his heart is buried in the churchyard. A short distance north is the cottage, in isolated woodland, where Hardy was born and grew up; surrounded by a lovely cottage garden, the small cottage was a real step into the past.

Driving north from here, we visited a very different style of house. Athlehampton House was built in 1485, by a Lord Mayor of London. It is still a private house today, and open to the public. The gardens are Grade 1 listed, and really wonderful to enjoy on a summer's day. They are obviously really old too, with wonky fountains and great formal clipped yews. The house is equally impressive, starting in a great hall, it all oozes history.

We passed many picturesque country towns, and visited a number of interesting churches. The best would have to be Bere Regis, with it's box pews, balcony for the church band, old tombs and texts on the walls.

Continuing south, we planned to walk around Lulworth Cove, but called into Clouds Hill on the way to visit the tiny country home of TE Lawrence. Famous as 'Lawrence of Arabia' and author of the 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom', Lawrence suffered a breakdown and came to live here and work at the Army Tank Corps nearby. The house had few amenities, but Lawrence found it a haven and set about making it liveable in the style which suited him. We found it very interesting. It was very close by that he had his fatal motorbike accident in 1933.

Lulworth Castle is very near the Cove, and a very different castle to visit, as it was totally gutted by fire in 1929. The stark interior is now a wedding venue, and available to visit. A circular staircase has been installed in a tower, and leads to the roof, with great views. Near the castle is a chapel which is the first free-standing Catholic chapel built after the reformation.

Lulworth Cove is said to have been formed by glacial runoff in the Ice Age. It is a perfectly circular bay, which appears to be a natural harbour, but never seems to have been exploited as a fishing harbour.

From here, there was just one last stop at Whitcombe Church to see medieval wall paintings. We found these, but also were fascinated that they genuinely had 'bats in their belfry'!