Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Literary Inspirations – 5 May 2012

Continuing our 'staycations' on Bank Holiday weekends, the long weekend was based around the area of sunshine nearest to Chorleywood.

 Bedfordshire looked good, so we set off for a 'Pilgrim's progress' around the area familiar to John Bunyan. Our first stop was a little out of his local area, but having read about a small church in the tiny hamlet of Cockayne Hatley, we made a slight detour.

 In the 18th century, the vicar Rev Henry Cockayne had transported home the 17th century interiors of the Abbey of Alne, and installed these in his own church. Presumably, like most small country churches, this was previously quite plain, now there is a total stunning surprise when entering – just like a miniature abbey.

 We were fortunate to meet a key-holder in the churchyard. Apart from letting us in, they also showed us the tomb of WE Henley, a frequent visitor to Cockayne Hall, who had a wooden leg, and was the inspiration to Robert Louis Stephenson for Long John Silver. Also buried in the same vault is Margaret Barrie. Her father was also a friend of Henley, who called Margaret 'fwendy-wendy', which became the inspiration to her father for Wendy in Peter Pan.

 From here, we drove through picturesque villages, one with it's maypole waiting for the ground to dry out, before the May Day celebrations could take place, and on to Elstow. This is where John Bunyan was born in 1628, and would have been familiar with the 15th Century Moot Hall, now a museum.

 On the way to lunch in the lovely town of Ampthill, we walked to the ruins of Houghton House, up the 'Hill Difficulty' with the 'Delectable Mountains' in the distance. This house, visited by Bunyan in his earlier days as a tinker, was the inspiration for the 'House Beautiful'.

 The final stop of the day was Woburn Abbey, where they currently have an outdoor sculpture exhibition. The house is magnificent, to us the best room is the dining room with its 21 Canaletto paintings of Venice, which look just like giant size tourist postcards of the day, which is what they are, as the 4th Duke of Bedford commissioned them in 1731, after a visit to Venice.

 The other treasure of the house are the vaults, which contain an amazing collection of silver and china. A mock pavilion is set up with a full Sevres dinner service. This year the treasures have been added to with a recently authenticated painting of an old man, by Rembrandt. This alone made our visit today worthwhile, it was spellbinding.

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