Sunday, 28 September 2014

the prettiest village in England?

... quite possibly.

I give you the delectable Castle Combe.  A veritable chocolate box of gorgeous cottages in honey coloured Cotswold stone.  Some dripping with wisteria and fragrant old-fashioned roses, others festooned with immaculately planted hanging baskets blooming their pretty socks off.

My goodness they elicited oohs and aahs at every corner ...

I wonder though, do the good people of Castle Combe get a little, shall we say, annoyed at the amount of intrusion into their lives?  I saw some Japanese tourists literally peering in through the windows of one cottage!  Whatever next, a knock on the door expecting to be taken in for a tour and a cup of tea? .... Oh yes, we were all there to admire this beautiful place, and taking photographs is part of the deal I know, but in my defence I can safely say I took these shots at a decent enough distance and then zoomed the camera in, but not so much as to witness life unfolding within. 

But does that make it OK ... and here they are on my blog, for all to see!

I guess that's the downside, the inevitable payback of living in such an idyllic but altogether accessible place. Of course the village will benefit from the tourist trade and undoubtedly out of season there may be just a trickle of visitors.  Perhaps I just visited on a very popular day, there were cars parked everywhere.  (By the way, I've cleverly edited out all signs of human traffic in case you're wondering where all these visitors are!)

What is your take on this - is it voyeurism?   Maybe you live in such a village and put up with this kind of thing all the time?  Have people peered through your windows?  Are you a photographic admirer of homes too?  I'd love to hear your views.

But ... they are beautiful aren't they ...

If indeed you are visiting Castle Combe, here are some very nice links to buy and stay local:

Village Website
The Castle Inn
The Old House at Home
White Hart Pub
The Old Rectory Tea Room
House of Flavours

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Friday, 26 September 2014

rush hour on the B3107

This flock of very animated sheep passed us at full pelt while we were in the car on the way to Great Chalfield Manor.  I scrambled for my camera and think I've captured movement in the two on the left however the one at the front looks as though he is taking a leisurely stroll!  I love these photo opportunities; testing my shutter speed ....

Our time in Wiltshire this summer was so enjoyable.  I took over 500 photos so obviously I will not be posting each and every one but I'm gradually working my way through some of the best and hope to post a couple of times a week with a brief travelogue and a few useful links.

This beautiful manor house is set in tranquil countryside with seven acres of gardens in the Arts & Crafts style featuring upper and lower moats, yew houses, lush herbaceous borders and orchards.  The gardens have a very serene and unpretentious feel to them and it was very relaxing just wandering around taking photos.

Originally recorded in the Domesday Book as the property of Ernulf de Hesding I imagine the house itself looks much the same today as it did on its acquisition and subsequent rebuilding by local lawyer and landowner Thomas Tropnell in the 1470's,  Like many country houses of this age, the manor has a chequered history; from the previous owners the Hungerford family's support of the Lancastrian cause during the Wars of the Roses, to the Civil War and beyond.   Hungerford was executed in 1464 and his son in 1468, with no heir apparent Lady Hungerford gave our man Tropnell various rents and lands. Tropnell was careful not to upset either side in their battle for the crown and in 1471 he was pardoned by the Yorkists and in 1484 was twice pardoned by Richard III.  A lucky man indeed!

During the civil war the manor was garrisoned by Parliamentary troops between 1644 and 1646 and even withstood a short siege.  If walls could talk!

The Parish Church of All Saints is close beside the north east corner of the manor and was already more than 100 years old when Tropnell began work on the restoration.  He added a decorated spire and bellcote, a panelled porch and a chapel on the south side.

Unfortunately the house was closed on the day of our visit - typically we hadn't read the brochure properly - but it was a lovely warm day and the gardens were open to the public so it wasn't a waste of  journey by any means.  We were just thinking of moving on to the nearby village for a much needed coffee stop when we discovered that refreshments were available in the Motor Room.  Completely self-service offering tea, coffee and biscuits with an honesty box for payment. Now that's what I call hospitality!

Great Chalfield Manor is now home to the donor family tenants, who manage the house on behalf of the National Trust.
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Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Photo taken at Avebury Manor, Wiltshire

While watching the BBC2 programme Long Shadow this evening, the OH received a phone call from his mother with the sad news that her sister, his Aunt Rene had just died.  

Rene was one of three siblings, the middle child.  The feisty one.  The one who was always getting into trouble when she was young.  Vivacious and funny, getting away with so much, indulged and beloved, most of all by her dutiful elder sister. Their younger brother Walter died several years ago in his late fifties.  Too young.  Now, MiL the eldest by three years, is frail but stalwart, making the most of every day even though she is often in pain.  True to her generation she rarely complains.  Tonight however the tears came and we worry for her.

I cannot help thinking that not unlike the soldiers who by some miracle survived the horror of trench warfare during the 1914-1918 war to be plagued all their life with survivor guilt, the Mil is asking the same question.  Why Rene and not me?  We, and the rest of the family, will be taking extra special care of her, watching for that slip into depression that can so often affect the frail and elderly.  Vague and shadowy it can be confusing and devastating.

A family - two sisters and a brother. A trio.  Like a display of flowers, things always work best in threes.

Rest in peace dear Aunt Rene

1932 - 2014

Postscript: We've had lots of chats with Mil and she says she feels OK, we must not worry about her and that she is coming to terms with her loss.  It takes time, of course, but she expressed the view that at this stage in her life she almost expects to lose people of her generation.   She will not be sad, she says, but will remember Rene and the years they had together with joy. Wise words indeed.
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Monday, 15 September 2014

beautiful Bath

"If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, 
she must seek them abroad."

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Wiltshire and Somerset this summer and one of the places at the top of my list to visit was the beautiful City of Bath.  There are so many layers to peel back in this city of golden stone; from the Romans to the Georgian and Regency era to the often overlooked (for Bath) Medieval period - although I do know that Edgar was crowned King of England in Bath Abbey in 973 - right up to the excellent shopping and restaurants we find today.   Yes, this City really does deserve its World Heritage Site accolade.

There is something to see and experience at every corner.  Its location is stunning too, sited in the Avon Valley on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, its Regency Terraces stretching up into the hills that surround and make up the City, to a maximum altitude of 781 feet on the Lansdown plateau.

Independent, creative , unique and stylish, Bath is the only place in the UK where you can bathe in naturally hot spa water and original Roman style baths, making it the ultimate spa break destinations for thousands of years!

The street theatre is fantastic in Bath.  This guy didn't move an inch...

I was impressed with a talented young busker Amelia Orgill. You can find her Facebook page here.

Bath's popularity as a spa town soared during the Georgian era with royal patronage prompting all of "polite society" to pay a visit and take the waters, and for me Bath is most synonomous with this era and of course with Jane Austen, who lived here with her parents and sister Cassandra, the family residing at several addresses until 1806.  However, although two of her greatest novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are set in the city, Jane Austen was never truly happy there and wrote to Cassandra, "It will be two years tomorrow since we left Bath for Clifton, with what happy feelings of escape."

Thankfully my visit was much more enjoyable.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Cottage Garden in June - belated

It's been some while since I last posted - this lovely summer has pulled me away from my desk wherever possible; to enjoy long summer days, busily out and about or, most often than not, leisurely pottering in the garden, reading, daydreaming and attempting to stay cool.   I have to work of course, and yes my work involves sitting in front of a screen at my desk and typing but while its been so hot and sultry  ... well, my study is the last place I want to be. BUT, I have to admit I've been too long away from this little space and there are many photos I want to share with you, especially of the garden....

So here goes with a fairly photo-heavy belated post of Cottage Garden in June - when it never fails to looks its prettiest.

Enjoy the last days of summer! 

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Saturday, 5 July 2014

a postcard from ... Southwold

The coast was calling and Southwold was our destination a couple of weeks or so ago.

Dignified and charming, this quintessentially English seaside town on the Suffolk Heritage Coast is almost an island, bounded by the North Sea to the east by the River Blyth and the harbour to the south-west and by Buss Creek to the North.  As in all the best seaside towns, there is just a single road in ... and out ...

Our choice of weekday avoided the usual influx of week-enders although as we are on the cusp of holiday season and being a beautiful blue-sky day, the town was busy, but happily so, and on this occasion we had no problem finding a place for lunch, as well as all those necessary coffee pit-stops along the way.

But surely any trip to Southwold must begin with an amble along The Pier.  And so we did. The cheeky antics of The Water Clock stops us in our tracks.  Made in just three weeks by Tim Hunkin and Will Jackson, the Water Clock was originally designed as a feature to promote water recycling sponsored by Thames Water.  Nowadays it is powered electrically but I'm glad to say that all the copper used in the making of this idiosyncratic clock has indeed been salvaged from old hot water cylinders.

Another must-see is the 'Under The Pier Show'.  Once again Tim Hunkin has delivered his mad-cap take on the world in a unique collection of typically potty hand-built machinery.  'Walk the Dog' and 'get the mother-in-law frisked' as well as 'Whack a banker'!  It's absolutely hilarious but not for the faint-hearted.

Below is a view from the Pier over to the Lighthouse which stands in the middle of the town. The Lighthouse provides a waymark for vessels navigating the East Coast and for those coming into Southwold Harbour.  It was built in 1887 and replaced three local lighthouses that were under threat from severe coastal erosion at Orfordness.

After all the excitement it's definitely time for a coffee pit-stop and for this we leave the delights of The Pier behind.  Getting just a tad crowded.  Instead we head along North Parade to Suzie's Beach Cafe at the bottom of the steps by The Sailor's Reading Room. Sitting in the sunshine with a local newspaper and frothy cappuccino watching the world go by must surely be one of life's greatest idle pleasures.

Colourful beach huts line the lower promenade.  I've always hankered after a beach hut - it must be great fun spending lazy days, whether rain or shine, just a hop and skip from the beach.  They sell at extortionate prices these days, but I'm told can be hired at fairly reasonable rates by the day or week.

Before hitting the High Street we take a detour into Queen Street and the wonderful Serena Hall Gallery.  A couple of cold drinks are purchased in Munchies Cafe to slake our thirst and then suddenly the street fans out into a wonderful open panorama.  An expansive green common interspersed with pathways and flanked by fabulous Georgian architecture.  After a fire destroyed most of the town in 1659, a large number of green spaces were created and these spaces survive today, giving the town a very spacious feel.

The houses here cost well into the millions but for me their history is what fascinates.  Who were the people who lived in these grand houses?  I imagine ladies in crinoline dresses and bonnets a la Jane Austen.  Surely this was the heyday of the town.  Were they wealthy maritime merchants and their families, on having made their fortune in the City were now enjoying the fruits of their wealth with a second home by the sea.  If that's the case not a lot has changed in 200 years!

Our walk takes us down Constitution Hill and into Queen's Road as the sun burns down from a cloudless sky.  The light is fantastic as we take in the view from the Ferry Road.  We are in the farthest reaches of the town before the landscape gives way to countryside and rich marshland.  Retracing our steps we head back into town.  Market Place is home to the Town Pump and Jubilee clock and then we are into the High Street with its independent shops and cafes and some very expensive boutiques.  We pop into Southwold Gallery which exhibits work by some of the Region's most respected artists including Karen SJ Keable, George Hill, Rosemary Cook and Raymond Leach.  The Black Olive is a deliciously enticing deli and The Two Magpies sells wonderful pastries.

The next coffee stop is No 51, Southwold, a relatively new opening, bright and airy and service with a smile. What could be better.  Then on to Adnams Cellar and Kitchen. Adnams is the local brewery but have branched out into much more - I could spend a lot of money in here.

Our meander takes us unto Victoria Street where we find a terrace of charming fisherman's cottages painted in a jaunty seaside palette of pastel colours. Many of these bijou properties are holiday lets and with their coastal themed names and ubiquitous planting of hollyhocks, verbascum, sea-holly and fleabane tumbling over walls and railings, you can see why holiday-makers flock to websites such as The Best of Suffolk for their holiday get-away.  Click on the link and prepare to be transported to Southwold.  Expensive but excellent quality.

Time for lunch before whiling away an hour or two on the sandy beach.  Our chosen venue is the aptly named Sole Bay Inn.

What's for lunch?  Well, Fish & Chips of course!

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