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Visiting Brideshead

Exploring England #33

In the 1981 television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Brideshead Castle is home to the fictional and fabulously wealthy Flyte family. In reality, the magnificent building which stars in the series is Yorkshire’s Castle Howard, one of the largest country houses in England. Belonging to the Howard family since the 18th century, Castle Howard is not really a castle, but a stately home built where a military castle once stood. Filled with statuary, paintings and a wealth of precious objects, the house is one of the ten Treasure Houses of England.

Ticketed entry to the house allows us to wander at our own pace from one elegant room to the next, where friendly household staff tell us stories about this beautiful home. In the Antique Passage, we see treasures collected by generations of the Howard family while on their grand tours of Europe. We marvel at the workmanship in the Chapel, the collection of family portraits in the Turquoise Drawing Room and the dome of the Great Hall, restored after a devastating fire in 1940.

Castle Howard is surrounded by 1, 000 acres of lush parkland, ornamental lakes and fountains, gardens and woodlands. Gilded gates lead into the 18th century walled garden where roses, fuchsias and an abundance of annuals grow alongside beds filled with edible plants destined for the family kitchen.

Beyond the garden we stroll along the shaded Lime Walk to the Atlas Fountain, where gods of the sea serenade Atlas as he holds up the sky.

At South Lake, the Prince of Wales Fountain plays elegantly over the water while the Shepherd Boy keeps watch.

At the end of Temple Terrace stands the elegant Temple of the Four Winds, while in the distance New River Bridge leads to the private family mausoleum.

In Ray Wood, sunlight shining through the trees dapples the wide path. Birds sing but remain unseen as they stay hidden in the leaves.

At the Boathouse Café, we enjoy a delicious lunch on the shores of Great Lake.

All the time we’ve been at Castle Howard I’ve almost expected to meet the family; not the Howards but the Flytes – Julia, elegantly lounging by the fountain, Cordelia sitting quietly in a window seat or Sebastian, with his teddy bear, Aloysius. They’re nowhere to be seen, but I’m sure I feel their presence.

A Walk Around York

Exploring England #32

On our first day in York we had one goal – to visit The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, more commonly known as York Minster.

Dating from the 13th century, the church is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. To make the most of our visit, we took a guided tour around the vast interior. With our enthusiastic leader, we learned the stories behind the medieval stained glass, Gothic carvings and ornamented ceilings inside the church and marvelled at the intricate stonework outside.

It would have been a mistake for us to think, once we’d seen the minster, we were finished with York. We spent the rest of the day exploring beyond the minster and found a wealth of historical buildings with their own stories.

Described as the best preserved medieval street in the world, The Shambles is  lined with haphazard half-timbered buildings. Each storey overhangs the one below until, at the top, they almost touch. Once filled with butcheries, the street now bustles with artisan stores, cafés and souvenir shops.

Until King Henry VIII’s reformation of the churches in the 1500s, the Treasurer’s House was the official residence of the Treasurer of York Minster. It was given to the Archbishop of York in 1547 and now belongs to the National Trust. Built over the top of a Roman road, the house is said to be haunted by a group of Roman soldiers who march in formation to an unknown destination.

The Abbey of St Mary was another building forever changed by Henry. Once the richest Benedictine Abbey in England, it was closed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Much of the stonework was reused on other buildings; today only the north and west walls remain. The gardens of the nearby Yorkshire Museum enhance the jagged beauty of the ruins.

In contrast to the ancient buildings of York, the museum is relatively new. Opened in 1830 by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, it was one of the first in England specially built as a museum.

We came across many more wonderful buildings on our walk. We did not know their history but we were entranced by their appearance.

After wandering the streets, we found a different way to view the beautiful architecture of York. The city wall, complete with medieval gates and defensive towers,  gave us another insight into the past.

It also provided us with excellent vantage points to appreciate once more the glory of York Minster.

Join Jo for more Monday Walks

One Family’s Heritage

Exploring England #28

When Lady Anne Clifford came to stay at Brougham Castle in the autumn of 1670, she was continuing a long family tradition dating back to the 13th century. Located near the River Eamont near the Cumbrian town of Penrith, the castle was one of four owned by the Clifford family and even then, it had an impressive history. Built in the early 13th century, it played host to Edward I in 1300 and was an important strategic site in the wars with the Scots and during the English Civil War. After restoring the castle in 1643, Lady Anne stayed many times and died here in 1676.

The centre of Brougham Castle has always been its magnificent stone keep, a three storey tower with spiral staircases, hidden passages and stylised carvings.

On the third floor, a walkway inside the walls circumnavigated the entire building, joining one room to the next. After climbing the narrow steps to the top, we followed in Lady Anne’s footsteps as we walked around the tower. Inside we could see the structure of the building, and from the outside windows we looked out over the remains of later additions and the surrounding countryside.

Back down in the paved courtyard, we were awestruck again by the sheer size of the castle keep. It was easy to imagine how happy Lady Anne must have been when she passed through the gatehouse to her family home on that long ago October day.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Heritage

Searching for Romans

Exploring England #27

We knew there were Roman ruins at Ambleside – they were clearly marked on the map. There was just one problem. We couldn’t find them!

Driving north on the A591 we passed by the spot where we thought they should be but we didn’t see any signs. We doubled back and looked again, but there was no indication of their whereabouts from the road.

We spied a small tourist information centre, so we parked the car and went in to seek help. A friendly man said there definitely was a Roman fort and pointed vaguely towards Borrans Park. We set off on foot in the direction he’d indicated, walking through spacious parkland at the northern end of Lake Windermere.

We came to a rocky outcrop which looked a little like a wall – could this be the remains of the fort? It didn’t look quite right, but we climbed up and over and took some photographs just in case.

From the top of the rock we could see small groups of people in a field at the far end of the park, eyes down and looking very intent. Perhaps we hadn’t gone far enough. We continued on, until an information board confirmed our suspicions. This time we had found the ruins.

The foundations are all that is left of the stone fort constructed here at the start of the 2nd century AD. We wandered around each part of the fort, joining a herd of contented cows who seemed oblivious to the curious visitors in their field.

In one corner of the field was the start of a public footpath – a country walk beckoned and we couldn’t resist. We said goodbye to the the cows and headed off on a raised boardwalk over marshy land on the bank of the River Rothay.

The lush greenery of the woods was mirrored in the calm, shallow water of the river, and we stopped several times to enjoy the beautiful reflections. At the junction with the River Brathay the water was so clear we could see dozens of tiny fish swimming downstream.

Leaving the river behind, we passed through a turnstile and crossed another field before joining the footpath on busy Borrans Road.

As we walked back to our starting point in the park we checked once more for a sign to the fort. Had we missed it on our drive?

No, there weren’t any signs. Lucky we found the information centre or the Romans would still be undiscovered!

Join Jo for more Monday Walks

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Reflecting

Looking For Beatrix

Exploring England #26

Beatrix Potter’s beloved home, Hill Top, is one of the most visited sites in the Lake District and I’d heard about long queues and timed tickets, which often sell out early in the day. But on an cool and overcast Sunday afternoon, there were just a few visitors in the pretty village of Sawrey and I almost had the house and its beautiful garden to myself.

Hill Top was purchased by Beatrix Potter in 1905 with the proceeds of  her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It was the first of many properties she bought in the Lake District and was the place which inspired many of her stories and paintings. As I wandered along the garden path, it was easy to see where her inspiration came from. Late summer blooms perfumed the air and the lush greenery of the vegetable garden spilled over into the fields beyond.

The house, with its thick overcoat of vines, was a vision in green and the garden even came indoors; every room was decorated with simple floral arrangements.

It was easy to see why Beatrix loved this place, with its tranquil setting and beautiful country views. From an upstairs window I gazed out upon the surrounding farmland, and imagined her standing in this same place whenever she stayed here.

I felt her presence in the garden too, and expected to find her around the next corner, paintbrush in hand. I thought this robin was posing for me, but perhaps he was looking for Beatrix.

 

Caring for the Past into the Future

Exploring England #23

Imagine you are newly wed and your parents’ wedding gift is a home. It’s not just any home but a magnificent timber framed building with its origins in the 14th century and 15th and 16th century additions. It’s a little worse for wear due to the excesses of previous owners, who’ve spent the family fortune on themselves with little regard for the house’s upkeep. What would you do – remove, renovate or restore?

Luckily for us, when Charles and Mary Nevill found themselves in this situation in 1883, they chose to restore their new home, Bramall Hall, to its former glory.

Bramall Hall is a Tudor manor house set in 60 acres of parkland in the Borough of Stockport in Greater Manchester. It had been the home of the Davenports for 500 years, but with family fortunes dwindling and costs increasing, the house was not well maintained. When the Nevills moved in, they began a program of restoration which continues to this day. Some rooms retain their medieval or Tudor character while others are decorated as they were in Victorian times when Charles and Mary lived there.

Bramall Hall is now owned by the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, who recently completed a £1.6 million maintenance and restoration program. With continued care, future generations will be able to appreciate the beauty of this historic home as much as Charles and Mary did.

More Than Words

Exploring England #20

Foremost among the many beautiful buildings in Manchester is the John Rylands Library. Founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands, the library was gifted to the people of Manchester and first opened to the public in 1900.

The library houses a vast collection of precious books, manuscripts and illuminated texts, including a Gutenberg Bible. An entire wing is dedicated to the Althorp Library, which Enriqueta acquired from Lord Spencer for £210 000 in 1892. But as fascinating as the collections are, it’s the spectacular Victorian building many people come to see.

The neo-Gothic interior is richly ornamented, with stained glass, vaulted arches and soaring ceilings. Statuary fills every niche.

Enriqueta and John Rylands, immortalised in white marble, greet visitors to the Reading Room, where alcoves are filled to overflowing with aging leather-bound books.

Historical figures of artistic and scientific importance line the walls of the Reading Room, They look down serenely upon those who visit, as if ready to impart their knowledge to a new generation.

Whether it’s ancient words or wonderful architecture, this beautiful library has something to offer everyone.