A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about castles

Dodging the showers and dining in style

North Yorkshire

large_P1190011b.jpg
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

P1180992.jpg
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.

large_P1180994.jpg
large_P1180996.jpg
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

P1190004.jpgP1190013.jpg
large_P1190010.jpg
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.

P1190005.jpg
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.

P1190016.jpg
The Ionic Temple

P1190014b.jpg

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.

P1190019.JPG

P1190017.JPG
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

large_P1190036.jpg
In Helmsley Walled Garden

P1190047b.jpg
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.

P1190069b.jpg
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.

large_P1190023.jpg
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.

large_P1190067.jpg
The White Border

large_P1190073.jpg
P1190063.jpgP1190064.jpg
large_P1190081.jpg
P1190055.jpg
In the orchard

P1190049.jpg

P1190050.jpg

P1190052.jpg

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).

large_P1190037.jpg
large_P1190048.jpg
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.

P1190085.jpgP1190086.jpg
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.

P1190088.jpgP1190083b.jpg
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.

large_P1190091.jpg
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.

large_P1190094.jpg
View of the church from the west front

large_P1190105.jpg
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.

P1190104.jpgP1190097.jpg
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.

P1190099.jpg
Medieval tiles

large_P1190111.jpg
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!

large_P1190123.jpg
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.

P1190125.jpg
Our cottage - our room is bottom left

P1190117.jpg
Our bedroom

P1190118.jpg
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.

IMG_20190819_191802.jpg
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:

IMG_20190819_202846.jpg
Scallop with Sun Gold Tomatoes
IMG_20190819_213845.jpg
Raspberry & Elderflower
'ice cream sandwich'

IMG_20190819_204214.jpg
Monkfish with New Onions
IMG_20190819_210146.jpg
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.

P1190127.jpgP1190134.jpg
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.

P1190132.jpg
Cat in the garden

P1190121.jpg
Sheep grazing nearby

P1190138.jpg
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)

On England’s east coast

A visit to Suffolk

large_P1010962.jpg
On the banks of the Deben in Waldringfield

We recently spent a couple of days on the coast of Suffolk in the region of England known as East Anglia, catching up with old friends and enjoying some October sunshine. We visited a few of the coastal towns, staying overnight in one of them, Aldeburgh. Although we weren’t here for long it reminded us of what we like about this county – its shingle beaches, boating communities and big skies.

Woodbridge

We left our home in Ealing just after breakfast, having waited for the worst of the rush hour to pass, and braved the northern stretches of the M25, which wasn’t as bad as it sometimes is. We then took the A12 up past Chelmsford and Colchester, and on towards Ipswich. We were due to meet our friends at a pub in Waldringfield, on the River Deben east of Ipswich, but we were early (having factored in possible hold-ups) so carried on a short distance further to Woodbridge, in search of coffee.

P1010960.jpgP1010959.jpg
Old door, and boat decoration, Woodbridge

Woodbridge also lies on the Deben and is best known for its Tide Mill. We were here many years ago and had vague memories of good views down by the river, so once we’d parked the car we headed in that direction.

large_P1010952.JPG
Woodbridge Tide Mill

The Tide Mill has stood here on the banks of the Deben for over 800 years. The earliest record of a mill on this site dates back to 1170. It was owned by the Augustinian Priors for around 350 years until Henry VIII confiscated it, and for the next 28 years it was in royal ownership before being sold by Elizabeth I and passing to private ownership.

When it closed in 1957 it was the last commercially working tide mill in England. The building was saved in 1968 and restored, before being opened to the public in 1973. It is now one of only two tide mills in the country still producing stone-ground wholemeal flour.

Even if we had had time to visit though we would not have been able to, as in October it opens only at weekends and the school holidays (and not at all from November to March). But our Thursday visit to Woodbridge was serendipitous in another respect, as this turned out to be the only day of the week when the cheerful red Suffolk Coffee Pod visits the town. It was parked down by the tide mill, with several tables and chairs set out on the river bank offering gorgeous views downstream. One table was vacant, the smell of strong espresso hung in the air – we had found our perfect spot!

large_P1010956.jpg
Woodbridge Tide Mill and River Deben
You can see the bright red Coffee Pod in front of the mill!

large_P1010947.jpg
The view from our coffee spot

After finishing our coffee we had a brief stroll along the river before walking back to our car for the short drive back south to Waldringfield.

Waldringfield

Our friends had booked a table for lunch at the Maybush Inn, which like the tide mill in Woodbridge has a lovely location right on the River Deben. We had a leisurely meal in the conservatory overlooking the decking, which was crowded on this exceptionally warm October day, and with views beyond to the river.

P1010961.jpg
On the banks of the Deben in Waldringfield

After lunch we went our separate ways – our friends to their homes on the outskirts of Ipswich and Chris and I driving north again towards Aldeburgh, where we had booked a room for the night.

Aldeburgh

large_P1150766.jpg
large_P1150795.jpg
The beach at Aldeburgh

Unlike Woodbridge, Aldeburgh sits right on the North Sea coast, with a long shingle (pebble) beach typical of this coastline. This beach still has a working fishing fleet – you will see the boats pulled up on the shore and traditional black huts selling fresh fish and shellfish.

P1150759.jpg

P1150773.jpg

P1150761.jpg

P1150776.jpgP1150775.JPG
On the beach at Aldeburgh

In the 16th century this was a leading seaport, with a flourishing ship-building industry. Much of the Tudor town has been lost to the sea but the Moot Hall, dating from 1520, still stands opposite the White Lion Hotel where we stayed. Today it serves as the town museum and houses the Town Clerk’s office. A sign explains that this once stood in the centre of the town but the two streets and four rows of houses to its east have long been washed away.

P1150790.jpg

P1150796.jpg

P1150797.jpg

The Moot Hall
(now a museum)

Having checked into the White Lion we went out again to explore. We took lots of photos on the beach opposite, where another photographer had set up a photo of a chair perched in the pebbles near the water’s edge – I have no idea why but we made use of his staged photo opp nevertheless!

P1150763.jpg
P1150770.jpg
On the beach at Aldeburgh

P1150777.jpg
The Scallop from a distance

We then walked north along the sea front towards the Scallop, a four-metre high stainless steel scallop shell which sits on the shingle. This is the work of renowned local artist, Maggi Hambling, and is a tribute to local composer Benjamin Britten. The shell is pierced with the words, ‘I hear those voices that will not be drowned’, from his opera, Peter Grimes.

Interestingly, the Scallop looks different from different angles – from the distance as we approached it appeared more like a beached whale than a shell.

large_P1150782.jpg
large_P1150783.jpg
large_P1150781.jpg
The Scallop

large_P1150787.JPG
large_P1150785.jpg
Details of the Scallop

We had dinner that evening in the White Lion’s Brasserie Bleu (hotel guests get a 10% discount), preceded by a drink in the bar (excellent local gin, Fishers, by the way). The meal was delicious, especially my locally caught dressed crab.

After a good night’s sleep in our small but cosy room, and a yummy breakfast, we checked out of the White Lion. We took a few more photos on and around the beach near the hotel.

large_P1150793.jpg
Fishing hut

P1150806.jpgP1150804.jpg
Boats on the beach

P1150807.JPGP1150801.jpg
Beach details

P1150810.jpgP1150808.jpg
Old house near the beach, and statue of Snooks the dog

The statue of Snooks is a tribute to a local GP, Dr Robin Acheson, and his wife Nora, also a GP. Snooks, who followed his master as he made his calls and became a familiar sight around the town, got his name because the family ate tinned snook (a sort of fish) from Africa during the Second World War.

We then returned to the car to drive the few miles south to Orford.

Orford

large_P1150828.jpg
View of Orford village from the Quay

Orford sits on the River Alde, which separates the village from Orford Ness, a long shingle spit formed by longshore drift along the coast from places further north – I have already mentioned the erosion at Aldeburgh, and Dunwich to the north has also been badly affected with most of its 13th century buildings, including eight churches now either totally lost to the sea or in ruins because of it. Orford Ness is a protected area and designated National Nature Reserve. It can be visited by ferry but even if we had had the time I don’t think these were operating due to high winds.

large_P1150813.jpg
Orford Quay

large_P1150811.jpg
At Orford Quay

We parked in a ‘pay and display’ car park near Orford Quay which lies just beyond the main part of the village, along the river. Despite the wind, which made it hard to hold the camera still and to keep my hair out of my eyes, there were some more great photo opps here, with distant views of the Orford Ness lighthouse, some battered old boats and views inland towards the village.

large_P1150812.jpg
Orford Ness lighthouse

P1150819.jpg

P1150820.jpg

P1150823.jpg

P1150825.jpg
By the river in Orford

We walked a short distance along the river then returned to the quay where we found welcome refuge from the wind in the Riverside Tearoom, with good espresso and great views from our window table.

P1150827.jpgP1150829.jpg
Orford Castle from the Quay, and fishing hut near the Riverside Tearoom

Returning to the car we drove back up into the village where we were fortunate to find roadside parking. We took a stroll through the village, passing the church which is dedicated to St Bartholomew. The main structure was built in the 14th century, but it was the 12th century chancel ruins attached which caught my eye, and my lens.

P1150835.jpg
large_P1150831.jpg
P1150834.jpgP1150833.jpg
St Bartholomew's church

We didn’t go inside the church but instead continued to the castle keep. Orford Castle was built between 1165 and 1173 by Henry II to consolidate his power in the region, but only the keep still stands, surrounded by the earth-covered works of the outer fortifications.

P1150843.jpgP1150844.jpg
Orford Castle

P1150842.jpgP1150846.jpg
Sign and gatepost at the castle

We decided not to explore the castle fully, nor to linger any longer in Orford, as we knew the roads back to and around London (the dreaded M25!) would be busy on a Friday afternoon. Instead we planned to stop for lunch somewhere further south, to break the journey, and settled on Dedham, just off the A12 on the Suffolk/Essex border.

Dedham

Dedham is a fairly substantial and very attractive village which has given its name to the surrounding countryside on the banks of the River Stour – Dedham Vale. This area is also popularly known as Constable Country, after the famous artist John Constable who captured these landscapes in his work (most famously at Flatford Mill in East Bergholt, the scene of the Haywain). Constable was a pupil at the local grammar school, walking here along the river valley from Flatford Mill which his father, a corn merchant, owned.

P1150850.jpgP1150851.jpg
Building details in Dedham

We parked at the far end of the main street and strolled back, checking out the various hostelries with a view to lunch. We had intended to eat in one of the pubs, but after two good meals yesterday and a cooked breakfast, were not as hungry as we might have been. So when the Essex Rose tea house caught our eye, with its extensive menu of lighter meals, we opted for that and were very happy with our choice – friendly service, good granary bread for the sandwiches and refreshing Tiptree juices.

P1150848.jpgP1150849.jpg
Pub sign, and the Essex Rose

After lunch we visited the church of St. Mary the Virgin opposite the tea rooms. This was built in the latter part of the 15th century, the last medieval 'wool church' (that is, financed through the donations of rich wool merchants and farmers) to be completed in the country.

P1150847.jpg
St. Mary the Virgin, Dedham

P1150853.jpg
Porch detail, St. Mary the Virgin

Today the church was decorated for the harvest festival and featured what must be the best such decorations I have come across. In one corner a whole tableau had been created, with hay cart, fruit and vegetables, and animals (chickens, sheep, hares – none of them real, I should add!)

P1150860.jpgP1150856.jpg
Inside St. Mary the Virgin

P1150861.jpg
large_P1150859.jpg
P1150858.jpg
Harvest Festival time at St. Mary the Virgin

P1150862.jpgP1150855.jpg
'The Ascension' by Constable, and family memorial

Whatever the season the church is still worth a visit. Its most noteworthy feature is a painting by Constable of ‘The Ascension’, which a sign explains is ‘the best of only three religious paintings by John Constable, all of which were painted for churches in his native Stour Valley.’ The sign goes on to tell how the painting was commissioned by a cousin of Constable’s, Edward Alston, in order to gain favour with the Archdeacon of Canterbury who was responsible for licensing public houses – guess what, Alston was a brewer! But the archdeacon refused the license and later died, so Alston reneged on the contract with Constable. This was a considerable financial blow (the commission was worth £200) but he did still finish the painting – although, as the sign points out, the lower half ‘shows less commitment than the upper.’

I was also intrigued by one of the memorials which commemorated not only a local family but also ‘their dear nurse and friend’.

After leaving the church we decided that it was high time we hit the road again, trying to beat the worst of the Friday afternoon traffic around London. We failed! So it was a less than enjoyable drive home, but worth it for the very pleasant time we had spent in Suffolk.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:35 Archived in England Tagged churches art boats castles coast history village river sculpture seaside Comments (15)

Of Weald and Downs

East Sussex and Kent

large_4328229-East_Sussex_beach_England.jpg
The beach near Rye, East Sussex

213966114800403-Garden_of_th..ast_Sussex.jpg
With Paula & Kevin
in a Sussex pub garden

For quintessential English countryside only a stone’s throw from London you could do far worse than visit East Sussex. This lovely county truly has a bit of everything – pretty villages and interesting towns, centuries of history, coastal scenery and rolling downlands.

19d89aa0-9b43-11e8-b9b1-11a5e46c0447.jpg
Alex & Pete's cottage

To the west of the county lie the South Downs, while the east, along the border with Kent, shares with that county the area known as the Weald, a sandstone ridge which separates the chalk landscapes of the North and South Downs.

We have just returned from a lovely weekend visiting friends in this lovely county, prompting me to share some of its delights here. We’re lucky enough to have two sets of friends living here: Alex and Pete have a pretty cottage in Battle (site of the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings) while Paula and Kevin live in the seaside town of Hastings (which despite its name wasn’t the site of that famous battle!) This past weekend we were with the former in Battle and we took advantage of the summer weather to get out and about.

We visited two beautiful spots, Bodiam Castle and Sissinghurst. OK, I’m cheating a bit, as the latter is actually a few miles across the border into the neighbouring county of Kent. But it sits in the same High Weald area as Battle, so I hope I will be forgiven! In this entry I plan to tell you about those outings and in the next will introduce you to some of my other favourite places in East Sussex.

Bodiam Castle

large_P1000837.JPG
Bodiam Castle

There are many castles in England worth visiting, but what makes 14th century Bodiam stand out is its moat. This is the archetypal image of a moated castle. Although ruined it is sufficiently intact to look very impressive when seen from across the moat in particular.

The castle was built by a knight, Sir Edward Dallingridge, and designed to be both an effective defence against the threat of a French invasion (or peasants’ revolt) and an impressive family home that showed off his status and wealth.

large_P1000859.JPG
Bodiam Castle, with northern gatehouse and Barbican ruins in front (left of photo

There are two gatehouses but you can only enter through the one on the north side, in front of which are the ruins of the Barbican. A National Trust volunteer here pointed out the historic graffiti carved into the stone of the gate, which can also be seen on the southern Postern Gate. Some of this was made by soldiers of the Napoleonic period. It used to be thought that they were guarding prisoners of war in the castle, although that has since been disproved – they are more likely to have been simply stationed in the area. One of the inscriptions here is particularly clear – it was made by James Bryan, of the 35th Regiment of Foot, in 1819.

P1000855.JPG
Historic graffiti

But I was more fascinated by the volunteer’s explanation of these more cryptic carvings. They are known as Witches’ Marks, and were typically carved into buildings as a device to prevent witches from entering – the theory was that they would get lost in the maze-like patterns. These particular Witches’ Marks probably date back to around the time of the building of the castle!

P1000856.JPG
Witches' marks

Once inside you will find the various buildings which once stood around the central courtyard are much more ruined than the outside wall. It takes some imagination to visualise the chapel, great hall, living quarters etc., although the informative signs certainly help.

P1000853.JPGP1000854b.jpg
Ruins of Bodiam Castle

P1000849.JPG

Chris up the tower

You can climb the spiral stone steps of the postern tower for views of the surrounding countryside and for a bird’s eye view of the castle’s layout. But the steps are steep and a little worn so I left that to Chris, who went up with our friend Alex while Pete and I remained on the ground, studying more of the graffiti.

d3612d50-9b45-11e8-8886-2554ebb9e7fa.JPG
Chris's photo of me and Pete (and an oblivious stranger!)

P1000843.JPGP1000846.JPG
Historic graffiti

We also looked up at the murder holes through which guards could throw burning oil, rocks, scalding water, tar and other nasty substances on to invading troops, should they storm and enter the castle.

P1000844.JPG
Murder holes

This gate was the entrance for tradespeople but was also probably used as a private entrance for the family and for informal guests – hence the heraldry above the entrance.

P1000832.JPG
Heraldry above the Postern Gate

P1000861.jpg
Eagle owl

As you explore you see signs of Sir Edward’s wealth – a large number of fireplaces (33 – none of them in the servants’ quarters!), the chapel which once had beautiful stained-glass windows, the landscaped setting with water features.

Outside we saw an area set aside for children to try their hands at archery. There was also an eagle owl, one of several birds of prey to be seen at the castle, but owning to unusually hot weather they weren’t having any of their usual flying displays, understandably. So we headed back to the main entrance after our castle explorations to enjoy a much-needed cold drink and relax with a view of the pretty surrounding countryside

Sissinghurst Castle

Despite the name, Sissinghurst is more of a manor house than a castle. The original manor house was built around the end of the 13th / early 14th centuries. Nothing remains of that house apart from some sections of its moat. But in the 16th century a new Renaissance courtyard home was built here by the Baker family, with a new brick gatehouse and comfortable family accommodation.

large_P1000865.JPG
At Sissinghurst Castle

The house was leased to the government during the Seven Years War (1756-63) to be used as a prison camp for 3,000 captured French sailors. It is to them that we owe the ‘castle’ element of the estate’s name – they wrote home to their families, often referring to Sissinghurst as Chateau de Sissinghurst, and the name stuck. Unfortunately, they also destroyed much of the house.

P1000879.JPG
Building detail

P1000875.JPG
Weather vane

What survived was restored by the Mann Cornwallis family (their initials can be seen on the weather vanes which top the towers). This included the Renaissance gatehouse, stable block and several farm cottages.

But Sissinghurst owes much of its present-day fame to the couple who bought it in 1930 – Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. They fell in love with the estate and devoted much of the rest of their lives to creating a home here – restoring some of the buildings and adapting them for their needs, but most significantly, creating the garden that would make Sissinghurst famous. It was Harold who designed the series of separate ‘rooms’ but Vita whose influence is most strongly felt in the planting of these. She felt that plants should not be constrained but instead be allowed to tumble over paths in a more romantic style.

When the National Trust took over the property in 1967, five years after Vita’s death, they tidied up the garden, but more recently they have carried out research into Vita and Harold's original designs and vision for the gardens and are gradually restoring them to recapture these.

Climbing the gatehouse tower

large_bfe7d210-9bef-11e8-995d-218a7c9c5bcd.jpg
Tower gatehouse from the gardens

The first thing we did on arrival was climb the 78 stairs in the gatehouse. This is really worth doing and I was very glad I’d made the effort. On the way up you can stop in a series of rooms, of which the first is by far the most interesting. This is Vita’s writing room and has been left just as it was when she died in 1962. Actually, you can’t go in the room, only look from the doorway, as many of the books and other objects are fragile, but that is enough to give you a strong sense of the character of the room.

P1000866.jpg
Vita's writing room
Forgive the quality, it's a dark room and I didn't like to use flash

Further up in the tower you can see some of the graffiti left by those French sailors, and also, as you climb, see collections of coloured glassware and this little stained-glass monk in one of the windows.

P1000877.JPG P1000867.JPG

Stained glass in the tower, and historic graffiti

Once you reach the top the views make the climb worthwhile. As one of the staff had told us, you see no modern-day buildings at all, so these are the same views generations of previous inhabitants will have enjoyed.

large_P1000871.JPG
View from the tower

Looking down, closer to the tower, you can really appreciate the overall layout of the gardens and features of the estate in a way you can’t possibly do when on the ground. The series of rooms into which the garden is divided is clearly seen from here, and the various small buildings dotted around. Unusually Harold and Vita chose to make their home in several of these – they slept in the South Cottage, where Vita also had a flower room and Harold his book room (where he wrote); their two sons had bedrooms in the Priest’s House, which also held the kitchen; Vita wrote in the tower, in the room I have already described; and the library, also used for hosting visitors, was (and still is) in the former stable block opposite the tower. I found it hard to imagine living like this, until I realised that the garden is also part of the ‘house’ and walking through it from room to room would have been an almost hourly pleasure for the family.

P1000873.JPG
The White Garden from the tower

P1000869.JPG
View of the orchard from the tower

The library

Descending the tower we crossed to the nearby library which houses the couple’s extensive collection of 20th century books. Here we found a helpful volunteer happy to answer our questions about the furnishings and fittings, including the large painting of one of Vita’s ancestors, Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset (1536-1608) being presented with petitions by his secretary, and a simpler work by one of the imprisoned French sailors depicting the Sissinghurst of his time.

large_P1000887.JPG
In the library

Exploring the gardens

We went to an introductory talk about the history of Sissinghurst, from which I have drawn some of the info above, and took a break for refreshments in the café, then started our explorations of the gardens. It has to be said that these weren’t at their best and I would love to return to see them perhaps earlier in the year (June would be great for the roses). Our dry hot summer has also hit some of the plants quite hard, but there was still plenty to enjoy.

large_P1000912.JPG
The gardens

The dahlias were looking pretty good, the White Garden had enough in bloom to be very pretty indeed, and elsewhere the borders held much of interest. Here is a selection of my best photos taken as we strolled around.

P1000922.JPGP1000936.JPG
In the gardens of Sissinghurst

large_P1000914.JPG
The White Garden

P1000908.JPGP1000919.JPG

P1000907.JPG

P1000932.JPG

P1000894.JPG

P1000920.JPG
In the White Garden

P1000880.JPG

P1000942.JPG

P1000945.JPG
Dahlias

P1000902.JPGP1000910.JPG

large_P1000930.JPG
Some of the other flowers

It was a hot day, however, so we decided against a longer walk in the fields around the garden, and instead settled for excellent ice creams eaten in the shade of the Elizabethan barn. We checked out the shop where there was a sale on (but didn’t buy anything), and also the separate plant sale (ditto), before heading home, resolving to come again soon.

I'll finish with a few photos of some of the buildings on the estate - and one more of the gardens!

P1000898.JPGP1000946.JPG
In the gardens, and the stable block

large_P1000951.JPG
The old stable block

large_P1000889.JPG
Old cottage

Posted by ToonSarah 12:09 Archived in England Tagged landscapes buildings castles architecture flowers history views garden Comments (12)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]