Houses, chairs, family …………

To celebrate Katherine’s new position as Prof at the University of Edinburgh and the family’s acquisition of a new house, another visit to Edinburgh was called for. The first thing they had which was new was a useable garden….space for Aiisha to ride about in (when she wasn’t using the new climbing frame). Plenty of space for clothes drying too!20180615_111018.jpgGrandma and Aiisha were soon hard at work clearing up after a blowy day……20180615_111343.jpg20180615_111403.jpgBut we were soon all out and about in beautiful Edinburgh…20180615_122011.jpgand waiting for the bus which would take us to Almond Valley Discovery Centre 20180615_123331.jpg20180615_131927.jpgwhere we all had amazing fun…..20180615_140319.jpg20180615_141112.jpg20180615_141311.jpg20180615_141607.jpgThis place had no end of surprises including a ‘Musical Wood’ with loads of large instruments to play…..

and very well-looked after animals of all kinds…20180615_143759.jpg20180615_144126.jpg20180615_144236.jpghere some rheas guarding lots of very large eggs (the male does most of the incubation….there’s sexual equality for you)……20180615_144610.jpg20180615_144904.jpg20180615_155520.jpgand when we went on the train journey around the grounds we saw lots more and with a knowledgeable commentary….20180615_150433.jpgWe didn’t miss the lamb feeding…..this must be easy…20180615_161938.jpg….in fact the lambs were so greedy it was difficult to maintain hold of the bottles….20180615_162022.jpg….more adventures before we left. We all thoroughly enjoyed the day and I can’t recommend this place highly enough… go there if you get chance.20180615_160103.jpgAnother day involved a visit to the National Museum, always a treat….20180616_111352.jpg20180616_112329.jpg20180616_120652.jpg20180616_121159.jpg20180616_121212.jpgWhen Grandad and Grandma were left alone with Aiisha (a rare night out for Katherine and Nasar…very rare, they must do it more often) it involved dressing up…20180616_165126.jpgand bed-time…that must be easypeasy with all our experience…20180616_205240.jpg20180617_200128.jpgnot in bed yet…..20180617_200144.jpg…..and teeth to brush….20180617_204710.jpg20180617_204716.jpgPhewww…….Another day, and first a scoot across The Meadows…this hill looks tough….20180618_124852.jpg…and a bus to Dalkeith Country Park a real favourite…20180618_140939.jpgDalkeith Palace is currently home to the University of Wisconsin…..20180618_141559.jpgFirst, the cage drop to negotiate, suspended from a bridge over the gorge…I wouldn’t do it…….20180618_155917.jpgThen more fun…20180618_160256.jpg….for children and Mums….20180618_161005.jpg20180618_160958.jpgLovely grounds to admire…20180618_161531.jpgand a brilliant restaurant…20180618_151727.jpg20180618_152355.jpgsome people are enjoying their meal……20180618_144719.jpgJust time for a climb on the way home…20180618_114220.jpgAn adult theme today with a visit to Dalmeny House  20180617_145446.jpgDalmeny House was completed in 1817 and sits in rolling parkland to the West of Edinburgh. With spectacular views overlooking the Firth of Forth, the house is home to The 7th Earl and Countess of Rosebery, of whom more later. The House contains two intermingled collections of art and objects: the Rosebery and Rothschild collections. Meticulously curated by Lady Rosebery.

“The Rosebery Collection incorporates both the pieces collected by the earlier Earls of Rosebery for Barnbougle Castle and the newly-built Dalmeny House and those assembled by the 5th Earl of Rosebery. This collection of pictures and furniture includes fine views of the Estate and Edinburgh by some of the best-known Scottish painters. It also includes furniture made for the house and the family portraits in the Hall, Library and Dining Room.                                                                                                                                                          The 5th Earl and his wife, Hannah de Rothschild, continued to build on the astounding collection of art and fine furniture which her father, Baron Meyer de Rothschild, had begun. Their letters and diaries reveal a great happiness in seeking out new treasures together.

The Rothschild family began its spectacular rise to prominence from a house in the Judengasse in Frankfurt. The five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild established branches of the family bank in five European capitals and used their skill in the placement of government debt to build an enormous family fortune.                                     The sons of Nathan Rothschild, the brother who came to London, consolidated the family’s social position by building large country houses and taking a part in agriculture, philanthropy, politics and country sports.

Baron Meyer de Rothschild, Nathan’s third son, built Mentmore Towers, which he furnished with a dazzling collection of art and objects dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It was a time when the misfortunes of the variousEuropean royal families had released on to the market a great number of pieces of the highest quality. Baron Meyer and his agents were quick to acquire many masterworks of decorative art from the previous three centuries.

Baron Mayer had only one child, Hannah, to whom Mentmore was left after he and his wife died in 1874 and 1875. Hannah married the 5th Earl of Rosebery in 1878, bringing this wonderful collection into the Rosebery family. The two continued to add to the collection until Hannah’s tragically early death in 1890.                                                              At the death of the 6th Earl of Rosebery in 1974, it became necessary to sell Mentmore Towers and most of its contents to pay death duties. Many of the best objects, however, including the contents of the Drawing Room and the porcelain, were brought up to Dalmeny House to complement the Rosebery collection already there.” The drawing room has particularly fine French furnituretigerchick-rosebery-dsc0992.jpg


20180617_145520.jpgThe 5th Earl was absolutely smitten with Napoleon and started to collect whatever artefacts he could, eventually setting up a special room for his collection -the most important outside France…..CC_Jun_2013_Dalmeny_Napoleon_Room_05.jpgHe He made some major coups, including David’s portrait of Napoleon (now in the Smithsonian in Washington) and Napoleon’s superb travelling library. To them he added the cushion on which Napoleon’s head had rested on his death bed, a desk and chair and even the shutters of his bedroom from Longwood on St Helena, his throne as First Consul, a magnificent shaving stand from the Palace of Compiègne, and some outstanding portraits of Napoleon and members of his family by Appiani, Lefebvre, Girodet and Wicar, By way of contrast, it also contains the ingenious collapsible campaign chair of the Emperor’s most redoubtable opponent, the Duke of Wellington. 20180617_164547_001.jpg20180617_164521.jpgAfter the interesting tour of the house with the knowlegeable guide we adjourned to the dining room for tea and cake and there had a lovely chat to the Countess (the Earl had already popped in for a caramel slice). There seem to be very few visitors, so she is obviously keen to make the best impression. The House desrves a lot more. We had already looked around the grounds……a most enjoyable day yet again.20180617_145653.jpg20180617_150934.jpg20180617_151024.jpg20180617_165411.jpgA highlight of our visit was a family outing on the new Waverley rail line, the longest new stretch of domestic railway built in the UK in over a century. It terminates at Abbotsford, the Borders home of Sir Walter Scott…..Just an hour’s ride from Edinburgh through beautiful countryside……20180619_104802.jpg20180619_105504.jpg20180619_112543.jpgOur first sight of the house itself was from the restaurant in the Visitor Centre, a beautiful modern building with, as well as the restaurant, an excellent museum and shop.20180619_121229.jpg20180619_132356.jpg20180619_144806.jpg20180619_143441.jpgTo get to the entrance we walked through the beautiful gardens including the spectacular walled garden…20180619_131912.jpg20180619_131931.jpg20180619_132019_002.jpg20180619_132108.jpg20180619_132136.jpg20180619_132237.jpg20180619_142213.jpg20180619_142326.jpg20180619_132356.jpgFor the house we chose to have the audio guide with a commentary by Sir Walter himself. This was exemplary and chock full of interest. Our starting point in the Hall gave us a good idea of what to expect…decoration that is way over the top but at the same time rather homely…..a home you might be glad to visit (as many famous people did). 20180619_133409.jpg20180619_133432.jpgPlenty of places to admire the view….20180619_133840.jpga library which is quite obviously the heart of the home….20180619_133855.jpg20180619_134037.jpg20180619_134228.jpg20180619_134307.jpgand lots to admire including the books themselves, a fascinating collection as you would expect…20180619_134630.jpg….even the celing and light were spectacular……20180619_134743.jpg20180619_134334.jpgThere wasn’t a single room that was not a sheer delight….20180619_135035.jpgincluding rather surprisingly a rather large armoury20180619_135604.jpgThe one restrained room was the dining room re-decorated by his French wife after his death….20180619_140759.jpgI mentioned the famous people who came to call – one was JMW Turner with whom he had a very up and down relationship. Anyway great to see Turner’s palette and travelling case….20180619_141138_001.jpg20180619_141220.jpgOn the way out a mounting stone in the guise of a favourite Scott dog, proved a hit with some….20180619_141934.jpgOn the way back after passing through the walled garden again we examined some Roman plaques. These had been plucked by Scott himself from a site on the Roman wall…..those were the days!20180619_142858.jpg20180619_143519.jpgWithout a doubt one of the most interesting houses I have visited. I would love to go again……                                                                                                                                                   We had as usual a lovely time in Edinburgh and it was fantastic to see Katherine and Nasar’s new house taking shape, only a very few finishing touches needed including stair carpet……..20180619_182410.jpgbut after all the angst in moving, it’s definitely a house to be happy in……

Romans, Miners and more…..

20180610_113149.jpgA double trip – to friends Julia and Alan in Northumberland and our family in Edinburgh. First, the delights of staying at Julia and Alan’s house, near Morpeth. A lovely house in the middle of beautiful countryside with gardens which are a sheer pleasure to be in. And weren’t we lucky with the weather….20180610_113016.jpg20180610_105820.jpg20180610_105424.jpg20180610_105617.jpgallowing a memorable breakfast outside on one occasion….20180610_093614.jpgP1030971.jpegMind you one windy day showed what it can be like………

Lots of interest for us on returning to Northumberland where we lived for a few years. Our first outing was to the coast – equally as spectacular as here in Cornwall. Craster was not that far away and we did indeed call at the famous Robson’s kipper smokehouse...20180609_123706.jpgand, after a couple of purchases, explored the small harbour and then did the walk to Dunstanburgh Castle which is just under two miles away along the shore…20180609_123805.jpg20180609_125740.jpg20180609_125747.jpg20180609_130503_005.jpg20180609_133224_001.jpgand what a magnificent ruin it is with a location and history to match. It was built originally by Thomas of Lancaster who led two rebellions against Edward II and was executed for his pains. It was then owned by Thomas of Lancaster and later played an eventful role in the Wars of The Roses. After a lovely lunch in The Jolly Fisherman  we moved on to one of my favourite small towns Warkworth on the pretty River Coquet. 20180609_155730.jpg20180609_155835.jpg20180609_160935.jpg20180609_161551.jpgWarkworth has its own equally spectacular castle crowning a hilltop rising steeply above the river and it was owned most famously by the Percies the great landowners of Northern England. We didn’t have time to visit, but enjoyed a walk along its forbidding perimeter.20180609_162013.jpg20180609_162042_001.jpg20180609_162054.jpgOn our way back to the car we paused to look at the hugely interesting church of St Lawrence…best to read the incomparable Simon Jenkins on its history. It is the largest and most complete Norman church to have survived in Northumberland. Its bell tower noticeably leans several degrees from the perpendicular (not entirely clear from my pic).

20180609_163218_005.jpgLast stop Amble, still a fishing port but on the up from its previous decline.20180609_170231.jpg20180609_170311.jpg20180609_174359.jpg20180609_180156.jpgIt was great to see some imaginative modern housing on the quayside, flats with views of the harbour, the Coquet, and up the coast to Warkworth. Why can’t more modern housing show just a little imagination?20180609_180738.jpgNext day we had a trip out to nearby Brinkburn Priory which we had never visited in all our time in Northumberland (what were we doing?). A path leads from the EH car park steeply down to the Priory which is set picturesquely in a bend of the Coquet.  It looks as if some of the stone was quarried locally which is possibly one reason for its location. 20180610_121210.jpgOur first glimpse shows another is really hidden away and a less likely target therefore for marauding Scots and all the rest….20180610_121321.jpgIt was founded by William Bertram, Baron of Mitford, in the reign of Henry I as an Augustinian priory. The exact date is not known but cannot have been later than 1135, as Henry died that year. About 1180 or so, Brinkburn became an independent house, and the building of the monastic church was commenced. The architectural style has been described as “transitional” (i.e. between Norman and Gothic).                                         Although the Priory acquired lands in Northumberland and Durham over the years it was never particularly wealthy. Little is known of the early history of the priory, although it is known that it survived some difficult times. In fact, as late as 1419 it was raided and robbed.                                                                                                                    Brinkburn Priory was dissolved in 1536 after Parliament enacted the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act. The “lesser monasteries” were those with an income of less than £200 per annum, and Brinkburn fell into this category as in 1535 the priory’s value had been recorded as £69 in the Valor Ecclesiasticus. After the dissolution the estate was mainly owned by the Fenwick family and in the late 16th century they built a manor house on the ruins of the Priory buildings and adjacent to the Priory Church.             Services continued to be held at Brinkburn and the church was retained in a fair state of repair till the end of the 16th century. In 1602 it was reported to be in a state of decay, and at some point before 1700 the roof had collapsed and regular services were abandoned.                                                                                                                                               In the 1750s Thomas Sharp, Archdeacon of Northumberland, tried to effect repairs to the ruin. Although there was considerable support for the project, work was called off after a dispute between the owner William Fenwick and the Vicar of Felton.                                         In the 19th century the Cadogan family, owners of Brinkburn, revived the plans for the restoration of the church and work began in 1858. The roof was completed in the space of a year, and the stained glass windows had been inserted by 1864. The church, however, was not furnished until 1868. Brinkburn Priory today is a sympathetic 19th-century restoration of the mediæval original.                                                                                The tombstone of Prior William, Bishop of Durham (died 1484) was found during the reconstruction, as was the original altar stone with five crosses. The latter is still preserved along with an ancient font.                                                                                              As you approach, the Norman doorway is impressive… comprises a roundheaded arch displaying typical late-Norman ornament, such as zig-zags and dog-tooth mouldings, underneath a gable decorated with an Early English blind arcade of three pointed and trefoiled arches.20180610_121508.jpg the interior is impressive too…..20180610_122120.jpg20180610_122712.jpg20180610_122728.jpgand outside there remain traces of the vaulted vestibule leading to the chapter house. On the south and west walls of the nave, blind arcading indicates that these were the back walls of other structures, most likely of the covered walk that would have extended round the edges of the cloister garth. 20180610_123322.jpgAlmost adjacent to the priory is the now deserted manor house. It is the C13 south range of the Priory conventual buildings converted into a house for the Fenwick family in the later C16. Remodelled in 1810 for Richard Hodgson there were also alterations and major extensions 1830-37 by John Dobson the most famous architect in Northern England for William Hodgson Cadogan. 20180610_125913.jpg20180610_123810.jpg20180610_124128.jpg20180610_125011.jpgWhat a lovely house it must have been to live in and there are throughout traces of its more ancient heritage, as here.20180610_125709.jpg20180610_130219.jpgP1030974.jpeg20180610_173800.jpgBrinkburn is an English Heritage property, and Julia and Alan belong to EH. The very nice and ultra-enthusiastic guide in the entrance hut has made us consider whether to replace our NT membership next year with EH. We shall see.

Our next trip out was along the Tyne Valley to Corbridge where I used to live for a period. What a lovely town it has become, much improved and not over-the-top touristy. We parked by the river, a beautiful spot as you can see, and then wandered up to look at the houses and shops and have lunch at the well-named Corbridge Larder.20180611_114111.jpg20180611_115104.jpg20180611_115214.jpg20180611_120917.jpg20180611_120839.jpgAs always we looked in estate agents windows and decided it would be an exceptionally nice place to live (if we could afford it!), and we had a good chat with the bookshop owners who had just moved premises to a very characterful building near the church. They had been in touch with the new owners of both Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books which was nice to know. Great shop, do visit it if in the area. Need to jazz up their website though…Forum Books.  Next stop somewhere where I have always wanted to visit Vindolanda. What an exceptional place this is and what a treat to visit. Where to start? First of all it is in a lovely setting set down in a bowl amongst the hills and surprisingly sheltered. And then its sheer scale is immense.20180611_162824.jpgAs we walked through the site we were astonished at what has been revealed. Here is the main road going through the vicus, the village which supported the fort with workshops, pubs, baths and so on…..and a Junior class having a practical lesson in Roman history, inspiring we hope…… 20180611_133912.jpg20180611_133452 2.jpgWhen I say fort I should correctly say forts for there were at least 8 successive forts of which several were occupied before Hadrian’s Wall was even built.  Regiments from modern Belgium and Holland were garrisoned here. The visible stone fort dates to the early third century and the impressive remains include the fort walls, the headquarters building and the commander’s house. 20180611_153432_003.jpgAnd of course we moderns never fail to be astounded by the standard of living the Romans expected with their central heating systems which even ran up cavities in the walls as well as being underfloor.20180611_134110.jpgBaths were absolutely essential too , and that involved a plentiful supply of cold and hot water. The local landscape must have been denuded of trees and heather to keep this lot going, and fuel of one kind and another brought in on  convoys of wagons.20180611_135733.jpgWanting to cram in as much an experience as possible in an afternoon (you could easily spend a few days here) we fairly quickly homed in on the museum where major finds from the site are displayed imaginatively. A wall of leather shoes greets you…..20180611_143807.jpgincluding the only actual pair found….20180611_143901.jpgThen we see the weapons….20180611_143952.jpgthe tools….20180611_144537.jpgexamples of keys…..20180611_144758.jpgan astonishing collection of coins….20180611_145049.jpg20180611_145058.jpgexamples of stonemasons work…much needed people stonemasons as the forts were continually demolished and re-built…….20180611_145203.jpgdining sets….and table ware…20180611_145328.jpg20180611_145312.jpg20180611_145820.jpga beautifully decorated glass bowl….20180611_150402.jpgmore tools…20180611_153002.jpgand even a toilet seat would you believe……20180611_153129.jpgbut of course what we really wanted to see were the letters…….These are without doubt the most amazing finds from the site –  thousands of writing tablets recording daily life – letters from soldiers asking for socks and underwear, a birthday party invitation to the fort commander’s wife, requests for payment, lists of goods supplied and troop deployments. No wonder the Vindolanda writing tablets were voted Britain’s ‘Top Treasure’…….It’s a pity in many ways that the best of the letters and the bulk of them are in London at the BM, yet another example of cultural autocracy…20180611_152408.jpgThe whole museum was extremely well-designed and amazed at every turn and corner…on the way out there were reconstructions of the study rooms of early archaeologists on site….20180611_152506.jpgand an extremely pleasant cafe with outside eating area…..but after some quick refreshment we weren’t finished yet…..20180611_155045.jpg20180611_161029 2.jpgmore houses to see inside the fort and, what was really interesting a talk with one of the very enthusiastic archaeologists working on a new area…20180611_161637.jpg20180611_161823.jpgand, to finish, a climb up the reproduction Roman tower…20180611_163630.jpgOn the way back Alan was good enough to stop roadside to enable me to get a pic of the famous nearby sycamore……”The Sycamore Gap tree is one of most photographed in the country. It stands in a dramatic dip in Hadrian’s Wall in the Northumberland National Park. In late 2016 it took the crown for English Tree of the Year in the Woodland Trust’s awards.” The 1991 film ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’, starring Kevin Costner, was filmed here. The tree has been known as The Robin Hood Tree ever since! What a wonderful day………..20180611_165632.jpgWhilst on things Roman, I must mention the carved head that Alan found in the wall of their previous house…could be Roman? And I am most grateful that Alan gave me one of his collection of Roman coins…from the time of the Emperor Maxentius whom I will research…..20180610_105142.jpg2756_ritt182.jpg

Next, a trip to Alnwick. We found a lovely place for a mid-morning tea The Cookie Jar  a newly-opened boutique hotel…20180612_120815.jpg20180612_121007.jpgand a lovely terrace where we whiled away half-an-hour..20180612_121203.jpg…before having a look round Alnwick itself….plenty of nice stone buildings but plenty of dilapidation as well…… Julia says,  the Duke is one of the wealthiest men around (fifth largest landowner in the UK), so you would think he would do more to support the town…must write to him.20180612_125238.jpgThe famous Percy Lion here on top of a monument is just outside Barter Books a truly fascinating place to visit, people come from all over the world here. It sits in the old Alnwick station where you can read newspapers in front of the coal fire in winter, plus it has its own railway, always an amusement to children and men! 20180612_130859_002.jpg20180612_131238.jpg20180612_131407.jpg20180612_132308.jpg20180612_132809.jpgI did like the notice in the window of the antique shop next door….you wouldn’t find that very often! Must send to my friend Malcolm….he likes that sort of thing.20180612_133059.jpgAnd naturally we visited Alnwick Castle. As usual, no photography allowed inside. In one of the courtyards a pack of children were being taught how to fly broomsticks (very Harry Potter). They were still at it when we came out of the castle. Alnwick Castle has been dubbed the ‘Windsor of the North,’ and is the second largest inhabited castle in the country, and has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family, the Percys, for over 700 years.20180612_140849.jpg20180612_141051.jpg20180612_125431.jpgThe interior is as you would expect magnificent, Italianate, over-the-top, but I must say if you want good china and tableware go to No.I London……Dining-Room.jpg16.000 books in the Library, my favourite room, of which the Duke reports himself to have read 14,000 (not in full I think….). 3e733e6ac2d5d963374644ff4b89814d.jpg

Alnwick_Castle_-_Drawing_Room.jpgAnother day, another thing I had always wanted to do – which was view the Pitmen Paintings at Woodhorn Colliery. Another first…I had never visited a coal mine although F. has actually been underground, and I believe my children did as schoolchildren. No underground today but nevertheless a wonderful experience. First we looked around the site itself, today in its pristine glory…..most unlike when in operation!20180613_114520.jpg ‘For more than 80 years Woodhorn was a coal mine. Work to sink the first shaft began in 1894 and the first coal was brought to the surface in 1898. At its peak almost 2,000 men worked at the pit and 600,000 tons of coal was produced each year. Production stopped in 1981 but the shafts continued to be used for neighbouring Ashington Colliery until 1986. It began its life as a museum in 1989 and following major redevelopment, reopened in October 2006. Today, the yellow Ashington brick buildings have protected, listed status. The site is recognised as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and it is the best surviving example of a late 19th/early 20th century colliery in the North East tradition.’ 20180613_114755.jpgWe visited the cage shop, winding houses, the fan house, engine house and more….20180613_115236.jpg20180613_115250.jpg20180613_120127.jpgand didn’t forget the awful toll this grim industry could sometimes reap………20180613_115838.jpg20180613_121808.jpg20180613_122435.jpgAfter lunch in The Cutter, a dramatic building honouring the massive cutting machines used in the mine’s more recent history…..20180613_121018.jpg20180613_145552.jpgwe moved on to the fascinating museum…complete with terrific audio-visual presentations, mock-ups, and records of everyday life for the miners and their families…..20180613_125330.jpg20180613_122754.jpg20180613_122322.jpg20180613_122714.jpg20180613_131430.jpg20180613_123926.jpg20180613_140315.jpg20180613_145743.jpgone of the most evocative information boards showed all the pits that closed in roughly a ten-year period…absolutely incredible. Recognising that the industry had had its day, had very bad working conditions etc etc it is still humbling to think of the communities that were wrecked, whole societies shattered, a way of life gone for ever. As ever pluses and minuses…..20180613_130940.jpgOn then to the permanent exhibition of the Pitmen’s Paintings. This unique collection of more than 80 paintings was compiled by the original members of The Group themselves over many years. They felt the paintings represented the very best of their work. The Group largely made up of coal miners, first came together in 1934 through the Workers Education Association to study ‘something different’ – art appreciation. In an effort to understand what it was all about, their tutor Robert Lyon encouraged them to learn by doing it themselves. The very first meeting was luckily recorded in paint..20180613_141212.jpgI just picked some personal highlights to photograph, but really considering who they were and what they did each painting was worthy of respect..20180613_141600_001.jpg20180613_141628.jpg20180613_141735.jpg20180613_141959.jpg20180613_142720.jpg20180613_142520 2.jpg20180613_142302.jpgThere was also a temporary exhibition of some of the paintings still in private hands….20180613_144126.jpg20180613_144403.jpgand miscellania…..20180613_144650.jpg20180613_142927.jpgand a great exhibition of contemporary paintings of Ashington by North East painter Narbi Price …….20180613_143136.jpgUntitled-Flowers-Painting-KB-for-Ettrick.jpgNPrice_SalfordsClub.jpgOn the way back from Scotland, and before catching our plane from Newcastle, we called in briefly to Julia and Alan’s again and had a delightful walk around Bolam Lake (and Alan and I examined the old hill fort).20180614_154451.jpg20180614_162144.jpg20180614_163016.jpgI loved this armchair and settee…..looks as though it has just been fly-tipped, whereas it is actually made out of a fallen tree…..20180614_162125.jpgP1030979.jpegand this bench inscription rings true…..20180614_160253.jpgA quick visit to Bolam Church totally isolated now apart from the next-door vicarage. If of interest do read an excellent archaeological survey which is absolutely fascinating.20180614_170839.jpg……….the tower here is a rare example of Saxon work which made it a privilege to see. The narrow slits may or may not indicate it had a defensive use – commentators can’t agree.20180614_172106.jpgand the doorway is obviously Norman….in fact it seems the church is what is called a Saxon-Norman overlap….20180614_171030.jpgGreat records for this church….it’s always remarkable to see this sort of heritage, particularly if you’re the current vicar…..20180614_171119.jpgat the beginning of the 14th century, came the addition of the South Chapel or Shortflatt aisle, 20180614_171545.jpgpresumably built as a chantry for the De Reymes family of Shortflatt, the mid-14th century effigy of Sir Robert still surviving. Most impressive. To see the sort of times Robert lived in see a Google Books entry.

A fantastic visit to Northumberland. Thanks to Julia and Alan for making it so worthwhile…..

‘Gentry’…by Adam Nicolson

y648.jpgUntil 1914, the gentry owned half the land in England; now the figure is less than one per cent. This very readable history concentrates on fourteen gentry families, from 1400 to the present day, and tells their tale and through them the tale of England and of course the rise and fall of the gentry itself.

In Europe, the tendency was for great lords on the one hand and peasants on the other to be the regional norm. Indeed holidaying in the sixties one was still conscious of a peasant class in France Spain, Italy…..pretty amazing to my mind. Here the peculiarly English class of the Gentry tended to soften society hierarchies and provided a certain stability. Respectability, an attachment to the land, and no great self-regard were their typical traits. And in England we haven’t referred to a peasant class for many centuries. But the gentry was never a rigid part of society….it added a certain flexibility. You could enter the class, and you could drop away from it with with surprising ease.

Of great interest to me one of the families described is the Oglanders who lived on the Isle of Wight. Adam tells the story of Sir John Oglander in the Seventeenth Century. In one sense it was he who got me into Oxford – as Sir John was held up in the vitriolic academic debate in the Sixties as an example of Nouveau Riche who supposedly were the group who were a major factor in bringing about the Civil War. Through some elementary research I showed that this was not so – he was part of the established Gentry. My History Master was impressed and wrote to his old tutor at St John’s about it. I got into St John’s. Anyhow, purely an aside that brought back memories of my sheer enjoyment of studying History at Manchester Grammar. One of the abiding images in the book is of Sir John riding his lands each morning and evening and glancing across to the mainland and be thankful that he did not have to go there…as he said of his family and his friends, going to London “thynkynge it a East India voyage, they always made their wills”. I know the feeling!!

The families described rose, fell, duelled, bought lands, worried about survival, took mistresses, were undone by lawyers and had many family quarrels and they are ever fascinating. As time went on, dirty commerce played an increasing role in their finances, and how. Eliza Pinckney, determined and devoted mistress of estates on both sides of the Atlantic in the 18th century had a fascinating story (and indeed women played a huge part in these histories. “Yet we’re brought up short at the end of her story with a reminder of the building blocks upon which her success in life was based: a simple long list of her family’s slaves. It’s salutary that Adam commemorates all 326 of them, including the inhumanly named “Muddy” and “Lazy”.

All in all a memorable addition to the historiography of our nation, which has an easy style and brigs History to life. I really enjoyed it.

On a lighter note bedtime reading has been for a few nights Peter Robinson’s ‘Gallowsgallows-view.jpg View’.  Although old-fashioned (it smacks very much of the Eighties when it was written, if not the Seventies), it is a well-crafted Crime novel. The main characters at least are well delineated and the setting is wonderful….a Yorkshire town based fairly obviously on Richmond. This is the first in the Inspector Banks novels. DI Banks has recently moved from London to the provinces to escape the stresses of the Capital. Little does he know what awaits him! A Peeping Tom, a murder, robberies, and his attraction to the young psychologist assigned to the case all add to the mix. A page-turner and very entertaining. Must read more in the series.

At home with Bill Bryson…

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707.pngWell, for some reason this book ‘At Home’ has been on my shelf for a long time now. I only picked it up recently because F. had read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. What had I been missing! It is terrific fun – like most, but not quite all, of his many books. What he does is take his own house, a lovely if cold Georgian rectory in Norfolk, and explore each of its rooms in turn. He looks at the history of that room and its occupants and how it came to be what it is today. Or rather that’s what he sets out to do. In reality, as he always does, he uses the theme as an excuse to explore anything and everything that strikes his interest. And what a roller coaster ride he takes us on. I don’t know what isn’t in here…the Ice Man,  the causes of cholera, why forks have tines, string (‘the weapon that allowed the human race to conquer the Earth’, interesting vicars, a discussion of hydraulic cement which leads to a history of the Erie canal a note about the Duke of Marlborough, who was “said to be so cheap, he refused to dot his ‘I’s when he wrote, to save on ink”. Phew…what fact isn’t lurking at the back of his hamster brain? The thing is Bill Bryson doesn’t really tell us many if any new facts (we know most of what he says), and as the New York Times says it is almost as if he has written most of this in his pyjamas. However, it is the way he presents his facts, the little asides, the quirky approach that grabs us. If you wanted anyone to share a pint with for hours at a time, lots of pints, it would be Bill. More than 700 pages of sheer entertainment. Terrific. One of the Victorian masters-of-everything that Bryson found a lot of time for was Paxton, and that led me to purchase the best book about him that I could find…Kate Colquhoun’s ‘ A Thing In Disguise’.

I do love reading about the sort of Victorians who seemed able to turn their hand to 71B6CPOWvcL.jpganything and make a success of it. The sort who flogged themselves to an early death through prodigious overwork. The Brunels of this world. And I hadn’t realised that Paxton was one of them. Born to a farm labourer his first lucky break came when the Duke of Devonshire happened across him when a gardening apprentice and offered him the job of Superintendent at Chatsworth – in effect Head Gardener. Paxton was only 22 years old. he never looked back. Not from the moment when arriving at Chatsworth at half past four in the morning on the Comet Coach from London, and with nobody there, he scaled the walls and started exploring his domain. At six in the morning “I set the men to work..then returned to the House and got Thomas Weldon to play me the waterworks, and afterwards went to breakfast with (the housekeeper) poor dear Mrs Gregory and her niece. the latter fell in love with me and I with her, and thus completed my first morning’s work at Chatsworth before nine o’clock……” From this point onwards, the pace of his life increased.

What is truly astonishing is that the Duke and Paxton became real friends. the Duke once Paxton was established treated him almost, almost as an equal. Paxton, which is what made the Duke proud, made Chatsworth the centre of the horticultural universe, he was innovative in landscaping the grounds and building the whole estate into the magnificent ensemble it still is today. But how much more than a gardener Paxton became. He ended up controlling all the accounts at Chatsworth. He became designer and engineer and industrial strategist. He of course was responsible for the building of the Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition He was individually responsible for sending a huge corps of labours, mostly Irish navvies, to the Crimea to build transport and logistics systems for the Army and erect flat-pack housing  and hospitals which he designed. He moved in exalted circles. He championed the railways. He designed and built houses for the Rosthchilds. He knew Victoria and Albert, and Disraeli and Gladstone and the Duke of Wellington on intimate terms. He became a household name. ‘Ask Paxton’ was the advice for anyone in any ind of difficulty. He founded magazines and newspapers. He designed public parks for everyone – the first in the world at Birkenhead. Here’s a small example of his breathless workload….“I arrived safe in London and lay down for two hours; then got up and began business. Our meeting on the Isle of Wight lasted for two hours. I had from one to two to go and see Cannon; at two we commenced upon the Southampton project which lasted til five. Without getting a morsel of food I started off again for Derby and from 8 in the morning until we arrived I had not ouched food nor even a glass of water…..Got to Derby about half past eleven where I found the Sheffield deputation waiting for me. We sat discussing things over until 3 in the morning. I had to be at breakfast at seven o’clock to be ready to start with the Midlands Directors to Gloucester and Bristol….” and so it goes on. It makes me exhausted just to read it. The men were superhuman. I do wish I had lived in Victorian times. I do wish we had such men (of whom there were many…) today. Some hope. A brilliant biography, immensely well researched and full of human interest.

919LxZP7V-L.jpgSome light reading meanwhile. Ann Cleves’ ‘The Seagull’. If you’ve seen ‘Vera’ on TV you’ll know the characters. I must say this isn’t her most exciting outing. And to me it all sounded a bit implausible. However the characters were always of interest and so was the scenic background – Whitley Bay and Tynemouth which we know well and St Mary’s island which is the sort of island you might find in Famous Five, reached between tides by a short causeway. F. and I were virtually stranded on there one cold night when we were getting to know each other, and we just made it back to the mainland through rising waters. I suppose we were lucky not to have been swept away looking back on it. If you know somewhere it’s always a bit of an adventure seeing the spots you recognise in a novel and how they have been renamed or otherwise transformed. Having said all of that, I did stay with it to the end……

…..which is more than can be said for ‘Bleak House’ which I attempted at last and 51Ms8E6mL9L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgpersevered with for a long time. However I gave up on it after a dozen chapters. It was far too slow and Dickens is far too sentimental for me ( a person who often tears up with sporting occasions or much else! ). I know it was published in instalments but you certainly get the impression Dickens was stringing it out for all it was worth. I love Dickens as a man and find him fascinating. He was a friend of Paxton for goodness sake. And he did a lot of good. If you want a really good read get hold of Claire Tomalin’s ‘Charles Dickens : A Life’ . It is one of the very best biographies of all time. Claire was good enough to come to Warwick and talk about it for us. We were honoured….she does hardly any events.

Unknown.jpegA book which was another excellent read for me, just published in paperback, is ‘Six Minutes In May : How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister’ by Nicholas Shakespeare. Using a lot of sources that are new, or surprisingly have been overlooked, Shakespeare moves from Britain’s disastrous battle in Norway, for which many blamed Churchill, on to the dramatic developments in Westminster that led to Churchill becoming Prime Minister. The Norway Campaign really was a disaster and largely of Churchill’s doing. “A second Gallipoli” was the phrase on many lips. “Considering the prominent part I played in these events,” Churchill conceded years later, “it was a miracle that I survived and maintained my position in public esteem.” The fact that he became PM out of the subsequent Commons debate, particularly when hardly anyone gave him a chance is frankly incredible. I am a great admirer of Churchill and am one who believes Gallipoli was worth the gamble…strategic lateral thinking of the sort aimed to avoid the continuing slaughter in the trenches, and which could well have succeeded, given better implementation by the Admirals and Generals involved who were frankly second-rate. But my eyes were opened by Shakespeare’s detailed analysis of Norway, and how incompetent Churchill proved. It really should have been Churchill who resigned in the first instance and not Chamberlain. And what might have happened then. Goodness knows. With all the analysis this book still reads like a novel – indeed it is as novelist that Shakespeare is known. But this book takes him into another league. Highly recommended.


A lovely Wedding Anniversary…

20180531_151532.jpgFor the first time, after taking the bus to Padstow, we boarded the waiting, so-called Atlantic Coaster which runs a magnificent route from Padstow to Newquay. It’s a double-decker and we were the only people on it for some time (apart from the driver of course). 20180531_153534.jpgOur destination was Jamie’s Fifteen at Watergate Bay. During the journey we had a bird’s eye view of some pretty houses……20180531_114123.jpg…beautiful countryside20180531_114155.jpg20180531_114530.jpgand, of course, some great beaches…20180531_121208.jpg20180531_114847.jpg20180531_114656.jpg20180531_122409.jpg20180531_122419.jpguntil we reached our destination. Although it might look cloudy the day was incredibly hot for May and all the beaches were being well-used, particularly as some children were still on half-term. Anyway here is our firs view of Jamies’ and the inside was very very nice indeed…20180531_125440.jpg20180531_130017.jpgespecially when we had ensconced ourselves at the bar….with a bottle of good iced Rose..20180531_130110.jpgOn the bus I had phoned ahead and ascertained that because everywhere was so busy because of the residual half-term (which I hadn’t taken into account), there was no table available for lunch but that we could sit at the bar and eat. We have always enjoyed ourselves before when doing this, as you are close to the action….and this time proved no exception.20180531_133011.jpgOur meal was absolutely delicious, the service good and friendly, the atmosphere terrific and the views sensational. I cannot think of anywhere that would have been better to celebrate our Anniversary…it was great.20180531_130139.jpg20180531_134315.jpgThe food? F. plumped for pork cheek and I had the hake. With this we had side dishes of asparagus and an Italian fried lettuce dish with raisins and pine nuts which was absolutely scrumptious – and unusual. Pudding…. a coffee/chocolate semi-fredo and treacle tart (each shared). The whole thing cost just over £80 but including a £24 bottle of wine it was a winner all the way. And I think the original philosophy behind the Fifteen ventures – basing a gourmet restaurant on training disadvantaged young people to work in the hospitality industry – still stands. Despite his recent troubles, Jamie remains a very successful entrepreneur and campaigner. He deserves all the success he can get.20180531_131700.jpgSated and very satisfied, we made our way down to the beach in order to meet our daily steps target! Hugely busy at the entrance end of the beach……..20180531_150829.jpg20180531_150836.jpg and with a large number of learner surfers…20180531_143738.jpg….once we got away from the crowds…20180531_143509.jpgwe had the beach literally to ourselves….incredible.20180531_144905.jpg20180531_145602.jpgAll we had to do then was lay on the grass (top) and wait for our bus(es) home….a lovely, lovely day.


At home…in May

20180528_183144.jpgTrue, David is looking a little worse for wear, but we still feel the need to protect him from the sun we have been having. The flowering continues apace, blooms much better than last year, and the front garden in particular is bright….20180525_153428.jpg….full of colour and luscious20180525_153444.jpgwhilst in the back garden this Rhododendron, outside our bedroom window, hardly flowered at all last year but just look at it now….20180525_153508.jpg20180525_153525.jpgand again these cream and orange azaleas were nothing last year….20180525_153604.jpgditto this pale Rhododendron….20180525_153626.jpgand staying on our local lanes there is always something to photo….20180527_125824.jpg20180527_131205.jpg20180527_133527.jpgand talk to!20180523_102637.jpgWhile fifteen minutes away from us at the end of Hannafore we discovered a new information board which told more of the remains of the Lammana Chapel, on the hillside built on the site of a sixth century Celtic chapel with a monk’s cell attached. This replaced a medieval chapel on St George’s Island, just offshore. The island was a popular place for pilgrimages in those times; but so many people drowned trying to reach it that the Lammana Chapel was built instead. The chapel was Benedictine, belonging to Glastonbury Abbey until sometime before the fourteenth century, when it was recorded as a private chantry chapel belonging to the local Dawnay family. It was demolished in 1549 in Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.Right by the information board, and not on the hillside, is what is thought to be the remains of ‘a monks’ house’ now incorporated into a garden wall….something which despite passing it a few times we had been unaware of. So, thank you new information board.20180526_114938.jpg