Mother Nature, as is her wont, has played a dastardly trick on us. A week of fine sunny weather and soaring temperatures, convinced us to put away our winter clothing till the frozen winds from the north and east return late in the year. No sooner had we done so, that the fine sunny weather disappeared and cold winds blew in again. Hopefully, it is but a last hurrah before the seasonal norms settle in. Continue reading
I must start watching Downton Abbey. Everyone says it’s a fine show. But…I don’t know. It just seems all a bit meh. Especially when I can be in Downton Abbey. If only for a few hours. We recently visited Basildon Park, a National Trust property, and scene of one of the recent episodes of the television series. They are mighty proud of that fact, judging by the number of banners and leaflets telling us so. They’ve even made a video.
It’s a grand old Georgian house with some very green and pleasant lands. Mrs P and I both love visiting National Trust homes and gardens. It’s a form of escapism. But you don’t simply leave behind the noise of town, the stress of work and the familiarity of home. You leave behind the whole of the 21st and 20th centuries. Sometimes more.
It was our last National Trust visit of the season. The houses all closed down at the beginning of November for a well deserved winter break. We’ve had our moneys worth this year though. We’ve been right across southern England, through Somerset, Dorset, Hampshire, Berkshire, West Sussex, Wiltshire and Kent. We’ll probably renew our memberships next year. Or soon after. If you’d like just a little photographic tour of Basildon Park, click here and be whisked away to Flickr.
In the middle of the West Sussex countryside lies a grand old stately home, Petworth House, owned and managed by the National Trust. A late 17th century building, with links to Henry VIII would you believe? And it’s all set in 700 glorious acres of rolling green hills and woods that are home to herds of fallow deer.
Would you like me to tell you all about Petworth? Probably not, and there’s nothing I can add to the National Trusts’s own website and Wikipedia. I will go so far as to say it has one of the grandest interiors of all the Trust properties we’ve visited this year. The carved room is a wood panelled affair that goes well beyond what you normally find in a stately home.The same applies to the art collection, which the Trust rates as the most important that it owns. There are Greek statues and paintings by Turner, Van Dyck and Constable. The grounds are equally wondrous, with the obligatory lake and rotunda.
But, as I mentioned above, I have little to add to the real authorities on this house. Instead, let me show you round the place with my photographs. I took plenty. Here’s a small selection in a gallery, but for the full set, click here and have a look through them on Flickr.
Perhaps you were expecting an additional review of my iPhone 6 today. The title of this post rather suggests that something about the iPhone is coming. If you were reading yesterday, there was one feature of the iPhone 6 that was a significant improvement on my old HTC One. And there it is above. The camera. Sure, I appreciate that a closer inspection of the photos in Flickr show that the quality is not quite up there with my Fuji. But they really aren’t bad. I have made minimal adjustments to them in Lightroom.
The panorama features works well. As does HDR. Noise isn’t too obtrusive, even in low lighting. Macro performance is pretty good. I even created a half decent Sphere with Google’s app – click here. Overall, I’m pretty delighted with the results. No longer will I despair if I go off for the day with my Fuji, only to discover that I’ve left my memory card in the computer. Although, that actually never happens, because I pack two spare memory cards in my camera bag…
I do, however, have one significant complaint about the iPhone camera. It’s a real bugbear. You still cannot shoot in 16:9 format. Which is, quite frankly, rather backward. Still, you can’t have everything.
Mrs P and I are still on our mission to make the most of our annual National Trust membership. It was certainly a smart move paying out the initial £70 for joint membership. We’ve saved a small fortune, visited a dozen fabulous sites and enjoyed every minute of it.
Our latest trip was to Montacute House, near Yeovil in Somerset. It’s a grand old place. One of the finest we’ve visited. It is, of course, steeped in history. It was built in the dying days of the 1500s by a lawyer of some renown. Sir Edward Phelips. He opened the prosecution against the infamous Gunpowder Plotters. We as a nation shall celebrate their demise in little over a month with fireworks and iffy hot dogs. He also participated in the trial of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Sir Walter Raleigh.
Sunny summer Sundays. You’ve gotta love them. And there’s nothing better than slipping off into the countryside to find a new National Trust estate to explore. This week? The Vyne, near Basingstoke. Which is home to a fantasy story within a fantasy world of yore. The Vyne is one of the best estates we’ve visited. That the weather was so fine always helps. There’s a fabulous lake, manicured lawns, a walled kitchen garden, a summer house with a refreshingly cool interior and the obligatory flower beds.
Of course, there’s also a grand old piece of architecture – the centrepiece of the whole estate. This particular example of Tudor bricks and mortar dates back to the 16th century and has seen many famous folk plant their footsteps down its hallowed halls. Even Henry VIII, god bless his rather twisted soul.
But the Vyne has more than the normal batch of tales of treachery, lust and loot. In one corner of the home is a glass display cabinet, slowly rotating. Inside the twirling case sits a ring. It’s an old ring, but that isn’t what makes it famous. It’s a Roman ring, but that’s still secondary to this ring’s importance. That it is solid gold makes it worth something, but adds naught to the story.
Once upon a long ago, when the ring was found, it had a story. It had a curse placed on it. But that it had a story is still not why the ring has such a prominent place in the public eye. It was the story it would inspire that is the key to its fame. Well, allegedly. What we do know is that a young chap by the name of JRR Tolkein, at the time a professor at Oxford University, studied this very ring and the story of the curse. Two years later he published a book. the Lord of the Rings.
Was the Vyne’s Roman ring the inspiration for Tolkeins ring? Who can say for sure. Mr Tolkein kept it to himself. So it’s a nice story that may or may not be true. I like to think that there’s at least an element of truth to the tale. There’s some photos of our day out at the Vyne below. But there’s plenty more on Flickr – click here. Did you notice how I didn’t use any filters? I thought I’d give them a miss for once. Then a few minutes later, I changed my mind and knocked up a few filters shots in a different set.
My recent post about Chartwell House, Bodiam Castle and Scotney Castle was created because all three locations have something in common. They are all National Trust properties. Mrs P and I are National Trust members and are determined to get maximum value for money by visiting as many places as possible during our year of membership. We love the National Trust. They are a true jewel in this country’s crown.
Good news for you, lucky reader. Assuming there is a reader left out there somewhere. I have a couple of free passes to give away. This is rather short notice as the passes are valid for one week, 23rd to 29th June. But if you have a day or two spare to go out visiting National Trust places, then send me a message through the Contact page. There are bound to be some great places to visit, wherever you live. Providing you live in England, anyway. You can search for potential trips on the National Trust website. The pass is valid for two adults, and two children. Four people maximum.
If you fancy one of these free passes, don’t delay. Send me a message. First come, first served. Then join the National Trust yourself. You can even set off the annual fee against your tax bill.
We Brits like to grumble about the weather. To the casual observer, it may seem like a pointless past time. To the meteorologists amongst you, it might seem bizarre. We rarely suffer from hurricanes or other storms more commonly associated with the tropics. The temperature rarely goes above 25 degrees C. It rarely drops more than a few degrees below zero, although it does get rather chilly up north in mid winter. The floods of last year were an anomaly, and probably wouldn’t be regarded as a serious event in more equatorial countries.
The commonly held theory as to why we Brits spend so much time grumbling about the weather is its unpredictability. It’s impossible to plan ahead. The weatherman on the BBC may make all sorts of promises as to what lies ahead over the next day or two, but he’s guessing. As opposed to predicting. The sun will shine tomorrow, he’ll declare! You hit the beach with your BBQ just in time for a downpour.
I have an alternative theory though. I think we Brits complain about the weather because of its utter predictability. Let me give you an example. The week before last was glorious. Virtually unbroken sunshine all day long with temperatures in the low to mid 20s. Beautiful. I saw it all from my seat in an office. On Friday I strolled out of work a happy man. I had a week off starting now. And a weekend in Kent/Sussex booked to go see some castles and stately homes. The sun, alas, also went on holiday and disappeared for three days. We returned from our short break, and so did the sun, bathing Bournemouth in all its glory. Just as I went down with a cold. The weather is unpredictably predictable.
But the grey, overcast skies did not spoil our trip. It did put rather a dampener on the photography though. A moody sky with dramatic sweeping clouds can be photogenic. A blanket of monotonous grey is not. But such is life, one can but work with what one has. I, perhaps, overworked the filters in Lightroom to compensate. First stop was Chartwell House. A fabulous home set amongst splendid gardens and once home to Sir Winston Churchill. He described a day away from Chartwell as a day wasted. After a few hours of roaming around his former manor, I see his point. There are plenty of his paintings to view in his old studio too. It’s a treasure trove of Churchillian memorabilia for fans of the former PM. Click here to see the album on Flickr.
Then on to Bodiam Castle. It’s a romantic’s dream wedding location. Deliberately left to ruin in one of the earliest attempts to drum up an income through touristpounds and shillings, it’s a castle I once visited as a child. It was enchanting then and remains so today. It was the inspiration of the short break away. It’s well worth a long drive all by itself. The complete photo set is on Flickr – click here.
The final stop was at Scotney Castle. Which was a two for the price of one sort of deal. You have the grand old stately home. And the old castle, moat et al, in the rather ample and well manicured grounds. This place warrants a longer visit than Bodiam. It was still occupied by the last surviving member of the owning family until 2006. The lady was 99 years old when she finally left this mortal coil. I can’t help but feel 99 is such an unlucky age to die. I know, most of us would gratefully accept that age if it were offered to us in advance. Gratefully? Gleefully! And yet, having made it that far, you’d surely be disappointed not to make the full century. Wouldn’t you?
She was a cat fan. There’s ample evidence of a cat lover all over the property. Magazines, baskets, paintings, ornaments, statues. She owned many cats during her long life and called all of them Minou. All of them except the last one, whom she called Puss Puss. I can’t help but feel that was the jinx that stopped her short of her century. She should have kept the Minou tradition going. Or maybe I’m just being superstitious. Perhaps, being a cat lady, 9 is the key number when it comes to lives. And she had her 99. I don;t know how many lives Puss Puss will get, but the staff there assure us the cat is still doing well and in continuing residence at Scotney. We saw her baskets and food/water bowls. But we didn’t catch sight of the cat. I caught sight of plenty else. Once again, the photo album is on Flickr – click here.
Or so the song made famous by Dame Vera Lynn at the outbreak of World War II declares. It was used to instil a little national pride in a worried nation facing imminent invasion from the fascists. It paints a picture of a magical country worth fighting for. It’s sadly still used for much the same reason, with less justification. These days we mostly remember a beautiful mythical England of the past, with manicured laws, neat and colourful flower beds, rolling green fields, forests filled with pixies, goblins and other assorted English stalwarts and glorious stately homes and castles.
The song’s ideal is a myth. As any geologist worth his salt will tell you. The movement of the earth’s tectonic plates and the wear and tear or the seas and oceans surrounding these little islands will see to that. Volcanic activity will one day spawn a suitable replacement. New England is always taken. Brand New England, perhaps?As I understand it, the island is also being tilted, with the southern portion being pushed down, the northern parts being pushed up. There will not always be an England. But there will likely be a Scotland for a good deal longer. That thought might offer the nationalist contingent living north of Hadrian’s Wall* some crumb of comfort if the vote doesn’t go their way in September. They will get your independence. One day.
It also has to be said that the lyrics of the song mysteriously pass over the mass slums, poverty, nepotism and other lesser admirable features of the time. Perhaps just as well. Some things aren’t worth fighting for. The country wasn’t the greatest place on earth for a sizeable chunk of it’s
citizens subjects. So the question is perhaps not so much whether there will always be an England, but whether there ever was one at all? Of course there was, and you’ll be pleased to know that it has been purged of the peasantry and feudal entitlement, mostly, and is well preserved. In the stewardship of the National Trust. Which Mrs P and I have rejoined after a years absence. At just £70 for the pair of us it’s a bargain.
We have hundreds of castles, stately homes, gardens and other areas of natural beauty thrown into the package. It’s just a question of how many of them we can get through in the next twelve months. We kicked things off with a visit to Kingston Lacy a few weeks ago, a place we’ve been to several times before. Last weekend we went to see Hinton Ampner. It’s a fine structure, originally built in the late 1700s but renovated several times since then. It has it’s own little church with gravestones dating back considerably further. I found one whose inhabitant was born in the 1500s but not taking up permanent residence under the headstone in 1606.
The home itself is currently closed for repairs after the winter storms savaged its roof. So we shall return later in the year. This time we settled for a pleasant stroll in the grounds and enjoyed those manicured lawns, neat and colourful flower beds, rolling green fields and the forest that lay on the horizon. Whether or not those forests are inhabited with pixies or goblins is a private matter between you and your imagination. Be rest assured though, that for as long as there is a National Trust, and for as long as the geological / oceanic forces permitting, there will always be an England.
The upshot of all this is that I can, and will, take you on a tour of olde England. Without the warts and all. Just the good stuff. There’s a few photos of Hinton Ampner below, but to see the full album you’ll have to click here and be whisked away to Flickr. Next stop on the National Trust tour? We’ll have to wait and see.
Last weekend the National Trust had a special deal going. Free entry into most of their properties. What an absolute bargain. We made the very most of it, on both the Saturday and Sunday. The National Trust is one of my favourite organisations in the world, preserving the historical infrastructure of the country for everyone to enjoy. We were members last year, and would have renewed this year were we certain to be here for much of it. We aren’t, so we didn’t.
We visited the stately home and gardens of Stourhead, renowned for their manicured lawns and colourful floral displays. This was very much the wrong time of year to visit. The cold start to spring has delayed the fresh shoots of flowers and trees. It all still looks very bleak and wintry. But it was also still an interesting visit.
The photo above? An ice hut. I’d long wondered what people did for ice in the middle of summer in the days before electric refrigeration. I still don’t know what people did for ice, generally speaking. But I now know what rich people did. They had an ice hut. And when their lake was frozen over in the depth of winter, they’d send down their manservant to brings slabs of it back. It’d be stored in the ice hut between layers of straw. Ice could be kept frozen for up to two years. Ingenious.
We also visited Poole and took the ferry over to Brownsea Island. Again, the scene was wintry and bleak. But then the sun came out. If I’m asked what the most beautiful thing in the world is, I have to answer ‘the sun’. When it casts it’s rays upon the earth, everything in it’s path is transformed into an object of natural perfection natural. There is nothing so ugly that the sun cannot bestow it with instant radiant beauty.
Brownsea Island is a haven for wildlife. Birders have a feast of winged beasts to go spotting. Children will be entertained by the peacocks and roosters that strut their stuff around the lawns, demanding to be fed tidbits from visitors picnics. It’s also one of the last places you’ll find the native Red Squirrel out and about in the wild. The American grey squirrel has pretty much seen off it’s ginger cousin from the rest of the country.
Many moons ago, we used to sit down and watch Through the Keyhole, to see who’s pad the peculiar Lloyd Grossman would trespass through today. It would invariably be someone rich and famous. If they weren’t famous, there’d be little point. If they weren’t rich, then the homeowner wouldn’t allow it. Times have changed – I suspect TV companies would be more prepared to pay good money to pry at someone who’s fallen on hard times than they once were.
Visiting Britain’s stately homes is a real life chance to be Lloyd Grossman. We visited Kingston Lacy back in March, but were restricted to the gardens. The interior hadn’t opened up for the spring tourist season at the time. But, armed with our National Trust membership cards, we returned recently, to pry through the lives of the inhabitants.
Or, should I say, previous inhabitants. Old mansions and stately homes in the possession of the National Trust seem to fit into two categories. The rescued property and the bequeathed property. All of them were once home to immense wealth. The former type usually lost it quite some time ago, and have an atmosphere of controlled, or even preserved, decay. The latter, not necessarily so. Of course there are many homes that fit outside these categories.
Kingston Lacy is definitely the latter though. The family simply ran out of descendants and did the decent thing – they passed it on to the National Trust. Who have maintained the splendour and opulence of the interior wonderfully. Including the sizeable private Egyptian relic collection. I have added the photos I took of the interior to the original photo albums, on Flickr and Google.
This time last year, Mrs P and I were watching the last series of the Tudors. Mrs P was shocked at how the Catholic monks and nuns were brutally kicked out of their monasteries and convents. She was equally shocked at the shenanigans of the higher echelons of Catholicism in the Borgias too. Of course, we have to bear in mind that these shows tend to favour entertainment over historical accuracy. But to be fair, the regime of Henry VIII was far more brutal and gory than a television show would ever dare try to replicate.
But little did Mrs P know that a year later she would get to wander around one of those monasteries. Mottisfont Abbey was one of the lucky survivors though, saved from destruction, modified, added to and turned into a stately home. There must be a monkish ghost or two still wandering the halls though. It’s also a National Trust property, so it’s free! Well we are paid up members, so we didn’t have to pay any extra. Click here to see my photos on Flickr. Many of which were taken with my cell phone. Most of which, in fact. I should remember to charge my camera.