Easter Sunday, and I was spending it at my aunt’s in Berkshire. In the afternoon we went to West Green House Garden, over the county border in Hampshire, near Hartley Wintney. It is a National Trust garden (and non-visitable house), run on a day to day basis by their lessee. Among other things, opera performances take place there, by the lake.
There was an Easter Bunny hunt that day, which led me in advance to worry slightly about potential crowds, but in the event they were far from overwhelming. Needless to say, we did not join in, nor even visit the children’s petting zoo.
Join us on a roughly clockwise tour.
I don’t know enough about fish to say, but I was wondering whether this one (about 2 ft/60 cm long) was gulping the air because the water did not contain enough oxygen.
And we came to a wonderful tulip garden. I just couldn’t stop taking photos, of which these are a few.
Beyond the tulip garden.
Barbara agreed to pose by one of the many follies.
Above her was this plaque.
I looked this up later. It comes from a poem by Alexander Pope (1688-1744), written in 1711, ‘An Essay on Criticism’. More here on the Pierian Spring and Pope’s poem, and the writings of others, (not to mention magpies) but in brief the Spring is ‘the metaphorical source of knowledge of art and science’.
After a refreshing cup of tea, we completed our exploration.
Trengwainton Garden (National Trust) was my destination for the Monday afternoon, despite my very tired legs and feet. My plan was to have a gentle stroll around the gardens and then have a drink in the tea-room at the end. Sadly, the last part was thwarted, as the tea-room shut at 3.00 (staff shortage?). But the tea-tray in my room at my BnB was only minutes away.
The entry was at G below, right. I first explored the walled gardens, then went along the main avenue (gently ascending but not gently enough!) to the lawns by the main house, and returned via the woodland area with the stream running though it.
As everywhere I went in Cornwall, my impression was ‘lush and large’ with a dash of exoticism.
I wondered what this huge tree with red flowers could possibly be.
A close up with my camera revealed that it was a fuchsia.
And reaching its origins, I saw that the fuchsia was supported by a sequoia.
The house itself is still owned and lived in by the family that bought it in the 19th century, and a discreet rope keeps the public at bay.
I had been told at reception that the views from up here were ‘spectacular’. She didn’t know where I had been in the morning!
There were several benches up by the lawns, but it took a while for one to be vacated, and how my legs were longing to sit down. Eventually I was able to rest on this bench. I’ve been unable to find anything about the coat of arms – but I have a plea out to the Fleur-de-Lys History Society by social media!
I was intrigued by the apparently perfect square shape of the hole in this trunk.
It turned out not to be a perfect square, and to contain some fascinating fungi.
Back through the tree ferns of the woodland area. I was reminded of my trip with a friend to Tasmania.
One final picture near the entrance.
When eating my huge sandwich at Perranuthnoe at lunchtime, I had been sitting on a bench, with a local woman at the other end. When I told her of my plan for the afternoon, she told me I would learn of the slavery connections of Trengwainton. I didn’t, but, local paper style, it is here. A more sober account, part of a very long description of the property, is by Historic England.
The coolness of the mainly shady gardens of Trengwainton had been most welcome, on the hottest day of my stay in Cornwall. The rest of the week remained largely dry, during the day, but at times was very misty.
The National Trust tour I had pre-booked for the Sunday afternoon of my Cornwall holiday was of the Levant Mine and Beam Engine, in the St Just area on the north coast of the Penwith peninsula. As requested by the Trust, because of the earlier start of the Tour of Britain, I had allowed plenty of time to get there, and, also at their request, parked not at the Mine itself but a 20-minute walk away at Geevor mine, open to the public, but not NT property.
It was a very grey day, with rain threatening all the time.
As I had thought, the Tour of Britain had no impact on access, having passed surely three hours previously – but thank you, National Trust, for having alerted me to it! I had therefore, even allowing for the walk to Levant, some 30 minutes in hand, so I wandered around the desolate landscape for some while.
I was surprised to see how little nature had taken over from the abandoned terrain, but later learned that Geevor had only closed in 1991.
Vince was our volunteer guide, a geology teacher of both aspiring mining engineers and of A level students. (In reply to a question from me, he said that the future’s in lithium, indium and gallium apparently, although the first two are running out, especially indium, essential for our touch screens to work, and that will be all mined out by 2030.) From his style, I would guess that Vince is an excellent and passionate teacher.
He gave us full and fascinating explanations, and was also a mine (sorry) of historical anecdotes. I was very conscious that I would manage to hang on to very little of what he said, which is perhaps fortunate, since this post would be very long if so. But I do recall that he said that mining in this area had started some 4500 years ago. Beaker people from Switzerland had brought the skills here, but it was not known how they had acquired those skills. Here is a full account of mining in Cornwall and Devon.
Vince explained about lodes and the way their valuable constituents separated themselves out, into tin, copper, arsenic and silver, and how they went for miles out to sea.
After a while, Vince took us to the beam engine, and handed us over to Peter, the engineer, who explained how steam was raised and worked the engine. For various reasons I was able to follow little, and just concentrated on the sheer beauty of the thing, and loved seeing it set in motion.
Ahead was the Miners’ Dry. a huge room where the miners dried out at the end of a shift. But before that, Vince explained why some parts of the land were so dangerous.
When a shaft was closed, it was just covered with wooden boards which were grown over and just rotted in due course. Tread on one of those areas and…
In its heyday this was the Miners’ Dry:
Just the floor remains now, with the Compressor house chimney beyond.
Next and last we descended to the start of the the man engine shaft. The man engine was an ingenious but very dangerous mechanism for lowering the miners to their working areas. It broke in 1919, killing 31 people, after which mining the lowest levels was abandoned.
Botallack mine (also National Trust, though not part of this tour) was just a kilometre further down the coast. I was shattered, and had a 15-minute climb back to the car park ahead of me, so I decided I would not join a couple who were planning to visit, but returned to my car tired, but very happy, at the end of two excellent days.
I had planned nothing yet for the Monday, but had lots of competing ideas.
Faced on Saturday, 19th June, with another long day’s drive, from West Yorkshire to home in Somerset, I planned to stop off at a National Trust property for a bite of lunch. I remembered to book (Covid-required) entry in advance.
Digital aids told me I would need about three hours to get to Hanbury Hall, in Worcestershire, so I added half an hour for luck, and booked for 1 pm, which was precisely the time I drew in to the car park. (The clock below appears to belie this, but it has just an hour hand.) I reckoned I could spend about 90 minutes there before I wanted to be away for the final leg home. I called at the front door of the beautiful Queen Anne house just to ask where the Stables Café was, since the fact that would be open had determined my choice of stopping place.
Having partaken of a delicious vegetarian pasty, I prioritised a stroll in the grounds over a house visit. Here is a map of the property, though I did not have it available at the time. I reckon that nevertheless I covered most of the grounds, though it would have been nice just to sit down and savour the views for a little longer.
The formality of the gardens, recreated from original drawings in the 1990s by the National Trust, was very soothing.
I didn’t get to visit the Orangery. Indeed, I’m not sure it was open.
I had 20 minutes in hand, so went into the house. They were obliged, because of Covid restrictions, to monitor the numbers entering very carefully, and I was fortunate.
Only the ground floor was open to the public, presumably because they could not manage a one-way system on the first floor. I whizzed round, taking photos rather desultorily.
Various members of the Vernon family built, at the beginning of the 18th century, and over the centuries adapted and converted, and finally transferred the property to the National Trust in 1962. (Talking of ghosts, Emma Vernon is said to haunt the grounds between the house and the church.)
Usually formal dining tables are furnished with eating paraphernalia…
I arrived home, where Tilly was awaiting me, at 5 pm, Bella to be collected from the cattery the following morning. I had been away for 13 days, 12 nights.
I saw this poster at Hanbury Hall.
I feel that with this trip I began to collect the fruits of enforced patience over the previous 15 months, and certainly appreciate my ability to have done so. The weather was cold to indifferent, and I missed a heatwave that had occurred in the south. (Some would envy my having done so, but I would have enjoyed it.) I had 13 wonderful days of seeing friends, wildlife, countryside – spectacular at times – and manmade constructions ranging from a 12th century abbey, through a 16th century castle, to a 21st century bridge. Eaten excellent food, met new people, and driven some huge distances. I didn’t make a note as I went along, but retrospective calculation makes it about 1400 miles (2250 km) in total.
What an adventure, and I’ve been reliving it through doing these blog posts, which have taken longer than usual because of Wimbledon.
What am I going to do tomorrow?
PS Yesterday evening I watched on Channel 4, ‘A Lake District Farm Shop’, the first of four programmes about the enterprise behind the Tebay Service Station on the M6 where I stopped on Day 2 of my trip. It focussed on several of the local providers and described the ethos of the founders, and showed much of the beautiful Lake District scenery. All four episodes are available on All 4.
Having used my car just for trips for Click and Collect and other essential shopping since the beginning of January, I decided yesterday to extend my definition of ‘local’ yesterday, my eyes so in need of some beautiful stimulation. And there is little more formally beautiful than the gardens of Stourhead, run by the National Trust.
I met a friend in the car park to hand over some knitting I had done for her, and we just marvelled at what we were seeing on the strictly socially distanced one-way walk round the grounds. From the, apparently newly presented, message from the Trust’s founder at the beginning, to the coffee in the Spread Eagle courtyard near the end of the walk, (where it felt really weird once more see people, just relaxing and enjoying themselves) I offer only photos and no further commentary.
Time for another visit to a National Trust place. When I booked, for last Wednesday, 10th November, the forecast was for a 14% chance of rain. By the time the day came it was more like 50%. But we were lucky. Driving though showers to get there, I feared another rain-sodden visit, as to Park Cottage, but not a drop of rain fell during our wanderings, (unlike the journey home).
Montacute House is the most splendid of houses to visit in the area, (paceBarrington Court, which runs it a close second, and whose gardens I also visited recently) much used as a filming location, including for the recent television version of Wolf Hall. While the house was not open to the public, under current lockdown regulations, the gardens were, and we had them almost to ourselves.
As you drive there, you have a tantalising glimpse from the road of the long drive and the house at the end, but cannot stop. Here it is from the other direction.
I had forgotten to pick up my camera as I left home, but am quite pleased with the service my phone gave me, and by the time Daphne and I met up at this point, I had already taken photos of the displayed map,
of the amazing house front,
and of the crest emblazoned thereon.
We ambled round the gardens together, looking inwards and outwards.
The back of the house is even more impressive than the front.
A gate entices you into the formal, walled garden,
of which I select just one photo.
We were soon on the other side of the wall once more.
Daphne could not stay much longer, with a delivery to receive at home, but found time to have a takeaway coffee bought from the café (I had to improvise a mask, my nearest being in the car). We sat on a bench, which was just long enough to enable us to be socially distanced, with the view at the top of this post ahead of us.
I was not in a hurry, and had never walked round the village before. The car park was not closing for another 30 minutes, so I took the opportunity to rectify that lack.
If the house at the far end of this row looks a little wonky, that’s because
I felt so good after that visit, and all evening. With all the electronic means of communication and entertainment that I have at my disposal, I had not felt at all lonely during this or the previous lockdown, but I had not realised how much good some real face to face conversation with a friend – enhanced by a beautiful setting both during and after – would do me. That was great!
Having finished my lunch on the stile at Hawkridge Reservoir, I made my way south for some ten minutes to a National Trust property in Somerset that I had not previously visited, Fyne Court. I was planning just to explore the grounds of the 65-acre estate, as I knew that the house had long ago – 1894 in fact – burned down. For generations, the property had belonged to the Crosse family, including one Andrew Crosse, who had been one of the key people to experiment with electricity early in the 19th century. The property was left to the National Trust in 1967.
Once away from the remaining outbuildings, I chose the longest – 40-minutes – of the three short waymarked walks. Pond-dipping was available on one of the other two,
as was what I imagined had been the old kitchen garden.
It was for me to enjoy the next tree, just 50 metres on. The heavens opened when I was between the two, with more of the 3% chance of rain which had been forecast for the day.
I stayed perfectly dry and used the wait to study details.
The rain did not last long,
and when I emerged I found I was not far from my starting point, the outbuildings.
Having looked at the panels, of which this is one, about previous occupants of the property,
I improvised a face mask from an old shirt I had in my backpack (just in case I was cold – quite the opposite!) and went into the tea-room, which had just reopened that afternoon it seemed, and treated myself to a Magnum.
I didn’t fancy sitting around to eat it, but took it back to my car. Just as well – the heavens opened again just as I got there!
I was pleased to find that no roadworks held me up on my way home.
Having visited The Courts Garden in the morning, and as I was too cold to sit still for long outside, Daphne and I sat in our respective cars to eat our lunches in solitary splendour.
Quite a nice view.
Great Chalfield Manor is a 15th century house, much used in filming period drama, (including the BBC’s ‘Wolf Hall’) with an arts and crafts garden. At present, because of the virus, the house is not open, but the garden alone is worth the trip.
The National Trust had, as usual, done a very good job in setting out a one-way system, and we did our best to respect it. We took the long walk and added bits of the shorter one.
As soon as I turned the corner, I recalled my previous visit, which, my photographic records tell me, was almost exactly three years ago.
The ‘tents’ – here and elsewhere in the grounds – made by those four trees were characteristic.
In the village of Holt, near Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, not to be confused with Court House, East Quantoxhead, Somerset, on the coast, visited recently. This was the first of two visits, with my friend Daphne, to National Trust properties (gardens only) on the same day recently.
The house, ‘an early Georgian gem’, which is never open for visitors, was built for one of the area’s prosperous cloth manufacturers. The garden was set out at the beginning of the twentieth century by then owner Sir George Hastings, and developed a few years later by subsequent owner, Lady Cecilie Goff. To quote my book on the gardens of the NT, ‘It is a compartmented garden, … each section has a formal structure. Generally it is a quirkier composition [than Hidcote, ‘England’s most influential twentieth century garden’] : Lady Cecilie loved springing surprises.’
A one-way system and social distancing were in place. It was, of course, grey and overcast, with rain threatening, and a bit of a breeze.
It was coming up to lunchtime, and we had picnics with us. But I had been over-optimistic with (insufficient) clothing to sit in the breeze, so we moved on to the location of our second visit, and ate separately in our respective cars.
I’m not complaining, but there is just one problem in having to book a time in advance to visit a National Trust garden (because of totally reasonable social distancing precautions). It is that you can’t decide to go spontaneously, depending on the weather. But I was lucky last Friday. I had not been able to get a ticket for Barrington Court in the morning, when I had originally wanted to go, and the only spot available was mid-afternoon.
In the event it poured with rain in the morning, was dry, if pretty overcast, in the afternoon, and started raining as I drove home. As I say I was very lucky. Moreover, as a member of the National Trust, I would not have suffered if I had decided not to go, as my visit was free of charge. I wonder if they refund paying non-members who on the day choose not to go because of really bad weather?
There are two main buildings at Barrington Court, a sixteenth-century house, built to a characteristic Elizabethan E-plan, and, immediately beside it, a seventeenth-century former stable and coach block, in red brick, now Strode House, which normally includes, among other things, the restaurant. The gardens still show much of the influence of Gertrude Jekyll, in Arts and Crafts style. There are in addition various 1920s outbuildings.
After this I had to retrace my steps along the broad avenue. At this point I had an unfortunate encounter with a silly woman and her jumping up dog. ‘Don’t worry, he won’t hurt you, he’s very friendly.’ Never mind that he was indeed jumping up at me, obliging her to come close to me, that she still didn’t manage to control him and the only way he would remove himself (his name was Watson) from me was to point hard at his owner, who had by now withdrawn herself from my immediate space when I protested, and shout ‘GO AWAY!’ What is it about such owners who think it’s OK for their dogs to jump up, that you shouldn’t mind having your clothes mauled, and that you should love the antics of their dogs as much as they do?
I was quite discombobulated by all this and had to take myself in hand as I made my way to the formal gardens.
As a coda, I just have to share my huge pleasure at having been able recently to get together twice, with different sets of friends to make music, live. Not over Zoom, not joining in someone else’s recording, but actual live music-making as it used to happen BC. Well, not quite exactly as it used to happen, because this was al fresco. On Sunday we were five, that is two singers and three viol players. On Monday we were four singers, this time gathered in my garden,