Houses of Power…

images.jpegA new hardback book is always something to savour, especially for me a non-fiction one. And this was a sheer pleasure to read. Our guide is the architectural historian Simon Thurley, formerly the chief executive of English Heritage and once the curator of Historic Royal Palaces. As the Times review by De Groot says, he certainly loves his subject, an enthusiasm that steadily bubbles forth from ‘Houses of Power’. The book is about the houses, palaces and castles that the Tudors inherited, built and lived in, and Simon Thurley is just the man to guide us through this novel slant on the life of the Tudors. The reason? Surprisingly little of Tudor Royal buildings survive, so we  have here the result of 30 years of meticulous research in the records and the interpretation of archaeological evidence by an expert.

What struck me more than ever was the megalomania of the Tudors, the incredible difference between how the upper levels lived and the great bulk of the population. Henry VIII alone spent about a million pounds on his buildings when the average yearly income was about £20……the avarice of Henry VIII was something rather special. “He is so covetous,” wrote Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador, “that all the riches in the world would not satisfy him . . . he does not reflect that to make himself rich he has impoverished his people, and does not gain in goods what he loses in renown.” I was also amazed to find that virtually the whole of the proceeds of the Dissolution of the Monasteries was spent on Royal building…incredible!

I took a great interest in the logistics involved in living in these buildings. Twice a day about 600 people were fed on an intricately choreographed assembly line that would have impressed Henry Ford. The royal bakehouse produced 1,700 loaves of bread every day. In a typical year Elizabeth’s kitchens went through 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar, not to mention countless partridge, ducks, swans and pheasants.

But so great was the spending that “Calculating exactly how many houses [Henry] had is surprisingly difficult,” Thurley admits. When he became king, Henry inherited about 20 royal houses and a few castles. On his death, the total had risen to more than 70. Elizabeth thank goodness renovated rather than built, and relied much more on visiting her subjects’ houses. A two day visit would turn the hosts’ world upside down, and quite possibly bankrupt them. Did Elizabeth care? Not a jot.

‘Houses of Power’ is a great read and is particularly instructive in how the Court was arranged and how it lived. Everyday life with the royals – fascinating and repulsive!

Bedtime reading for a while was brutal – David Peace’s ‘1983’. The completion of the RedUnknown.jpeg Riding Quartet is if anything even more frightening than the previous books in the series. All about corruption and perversion of justice in 1970’s and 1980’s Leeds. Could things like this really have happened? David Peace persuades us that this was entirely possible. You really get the feeling that you are living through a horror story and witnessing it happen. David is surely one of the truly great Crime authors of all time. Breathless, voyeuristic, and as I say frightening. Read it if you dare. The TV series based on the novels by Channel 4 was I seem to remember rather brilliant too…I must see if it is still available. Who needs Scandi Noire?

51Ne3PCCBRL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was a Birthday present, along with the next two booklets, from our lovely daughter-in-law Jennifer (obtained from our wonderful local bookshop ‘The Bookshop Liskeard’ ). Boconnoc is our nearest ‘big house’. So far we have only visited the gardens and church when we went for a Garden Fair. The author has done a great deal of research and first of all takes us through a potted history of the families associated with the house and grounds through the ages. Notably one of the families was able to purchase Boconnoc with the proceeds of the Pitt diamond (now part of the French Crown Jewels on display in the Louvre).  Thomas ‘Diamond’ Pitt as he was known bought several other houses with the proceeds too! This part of the family was very closely related to the Pitt Prime Ministers. Catherine Lorigan then traces how the medieval fortified tower house evolved into a Georgian mansion, discusses how the grounds and gardens have been transformed, and examines the relationship of the estate with the agricultural and industrial landscape in which it is set. Still family owned and run, the house was rescued from almost utter dereliction by the present generation, so the whole thing makes a fascinating story. Just my type of book……

‘Really Short Walks South Dartmoor’ A book which we shall use when we travel just that bit further afield for some great walks. Although we lived in Dartmouth for a few years we only visited Dartmoor on a very few occasions (once we were held up on the road by a Hunt I remember). It is a very beautiful area indeed and full of ancient sites and monuments. And talking about ancient sites, Bodmin is of course full of them. Again it is an area we have not yet explored so ‘An Introduction To Bodmin Moor’ will be very handy for our purposes.

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Thursday 14th September 2017…a tour of Camel Valley Vineyard


This tour of Camel Valley Vineyard was something we had been meaning to do for a while…we got off on slightly the wrong footing when we took the wrong road to get there ( I was pilot, F. was navigator, enough said!). Still we made it in time for the tour (every weekday at 2.30pm April to September). The lanes we drove down to get there were beautiful…green, wooded, hilly, with streams, bridges, nice villages, and we were delighted with our first sight of the vineyard…..20170914_142934.jpg

We waited inside the shop for the start of the tour and that was fascinating in itself with interesting background information, the signatures of famous visitors ( no Marcus Pierre White!), and the wines and the trophies they have won on display. And what recognition they have had in the world of wine….a superb manifestation of the quality of English wine.


Anyway the tour started with a quick background history of the site and the family by the effervescent and high quality Samuel as the guide. We then walked over the electric

20170914_144622.jpgfence to look at the vines themselves and be told about a year in the life of a vineyard…hard work, particularly in November, December! The slopes, which are exactly South-facing, were the lucky break for the sheep-farmer turned amateur wine-maker who started out with no knowledge. Being based on a slate bedrock, the roots which creep down as much as 3 metres give the wine its Cornish authenticity (terroire). There are only about half a dozen grape varieties grown particularly suited to this area, and they result in a bottle list of about a dozen wines (one being exclusively for Raymond Blanc). We all jumped out of our skins when the regular animal-scaring shots went off, and retreated into the manufacturing and warehouse facility.


Samuel took us through the whole wine-making process with a very light touch but in sufficient detail to satisfy even the die-hard wine afficianado. The fact I retain which most struck me was that three different wines can result from the processing of one batch. It was very very interesting to find out how wine making had progressed and become more mechanised ( in no way taking away from the utterly personal touch here ). One example was the ‘jiggling machines’ which you can see here and which replace an extremely laborious process of repeatedly hand turning the bottles of fizz (for which Camel Valley is perhaps best known) to settle the yeast into the cap end so that it can eventually, after as much as two years, be removed.


When in the new warehouse we saw exactly what two and half year’s production (particularly good years it mat be said) looks like.


I could have listened to Samuel for longer (he was very good), but the time came eventually for us to actually taste the stuff and what a pleasure it was to sit on the terrace and sample at first two, and then four, of the wines.20170914_152709.jpg



We were even joined by the lovely family dog who soon found out who the soft touch for crisp giving was (me!). The only recommendation I would make is for a supply of cheese and biscuits to be available (as per a vineyard tour in Lausanne with David and Jennifer). A sample of four wines may then have turned to six?!


The end………(unfortunately)!






Saturday 9th September….a walk along the West Looe river


It has been raining rather a lot recently so we took advantage of a short break in the weather to drive to some woods just South of Duloe (about 5 minutes away). Here we did a walk at a high level through the woods and dropping down to Herodsfoot (the doubly Thankful village I have written about before). A pleasant walk with the sound of the West Looe river accompanying us, although we couldn’t see it. Herodsfoot is a pretty little village completely enclosed by hills. ….in fact set at the meeting of four valleys whose streams join the West Looe river. It was a real hive of industry in its time, and a lead and silver mine functioned here for centuries. The population of the village was a mere 116 when the Church was opened in 1850, but ten years later had quadrupled and reached a peak in 1871 with 499 people being recorded in the census. It never ceases to amaze me how busy these tiny Cornish localities were.


Researching the village’s history I came across the site MyCornwall which has some fantastic articles and a quite detailed analysis of Herodsfoot’s industrial heritage….do click the link and have a read. It’s humbling to see how far some people walked to work, and the conditions they worked in, plus tragic to read about the deaths. These weren’t only in the mines as a large gunpowder factory was established here and only closed in the 1960’s. Its sister factory is now Trago Mills the very large shopping centre with a quite unique culture.

Mineral-Bournonite-label.c-630x632.jpgOne interesting by-product of the mining is revealed in MyCornwall….’Lead and silver weren’t the only treasures found at Herodsfoot.  During the 1850s and 1860s the village was visited by Richard Talling, the esteemed mineralogist born at nearby Lostwithiel in 1820.  Talling began his living as an apprentice shoemaker but developed a passion for minerals, and for much of his life ran an emporium in Lostwithiel where he sold his samples.  He travelled widely in search of new specimens but discovered two unique minerals locally, exposed by Herodsfoot’s probing mines: bournonite, a sulphide of lead, copper and antimony; and tetrahedrite, a sulphide of copper, iron and antimony which also sometimes contains silver.

It seems that in his enthusiasm the collector made a nuisance of himself at Herodsfoot, for eventually the mine manager banned him from acquiring any more samples.  He rather neatly got round his exclusion by buying shares in the mine, which allowed him to come and go as he pleased.  Talling’s Herodsfoot discoveries were his most famous achievement and samples of the two minerals were acquired by the Royal Cornwall Museum.  Today too the Natural History Museum’s Vault, a gallery containing nature’s rarest and most valuable minerals, features a huge bournonite specimen bought from Richard Talling in 1868.  No other sample of its size or quality has ever been found…….’

John Betjeman, in his “Shell Guide to Cornwall” described Herodsfoot as “An inland Polperro in a deeply wooded valley. Slate cottages with uneven roofs, the Looe river very small…”.

20170909_125417.jpgOur way back was now at a low level accompanying the river – partly on one of Cornwall’s many roads without traffic, partly on a track through the woods. I managed for once to take a photo of a butterfly ( a red admiral) without it flying off on my approach. Mind you these are known as a people-friendly breed as they land on people quite often…..20170909_130014.jpg



We finally reached the small hamlet of churchbridge with its late medieval bridge over the river. Two houses near here appear to have been corn mills and we passed a derelict hut by what seemed to be a leat and I assume this may have been a shelter for someone operating the leat…



Railway mania…


Because we saw a fascinating programme on TV about named trains and the loss of so much heritage on the railways I bought a couple of train-related books which have proved to be brilliant. The first ‘The Trains Now Departed’ is9781848094352.jpg about a lot of what we have lost described in 16 different thematic chapters. One for instance is entitled ‘Last Call For The Dining Car’ and bemoans the loss of crisp tablecloths, silver service, and six-course gourmet meals amongst other things. Astonishingly even at the close of the nationalised era in 1994 there were 249 trains a day with dining cars open to both first- and standard-class passengers. Now they don’t need counting. Interestingly, it is on ‘our’ line – the GWR from Paddington to Penzance – that the best survives. Here is the author Michael Williams relishing the service on The Cornishman….’by Slough I am tucking into a proper cheese shuffle, a rarity in a restaurant these days let alone on a train; curiously the last time I enjoyed it as much was at The Garrick Club. At Reading I’m selecting from a menu including ‘Silver Mullet with Roasted Garlic’ and ‘Grilled Somerset Fillet Steak’. By Exeter I’m wondering if I can squeeze in the ‘Chocolate and Salted Caramel Pudding’ as well as the “Artisan Cheese Selection with Quince Jelly’. As we pass along the coast at Dawlish, one of the most sublime views from any railway carriage in the world, I’m…….’ We really must try to book this as a treat some time. Have a look at the current menu.

9781781316412.jpgThe other book which I couldn’t resist buying was ‘Mile By Mile : An Illustrated Journey On Britain’s Railways’ doing what it says – describing what you will see on the rail network (in 1947). It is fascinating, and I really must take this with me when we travel soon to London on the train to see how much things have changed. Nostalgic and full of  memorable photos of the railway scene in those years. I will also use it more locally…here for instance is the entry on passing Menheniot which is ver near here but which we have never visited…’The pretty village of Menheniot has a fine medieval church whee William of Wykham was once incumbent. just after Menheniot, off to the right can be seen wonderful views of Dartmoor. Those with a keen eye may make out the Cheesewring the creation of this pile of stones has been attributed to giants but it was actually a geographical formation which created this unearthly stack of stones in this windswept place…..’9780906720684-uk-11.jpg

…….. I have more than one book on the South-West Coast Path but I enjoyed this addition which is a day-by-day account of walking the Cornwall bit of the path. The author is a conservation specialist, but in putting together the book he was helped by his wife who is a historian so that it is absolutely full of fascinating detail. It all sounded a bit of a slog (not surprising since he covered 16-20 miles per day), whereas I am happy to do it in very small chunks which allows you time to appreciate all that is on offer. I shall use this book to pick on some highlights.


9780007174546-jpg.pngSince we visited Falmouth recently I decided to re-read ‘The Levelling Sea’ by Philip Marsden. I am so glad I did. It is both instructive, entertaining and even inspiring. Philip has great empathy with the sea himself and is always fully aware of its potential and dangers. He skilfully shows how location, and a series of amazing characters through the ages, led to the important role Falmouth played in the national story and, as a good historian, he pushes us along in a whirlwind of discovery and interest whilst always basing his breathtaking story on serious research. One of the very best books on local history without any doubt.51tO81cUTjL.jpg

Going to the marvellous exhibition on Stanhope Forbes at Penzance led me to acquire the accompanying book and catalogue written by a serious art historian Elizabeth Knowles. I was reluctant to buy this as it was £20 and a paperback, but F. persuaded me into it knowing full well I would derive great pleasure…..which I duly did. A marvellous life story, fantastic reproductions of the great paintings, and a permanent reminder of our visit. What more could one ask?


Unknown.jpegBedtime recently has been ‘Last Tango In Aberystwyth’ by Malcolm Pryce, the second in the series of comic crime noir novels set in the town which Malcolm must know so well (he wrote this particular novel in Bangkok). He writes in the style of Raymond Chandler and has been labelled “the king of Welsh noir”.[2] His Aberystwyth Noir novels are incongruously set on the rainswept streets of an alternate universe version of the Welsh seaside resort and university town of Aberystwyth. The hero of these novels is Louie Knight the best private detective in Aberystwyth (also the only private detective in Aberystwyth), who battles crime organised by the local Druids investigates the strange case of the town’s disappearing youths, and gets involved in its burgeoning film industry, which produces What The Butler Saw movies. I said somewhere that I don’t often re-read books, but I see I have been doing quite a lot of that recently. No point in having them entirely as decoration I suppose. Reading this again was not quite so amusing as the first time round, but I am inclined to read another in the series.

Wed 6th September bus to Polzeath for a short walk


We decided to do a different bus journey and walk today, and caught a local bus to Wadebridge and then a First Kernow bus to Polzeath. Whilst waiting at Wadebridge we had time to pop into the John Betjeman Centre based in the old railway station, a very attractive building (according to the lady there the centre of activity in the town…she also said Wadebridge was the friendliest small town and everyone had a smile for you). The Betjeman stuff was arranged in quite an informal not to say amateurish way and was moderately interesting. Betjeman himself described the railway journey from here to Padstow as the most beautiful train journey he knew, so it’s a great pity it no longer exists…the compensation is that you can now walk it as the Camel Trail all along the estuary.

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Anyway the bus journey took us through some pretty countryside and we got off at our destination of Polzeath. There we had lunch on a nice balcony overlooking the beach and took in all the activity. Lots of families were having a typical English seaside holiday with tents and windbreaks on the beach and buckets and spades and picnics. And there was a terrific number of surfers taking advantage of the conditions. After a wander around the little town and beach, we then made for the Coastal path and climbed to the top of the cliffs where we saw one of the several lifeguards on duty scanning for anything untoward…they really do an incomparable job.20170906_124950.jpg


We proceeded along the path towards our destination of Rock (occasionally referred to as ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’, Rock is reputed to be the home of more millionaires than anywhere else in Cornwall with exclusive villas and apartments discretely hidden amongst the trees).

20170906_130913.jpgThere were a large number of secret coves as we made our way to Daymer beach and we stopped often to admire the view….although cloudy it was warm and eventually the clouds gave way to blue skies and sunburn






Daymer beach is at low tide an enormous stretch of sand and as we were nearing Rock we had to move more quickly (not easy on the sands!) in order to make our bus back. This entailed walking uphill the whole length of Rock which was a much bigger place than we had realised. Every house we passed was of a high order…probably justifying its moniker of Chelsea-on-sea. And the view across the bay to Padstow with all the little boats bobbing in the estuary was great.


At Wadebridge we had time for a tea and pasty and a look around the shopping area which was delightful. It was wonderful to see three very good bread shops, a first-class greengrocer, and two good butchers…pity there are not more towns like Wadebridge with its plethora of independent shops… a good day with an enjoyable walk of about 4 miles.

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Wednesday 30th August to Friday 1st September…into The West…


The day started fine (not forecast) so seas and skies were blue on our way to Porthleven for two nights stay at Kota which was a Father’s Day present for me and a birthday present from me to F.  After calling at Burncose nurseries on the way for a look at their extensive plant collection, a warm trip dictated a stop for a pint at the very pretty Crown 20170830_133544.jpgInn at Goldsithney (itself a very pretty village). We then by accident (to look at the view of St Michael’s Mount from their roadside carpark) called at Mount Haven a luxury hotel on the outskirts of Marazion where we then had lunch – and very good it was too with the delight of sitting on the garden terrace with views of the Mount in the Bay. We will certainly call at Mount Haven again. Satisfied, we drove through Marazion which was very busy on to our today’s afternoon destination of Penzance where we parked and went to the Stanhope Forbes exhibition at our favourite Penlee House Gallery and Museum This time, having parked roadside in North Penzance for free, we approached the Museum through the Remembrance Gardens, a beautiful way in indeed.20170830_151925.jpg

The exhibition itself was marvellous. We have seen many Newlyn School paintings before at the Museum, but here was the work of a painter who has been called the Father of the Newlyn School in depth. Paintings had been acquired from seemingly everywhere from the Tate to Hartlepool and Preston and many private collections, and so we were presented with the whole of his career. The presentation was impeccable with just the right amount of background and information and we really enjoyed our time here.


The painting on the left is the one he did to accompany becoming a member of the Royal Academy with F. looking at a self-portrait. And below is one of his industrial scenes in Sheffield done as War Artist….


But it was as an artist who captured maritime scenes of the old pre-War Newlyn au plein air that he is remembered. ‘A Fish Sale On A Cornish Beach’ is one of his most famous paintings. Throughout his very long career he took a fascination with light and time of day into his work and proved a skilled operator.



Whilst in the exhibition til closing time, the heavens opened and refreshed the beautiful park in which the Museum is located rendering it even more beautiful…….such are the benefits of British weather!



We then proceeded to Kota Porthleven where the excellent staff took us to our room with a view


and before dinner we went for a stroll around the harbour to build up an appetite.  The changeable weather was good for taking pictures. We watched two gigs coming home with their raucous female coxes and had a good look at the now famous picture of Porthleven in storms….incredible.








A rainbow provided a nice cap to our walk.



What struck us more than anything was how well looked-after the town was…tidy despite the number of visitors, and great pride obviously taken in restorations. Other towns take note.

We had a nice meal in Kota which is quite famous since Jude Kereama appeared on Great British Menu. But I have to say it seemed to be living on its laurels. No sign of the chef, either literally or metaphorically, not the exciting spicing we had been led to expect, my fish was dry (unforgivable in such a restaurant), and overall underwhelming.


The next day dawned with sunshine and we had a lovely breakfast with exemplary service at Kota Kai the sister cafe. The smoked salmon fillet with scrambled egg which we both had was delicious (smoked on the premises). A quick saunter around Porthleven set us up for the day…..


and it was interesting to see the old lime kiln which had been restored double-handedly by two members of the local history society visible in the photo below…great credit is deserved by people like that.


Anyhow, today we took the bus from Porthleven to Marazion (Porthleven seems to have extremely good bus services), a scenic route seen from the top of the double-decker. We were going to re-visit St Michael’s Mount which we had been to a few years ago and as the causeway was covered by the tides we queued patiently for the ferry. In fact we didn’t wait long at all considering the numbers of people as there were about 8 ferries in constant operation.


Arriving at the little harbour on the island we had a quick look at the two barges used on formal occasions by the Lords St Aubyn, the same St Aubyns whose crest we see in Hannafore on presumably a holiday house.


We then made the steep pilgrims’ ascent (no alternative), the abbey/castle looking as if it grows straight out of the rock.



Inside is marvellous, beautiful rooms, lovely accessories, fantastic views, terrific history underlying everything. I particularly like the rococo Gothick drawing room (Strawberry Gothic I always call it).





But our biggest surprise was our walk around the gardens afterwards…they were some of the nicest gardens we have seen and all on an inhospitable rocky site. This didn’t stop terracing of all kinds and planting that takes advantage of the fact that the stones act as a kind of radiator getting up to 40 degrees.  The planting was truly astounding and a revelation to us who hadn’t realised this treasure was there…














Tiring but very satisfying. Over on the mainland we had a wander around Marazion which is a delightful little town with lots of galleries and restaurants/cafes. We had lunch in the Godolphin Arms which has been refurbished to great effect. We looked out over the view to the Mount, had a decent and reasonably priced lunch and the bedrooms with a view looked great on their literature…20170831_155147.jpg


The return to Porthleven by double-decker was a great end to the day…..


Friday saw us bid farewell to Porthleven, and we wound our way down the Lizard. First stop the beaches near Gunwalloe


We went on a short circular walk on the coastal path at the beginning and were rewarded with fine views across to Porthleven and beyond to Land’s End.







and then we looked around the very historic church dedicated to St Winwalloe. It is built into the dunes and is quite unique. Unusually for us it was about the only church we have been to without any form of written guide.





A rood screen, bearing an image of the crucifixion, once divided the church in two with the chancel and north and south chapels lying to the east.  Two complete bays of this screen which once depicted the twelve apostles were recycled as north and south doors to the church, one to be seen here.


One more stop before the drive home was to Kynance Cove very near to the Lizard, which was incredibly busy, and we saw it as the tide was virtually fully in i.e. not at its best.




We simply must return early one day outside school holidays when the tide is out!


This 2 night trip was something of a holiday for us, and we made the most of it……