Rubbish to the tip…and on to Caerhays Castle….

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Just as the day before, we had a task to do…to take large amounts of cut bamboo from our garden to the tip. Really there are swathes of Cornwall where bamboo is running riot and becoming a real nuisance – most of it in, or escaping from, people’s gardens. Something needs to be done. Anyway, the tip is quite a way from our house and on the way to Caerhays Castle which we visited a couple of weeks ago. So off we went. Last time we went round the house. This time we were here to see the gardens. And how fantastic they were.

‘Home to a National Magnolia Collection, the gardens at Caerhays are a spring-time wonderland for visitors.                                                                                                                     The 120 acre woodland gardens are English Heritage Listed Grade II*. The origins of this historically important collection of Chinese plants can be traced back to the work of the great plant hunters Ernest Wilson (1876 – 1930) and George Forrest (1873 – 1932).               J C Williams of Caerhays (1862 – 1939) gave up politics in 1895 and became passionate about gardening. He was quick to recognise the importance of the plant hunters’ work and contributed £300,000 (in today’s terms) of his own money towards Forrest’s 1911 and subsequent expeditions, as well as being involved in the joint funding of many other trips.In return, Caerhays received a wealth of seed from newly discovered species of Chinese rhododendrons, magnolias, camellias, azaleas, acers and evergreen oaks to mention but a few. A large number of these unique plants can be seen growing in maturity at Caerhays today.’

Now, if you don’t like magnolias, azaleas and rhodedendrons in large quantities look away now…..there are 4 designated ‘routes’ through the gardens and we did the second longest – after a cup of tea of course and the usual excellent cakes for sale here. They are really luscious.WP_20180413_15_13_24_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_15_10_20_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_15_11_49_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_01_42_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_23_34_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_25_26_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_30_07_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_33_07_Pro 2.jpgand there were plenty of benches for you to just sit and take in the views…wp_20180413_15_00_45_pro-2.jpg……which were amazing, because the castle and its grounds behind are set on a hill within a sort of bowl of lovely Cornish countryside, with occasional views of the lake or the sea…castle-from-behind.jpgwp_20180413_14_56_32_pro-2.jpgWP_20180413_14_38_37_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_31_40_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_34_09_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_37_50_Pro 2.jpgWP_20180413_14_35_59_Pro 2.jpg

A lovely day indeed. Many gardens in Cornwall are called Spring gardens, and justly so. We visited at the very best time, marvelled at the work of the Victorians and Edwardians,   and were lost in a magic world mainly created from China and the Far East…..Highly recommended.

Looking for gas…and on to Hartland Abbey…April 12th


Our car runs on lpg gas which is great normally as it is half the price of petrol. However for the past few weeks there has been a national shortage and none of our usual garages has had any in stock. Much ringing around led me to discover my lpg repair man had stocks. Only problem – he was on the North Coast at Camelford. thus we decided to kill two birds with one stone and fill up with gas and then proceed on the so-called Atlantic Highway to Hartland Abbey which we have never visited before. It was certainly well-hidden and we wondered how the Keeper of Henry V111’s Wine Cellar (who was gifted it by the King, lucky man!), ever managed to find it. We first made a flying stop at the tiny village of Hartland for a ‘comfort break’ as our American friends would say, and we found a beautiful little place with two good pubs by the looks of it which reminded me very much of Cartmel in Cumbria…..20180411_132736.jpgOur first glimpse of the Abbey itself (first pic ) showed an idyllic valley setting, and having parked we explored the outside…… 20180411_162030.jpgwhere we could clearly see the old cloisters incorporated into the fabric…20180411_142059.jpgThe story of the site is very interesting, see the web site...but in essence……                   ‘Hartland Abbey was built in 1157 and consecrated by Bishop Bartholomew of Exeter in 1160AD as a monastery of the regular canons of the Order of St Augustine of Hippo. The Abbey remained as a monastery until 1539 when it became the last monastery in the country to be Dissolved by Henry VIII. The King made a gift of the Abbey to the Sergeant of his Wine Cellar at Hampton Court, Mr. William Abbott, whose descendants live here today.In 1583 the first of three heiresses, Prudence Abbott, married Andrew Luttrell of Dunster Castle in Somerset and the Abbey remained in that family for some 100 years. In 1704, the second heiress, Mary Luttrell married Paul Orchard. The Orchards were to remain at the Abbey through the 18th century until the third heiress, Anne Orchard, married George Buck and moved into the Abbey on the death of her brother in 1812.

The great grandfather of the present owner, Sir Hugh Stucley Bt., who was also called George Buck changed his name to Stucley (being a much older family name) when he was created a Baronet for political services to North Devon, in 1859. Today the Abbey is home to Sir Hugh and Lady Stucley with their four married children, nine grandchildren, the dogs, Madge, Nellie and Rosie and Tim the cat.’ And, in terms of the architecture….                                                                                                                                     ‘The Abbey was originally built across the valley much as it stands today, but covering a greater area. A Chapel was joined at right angles to the north wall in an easterly direction and the Great Hall on the south wall, forming an open courtyard. In 1704 Paul Orchard carried out alterations to the southern end of the house in the Queen Anne style. Later in the 1770’s his son, the second Paul Orchard, carried out a major reconstruction of the house.                                                                                                                                          The Chapel and the Great Hall were demolished and he levelled the main body of the house to the height of the cloisters on which he built three large reception rooms with a row of guest bedrooms above. Along with a classical Strawberry Hill facade the project was completed in 1779. In 1845 Sir George Stucley carried out further alterations. The Drawing Room, Dining Room and Billiard Room were redecorated and two bay windows were added.                                                                                                                                             In the Drawing Room he erected linenfold panelling with a set of twelve murals above, depicting events in history in which his forebears took part. The same theme was continued in the Dining Room above the original Elizabethan oak panelling, removed from the Great Hall and painted in Victorian times.
The Little Dining Room is typical of the Queen Anne period whereas The Library is the Regency room in the house in the Strawberry Hill gothic style with panelling by Meadows and a fabulous ogee fireplace by Batty Langley                                                                           One of the main features of the house is the Alhambra Passage with its vaulted and stencilled ceiling. Sir George Stucley commissioned Sir George Gilbert Scott to design this after he visited the Alhambra Palace in Granada.                                                                  Evidence of the original Abbey building can still be seen in the Basement where the cloisters run the whole length of the passage on the west side of the house. A few original doorways still remain.’

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph inside the house…who can really blame them, it is after all a private house with Romneys, Gainsboroughs etc etc…but here are a few lifted pics..I do love Strawberry Gothic….H&A_Hartland_13--.jpgthe influence of Gilbert Scott’s work on the Houses of Parliament  can clearly be seen in the panelling and decoration of a couple of the major rooms….H&A_Hartland_02--.jpgand the round table in the Dining Room is fascinating was purchased for only £10 in 1934 by Sheila, Lady Stucley and can be enlarged by twisting the table around, to sit 10, 16, or 22 people with the insertion of triangular leaves. Its quite an extraordinary piece of clever furniture construction. H&A_Hartland_10--.jpgthe fireplace in the billiard room is spectacular…H&A_Hartland_07--.jpgand, as for Scott’s Alhambra Passage, well…….3522_The-Alhambra-Corridor.jpgWe had a couple of very interesting chats with guides, and they were obviously as enamoured of the house as we were and full of enthusiasm for its history…and there were fascinating exhibitions on the use of the house for many films and TV programs, and on associations of the family for instance, the life and colourful career of perhaps the most most influential member of the Stucley family, antiquarian William Stucley, famed for his studies of Stonehenge and other prehistoric sites. William Stucley is unfairly remembered for his conviction that ancient stone circles were built by the Druids, which he decided must have evolved from a much older Abrahamic tradition (in essence making Druidism a direct ancestor of Christianity).
Though Stucleys Druidic theories were later a source of amusement among modern archaeologists, he was also the first to rigorously measure ancient sites like Stonehenge and put forward the now widely accepted theory that the stones were aligned in accordance with celestial events such as midsummer sunrise. Modern archaeology owes a debt of gratitude to William Stucley, and his life is explored in fascinating detail in the exhibit.

The gardens and estate then called to us, as a nice day was developing, cloudless at times…..20180411_163823.jpgand we decided to do the one-mile walk through the grounds to Hartland Beach…..we were surrounded by wildflowers all the way….20180411_161426.jpg20180411_162544.jpg20180411_162614.jpgand were really surprised to see even bluebells in bloom at the same time as the primroses, well ahead of our own…20180411_162629.jpg20180411_164342.jpgand we were fascinated by one of the estate houses (used in the BBC’s Sense and Sensibility) which seemed to have a roof reflecting the actions of the sea…..20180411_164657.jpg20180411_164303.jpgHartland Beach was great, we were virtually on our own and the sea was at its best…20180411_164845.jpg20180411_165001.jpg20180411_165228.jpg20180411_165211.jpg20180411_165314.jpg20180411_165539.jpgthe walk back wasn’t so bad either….20180411_171338.jpgWe drove back home through Launceston, where we called in for a quick lubricayion stop, and were amazed once more at the views of the almost surreal Norman castle…Launceston_Castle.jpg



A Memorable Trip to Lisbon..March/April

20180328_212435.jpgThe iconic 28 old wooden tram that still plies its way up and down the hills of Lisbon. I probably used this very tram on my last trip to Lisbon when aged 13. A lot has changed but Lisbon remains as beautiful as ever. F. and I were invited to go for a few days holiday with David and Jennifer ostensibly for various ‘missed’ anniversaries and, setting out across the Tamar first-class on GWR (I booked well beforehand), there was already a sense of adventure…..20180327_105206.jpgAfter leaving a cold and rainy London we arrived in a coldish and overcast Lisbon where we used the first of many Uber taxis to get us from the airport to our hotel….incredibly and amazingly cheap – 6 Euros for quite a lengthy journey. When Jennifer talked to some of the Portuguese and Brazilian drivers later, it still seemed they made a reasonable living…..20180328_160832.jpgAfter dumping our cases we headed for the rooftop solarium where drinks by the pool were in order, and it was just warm enough for the British contingent to sit without a coat (not Jennifer of course…).20180328_170735.jpgWe then took an Uber into the city centre to do a bit of exploring and have our first meal. Bit of a disaster for me as I chose the local speciality of Bacalao or salt cod and it stank to high heaven and tasted the same. This was our only instance of bad food during our stay thank goodness (recommended by The Times, but you can’t win them all……). Wandering through the centre we made our way to one of Lisbon’s many beautiful open spaces, this time a magnificent colonnaded square by the sea where we were able to enjoy a post-prandial coffee at one of the inviting cafes…20180328_192809.jpgon our way we marvelled at the stunning architecture of the buildings, 20180328_182152.jpgthe fantastic coloured, mosaic-like Portuguese pavements or calcada portuguesa, coming in many patterns…20180328_193453.jpgthe jolly colours of the buildings themselves…just looking gladdens the heart…20180328_193536.jpg20180328_194325.jpg20180328_194507.jpg20180328_195737.jpg20180328_194614.jpg20180328_194727.jpg20180328_194910.jpg20180328_200435.jpgRefreshed for more wandering we found by chance the oldest operating bookshop in the world (Guinness Book of Records) which was in an absolutely lovely building itself, long and arcaded with a terrific selection of books…it was a privilege for us ex bookshop-owners to see it….20180328_210826.jpg20180328_210639.jpgMore footwork led us to the square with a statue of Camoes, the famous Portuguese poet. I was always familiar with Camoes as, when on my visit aged 13, I fell head over heels in love with our local guide, she gifted me a copy of his poetry. Ah, the joys of being 13! Maybe I read this of his….

Love is a fire that burns unseen,
a wound that aches yet isn’t felt,
an always discontent contentment,
a pain that rages without hurting,

a longing for nothing but to long,
a loneliness in the midst of people,
a never feeling pleased when pleased,
a passion that gains when lost in thought.

It’s being enslaved of your own free will;
it’s counting your defeat a victory;
it’s staying loyal to your killer.

But if it’s so self-contradictory,
how can Love, when Love chooses,
bring human hearts into sympathy?

20180328_211646.jpgand here, by chance, the 28 tram was waiting for us to board, 20180328_212435.jpgand we took it to its terminus by the cathedral called Sé. The word Sé derives its name from the initials of Sedes Episcopalis which when translated means bishop’s seat. Interestingly the first bishop of Lisbon to have his seat here had no roots or ties to the region but was actually an English crusader named Gilbert.20180328_213818.jpg20180328_213854.jpgThrough the gates opposite the cathedral was a marvellous park, which even in the dark we enjoyed! And on the other side of the park we found a local bar/restaurant. It looked busy with locals eating, but the door was shut. Undeterred we knocked, and the friendly owner admitted us through what we saw was a disguised heavy iron security door. He quickly made two tables available for us, and we enjoyed a nice relaxing bottle of vino verde our first of the trip (but not the last). It was late but when we asked what time he served food till, he said 2am…….quite astonishing!20180328_214009.jpg20180328_213945.jpgNext day, which dawned nicer,  we made for the historic area of Belem and had our first breakfast of croissants and pastel de nata at the historic Pastéis de Belém. We were so lucky in our timing not to queue in this astonishing place which makes 20,000 of these alone each day and which is an absolute maze of a building holding up to 500 foodies.20180329_112707.jpg20180329_115853.jpgthe front shop itself is extraordinary….20180329_115944.jpgand it adjoins the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery where the first tarts were baked…20180329_120952.jpgthank goodness Jennifer knew all about this place! A pleasant stroll through the park by the side of the River Tagus took us, past the marina, to the monuments which remind us of Portugal’s significant role in the Age of Discoveries. The Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) was built in the 16th century as a fort to protect the coast from foreign attacks, and like the Jerónimos Monastery, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an example of Manueline architecture.20180329_121136-1.jpg20180329_125127(0).jpgand further on was the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (or Monument to the Discoveries) which was built in 1960 and pays tribute to 33 prominent figures in Portugal’s Age of Discoveries, including Henry the Navigator and the poet Luís Vaz de Camões.20180329_121953.jpg20180329_122744.jpg20180329_122000.jpgWandering back (we did a lot of wandering) we saw the old crane which lifted the sea-planes from their landing site……commemorated in a rather nice sculpture…20180329_123705.jpg20180329_124917.jpgand enjoyed the port architecture (so different from many ports I can think of)….20180329_124308.jpg and thrilled Jennifer (only joking) by letting her stand on Brazil….in this rather nice map of the world…..20180329_122128.jpg20180329_151039.jpgOur next stop, past some more stylish buildings was the Alfama district by far the oldest of all districts in the capital of Portugal. It has kept a strong medieval atmosphere, mostly due to the fact the 1755 earthquake had no impact on the area (given the solid dense rock foundation of the district).20180329_154653.jpg

20180329_154807.jpg20180329_155230.jpg20180329_155624-1.jpgat the top of the hill is the imposing castle of St George which we visited. 1200px-LisbonCastle.jpg20180329_154954.jpg20180329_161024.jpg20180329_161607.jpgVery interesting history…Moorish at first and then captured by the Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land, at which it became a royal palace and fortification for King Afonso Henriques  in 1147. Its battlements and towers are well-preserved and the views of Lisbon are stunning.

Another day and more pleasure. To be honest I was just as happy wandering the streets near our hotel in the commercial sector and admiring the different styles of buildings. Pity there is no book on ‘the buildings of Lisbon’ or come to that ‘the buildings of Barcelona’ (I have looked far and wide).20180330_135010.jpg20180330_135018.jpg20180330_135044.jpg20180330_135214(0).jpg20180330_135409.jpg20180330_135503.jpg20180330_135556.jpg20180330_135725.jpg20180330_135918.jpg20180330_140907.jpg20180330_140823.jpgbut our destination today was the Escher exhibition which we had noticed was on when in Belem. It really was worth the admission price (cheap). It was fascinating to learn how Escher’s work developed and how it became of interest to scientists and mathematicians (amongst others). 20180330_153339.jpgBy looking at his earlier prints and lithographs of stays in Italy and Spain, of nature, and of Moorish art, you could see how this would lead him eventually to the works of ‘impossibility’ for which he has become so famous…20180330_150405.jpg20180330_151128.jpg20180330_151227.jpg20180330_151354.jpg20180330_151716(0).jpg20180330_152434.jpgIt was his minute viewing of detail that led him onwards…20180330_152549.jpgnhW5n4lspNC-9spVP2HKvA-Escher+-+Relativity.jpg20180330_152648.jpg20180330_152901.jpg

THE-AMAZING-WORLD-OF-M.-C-009.jpgand wide interest (although strangely not in the art world) led to him doing commissions for bookplates,20180330_155552.jpgalbum covers (here Pink Floyd)690f9c18c624288ebe48eed1ca89b35b.jpgand even fashion….20180330_160423.jpgNot all exhibitions hold your interest all the way through, but this one did. From the exhibition we went to meet one of Jennifer’s friends who lives and teaches in Lisbon, Tanya. We met near our hotel in a lovely old-fashioned tea rooms which reminded us of Betty’s in Harrogate….A lovely friend from whom we learned a terrific amount about Lisbon and living in Lisbon. I feel guilty about not inviting her with us to dinner.

20180330_175759.jpgOur meal this evening was in a Times recommended restaurant in the Market, the largest market in Lisbon, the Mercado da Ribeira which as well as selling fantastic produce during the day (which we missed), also houses a large food pavilion created by Time Out where some of the city’s top chiefs have bars….for on the ground floor this is just like some street market of your dreams, unlike anywhere I have ever seen, and with a buzzing atmosphere from the crowds of mainly young eaters. What an amazing place. Being slightly separate upstairs we went to Pap’Açôrda, one of Lisbon’s most iconic restaurants, and we were not disappointed. Fantastic food (including their signature chocolate mousse served from the biggest bowl of chocolate mousse ever seen), fantastic value. One of our best-ever meals.20180330_215902.jpg20180330_220348.jpg

Next day started with breakfast at Lab near the hotel, a pristine, wonderful bakery with incredible value and delicious food.20180331_110836.jpg 20180331_110943.jpg20180331_112214.jpgWe then took the train to local seaside hotspot Cascais, along with lots of Lisboans and enjoyed a pastel de nata on the sands soaking up the sun….20180331_124628.jpg20180331_134116.jpg20180331_134709.jpgbefore wending our way through tourist streets and back streets, again admiring the architecture…and the pavements…20180331_142622.jpg20180331_142658.jpg20180331_134045.jpg20180331_141817.jpg20180331_142300.jpg20180331_142747.jpgup the hill, past the citadel in order to lunch at the marina and get a shot which is iconic…very nice too….20180331_144950.jpgour next move was by Uber to Sintra a quite extraordinary town in the mountains where we didn’t quite manage it up to the castle or one of the royal palaces because of a snarl-up in traffic, but enjoyed very much looking round the quaint town itself and having a coffee in another traditional cafe full of atmosphere …….20180331_182943.jpg20180331_184253.jpg20180331_184350.jpg20180331_185205.jpg20180331_185242.jpg20180331_185609.jpg20180331_190001.jpg20180331_190235.jpg20180331_190804.jpgon our last night we had to decide where to eat, a no-brainer really….theMercado da Ribeira in an attempt to find the stall where the Times correspondent had had pork cheek on mash. Again the whole ground floor was swimming with people all enjoying themselves immensely and there didn’t seem a seat to be had anywhere. We were so lucky to find four seats in our last trawl up the aisles, two on either side of a local couple who charmingly moved so that we could sit together……..and the incredible bit was that this was exactly the place where pork cheek was served. We did enjoy our food, the vino verde, and the atmosphere, as our studied concentration shows…..terrific.20180331_212654.jpg20180331_213341.jpg20180331_212657.jpg

So, our last few hours in Lisbon, what to do? A stroll down the streets from our hotel with its quirky mural for breakfast at Lab (of course). Then into town through more beautiful parks and past more really interesting architecture….20180401_105727.jpg20180401_122424.jpg20180401_122723.jpg20180401_122752.jpg20180401_123111.jpg20180401_124032.jpg20180401_124707.jpg20180401_131338.jpg20180401_131653.jpg





Finally, on Tanya’s recommendation by Uber to the Parque das Nações which was built for Lisbon’s Expo 98. It’s a futuristic new town of modern apartments and gardens flanking various tourist attractions, including a casino, science museum and an Oceanarium which is one of the largest in Europe. It made a very different diversion for us, and i even managed to go on the cable car with enjoyment….a first.


As you can see a quirky, colourful, pleasant, clean, interesting capital city which we all really enjoyed. Can’t wait to go back. Thanks David and Jennifer…..

Back to a rainy London, but when you are away you forget how wonderful London really is, what incredible architecture and art it contains…..we were off to the Tate (never visited before), but I simply couldn’t resist taking pictures of the buildings we passed on the bus and walking….20180402_182531.jpg20180402_182622.jpg20180402_192437.jpg20180402_182441.jpg20180402_182503.jpg


And so the Tate…’s a bit late in the day for me to be going to these wonderful places for the first time, but probably that makes my wonder and enjoyment even more powerful. It was a great building….20180403_145634.jpg20180403_130124.jpg20180403_140124.jpgwith all the ‘additional’ bits and pieces you would wish…..20180403_125909.jpgbut absolutely marvellous to see art in the flesh within touching distance one had only seen in books or on TV…how infinitely better to see the real thing…..20180403_131149.jpg20180403_131550.jpgand to see the development of British art through the ages (which is what the Tate is all about)20180403_141549.jpg20180403_131610.jpgart so luscious at times you could eat it!20180403_131952.jpgextravagant busts by Le Sueur… 20180403_132300.jpgand a bust of Wellington cleverly placed in front of a canvas of Waterloo…20180403_140257.jpgand statues so tactile you wanted to touch (too many people around of course)…..20180403_140450.jpg20180403_141023.jpgand what a really good idea Reynolds had to picture a young lad as Henry The Eighth20180403_134933.jpgand to finish we enjoyed a guided tour around the paintings of Turner (of which the Tate has the most incredible collection)….so much better than wandering around on our own to see it through the eyes of an expert….20180403_151524 2.jpg20180403_155242.jpg20180403_152333.jpg20180403_154219.jpga tremendous experience, and how lucky the Art School next door…….

An evening was spent seeing the area where Jennifer is to start her new job – the Embankment….20180402_193655.jpg

20180402_193729.jpgplenty of interest around…a memorial to the very great W S Gilbert20180402_193609.jpgand one to the King of London’s sewage……(and much else to be fair)20180402_193327.jpgand she will be working in the iconic Adelphi building, very impressive indeed…strange that there should be a statue of Robbie Burns in front…..20180402_195017.jpgand after all we (or rather I) couldn’t resist a drink in another iconic building yards away…Gordon’s Wine Bar thought to be the oldest wine bar in London having been established in 1890. 20180402_202158.jpgCan’t wait to meet Jennifer from work!

Our last morning on this lovely trip was spent using our National Art Passes once more to visit Chiswick House………

‘Chiswick House is one of the most glorious examples of 18th-century British architecture. Its gardens are the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement.

The house and grounds were created by two Georgian trend setters, the architect and designer William Kent and his friend and patron Lord Burlington, the third Earl. Influenced by their travels on the Grand Tour, they rejected the showy, Baroque style, fashionable in England, in favour of a simpler, symmetrical design based on the classical architecture of Italy. They championed the work of the Venetian architect, Andrea Palladio and Chiswick House was one of the earliest English examples of what is called “neo-Palladian” style…..’

We were impressed as soon as we entered the grounds….20180404_114346.jpg20180404_114704.jpg20180404_114721.jpg20180404_114910.jpg20180404_114654.jpg

and after our usual coffee and pastry in a rather nice cafe full of dog-walkers and Mums with children, we found the inside of the house as Classical and refined as the outside…with long vistas….20180404_123458.jpgand Roman statuary…20180404_124001.jpgelegant rooms beautifully decorated…20180404_124049.jpg

20180404_130206.jpg20180404_130211.jpg20180404_130302.jpg20180404_130800.jpgpaintings displayed as they would have been….20180404_134125.jpg…as original paintings of the house interiors showed….20180404_130053.jpgand we even were impressed by the Blue Drawing Room…not usually my cup-of-tea….20180404_133836.jpg20180404_133907.jpgThe Orangery (must this be the largest?)…was especially breath-taking..20180404_134920.jpg20180404_135115.jpg20180404_135207.jpgand the grounds worthy of a more extensive exploration on a nicer day…20180404_135505.jpgWhat I find really heart-warming is that the Ministry of Works who restored the building, and now English Heritage, have done so much to trace many of the original contents and restore them to their rightful place. They were helped by the Devonshires of Chatsworth who had taken many things to Chatsworth when they rented out Chiswick from the 1860’s….they have been very helpful in bringing back furniture and paintings. But also people like the V+A who held certain items in store have loaned them to their place of origin. Why oh why is this not done almost as a matter of course when all our big institutions have hundreds of thousands of items in store? Perhaps a lesson to be learned here….I do hope so……











A Drive Out to Caerhays Castle….


Using our HHA cards we drove past St Austell towards Roseland and visited Caerhays Castle. Apparently you can only use the card here for either the house or the gardens…a bit of a cheap gesture I would have thought. First impressions were amazing. You have to park by the beach and walk up a drive past the lake, and the view of the castle is indeed spectacular. This drive is just really the tradesmen’s entrance as the main drive is on the other side of the castle and is a mile long. Anyway we booked a tour of the house and in fact it was the very first of the season. The guides were very good and we had our introduction outside in the sunshine by the porte-cochere, before entering the hall.

Unfortunately, but understandably, as it is a private home and very much lived in, no photos of the interior. And indeed looking on the net, I could find nothing except the following shots on a restoration builder’s website. I sneak these in here…..


What was striking was that although of course the castle looks as a castle should externally, inside there are only a handful of rooms and on a reasonably intimate scale. There are more private rooms and bedrooms which we didn’t see, but nevertheless a liveable interior.


20180320_130933.jpgThe history of the buildings is not generally reviewed anywhere, but the potted history of the owners is on Historic England………..

‘In the early medieval period the manor of Caerhays belonged to the Arundell family, passing by marriage c 1379 to the Trevanion family, with whom it remained in direct succession until 1767. John Trevanion, who inherited the estate in 1703, improved an existing house and developed gardens, thus creating ‘a pleasant romantic seat’ (Lake 1867). When William Trevanion died in 1767 the male line of the family became extinct, and the estate passed to his sister’s son, John Bettesworth, whose son adopted the additional name of Trevanion when he inherited Caerhays in 1801. John Bettesworth Trevanion commissioned John Nash (1752-1835) to build a new house in 1807. It is possible that at the same period Humphry Repton (1752-1818) may have advised on the development of the grounds; correspondence from Mr Pole-Carew of Antony, Cornwall (qv) suggests that he had introduced Repton to Trevanion, but there is no further documentary evidence relating to this possible connection (Stroud 1962), and contemporary descriptions do not refer to Repton’s involvement here. Partly as a result of the escalating cost of building the new mansion, the Trevanions found themselves in increasingly straightened financial circumstances, and in 1840 the family departed for Paris leaving the estate in the hands of creditors who offered it for sale in 1842. It failed to sell, and was again offered for sale in 1852 before finally being purchased in 1853 by Michael Williams, a wealthy banker, mine owner, and iron master of Scorrier and Burncoose. Michael Williams undertook the repair and improvement of the house and made significant changes to the pleasure grounds which are recorded on a plan of 1858 (private collection), the year of his death. Michael Williams was succeeded by his son, John Michael, who continued the improvement of the grounds. J M Williams died in 1880 and was succeeded by his son, John Charles, who c 1885 began the woodland garden for which Caerhays has been noted in the C20. In the late C19 and early C20 J C Williams supported expeditions by E H Wilson (1876-1930) and George Forrest (1873-1932), which provided new introductions which were planted at Caerhays; J C Williams was also undertook significant work hybridising camellias, rhododendrons, and daffodils at Caerhays.

J C Williams died in 1939 and was succeeded by his son Charles, who continued to hybridise rhododendrons and who managed, despite a busy political career as MP for Torquay and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means during the Second World War, to maintain the gardens during the war. Following Charles Williams’ death in 1955 the estate passed to his nephew, F Julian Williams who has overseen the restoration of the gardens in the late C20.’ Julian is still around though ancient, and a son has now taken up the reigns and doing all the usual things, visits, weddings, shoots, selling caerhays as a film location etc etc

What Historic England doesn’t really make clear is that it was actually the extravagance of Nash which led to the downfall of a dynasty! Nash must have thought he was onto yet another good thing (he designed Brighton Pavilion of course for the Prince Regent). And he was sacked by the Trevanions – but too late.

Going back to our tour, a lot of the furnishings and paintings have been bought by the present generation and so there are the usual Opies, Romneys, etc as well as one or two very interesting more modern paintings. The interior style is of a piece with the buildings and there are some exceptionally nice rooms, especially we thought the round drawing room and the octagonal library. Background heating seemed to be some ancient free-standing heaters………I think living in this style of house is definitely for the upper classes!

One very, very interesting thing was in the room which had been created as a museum by the family in Victorian times, a collection of geological specimens which apparently are of international renown. They were quite spectacular. Far from being lumps of old rock (as I thought), they were incredibly beautiful especially some of the foreign ones such as the Australian opals in their raw state. But the Cornish exhibits which were carefully labelled with which of the family’s mines they had come from were equally intriguing.


After a lovely piece of cake and tea in the courtyard (another source of income), we trotted off down the drive, past the splendid lake,  to have a wander on the beach. Caerhays is known especially for its gardens and of course we didn’t see these, but F. talked to a lady (when both coming out of the loo) who said that they had been a little disappointed on their garden tour..the plants needed another week or two before blooming. We will be back to see the  apparently breathtaking magnolias, rhododendrons etc perhaps in a couple of weeks time……..

On our drive back home we had some great views of the bay…..a lovely Cornish day.



And, as we passed near it, we couldn’t resist calling into Fowey where we did our usual gaping at houses, estate agents, and visiting of some shops on the lookout for maritime-themed draught excluders of all things.





I loved this door (on a holiday cottage of course)…


Back for a late ‘lunch’ at 4pm! We found our living room flooded in sunlight…we are more or less West-facing.


Reading matter…

9781784770778.jpgI’ve already talked about the ‘Slow’ series of travel guides by Bradt when I reviewed the edition covering ‘Cornwall’. Since we have visited Devon once or twice recently I found  that I also had a copy of ‘South Devon’ on our shelves and so decided to have a browse. In fact these books are so good I had to read the whole thing. What I found was not only that it was pleasure to read, but that there are so many places, still fairly near to us, that we should try and visit over the coming year. I love the way that these guides give you as well as a potted history of places, highlights to visit, diversions nearby, excellent recommendations on food and drink, places to stay, and how to get there by public transport and how to get about, good walks too. All done in a friendly conversational style that draws you in.

Robert-Galbraith-The-Cuckoos-Calling.jpgWe’ve really enjoyed the Cormoran Strike series on TV, and so last time we were in Truro we bought the three books that formed the basis of the series so far. They are by Robert Galbraith, also known as J K Rowling of course, and on the whole very good they are too. It was interesting that the TV followed the books very closely indeed, which shows you that their plot lines are very strong. The character build-up is also good…as, for many Crime books, it is not. And of course they are page-turners which has led to some very late nights, and the carrying round of the books during the day. They are lengthy galbraith.pngtoo which is good, as they can certainly sustain it. In fact the only thing I have against these is that after a fairly normal first story, the follow-ons get increasingly way-out and darker. It really isn’t necessary.9780751563580.jpg

912xdMpbvDL.jpgI am just finishing ‘High Minds : the Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain’ by Simon Heffer. It’s taken me a while to get round to this as we had Simon along to give a talk at Warwick Books about five years ago, and very good value he was too. But it is a serious book and demands a thoughtful read. I can’t do better in describing what it’s all about than quote from the publisher’s blurb….’Britain in the 1840s was a country wracked by poverty, unrest and uncertainty, where there were attempts to assassinate the Queen and her prime minister, and the ruling class lived in fear of riot and revolution. By the 1880s it was a confident nation of progress and prosperity, transformed not just by industrialisation but by new attitudes to politics, education, women and the working class. That it should have changed so radically was very largely the work of an astonishingly dynamic and high-minded group of people – politicians and philanthropists, writers and thinkers – who in a matter of decades fundamentally remade the country, its institutions and its mindset, and laid the foundations for modern society.’

And that is a very fair summary. Indeed it is a high-minded book. We learn through Simon what the intellectual milieu of those forty years was, and we learn how radical change came about through the interaction of politicians, writers and intellectuals. Some of them already known to us, many not. As Dominic Sandbrook said in his review “There is something enormously refreshing about reading a history book with such a passionate moral agenda, as well as one with such scope, energy and intellectual clarity. High Minds is a book Heffer’s heroes would have loved – and perhaps there is no higher compliment than that.” We learn about the development of Women’s Rights, we learn how much trouble Prince Albert had in getting his way with the Great Exhibition and the founding from the proceeds of ‘Albertopolis’ which benefits us so much today. We get to know all about the great debates on education, changes in crime and punishment, the struggle between different forms of architecture, and so much else besides. This book is a great achievement and a wonderfully stimulating read.

A tour around Shilstone House in Devon Tuesday 13th March


Resident archaeologist Abi Gray, based with the Devonshire Rural Archive, was our guide around the house and grounds of Shilstone House in which grounds the Fenwick family set up and funded the DRA…which I have mentioned before and which is an amazing resource.

When owners Sebastian and Lucy Fenwick bought the property in 1997, Shilstone House was less than half the size it stands at today. Purchased as a rather rundown farmhouse reduced in size over many years from its former medieval glory, the Fenwicks had a vision of a Georgian house, but one with plenty of magic. What they did was to create a Georgian House which gave the appearance of historic development from the Tudor period onwards. So, both outside and within, you can see the Tudor style in one part of the house, flowing into early and later Georgian…all created with modern methods of construction….including breeze blocks and insulation for instance! The darker stone of the old farmhouse can be seen on the right of this pic…


and the house was developed around a small inner courtyard filled with flowers and scent


I must admit that I have always thought the building itself a little austere, and set into its hillside it seems to beckon damp and darkness, but not a bit of it. The inside of the house is full of light and an amazingly welcome space, and absolutely crammed with pictures including important originals (as you would expect with Lucy having been a Director of British Art for Sotheby’s!).


and the spaces are intimate and lived-in. Indeed it was made clear that this was a real family home used daily as a home should be, and not some impersonal shell (sorry NT….).


The library had a ‘secret’ hinged door loaded with books (just like our daughter Katherine’s in Edinburgh!).


and it goes without saying that original material was re-used wherever possible… for instance some of the three rooms-worth of Jacobean panelling with intricate carving has been painted over to lighten the whole aspect (and with the approval of English Heritage……).


and the views of Shilstone’s own gardens and estate are pretty good too….


Moving outside we saw on this wing the three ‘periods’ that had been created – from Tudor 1600 on the left through Early Georgian 1690 to Later Georgian 1730, the windows all changing to reflect the different styles.


We walked past some of the domestic buildings and then


into the walled garden which had a feature I had not seen before..a lowered wall on the South side to allow more sunshine and warmth into the interior…20180313_150128.jpg

The small banqueting tower was cute….20180313_150519.jpg

We then had chance to see the only known surviving example of a seventeenth century water theatre, which took place in the three-arched grotto seen here – above the series of ponds which were another feature of the grounds.


What struck most from our tour was the care and attention to detail of the Fenwicks and their craftsmen, and the delightfulness of the interior which was supremely welcoming. The nicest ‘modern’ house we have ever seen!!

On the way back through the beautiful South Hams countryside, we stopped briefly at Ermington so that I could take a picture of the extraordinary twisted steeple….I thought only Chesterfield had one. However, in Wikipedia there is a list of the twisted spires of Europe including seven in England.


When nearly home we stopped in a lay-by for me to take a picture of a feature we had often noticed….which seems to me to be rather like an ancient barrow. More investigation required.20180313_165653.jpg


A stay at Dartington Hall…8th/9th March…..


We saw an overnight stay at Dartington Hall advertised on TravelZoo for £59 bed and breakfast. And it coincided with ‘Open House’ at Dartington and a film in their Barn Cinema which we thought would be interesting. So off we went. The first views of Dartington were encouraging, finding the actual ‘hotel’ bit extremely difficult. However, as we entered the courtyard of restored medieval buildings where our room would be located, we got a good feel for this wonderful place…..


20180308_121507and our bedroom and the view from the window were extremely satisfactory. This was £59 for 2 people….ridiculously cheap, as I told Dartington in my feedback.



The best concise description of the importance of this group of medieval buildings and associated famous gardens and parkland are to be found at Historic England. But also do look at the Trust’s own site for details of its development til today. I had thought originally from its layout and setting that this was an ancient monastery but no it was built as a prestigious house in medieval times and altered since. The most recent major input was the work of two philanthropists – the Elmhirsts – who ‘undertook a major programme of restoration under the supervision of William Weir from 1927 to 1938, while at the same time establishing The Dartington Hall Trust in 1932, which promoted experimental approaches to rural reconstruction and progressive education. The Trust was an amalgamation of three specialist Trusts. New buildings were built to accommodate the Trust’s activities, but no overall development plan for the estate was made. At the same period Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst commissioned designs for the gardens around the Hall from H. Avray Tipping in 1927, followed in 1932-35 by Beatrix Farrand. From 1945 to 1968 Percy Cane advised on the design of the garden. Dorothy Elmhirst recorded the development of the gardens in a series of notebooks from 1943 until her death in 1968. Following the death of Leonard Elmhirst in 1974, Dartington has continued to be administered by The Dartington Hall Trust as a centre for its educational, sociological and artistic activities’.

Anyway after dumping our bags we drove through the grounds which were indeed beautiful, stopping to admire the River Dart, and made our way through Totnes, which is within walking distance of the Hall, to our first planned visit the NT’s Coleton Fishacre House near Dartmouth.


As NT explains..’This country home was built in 1926 for Rupert and Dorothy D’Oyly Carte, who were inspired to make the beautiful valley running down to the sea the site for an elegant Arts and Crafts home. Here they could entertain in style and indulge their passion for the outdoors. You get a real feel for their lifestyle of outdoor pursuits and entertainment as you explore the house; looking out for the wind dial which indicated good sailing weather, and the bell on the side of the house which could be rung to call the family in from the cove at the bottom of the garden at meal times…..’ First impressions were that it was indeed a beautiful house in a wonderful setting….


but the first priority was a cup of tea and light lunch….


the view from the cafe and patio was pretty amazing…


and this continued in every room in the house….


Coleton was full of interest inside – from the family’s accoutrements…20180308_135036

to bedrooms…20180308_135123with fabulous views of the gardens…..20180308_135245There was, as is becoming more common, a dressing-up room….this time with 20’s and 30’s bits and pieces (quite fetching)20180308_135320and little personal touches provided a homely feel..20180308_13571120180308_135942The ‘downstairs’ operation was not as unprepossessing as at a lot of the grander homes, and indeed the maids and butler’s quarters were very nice..they still had lots of work though…..20180308_140235but towards the end of the tour were my two or three favourite rooms…..the library20180308_140711with its very fancy wind dial 20180308_140719and the living room where cocktails await, or if you really must…..20180308_141207…….tea20180308_141233and immediately off the dining room was the outside loggia where the family preferred to eat whenever possible…sheltered, airy, and with lovely views of the gardens….20180308_140344there were also some handsome paintings…all in all, a terrific experience.20180308_140635But as it was such a nice day we had the further delight of a stroll through the gardens, via the Summer House and formal areas…..20180308_14395220180308_143110to the viewpoint at the end of the estate….magnificent.20180308_14384220180308_145538I really must mention how friendly and helpful all the staff were…this year wherever we have been this has been so. I therefore imagine they have all been on a customer service course, who knows?

Our next move was back to Dartington where we had a dinner booked in what they call ‘The White Hart’ Inn, which is actually  part of the restored range of buildings. It is a very very impressive place indeed…I would go so far as to say it is the highest-roofed hall building I have ever seen with the thickest walls, plus enormous fireplaces.20180308_203001Unfortunately on this occasion the meal wasn’t up to scratch. However,  the film afterwards in The Barn Cinema, another restored building and part of the complex, in reality a fifteenth century barn, was very interesting. It told of the other side of Hedy Lamarr. As well as being ‘the Bombshell of Hollywood’, the most beautiful woman in the world, she was an inveterate experimenter and inventor. Of the reviews I have read that of ‘The Independent’ is the best… read it to find out how what she invented – a frequency-hopping system – was used by the American Military and actually became the basis for Bluetooth and wifi and other developments, now the supposed foundation of the modern world! It is an astonishing story. She received no credit until she was more or less on her deathbed…..because she was a glamorous, and controlled, American film star.big-film-fest-norgan-theatre-january-2018-1080x640

Breakfast next morning was in The White Hart and it was superb. After that we had a look in the Great Hall which was closed for an event but we sneaked in anyhow, and this was even more impressive than ‘The White Hart’ and its screen corridors were very atmospheric.


It was really quite wet today but we didn’t let that put us off visiting the gardens which are such a feature of Dartington and we had quite a long chat with the only other person we met who had been to school here and remembered brilliant performances in the outdoor amphitheatre….20180309_10471620180309_10480920180309_104934There were some famous statues including this Henry Moore, so we enjoyed our little tour despite the conditions.20180309_105326Next stop was Agatha Christie’s holiday home ‘Greenway’. Located on the River Dart normally you would want to explore the gardens here, but as it never stopped pouring down we were satisfied with the house interior.20180309_13105620180309_133012All very interesting, but everywhere gloomy I thought. Mind you I think half of that was  down to the weather conditions. Very friendly guides again – must have been on the same course!20180309_133017I particularly liked some of the paintings of Agatha’s husband Max, the archaeologist, which gave a real feel for the man.20180309_13381220180309_135615

anyway, here from the NT site, is what it’s like on a nice day! Much better…..


I forgot to mention we had an extensive look round the exhibition that was on at Dartington about the Trust’s future. The big trouble was it was thick with a mixture of management-speak of the worst kind and Totnes-influenced flower-power of the hugging a tree variety, a strange mixture indeed. It was all much too airy-fairy for me. I’d certainly do things differently. I don’t think I’ll be asked. Nowhere at the exhibition or on the website for you to give your feedback…..I wonder why?







Spring to winter to spring…March 2018


Nice view to wake up to last week, but slightly different the next day..


The only worry was that I hadn’t covered up a couple of palms. We chose to stay indoors one day but that was all, the next day was lovely for walking our lanes..





and on the very next day at Looe it really was warm enough to sit in the sun



and by the next day, back to Spring….




Seeing the wildlife here in SE Cornwall…

Without really thinking about it we see quite a bit of wildlife here. Let’s start with our garden ….what have we seen at the bird table or elsewhere in the garden?…..Wrens, Goldcrest, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Dunnock, Sparrows, Greenfinch, Starlings, Bullfinch, Rooks, Crows, Blackbirds, Nuthatch, Wood Pigeons, Magpies….. plus the odd squirrel and not forgetting the Charolais cattle in the field behind us, and sheep. On our walks from the front door we can add kestrels and buzzards and pheasant and partridge and swallows or swifts. Plus the sound of a woodpecker.


Then on our regular walks at Hannafore and Looe, and along the river, we can add the seabirds….Turnstones, Oystercatchers, Dippers, Grey Heron, Mallards, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Herring Gulls, Common Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Cormorants (below), 20170224_163236.jpg

Shags, and White Egrets. In the meadow at the end of Hannafore we have seen and heard Skylarks. Plus we have seen bubbling shoals of Sea Bass and the odd flat fish, maybe a Sole, in the river at Looe. And seals at Looe and elsewhere. Also foxes and water rats.

So we really are lucky indeed….and we will hopefully continue to learn more as we make use of our retirement.


Stalwart Brits….


Today I had booked train tickets to Truro in order to go on the highlights tour of the Royal Cornwall Museum. The local weather forecast was a few light showers of snow which would disappear. When we arrived, however, we found Truro virtually deserted and quite a lot of places closed. Indeed the notice in this shop window seemed to  imply that we were somewhere in the Arctic Circle. I am 68 years old and I have never in my life allowed snow to stop me doing anything or going anywhere. When we had our greengrocers shop in Dartmouth and we did have really bad snow one year I still managed to walk across a few fields at hedgehop height, and a few miles in, to make sure we were open. So to see all the fuss whenever we have just the teeniest weensiest bit of snow just bemuses me. It really does…….


So, we arrived at the Museum to be told that they were closing in twenty minutes due to the adverse weather conditions to ensure staff got home safely. Unbelievable! Their cafe, which adjoins, was staying open as presumably the staff were braver there. After a very cursory look round…at a few of their exhibits and couple of their more well-known pictures..



off we had to go….to Waterstones which was staying open, come what may, I am really glad to say. After we had exhausted the possibilities there, with three new books in hand, we tootled off to the station to catch our train home (all trains on time….). What a disappointing day. How feeble some of us are!