A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ToonSarah

Yes, I remember ...

Adlestrop

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The only real street in Adlestrop

Adlestrop is for me one of the loveliest of Cotswold villages, made all the lovelier because very few people seem to know it or come here, despite the fact that it features in a well-known English poem. There is perhaps not much of note here, but that is part of its charm. A sleepy village street, lined with chocolate-box-pretty cottages; a thatched village shop still surviving when many in the country have sadly closed; a small green and a cricket pitch.

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A cottage in Adlestrop

This is the England that someone who has never been here might conjure up from old movies, thinking that most of us live in just such a place (although in fact only 80 people inhabit this tiny village). If you have an image of a perfect English village in your head and want to bring it to life, Adlestrop could be the place for you.

A famous poem

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Bus shelter

Adlestrop was immortalised by Edward Thomas, one of my favourite poets, in a poem first published in 1917. The poem describes an uneventful journey Thomas took on 23 June 1914 on an Oxford to Worcester express. Like several other poets, he is closely associated with the First World War period, but unlike them he wrote mostly, not of the war, but of the England for which he believed the soldiers were fighting. This is possibly a rather idealised picture of a pastoral idyll that was already being changed by industrialisation, but even today pockets of his England remain, and unspoiled Adlestrop is one of them.

Today a seat at a bus stop near the entrance to the village bears a plaque with the poem’s verses, and above it is a sign from the railway station that inspired them.

Adlestrop, by Edward Thomas

Yes. I remember Adlestrop -
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Jane Austen in Adlestrop

The village also has another literary connection, with one of my favourite novelists, Jane Austen, who is known to have visited at least three times between 1794 and 1806 when Rev. Thomas Leigh, her mother’s cousin, was vicar, living at the Old Rectory. Jane Austen is thought to have drawn inspiration from the village and its surroundings for her novel Mansfield Park. The rectory is now known as Adlestrop House and is just by the churchyard. Although it’s not open to the public it's possible to peer through the gates and get a sense of the lovely views it commands - views that must be largely unchanged since Austen's time.

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A house opposite the church

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View with part of Adlestrop House

St. Mary Magdalene

St. Mary Magdalene's church in Adlestrop sits on a knoll at the end of the village street, which here turns into a track. The tower is the first thing to catch the eye. This is 14th century, and consists of three stages, with the lowest serving as the church porch. Much of the rest of church was rebuilt between 1750 and 1764, though so sympathetically that the building retains much of its earlier feel.

The oldest part is the 13th century chancel arch, on either side of which are two 18th century memorials set high into the wall. These are to members of the Leigh family, relatives of Jane Austen’s mother. Other reminders of the same family can be found elsewhere in the church, including gravestones set into the floor of the chancel and memorial windows.

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Adlestrop church, and a Leigh memorial

Talking of windows, many of them have lovely stained glass, and were looking especially good on the sunny day when we last visited. Look out too for the 15th century font.

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Stained glass window

The peaceful churchyard has some 17th century chest tombs, a cast iron entry gate and lantern which commemorates Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and a sundial built to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth in 2002. A rare Elizabethan memorial (from 1594) is built into the exterior south wall of the chancel. From this churchyard you can look past Adlestrop House to the beautiful rolling hills beyond - the view in my photo above. I like to stand here and think that Jane Austen too would have stood and admired this very same view, perhaps after attending a service taken by her mother's cousin. And you can't get more quintessentially English than that!

Posted by ToonSarah 06:54 Archived in England Tagged monument history views church village houses poetry literature cotswolds author world_war_one Comments (17)

‘King John was not a good man …’

Runnymede

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The Magna Carta Memorial

‘King John was not a good man
He had his little ways.’

Or so A. A. Milne put it in his poem King John's Christmas. The barons of early 13th century England would have agreed. In 1215 England was in political turmoil. King John had become vastly unpopular; his disagreements with the Pope over the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury led to a papal interdict against the country and the king’s excommunication, while the imposition of high taxes to fund the war with France led to mounting anger. In early 1215 the barons seized control of London and the king was left with no choice but to negotiate with them. The outcome of those negotiations was the sealing of the Magna Carta Libertatum, the Great Charter of Liberty – usually known simply as Magna Carta. The document held the king accountable to the rule of law, enshrined the rights of ‘free men’ to justice and a fair trial (free men in those days meaning a relatively small number of noblemen), and established a council of 25 barons to oversee it.

The simplified account of our history usually stops here, suggesting that once the charter was sealed the matter was settled, but of course it wasn’t that simple. The charter lasted less than a year before being annulled, but subsequent kings revised and revived it in various forms, and it is still regarded symbolically as the basis for much of British law and the workings of our Parliament.

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The Thames at Runnymede

Magna Carta was sealed at Runnymede, a water-meadow on the south bank of the River Thames, in June 1215. Runnymede offered neutral ground located between the royal fortress of Windsor Castle and the barons’ rebel base at Staines. Today the meadows and the hill above them are owned and managed by the National Trust.

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Runnymede landscape

There are several interesting memorials, lots of space for picnics and family fun, and pleasant riverside and woodland walks. I used to come here regularly as a child – it was a favourite family outing, an easy drive from our home in a north west London suburb. But I hadn’t been for decades, until the COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent slight easing, coupled with an exceptionally warm and sunny spring / early summer, led to an increased interest in discovering the sights close to home. We have recently made two visits to Runnymede, and the photos on this page were taken during both of them, just a few weeks apart.

Magna Carta Memorial

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The Magna Carta Memorial

The monument to the sealing of Magna Carta sits on the slope of Coopers Hill, overlooking the meadow where that sealing is thought to have taken place. It was erected by the American Bar Association (ABA) in 1957, reflecting the influence the document had on the US Constitution – it is said that the founding fathers turned to Magna Carta for inspiration and guidance when they drew it up.

The monument is in the style of a small Greek temple, with at its centre a granite pillar on which is inscribed ‘To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law’. Some of the paving stones around it are engraved as records of visits by the ABA to rededicate the memorial on various occasions over the years.

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The Magna Carta Memorial

John F Kennedy Memorial

The US links to this site continue with another memorial on Coopers Hill, this one a little higher. The British memorial to President John F. Kennedy was jointly dedicated on 14 May 1965, by the Queen and Jacqueline Kennedy. It consists of a Portland stone tablet inscribed with a famous quote from his inaugural address:

‘Let every Nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.’

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The John F Kennedy Memorial

The granite sett steps that lead steeply up to the stone form part of the memorial. There are 50 of them, representing the 50 US states, and their attractive irregularity is a deliberate feature by the landscape architect Geoffrey Jellicoe, intended to symbolise a pilgrimage.

Commemorative trees

There are several oak trees planted near the Magna Carta memorial. One was planted by Narismha Rao, Prime Minister of India, in 1994, one by the Queen in 1987 to mark National Tree Week that year, and one also planted that year by John O. Marsh, Secretary of the US Army, marked by a plaque reading:

‘This oak tree, planted with soil from Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World, commemorates the bicentenary of the Constitution of the United States of America. It stands in acknowledgement that the ideals of liberty and justice embodied in the Constitution trace their lineage through institutions of English law to the Magna Carta, sealed at Runnymede on June 15th, 1215.’

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The Jamestown commemorative oak

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The Jurors

Runnymede has changed little since my childhood visits, but there have been a few additions to the sights dotted around the landscape here, in the form of art installations. On the grassy meadow below the Magna Carta and Kennedy memorials is this group of twelve bronze chairs, created by artist Hew Locke to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta in 2015.

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Chris studying The Jurors

The designs on the chairs incorporate imagery representing key moments in the struggle for freedom, rule of law and equal rights. These include:
~ a representation of Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island
~ an image of the Exxon Valdez tanker which ran aground in the Gulf of Alaska in 1989 (to serve as a reminder of corporate environmental responsibilities)
~ Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’
~ Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to practice law in India who became a legal advocate for women in purdah who were unable to speak out for themselves
~ a march of blind trade unionists in 1920 to support the Blind Persons Act which established disability rights as a fundamental principle in British society
~ an Amerindian headdress above a forest and river clustered with nuggets of gold, drawing attention to indigenous land claims
~ an image of documents being shredded, as a reference to the redaction or destruction of documentation by regimes wishing to hide incriminating evidence of their activities (the National Trust website description of this chair references the invasion by citizens of the Stasi office in Leipzig, interrupting this destruction which we had learned about on our visit there a couple of years ago – see my blog https://toonsarah.travellerspoint.com/259/)
~ a hollow boab tree such as those used by police in Australia in the 1890s as temporary prisons for aboriginal prisoners
~ a boat carrying refugees

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Nelson Mandela's prison cell, and the Exxon Valdez

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The blind trade unionists' march, and Cornelia Sorabji

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Amerindian headdress, and hollow boab tree

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A boat carrying refugees, and another view of The Jurors

Writ in Water

While I found The Jurors to be both artistically effective and powerful, I was less taken by the other large installation, Writ in Water, which stands on the slope of Coopers Hill not far from the Magna Carta memorial. It should be impressive but somehow the combination of harsh sunlight and dirty water in its central pool made the inscription within the stone tower almost illegible. This inscription is engraved in a metal strip that frames the pool, but in ‘mirror writing’ so as to be read indirectly from its reflection – hence ‘writ in water’. It is taken from Clause 39 of Magna Carta:

‘No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.’

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Writ in Water

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Others have evidently been more impressed than we were, as the installation the RIBA National Award 2019, which recognises ‘buildings which have made a significant contribution to architecture in the UK’.

The Thames at Runnymede

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The Thames at Runnymede
~ houses on the opposite bank

But Runnymede isn’t all about history, and many of those who visit, possibly most, are here simply to enjoy its riverside setting – to walk a stretch of the Thames Path, to picnic and play in the sun, maybe enjoy an ice cream. There are also moorings for the pleasure boats and barges.

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Boats on the Thames

It’s hard however to escape the fact that you are very close to London, only just outside the M25 ring road. At the eastern end of the meadows you can hear the motorway traffic, across the river you see the probably rather expensive homes of commuters whose gardens slope down to its banks, and planes fly fairly overhead at regular intervals as you are in the flight path for Heathrow Airport. Or at least, they do so in ‘normal’ times – one silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic, I guess, was that our recent visits were rather more peaceful with only the occasional jet flying above us. Personally, however I would rather have the planes and no virus, as I am sure most would agree.

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Quiet stretch of the river, and Egyptian Goose

Coopers Hill and Langham Pond

On the other side of the meadows from the river are the wooded slopes of Coopers Hill, with various footpaths leading up to the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial which commemorates the men and women of the Allied Air Forces who died during the Second World War and records the names of the 20,456 airmen who have no known grave. We haven’t yet made the climb to the top but this is definitely on the list for a future visit as the views are said to be excellent – nearby Windsor castle, of course, but also on a clear day the arch of Wembley Stadium and even the skyscrapers in the City of London.

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Meadow at the foot of Coopers Hill

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Meadows at Runnymede, and view of the Thames from Coopers Hill

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Dandelion clock

Where the wood meets the meadows is tranquil Langham Pond. This was created when the meandering River Thames formed an oxbow lake, and today is a wetland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The pond and surrounding meadow form a habitat that is considered unique in Southern England and of international importance. There are nationally scarce plants and insects here, including a species of fly unrecorded anywhere else in the United Kingdom!

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Langham Pond

But being unknowledgeable about flies I find myself drawn instead to the beautiful shades of green in this landscape, the water-fowl and the colourful dragon and damselflies. Here at least you can forget how close you are to London and imagine yourself deep in the country.

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Flags, Langham Pond

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Swan on Langham Pond

Above in the woods you can find wildflowers in the spring and summer, and of course the leaves will turn gorgeous shades of orange and red in the autumn, as they are largely deciduous. Another reason for a return visit later in the year!

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Path through the woods on Coopers Hill

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Ox-eye Daisies, and Red Campion

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More wildflowers

Statue of Queen Elizabeth II

In the Runnymede Pleasure Gardens to the east of the National Trust land, where families picnic and locals walk their dogs, stands a larger-than-life bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II, placed here in 2015 to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta. The work of sculptor James Butler, it was inspired by the famous 1954 and 1969 portraits by Pietro Annigoni. It may seem slightly ironic that the anniversary of an event that helped to restrict the power of the monarchy should be marked by the unveiling of a statue of the current monarch, but so it was – and supporters argued, perhaps fairly, that the Queen represents all that is good about our monarchy as it has evolved since those very different times.

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The statue of Queen Elizabeth II

In front of the statue two parallel timelines are etched into the paving stones – one the successions of kings and queens from King John to Queen Elizabeth II, while the other is described as a ‘democracy timeline’ highlighting significant evolutionary milestones in Britain’s democratic heritage.

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Dog roses at Runnymede

Posted by ToonSarah 10:49 Archived in England Tagged landscapes art birds flowers england monument history statue views river Comments (11)

A Breath of Fresh Air

Grinton

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Swaledale

The Yorkshire Dales are one of the loveliest parts of England, and Swaledale one of the loveliest dales, though less well known than its neighbour to the south, Wensleydale. Near the head of Swaledale is the quiet village of Grinton. It isn’t particularly on the tourist trail, though connoisseurs of the English countryside may find their way here, as may fans of the James Herriot books which were set near this part of Yorkshire.

We know it however as the village where my father-in-law, John, spent several happy years as a boy, having been evacuated here to escape the war-time bombing of Tyneside. Although a city boy by birth, he fell in love with the beautiful countryside and the rural way of life, and continued to visit here regularly for the rest of his life, bringing us with him on many occasions. When he died in 2009 we followed his wishes and scattered his ashes on the moor above Grinton. Thus the place that had meant so much to him became his final resting place.

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Grinton Moor

The house where John lived as a boy was home to a gamekeeper, Billy Holland, and his wife. Nowadays it has become part of the pub next door to form the Bridge Inn, and we visit annually to meet up with the Hollands’ two daughters and their husbands, bringing John’s two sisters, May (who was also evacuated here) and Gloria (just a baby during the war and considered too young to leave her mother). It’s a chance for that generation to reminisce about the old days and for us to enjoy their stories.

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The Bridge Inn

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May, Chris and Gloria outside the Bridge Inn

Some years ago my mother-in-law Teresa captured John’s stories as part of the BBC’s ‘People’s War’ project in a piece they called ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’, and I’ve included some extracts here. I hope you enjoy them as much as we have done and will come to understand just why this place meant so much to John, and why his memory will live on here for all of us.

St. Andrew's Church

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St. Andrew's Church

I have seen this church referred to as “the Cathedral of the Dale”, which sounds very grand for what is simply a rather peaceful old parish church. The oldest part of the Church is Norman, showing that there has been a church here for over 900 years, and it is thought that there may even have been a Saxon Church here prior to that.

Most of the present-day building though dates from the fourteen to sixteenth centuries. Although I have been there several times, it is only now, researching for this page, that I have found out much about it.

The original Norman church was only the nave to the Chancel steps of the current church with the aisles being added in the 16th Century. The font, a small window in the west wall and the chancel arch are all that now remain of the original Norman church.

The wood screen in the chancel was carved in the 14th century. The Lepers’ squint, a small window in the screen, was designed to allow those who suffered from leprosy and were not allowed in to the church to see what was happening and take part in the service.

The church floor is 3 to 4 feet lower than the churchyard level. It is the original level of the church. The height difference is apparently due to all the burials over the last 900 years which have raised the churchyard by this amount.

The 1718 inscription over the pulpit is the date when the pews were installed. Until then there were no seats, the parishioners sat or knelt on the floor. It was only during the Reformation period that pews were installed in churches. The tower was also a 16th century addition.

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John in St Andrews Church

My father-in-law had many happy memories of this church. In ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ he said:
‘Mrs. Holland played the organ in the local church so we found ourselves at services three times on a Sunday. Sometimes I was allowed to pump up the organ for her. I was also in the choir and sang solo until my voice broke. I never thought then that one day I would return to Grinton with my family, visit the church, see the organ and sit in a pew reminiscing.’

Grinton Moor

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Swaledale

Swaledale’s scenery is characterised by its green valley dotted with trees; fields above dotted with white sheep and separated by the traditional drystone walls; and windswept heather moorland beyond these. This landscape may look in places like nature at its wildest but in truth was created by a combination of traditional farming practices and lead mining.

While sheep farmers gradually enclosed the lower slopes to create this characteristic mosaic of dry-stone walled compartments and stone field barns, the spoil heaps and scars of the lead mining industry are responsible for much of the barren and bleaker parts of the dale especially on the moorland. You will also see occasional ruined stone mine buildings up on these moors.

Swaledale is part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the moors are therefore protected. There are many footpaths crisscrossing the moors, and a walk up here will certainly blow the city cobwebs away!

My photo below shows the special spot above Grinton where Chris scattered his father’s ashes. The purple heather makes a fitting resting place for a man who loved this landscape and who came to feel so at home here as a young boy.

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Grinton Moor

Here are some more extracts from ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’

‘We arrived in Grinton, Swaledale, ten miles west of Richmond, Yorkshire, into the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. I knew nothing about the countryside at that time. George and I were billeted with a young, newly married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Holland....

The house where I lived is now part of the Bridge Hotel. The first memory of the village was the silence and the lack of noise from trams, trains, ships’ hooters and the like. Also the sound of unfamiliar birds each morning. We had no timepiece in the bedroom and consequently always being hungry I found I was first up each morning! The house was a big, two-storied building adjoining the Bridge Hotel at the side and the back so there was no back entrance. … It fronted the main road to Reeth, a village about a mile away. It had three steps down leading to a sunken patio. The door led to a cosy living room with a coal fire. Here we took our meals and relaxed in the evenings listening to the battery-operated wireless, or, in the case of Mr. Holland, dozing by the fire. Sometimes he would be nursing George and the two of them would be fast asleep in the wooden slatted rocking chair!

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Chris and May at the Bridge Inn

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In the Bridge Inn
- I believe this is the
former Sunday Parlour

Paraffin lamps provided the lighting (there being no gas or electricity) and the cooking was done on two primus stoves or on the grill above the coal fire. There was a highly polished fender surrounding the fire.

A door to the left led to the Sunday Parlour. It was rarely used at any other time. On a rack in the corner were Mr. Holland’s two 12 bore shot guns, (he was employed as shepherd/acting gamekeeper) and later a 303 calibre Enfield rifle, which was supplied when he joined the LDV (later to become the Home Guard). Also in the rack was a selection of walking sticks and umbrellas.

To the right leading off the living room was the kitchen. This had a sink (cold water only). The two primus stoves stood on a bench. Off the kitchen was a walk-in pantry. The shelves held a number of the previous year’s storage jars of home-made jams and chutneys. It also had a stone slab for “perishables”. The milk was delivered in a churn from where the milkman used a dipper to measure the required amount into Mrs. Holland’s large enamel milk jug. The milk float had rubber tyres and was pulled by a horse.

A staircase led to the three bedrooms upstairs. At one time the third bedroom was occupied by an elderly lady from London. She was kind to me but didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mr. and Mrs. Holland and returned to London soon afterwards. We all went to bed by the light of a candle. My household chores commenced early each morning when I primed the two stoves and lit the fire, which I set with cowlings (a form of dried heather) and coal…

The nearest school, Fremington, was located about one mile to the north but only catered for children up to the age of eleven, so they had no facilities for a couple of us. One of the Government slogans at that time was ‘Dig for Victory’ so the schoolteacher put us to work growing vegetables in the school garden. Mr. Holland and I dug up the Vicar’s tennis court and we planted more vegetables. The fresh air gave us quite an appetite and we were very well fed. We developed muscles and in the summer sported healthy suntans….

At first George was homesick and set off to walk to Gateshead regularly but his legs didn’t carry him very far and I was able to bring him back. I remember Mr. Holland sitting some evenings with George, teaching him to read and write. George was a great favourite in the village. When not at school he would sit with his legs dangling over the bridge which spanned the river singing some of the bawdy songs the cattle drovers had taught him in Gateshead. This greatly amused the villagers although I suspect they couldn’t understand his Geordie accent.…

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On Grinton Moor

There were no buses at all but our entertainments included an occasional silent film show given by the Vicar — usually featuring Charlie Chaplin — a great favourite. We listened avidly to the battery radio as we had no gas or electricity. Once Gateshead Council arranged for us to be taken to the Zetland Cinema in Richmond — another treat! The film was ‘Pinnochio’.

They also arranged for my mother, two younger members of the family and my cousin to visit us twice. Each week we wrote letters home and each week we received a postal order for 6d [2.5p in today’s decimal currency]. Of this, I got 2d, George and May also 2d. Mr. Holland cut a slot in an empty Fynnon Salts tin and this was for my savings. Other outings included trips with Mrs. Holland to the Women’s Institute. They had a small library on the premises so I spent the time reading. I remember on one occasion Mrs. Holland discovered me reading a book she considered unsuitable so she removed it.

She bottled all sorts of jams and preserves, some of which were donated to the local Fayres. The recipes were taken from Mr. Woolton’s radio programme. He was the Minister of Food. Sometimes I was allowed to go on her bike for the shopping in Reeth. Another treat was to ride pillion when Mr. Holland and I mended the fencing. Other times I was allowed to visit his four gun dogs which were kennelled away from the house….

The Vicar had an orchard from where we were allowed to pick up and eat the windfall fruit. What we couldn’t eat my pal and I squirreled away in the hollow of an old tree. We also tickled trout in the beck. The Vicar was the only person in the village (apart from the Post Office) who owned a telephone. He was also the A.R.P. warden and one occasion he went around the village with a hand-bell to announce that a land-mine had been dropped on Grinton Moor leaving a huge crater but not doing any damage. The following day I went up and picked up a piece of shrapnel and a length of multi-coloured parachute cord. I was fascinated.

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On Grinton Moor

Life in 1941 carried on as usual but the outstanding memory of it was the winter. This was particularly severe. Mr. Holland’s sheep were kept up on the moors and during the winter they would take shelter in the lee of the dry-stone walls and fences. Unfortunately this was where the snow drifted and a considerable time was spent digging them out. Mr. Holland and the dogs knew exactly where to look for them and consequently we managed to save the majority. But as the winter dragged on we were digging out dead sheep. These we attached to the spade with rope and dragged by the horns to a nearby bog where they immediately sank. This I found very upsetting and exhausting but Mrs. Holland had a meal ready for us with home-made stout to wash it down with! Sheer heaven.

By 1942 I was well and truly a Yorkshireman and delighted in it. I even spoke their dialect. ... Unfortunately Gateshead Council decided I was now old enough to be bombed so they instructed me to return home. I was nearing school-leaving age (14) and was required to collect my School-leaving Certificate and find a job. My brother and sister were too young to remain on their own so they returned home with me. I don’t remember much of the parting except that it happened very quickly and my elder brother came to collect us, but I did not feel I had said a proper “goodbye” to Mr. and Mrs. Holland and my friends....’

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On Grinton Moor

I hope some of you will have enjoyed reading these first-hand reminiscences about the war years and what it was like for a city boy to find himself living in such a very different environment. Although of course things have changed since then in Grinton, life still moves at a slower pace in this corner of England and the village that John knew is still very recognisable – and well worth a visit.

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Grinton Lodge with sheep

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Swaledale sheep and dry walls

And if you do come, have a meal or a drink in the Bridge Inn and raise a glass to John and the family which welcomed him and George into their home, just as so many other families welcomed the children of strangers during those years.

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Sunday dinner at the Bridge Inn
- when my in-laws were still with us

Posted by ToonSarah 11:07 Archived in England Tagged landscapes churches history views village family war_and_peace world_war_two Comments (20)

A Cornish birthday

St Ives

‘As I was going to St Ives’

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St Ives harbour in stormy weather

My birthday falls at the end of October and we often go away, usually abroad. But with work being done at home (installation of new wardrobes) our holiday time was limited this year, so we decided on a break closer to home. I’ve been wanting to go to St Ives for some time, having not been to Cornwall since family holidays as a child, so that was our choice. We hoped for good weather (it quite often is fine and sunny at that time of year in England) but knew there was plenty to do there if it rained, in the form of the newish Tate St Ives and numerous smaller galleries and artists’ studios. Just as well, as it turned out!

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St Ives harbour

We decided to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel, which also proved to be a good decision, and to travel by train rather than drive the long distance from London. The train journey took us along one of the most scenic stretches of rail track in the country, so close to the sea in parts of Devon that some years ago it was totally destroyed in winter storms. Thankfully today’s weather, although wet, wasn’t bad enough to pose a threat to the line and our journey went smoothly – a long run from London via Exeter, Plymouth and Truro before changing at St Erth for the little branch line to St Ives. Waiting in the wind and rain at that small station I think we both wondered why we hadn’t made the time to go to Sicily, our original plan!

Arriving in St Ives we walked to the apartment following directions sent by its owner. These led us along what would be in fine weather a pleasant path right by the sea, but which today was at one point being regularly swamped by large waves. I manged to dash between them but Chris was not so lucky and got caught, resulting in a pair of decidedly wet trousers! Luckily our accommodation was only a short distance further, above a shoe shop near the market hall and parish church. We let ourselves in with the key that had been sent to us a week previously and climbed two flights of stairs to the very cosy flat. We liked it immediately, with its seaside themed décor and view of the sea beyond the roof-tops.

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Apartment sitting room

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Apartment bedroom

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Apartment kitchen

We settled in and, given the weather, decided not to go far on this first evening. Our hostess had kindly given us lots of local restaurant recommendations and one which appealed, Beer and Bird, was only a few minutes’ walk up the main street, Fore Street. This consists of a ground floor bar and first floor restaurant, and although it was busy we got a good table in the latter. We enjoyed our meal on the whole, but had to wait a long while for our main courses because the wood-fired pizza oven was playing up, and Chris had ordered pizza! They really should have just told us that pizzas were off for the evening as despite that being his favourite, I’m sure he’d have found something else on the extensive menu as an alternative. As it was, when the pizza did finally arrive, alongside my very good halibut, its crust was disappointingly brittle although the topping was good. Still, it had been a pleasant evening on the whole – and some dry weather was promised for tomorrow!

A wet birthday in St Ives

My heading above tells a different tale from that weather forecast. We awoke to rain that lasted most of the day, off and on (mostly on!) Clearly it was a day for indoor pursuits so after breakfast at a nearby café (Scoff Troff, which failed to live up to the rave review provided by our hostess but was OK) we walked along Fore Street to its northern end and then followed signs that led us to Tate St Ives by Porthmeor Beach.

Tate St Ives

As the name suggests, Tate St Ives is a regional hub of the original Tate Gallery in London (now Tate Britain) and the Tate Modern. It was preceded by the gallery’s first venture out of the capital, Tate Liverpool, and opened in 1993. A fairly remote small Cornish seaside town may seem an odd choice of location for a major gallery, but once you know something of St Ives’ history and its long association with artists it becomes much less surprising.

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Tate St Ives entrance

There is something special about the quality of light in this part of the country which has always tended to attract artists, and once the railway came to the town in 1877 many visited from London for short or longer stays. A local fisherman, Alfred Wallis, had taken up painting following the death of his wife, and his naïve style appealed to visiting artist Ben Nicholson, influencing his move towards more abstract art. When the Second World War started, Nicholson moved to St Ives with his wife, sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and other artists followed – Naum Gabo, Patrick Heron, Bernard Leach and many more.

The heyday of what became known as the St Ives School was in the 1950s and 60s, but the town continues to attract artists and is home to many small galleries and studios. Barbara Hepworth’s former home and studio has been open to the public for some years, displaying many of her works in the setting where she created them, and was taken over by the Tate in 1980, so it was a natural next step for them to build a new gallery in the town dedicated to the art movement that bears its name.

We bought our tickets, opting for combined ones that also included the Hepworth Studio, on our to-do list for tomorrow when it should be drier (most of the sculptures are exhibited in the garden). Although not large the gallery has a series of rooms telling the story of the St Ives School with works by all of the more famous artists considered members and others I hadn’t heard of.

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Artwork by by Otobong Nkanga

There are also rooms devoted to temporary exhibitions which were showing works by Otobong Nkanga, a Nigerian artist now living in Antwerp. She uses tapestry alongside photography, painting and video, and I found some of the works very intriguing. The exhibition From Where I Stand explored ‘the politics of land and its relationship to the body, and histories of land acquisition and ownership’, according to the Tate website, but I liked it most for the colours employed in her tapestries and the interesting video showing how she works to bring her huge designs to life.

After looking around the gallery we made our way to the top floor café where we were lucky to secure a table for our coffee break, as the café is quite small and the weather was far too inclement for anyone to be sitting out on the terrace! On finer days there would be wonderful views of Porthmeor Beach from here; as it was, the windows were streaked with rain and, inspired perhaps by all the art we had seen, I had fun creating my own abstract images using the colours of sea and sand blurred by raindrops. Even in this weather I could see that there was indeed something rather special about the light here.

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Rainy day photography, Tate St Ives

Porthmeor Beach

After our coffee we took advantage of a brief let-up in the rain to get a few photos of Porthmeor Beach. Quite a few people were braving the elements to walk dogs and a few even to surf!

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Porthmeor Beach

We then headed back to Fore Street where we had a light lunch in one of the pubs, the Union Inn – good toasted sandwiches and local beer. After our meal we visited some of the studios and independent shops. As it was my birthday Chris had suggested I pick out a gift here, and I found a pretty silver necklace in a Celtic design at Silver Origins at the southern end of Fore Street.

We spent the rest of the afternoon back in our cosy apartment before wrapping up again to walk to the restaurant where we had booked a table for my birthday dinner. The Porthminster Kitchen was another of our hostess’s recommendations and had also been suggested by a foodie friend who holidays here regularly, and what a good choice it proved to be. OK, we couldn’t really make the most of the lovely setting overlooking the harbour, but that didn’t matter when the food was so good and the service so friendly. Of course I had to have some local fish and chose mackerel pate followed by a hake special, both of which were delicious, while Chris had scallops and a pasta dish. An excellent evening – and surely tomorrow at last it would stop raining?!

A brighter day

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Harbour

Yes! We awoke to skies which, if not exactly bright, were lighter and no longer throwing water at us. So after breakfast at another local café (a much more successful choice, the Cornish Bakery on Fore Street) we walked down to the harbour, hoping to get better photos than we had managed yesterday.

There were a lot of birds on the lifeboat slipway which subsequent research indicated could be Turnstones in their winter plumage, or possibly some sort of Sandpiper – bird-watching friends might correct me, of course!

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Bird at the harbour

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The Island

We followed the water’s edge, taking a few more photos as we went. At the far side of the bay that forms the harbour is St Ives’ most distinctive natural feature, the Island. Despite its name this is not an island but a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus and separating the harbour from Porthmeor Beach. On a map it looks to me a little like a face in profile, with a hook nose, a shock of hair and a very thin beard!

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Map showing the Island

There are great views from the Island of the coast in either direction.

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Panoramic view east from the Island

Rocky outcrops offshore were dotted with cormorants, and further away we could see Godrevy Lighthouse on its small islet. The lighthouse was built in the 1850s as a result of numerous shipwrecks on the Stones Reef – most famously one in 1649 when a ship carrying many personal effects of King Charles I, including his entire wardrobe, was lost. This is the lighthouse that inspired Virginia Woolf to write ‘To the Lighthouse’, a novel I studied for my A Level English Literature course, although she locates the lighthouse on the Scottish island of Skye.

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Rocky coastline

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Cormorants on rock, from the Island

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Godrevy Lighthouse

On the highest point of the Island is the Chapel of St Nicholas, which dates back to the 15th century. It was used in the past by 'Preventive Men', as the excise officers were known, to keep watch for smugglers, for whom the island provided an ideal landing place for their contraband. Later the chapel was used for storage by the War Office, who partially demolished it in 1904, unaware of its historic significance. Fortunately a public outcry stopped the destruction and resulted in its restoration in 1911. Inside it features floor tiles depicting fishing scenes, the work of the famous St Ives potter, Bernard Leach, but we found the door locked and very little could be seen through the somewhat grubby windows.

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St Nicholas Chapel

At the furthest point of the Island are the remains of an old gun battery, constructed in 1859 to help to protect Porthmeor Beach and the harbour against the threat of invasion by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III). There were three gun emplacements and a barracks, which housed the gunners and their families. Later the largest of these emplacements was adapted to serve as a Coastguard Station. This was closed down in 1994, when the government decided that the use of satellite and wireless technology to monitor distress calls made keeping a visual watch unnecessary.

In 1999, the coastguard station was reopened by the St Ives branch of the National Coastwatch Institution, a voluntary organisation established to ‘provide the eyes and ears along the coast’. The station is now manned by volunteer watchkeepers, who keep a log of all the activity within sight of the lookout all year round during daylight hours. Several were on duty when we passed, and outside a poster appealed for further volunteers.

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On the Island
~ you can see the gun battery at the furthest point

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Porthmeor Beach from the Island

Looking down on Porthmeor Beach we could see lots of surfers in the water so we decided to head in that direction to try to get some better photos than we could manage at this distance. We got our shots, then found a good table in the Porthmeor Beach Café, perched above the sands opposite Tate St Ives, for a cup of coffee with a view.

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Surfers, Porthmeor Beach

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Arty St Ives

Many of the town’s small artists’ studios and galleries are located along the winding streets of the area between Porthmeor and the harbour, and we spent a pleasant hour visiting some of these before descending again to the harbour-front.

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Door details

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Our harbour view at lunch-time

Here we bought Cornish pasties (well, it had to be done!) from one of several shops claiming to sell the ‘best in town’ and perched on a breakwater to enjoy our lunch.

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

After our break we made our way through some more of the back streets to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. As I mentioned above, Hepworth and her husband, the painter Ben Nicholson, came to live in St Ives when World War Two broke out in 1939, as a haven from London. She stayed here for the rest of her life, living and working in Trewyn studios (which are now the Barbara Hepworth Museum) from 1949 until her death in 1975 (she died in a fire here at the studio she loved). It was her wish that her home and studio were set up as a museum of her work.

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In the studio

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Sleepy cat
(this one is real, not a sculpture!)

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Small sculpture indoors

Our visit here was a real highlight of our short stay in St Ives. Inside the house it was possible to get a sense of the artist and her work, through a series of photos taken over the full period of her time here. There were a few pieces displayed here too, but it was in the garden that the exhibits really come to life, placed just as she wanted them among the plants and flowers. To me their organic forms fit perfectly into this garden landscape.

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At the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Final evening in St Ives

We had dinner this evening in an Italian restaurant we had spotted and liked the look of earlier in the day, Caffe Pasta at the far end of the harbour-front. It was just as well that we had thought to make a reservation when passing, as on this Halloween evening lots of families were out and about and this seemed to be a favourite local choice for post Trick or Treating get-togethers. And our hunch that this looked a promising spot for our final dinner in St Ives paid off, as we had a delicious meal. I loved the sea bass special, served with candied beetroot & squid ink risotto, and Chris had some excellent wild boar meatballs.

Outside we had a go at a bit of impromptu night photography, using a breakwater as a slightly uneven temporary tripod!

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St Ives harbour at night

Farewell to St Ives

The next morning there was time for another good pastry and coffee breakfast at the Cornish Bakery before we had to make our way back to the station (no waves crashing over the path today!) and home to London.

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Last views of St Ives

The train journey, although long, passed as uneventfully as the journey down and we were home in time for dinner after our very pleasant, if not always dry, few days in Cornwall.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:45 Archived in England Tagged beaches art birds night boats rain harbour coast views sculpture weather seaside lighthouse seas chapel cornwall st_ives Comments (20)

Dodging the showers and dining in style

North Yorkshire

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View from Rievaulx Terrace

Driving regularly between our home in London and our ‘second home’ in Newcastle, we pass through Yorkshire every time, usually speeding through on the A1M motorway. We also make annual visits to Swaledale (see my page on Grinton: ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’). Recently however we decided to break our journey home with an overnight stay at somewhere rather special – somewhere I have wanted to visit for some time (wait and see!). Before that stay, there was time earlier in the day to see some of the sights in the area around the busy little town of Helmsley.

Rievaulx Terrace and Abbey

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The path through the woods,
Rievaulx Terrace

Not having done my homework as thoroughly as I would do for a major trip abroad, I hadn’t realised until we arrived that Rievaulx Terrace and Rievaulx Abbey were two separate properties – the former under the care of the National Trust and the latter under English Heritage. Arriving at the turnoff for both we were faced with a choice and opted for the Terrace, at least as our initial stop.

What had started as quite a bright but windy day in Newcastle had by now turned showery, but as we parked the latest shower stopped and we made our way to the ticket office hopeful of being able to explore without getting wet. The friendly lady there explained about the separate sights (so if we wanted to see both we would have to pay twice) and suggested a walking route that should bring us to the larger of the two ‘temples’ here just as it was opened up for one of the talks that take place a few times each day.

Rievaulx Terrace is a wonderful example of the 18th century taste for the Romantic in landscape gardening. The land here was originally part of the estate of the abbey but after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century it passed into private hands and was owned by several local aristocratic families before being bought by Sir Charles Duncombe in 1687. The Duncombes were already wealthy local land-owners; their Duncombe Park estate adjoins this one. By 1747 both properties were in the hands of Thomas Duncombe II, who returned from his Grand Tour full of ideas about the development of his estate, in particular Rievaulx Terrace. Like others of his generation he planned to create his own idealised landscape, inspired by the scenery of Europe he had so admired on his travels, and unlike many of them he had the perfect spot in which to do it, overlooking one of the features held dear by the Romantics, a magnificent ruined abbey. And not content with that, he also included two picturesque temples, one at either end of the terrace.

Our walk took us along a woodland path to emerge near the first of these, the Tuscan Temple. This is kept locked as its floor is too precious to allow anyone to walk on it. The tiles are medieval, taken from the abbey below – a fate suffered by many of these religious structures after Henry VIII had wielded his royal powers.

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The Tuscan Temple

At this point the route turns back on itself, paralleling the woodland path on a wide strip of green lawn. To our right were the woods; to our left was a steep partly wooded escarpment. Breaks in the trees, thirteen in all, allowed for views down to the abbey below. As befitting the Romantic tradition, each of these views is like a framed painting, offering a different perspective on the ruins. And, again in the Romantic tradition, the effect seems totally natural while in fact being carefully designed.

Rievaulx Abbey

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Views of Rievaulx Abbey from the Terrace

Rievaulx was one of the great Cistercian abbeys of England prior to its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1538. It was founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey in France. Originally the abbey buildings would have been of wood. The first stone structures were erected towards the end of the 12th century and the impressive church completed in the 1220s.

At the time of its dissolution in 1538, the abbey consisted of 72 buildings. These were, as was usual following dissolution, confiscated, rendered uninhabitable and stripped of any valuables such as lead, before being left to fall into ruin. The site was granted to the Earl of Rutland, one of Henry's advisers, and later was sold to Sir Charles Duncombe, a wealthy London banker, along with other land in this area.

Just as the Duncombe family’s many guests would have done, we strolled the length of the terrace admiring the different perspectives of the ruins. Many of them would no doubt have stopped to sketch or paint a watercolour; we in our turn took photos, of both the views of the abbey and our immediate surroundings.

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Bee and wild flower

The Ionic Temple

At the opposite end of the terrace to the Tuscan Temple is the Ionic Temple. Its interior replicates the sort of grand dining room that would have been found in the stately homes of that era. Here the Duncombes would have entertained their guests with delicious meals prepared for them by servants in its basement kitchen.

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The Ionic Temple

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The temple’s design was inspired by the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome which Thomas Duncombe II would no doubt have seen on his Grand Tour. We arrived here as hoped while the building was still open, and although we had missed the start of the talk by the docent, we were in time to hear his description of its star attraction, the painted ceiling. This is the work of an Italian painter, Giuseppe Mattia Borgnis, who came to England around 1753. The central panel depicts Aurora, Apollo and the Muses, and is based on Guido Reni’s mural in the Palazzo Rospigliosi in Rome. Around it are other mythological scenes.

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In the Ionic Temple

Below, the table is set for dinner as it would have been when the Duncombes and their guests arrived here after their stroll, with Worcester porcelain, and a set of twelve mid-18th century mahogany dining chairs.

The docent explained that when the family fell on harder times and entertained less, the basement was converted to serve as a garden store. Our arrival at the temple had coincided with the start of a heavy shower, so after the docent had finished his talk and we had taken a few photos, we went outside and down the short flight of stone steps at the side into this basement area.

Nowadays it appears to be used for exhibitions about the history of the terrace and temples. There were panels describing some of the wildlife to be found on the terrace, some examples of the garden tools that were stored here, and a temporary exhibition which I found very interesting: A Tale of Two Sketchbooks. This described the artistic lives of two young 18th-century women artists from contrasting backgrounds. One was Ann Duncombe, daughter of Thomas who built the terrace, and the other Effie Silver, a child of the Foundling Hospital who had found work as an assistant to an artist through the intervention of one of the hospital’s famous patrons, Hogarth. The exhibition focused on their chance meeting on the terrace when Silver’s employer was working for the Duncombes, painting family portraits. It took me a while to realise that much of their history, and even their very existence, is fiction, although the historical background is real, and what I took to be facsimiles of their sketchbooks are in fact new works of art created for this exhibition.

Helmsley Walled Garden

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In Helmsley Walled Garden

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In Helmsley Walled Garden

When the shower had passed, we headed back to our parked car to decide where to go next. We considered a visit to the abbey ruins below but decided instead to drive into Helmsley where there might be more to do if the weather worsened. A friend in Newcastle had recently visited and enthused about the walled garden there so we took a chance on the weather, parked as recommended in the busy long-stay car park (this is clearly a popular town with visitors to Yorkshire) and followed the footpath to the gardens.

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Glasshouses, Helmsley Walled Garden

Helmsley Walled Garden occupies the site of the former vegetable garden of the ‘big house’ at Duncombe Park. After WW1, the garden was leased out for use as a commercial enterprise. This closed down in 1982 and it fell into disuse and became overgrown. In 1994, a local lady Alison Ticehurst, who had been looking for a place to develop her ideas on horticultural therapy, decided to buy and restore the garden. It was a mammoth undertaking as it had by then turned into a complete wilderness, but she persevered, helped by her family and volunteers, and created the beautiful gardens we can see today. Sadly Alison died suddenly and at a relatively young age, in 1999, but not before she had realised her dream, and the garden continues to thrive and to provide therapeutic support for many. It is also a very pleasant place in which to spend an hour or so.

By the time we arrived the sun was shining again, but we opted to have a light snack in the café at the gardens before exploring them. We had reason to want to be very hungry this evening (wait and see!) so just had a coffee (not very good) and cake (excellent), enjoying the warm sun through the glass roof and the grapevines all around.

After a while the sun became too warm, so we went to pay our entrance fee for the gardens themselves – just as a very black cloud appeared overhead. And we had got no further than the glasshouses when the heavens opened, and we were forced to take shelter. No matter – there was plenty to interest us here in the glasshouses – thistles laid out on the wooden shelves to dry, attracting loads of bees, colourful geraniums and other flowers in pots, and a water-colour artist at work.

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Bee and thistle in the glasshouse

When the shower blew over we went out to explore and spent a happy hour meandering along the paths, and taking lots of photos. The garden is divided into a number of ‘sub-gardens’ – the Clematis Garden, the White Garden, the Hot Border, the Long Border, the Orchard, Alison’s Garden. In some the flowers had taken a bit of a battering in the rain, in a few the blooms were passed their best, but there was still lots of colour and lots to photograph.

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The White Border

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In the orchard

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In the clematis garden

Beyond the walls are the photogenic ruins of Helmsley Castle. The first castle on this site was a wooden one, built in the early part of the 12th century, with stone construction starting at the end of that century. It grew over the next two hundred years, with the impressive East Tower, a chapel and living quarters. In the 16th century the old medieval hall of the castle was converted into a comfortable ‘modern’ Tudor mansion and the chapel into a kitchen. It passed down through generations, and at the end of the 17th century was sold to Sir Charles Duncombe – the same Sir Charles Duncombe who also bought Rievaulx Abbey. When he died his sister Mary's husband, Thomas Brown, inherited the castle. He promptly changed his surname to Duncombe, had a country house built on the estate, which he called Duncombe Park, and left the castle to fall into the picturesque runs so beloved at that time. It is still owned by the same family (now the Barons of Feversham after an early 19th century Charles was raised to the peerage).

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Helmsley Castle from Helmsley Walled Garden

Helmsley

When we left the gardens, we opted not to visit the castle, as we had already seen a bit of it from the gardens, and instead had a stroll around the town. It has some attractive buildings and a striking memorial to William, the 2nd Baron of Feversham, in the middle of the market square.

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The monument to Lord Feversham

But that same square was marred by all the parked cars and the pavements crowded. The large number of signs outside the houses (‘Private property, no parking’; ‘Drive in constant use’; ‘No access’; ‘Not a public footpath’ etc. etc.) said a lot about the impact of tourism on this small community, although no doubt it is great for the local economy.

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All Saints Church, and Helmsley Castle from the town

We had a quick look at the exterior of the church, All Saints, which although dating in part from the 12th century is largely the result of a significant Victorian make-over. But rather than linger in the town we decided to make the most of the sunshine, which seemed now to be firmly with us, and visit another of Yorkshire’s ruined abbeys.

Byland Abbey

With the weather improving all the time, and having not paid a visit to Rievaulx Abbey, we couldn’t really miss stopping at Byland, especially as we had to drive right past it to reach our destination for the night. What is more, although like Rievaulx and Helmsley Castle, Byland is under the care of English Heritage, there is no fee charged for admission! I had expected therefore to find very little to see here, but that is by no means the case.

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The west front

In its day Byland was one of the largest Cistercian abbeys in the country. The great church with its magnificent west front and rose window was the inspiration for a similar window at York Minster. The buildings whose ruins we see today were mostly constructed in the 12th century and the abbey thrived through to the 14th. It acquired considerable land and derived much of its income from sheep farming. But during the 14th century it suffered a series of setbacks. Byland, Rievaulx and several other religious houses in this area were pillaged by the victorious Scots as revenge for the English attack the Cistercian abbey of Melrose. The Black Death also hit the abbey population hard, both monks and lay brothers.

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View of the church from the west front

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Church ruins

By the early 16th century it was starting to recover and rebuild its economy, but then Henry VIII dissolved all religious houses in the country when he declared himself head of the Church in England in 1533. Like Rievaulx and others, Byland Abbey was stripped of all valuable materials before being given to a favoured local aristocrat – in this case, Sir William Pickering. The Byland estate later passed through various hands, and the abbey’s stones were gradually taken to serve various purposes – building local cottages, decorating the gardens of Myton Hall in Swalesdale. The high altar and a small alabaster image of the Trinity are both now at nearby Ampleforth Abbey. What remained fell into disrepair and then into ruin.

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Remains of the south (left) and north transepts

Following excavations in the 1920s much of the original plan was revealed, and what remained of the church, cloisters and other buildings preserved. As well as that great west front you can still see some of the 13th century tiled floor, especially in the south transept. Parts of some other walls still stand, the cloisters are easy to trace, and a number of other rooms are labelled such as the parlour and kitchen.

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Medieval tiles

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Church ruins from the domestic buildings to the south

The Black Swan at Oldstead

I became aware of chef Tommy Banks and his Michelin-starred pub restaurant in Yorkshire through the TV programme Great British Menu. I was impressed by his ethos of ‘field to fork’ – fresh seasonal ingredients, produced locally (most on his parents’ nearby farm or in the pub’s own extensive kitchen garden) or foraged for in the hedgerows and woodland around Oldstead, and presented with creativity but without forgetting that taste is foremost. Banks was Britain’s youngest Michelin-starred chef in 2013 and won Great British Menu in 2016 and 2017, and more recently has been a judge on the programme. So having been so impressed I looked up the Black Swan and realised that it was not too far from the route we take regularly between London and Newcastle, and back again, and that although a stay here would be a splurge, it was not an unaffordable one. As I am closing my small business this year to go into ‘almost’ retirement, I decided this would be the perfect treat with which to mark that closure and blow some of the profits!

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The Black Swan at Oldstead

Oldstead is little more than a hamlet – just a cluster of cottages reached along a single-track road from Byland Abbey. We arrived towards the end of the afternoon, parked behind the pub and went to check in. There are no bedrooms in the pub itself, with some being in a block behind and the remainder in cottages just a few metres away in the village. We were in one of the latter, so we grabbed our overnight bags (leaving most of our luggage in the car – we had been in Newcastle for nine nights and had quite a lot with us!) and followed the friendly receptionist to our ‘home’ for the night.

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Our cottage - our room is bottom left

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Our bedroom

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Our bathroom

Although not large the room was stylish and welcoming, and we had a sizeable bathroom with rain shower and huge copper bath-tub! We settled in and made use of the wifi to check emails, and I sorted through the photos I had taken during the day.

If you book a stay here a table is automatically reserved for you in the restaurant and breakfast is included in the package too – all you need to pay for on top are any drinks. We made a start on those with a pre-dinner drink in the cosy bar. And most of the drinks too reflect Banks’ ethos, being innovative and derived from local produce. I tried the local (Yorkshire-made) gin, Rare Bird, and Chris had a vodka and tonic.

The menu here is a set tasting menu, although if you mention any allergies, food aversions etc. in advance alternates will be provided. Our first course was a mushroom quiche, but forget any idea you may have of a slice of eggy cheesy set custard on a pastry base! This little work of art was served in the bar with our drinks and set the tone for a truly memorable experience – or rather, a whole evening of such experiences! Starting with the ‘pastry’, which was made with dried cep powder, this was a multi-layered mushroom feast in miniature – perfectly formed and absolutely delicious.

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Mushroom quiche

We were then escorted upstairs to our table to enjoy the rest of the meal. Chris ordered the accompanying drinks package too, but realising that would probably be more alcohol than I could comfortably appreciate (I have to manage my intake because of medication) I instead asked for advice and selected just a couple of the wines in the package. The advice was good (and also practical, with wines towards the lower end of the £6 - £118 (per glass!) range being proposed, and served in small amounts so that I could sample several.

The full menu was:

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Scallop with Sun Gold Tomatoes
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Raspberry & Elderflower
'ice cream sandwich'

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Monkfish with New Onions
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Potato with Fermented Celeriac

Mushroom Quiche

~o~

Crab and Pea
Beetroot Salad
Sour Bread and Sour Butter
Raw Oldstead Deer
Scallop with Sun Gold Tomatoes

~o~

Monkfish with New Onions and Lemon Verbena
Potato with Fermented Celeriac
Lamb with Courgette and Girolles

~o~

Raspberry and Elderflower
Strawberry and Woodruff
Chicory and Potato
Root Vegetable Toast

But those simple labels don’t really give any idea of the complexity of flavours within each dish. Each was presented with a full explanation of the ingredients, delivered by waiting staff who clearly love their work and the food they serve. The drinks too came with a description, and I know from what Chris told me (and the sips he offered me!) that all went perfectly with the dish they accompanied.

It’s hard to pick out highlights but if I was pressed to do so I would probably pick the mushroom quiche, deer carpaccio, lamb and (surprisingly) the dessert made with chicory and potato, which tasted for all the world as if it were made with vanilla ice cream, salted caramel and coffee!

None of the dishes was large, naturally, so at the end of the meal we felt pleasantly full rather than stuffed. We strolled back up the road to our room in the cottage, with a sky full of stars overhead.

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Kitchen garden views from our breakfast table, and from the car park

After a comfortable night’s sleep, we returned to the pub/restaurant and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of home-made granola, brioche with strawberry conserve and a ‘full English’, at a table with a view of the kitchen garden. Then it was time to check out and set off on the long drive home, but not before resolving to return to the Black Swan one day.

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Cat in the garden

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Sheep grazing nearby

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Swallow on a wire

Posted by ToonSarah 11:28 Archived in England Tagged castles architecture flowers restaurant history ruins views village pubs garden abbey Comments (19)

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