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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.

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.

 

Wall Walking

Exploring England #19

Many towns and cities in England have remnants of ancient walls and gates, originally built by the Romans and fortified centuries later by the Normans. Chester’s city walls are the most complete in Great Britain and give a wonderful perspective on the city, both inside and beyond. With medieval towers and bridges, a Norman castle, Roman amphitheatre and an ancient harbour lost long ago, a walk on the walls is a walk through history.

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The three kilometre walk surrounds the city centre and is elevated almost all the way round. We climb the steep medieval steps at Northgate, the highest point along the wall, and immediately the views are spectacular.

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Inside the wall is Northgate Street, home of The Pied Bull, oldest licensed house in Chester; beer has been served on this site since 1155. The Shropshire Union Canal, with pretty canal boats moored by the path, echoes the curves of the outside of the wall.

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The first tower we come to is the Phoenix Tower. Medieval in origin and restored by two city guilds in the 17th century, the tower is named for the carved phoenix above the door, symbol of the Painters’ Guild. In 1645, King Charles 1 watched the defeat of his army in the battle of Rowton Moor from the roof of this tower.

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Chester Cathedral, built in Gothic style, stands close to the eastern wall. For more than 1,000 years, worshippers have gathered on this site, and we leave the wall for a couple of hours to enjoy the splendid stained glass, medieval carvings and Victorian mosaics inside.

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Climbing back up to the wall, we walk on to Eastgate and the Eastgate clock, which commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The gate and its beautifully ornamental clock mark the entrance to Chester’s pedestrian shopping mall, where Tudor style buildings line the streets.

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From the top of the wall at Newgate we have a bird’s eye view of the Chester Amphitheatre. Dating from 275 AD, the stone amphitheatre is the largest of its type in Great Britain. It was in use until around 350 AD and would have been the site of military exercises, gladiatorial combat and other Roman entertainments. We’re surprised to spot some Roman soldiers in the amphitheatre today! Luckily, instead of going into battle, they’re telling stories of their exploits.

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Next to the amphitheatre, there are more traces of Roman occupation in the Roman Garden. The garden was developed in the 1950s but the pieces on display are not in situ. They were collected on 19th century building sites around Chester and placed together in this formal setting.

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When we turn the south east corner, the River Dee comes into view. The water here seems calm and still until it rushes over the weir built by the Normans around 1092 and onward under the Old Dee Bridge. This beautiful stone bridge, complete with seven arches, was built in 1387 and was the most important connection between northern England and Wales.

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There are private homes along this part of the wall and we wonder what it would be like to live here. The address of this home leaves no doubt about its unique location.

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After passing the bridge, our walk on the wall continues alongside the river, where leafy trees provide welcome shade.

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The scenery changes again on the western side as Chester Castle dominates the skyline. Originally a timber structure built by William the Conqueror in 1070, the castle was rebuilt in stone during the 12th century.

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Further along the western wall is the vast green expanse of the Roodee, Chester’s famous race course. It’s difficult to believe that, where horses now compete, Roman ships once docked – two thousand years ago this was a busy Roman port on the estuary of the River Dee. As the river changed course and the estuary silted up during medieval times the port disappeared, although traces of the Roman quay are still visible in parts of the wall. Horse racing began on the marshy land in 1539 and by the 18th century the races held in May were at the top of Chester’s social calendar. Today, the Chester Cup is one of England’s most important horse races.

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On the north west corner of the wall stand two more towers. The angular Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower and the Watertower, recognised by its semicircular walls, were both strategically placed to protect the river port from attackers.

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The last tower we come to on the walls is Pemberton’s Parlour, a Georgian alcove created in the ruins of the earlier medieval Goblin Tower. It was named after John Pemberton, a Mayor of Chester in the 18th century, who often sat here while supervising his team of rope makers toiling on the ropewalk below. After walking right around the city, we follow Mr Pemberton’s example and rest for a while in the shade.

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Returning to Northgate, our circuit of the city walls is complete. The Pied Bull is open and it’s time for some of that beer!

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Join Restless Jo for more Monday Walks.

The Gardens of Eden

Exploring England #12

Everything about the Eden Project in north west Cornwall is large, including the statistics.

Every year 850,000 people visit the 13 hectare sustainable gardens. More than two million plants grow in the outdoor gardens and bubble-like biomes, which now fill what was once a disused clay china pit.

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It’s typically warm and humid in the 16,000m²  Rainforest Biome. Lush, tropical plants overflow into every space. Slender palm trees almost touch the roof, 50 metres above the floor, and beautiful flowers bloom in profusion. Delicately formed or bright and brash, they all compete for attention.

A walkway leads from the forest floor high into the canopy and then to a lookout suspended from the roof. When the temperature and humidity rise, the lookout is closed for safety reasons.

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Covering an area of 6,540m² and rising to 30 metres, the Mediterranean Biome is smaller but the garden is just as spectacular. It seems appropriate that red, orange and yellow are the dominant colours, from the potted pelargoniums at the entrance to the large variety of exotic tomato plants in the edible garden.

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More than 3,000 plants from the temperate zones of the world fill the 8 hectares of outdoor gardens surrounding the biomes. Many are native to the region and encourage local fauna to make their home in the open sunlit spaces.

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Twenty large artworks reflecting the Eden Project’s philosophy of community and sustainability are placed across the site. Driftwood horses greet visitors at the entrance to the gardens. A biodiversity chandelier decorates the roof of the Rainforest Biome. In the Outdoor Garden, a giant bee is a reminder of the importance of pollinators.

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If you’re one of the 850,000 visitors to the Eden Project, be prepared. Whether you spend a couple of hours or stay the whole day, you’ll see and learn plenty. Just don’t try counting anything!

Blooming Truro

Exploring England #8

Garden Photography: Urban Spaces

In the warmth of a September evening, Truro is bright with natural colour. Beautiful hanging baskets greet visitors to Truro Cathedral.

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Window boxes overflowing with greenery and planters filled with late summer blooms decorate the streets.

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Begonias, all velvety yellows, oranges and reds, are complemented by delicate purple salvia.

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These vibrant flowers fill me with anticipation for my own Southern Hemisphere summer!

Enjoy more blooming urban spaces with Jude.

Peace and Longevity

October: A Garden Portrait

Japanese stroll gardens are places of contemplation and harmony where visitors can wander along meandering paths through thoughtfully planned landscapes. The Japanese Garden at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba is the largest stroll garden in Australia. Its traditional design includes large rocks, a tumbling waterfall and a central lake surrounded by sweeping lawns and sloping beds of Japanese and Australian native plants.

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Children come to feed the resident ducks, artists can often be seen recreating the serenity on paper and, on most weekends, wedding ceremonies take place here. Whatever the activity, the garden lives up to its name – Ju Raku En – public place of peace and longevity.

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The Japanese Garden is located in Regent Street, Darling Heights, Toowoomba and is open daily 6:00 am to dusk. Entry is free.

See more garden portraits at the earth laughs in flowers

Beautiful Begonias

September: Flower Portrait

There’s no doubt about it – in summer, England does potted plants better than anywhere else I’ve been. Beautiful baskets hang on every building, overflowing with geraniums, fuschias and lobelia.

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Colourful pots and boxes adorn every spare corner and line every street.

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Of all the spectacular blooms I’ve seen, the vibrant begonias are my favourite.

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The richness and ruffles of the supersize blooms surprise me each time, and I have to stop and take one more photo.

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See more flower portraits at Jude’s Garden challenge