A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about garden

Autumn colours and fungi

Emmetts Garden, Kent

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In the Rock Garden

A few days ago we paid a first visit to this fairly small National Trust run garden just off the M25 to the south of London. And what a delight it was!

The garden was developed in Edwardian times by Frederic Lubbock, a keen plantsman. He collected many exotic and rare trees and shrubs from across the world. Under the National Trust’s ownership it is gradually being restored to its former glory but is already a fabulous spot for a walk and for photography.

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View from near the entrance

There are wonderful views over the Kent Weald (this is one of the highest spots in the county) and a network of trails through the wooded slopes, in addition to the formal gardens. These include a Rock Garden, at its best in autumn when the acers glow red and orange; a Rose Garden; and planned areas of shrub planting to show off the more exotic specimens in a semi-natural setting.

Let me take you on a walk through the garden …

The Rock Garden

This was where we saw the most vivid colours as there is a great collection of Acers (Japanese Maple). There were also still some flowers in this sheltered spot.

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In the Rock Garden

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Acer in the Rock Garden

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In the Rock Garden

The North Garden

They are currently restoring this area to look more like Frederic Lubbock's original design, making more of the small pond at its centre. This is the highest part of the garden.

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The North Garden

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In the North Garden

Woodland Walk

Steps led us down to a path strewn with fallen leaves and prickly sweet chestnut cases. There were lots of fungi to spot among the trees, some of them tiny!

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On the Woodland Walk

The path led us to a viewpoint at the lowest point on the walk.

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View from Emmetts Garden

The South Garden

This is more open, with lawns dotted with trees, many of them vibrant at this time of year.

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Autumn colour in the South Garden

There were some interesting specimen trees, all labelled, and a white rhododendron having a late flush.

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Prickly heath bush from Argentina

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Rhododendron in the South Garden

While autumn is recommended as a special time to visit, I’m told by a friend that the woods are also stunning in the spring when the bluebells are flowering - and of course the Rose Garden would be at its best in the summer months. We will have to return ...

Posted by ToonSarah 03:30 Archived in England Tagged trees flowers colour garden autumn Comments (16)

England’s smallest cathedral city

Wells

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Wells Cathedral and Cathedral Green

We recently spent a few days in the Somerset city of Wells, often described as England’s smallest city. In fact, the City of London is smaller, but doesn’t feel like it, surrounded as it is by all the rest of Greater London!

Wells gets its name from the three wells found here – two in the Bishop’s Palace gardens and one in the market place. Thanks to them the Romans settled here, and after them the Anglo-Saxons. King Ine of Wessex founded a minster church here in 704. Two hundred years later it became the seat of the diocesan bishop, until in 1090 the bishopric was moved to Bath. Arguments ensued between the canons of Wells and the monks of Bath until 1245 when Pope Innocent V resolved the dispute by creating the Diocese of Bath and Wells. The cathedral was built around the same time, cementing Wells’ role as the principal seat of the diocese.

The main sights in the city all centre on its role as the bishop’s seat – the cathedral itself, the cathedral green and nearby Vicars’ Close, and the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens. These all lie within a walled precinct known as the Liberty of St Andrew.

Wells Cathedral

The cathedral is dedicated to St Andrew, as are the city’s three wells. Parts date back to the 10th century but most of it was built during the 13th. As it was never a monastic cathedral it survived the Dissolution of Henry VIII and the Reformation intact. It has been called Europe's first truly Gothic structure.

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The West Front, Wells Cathedral

The west front is broad and is said to have one of the most impressive collections of medieval sculpture in the western world. Almost 300 of the original 400 statues remain. According to the cathedral website, ‘They appear quite differently today to how they looked in the Middle Ages, when much of the Cathedral was painted inside and out in bright colours’. I think I prefer them like this, in the soft yellow local limestone.

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Two of the many statues

Inside, the fan vaulted ceiling is attractively painted, and the central tower supported by striking ‘scissor’ arches. These were added in the mid 14th century to prevent the tower from collapsing. This 1313 addition to the cathedral had been too much for the foundations, causing large cracks to appear in the tower’s structure. This elegant solution to the problem has become one of the building’s most beautiful features.

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The interior, with the famous scissor arches

There is some wonderful stained glass, most famously in the so-called Jesse Window. This dates from 1340-45 and depicts the Tree of Jesse (the family and ancestors of Christ), with the Nativity at its centre. Again from the cathedral website: ‘Dating from about 1340, it is still remarkably intact – it narrowly escaped destruction during the English Civil War and was protected during the Blitz of World War Two – so what we see today is much as the medieval glaziers designed it and as our ancestors viewed it before us.’ Unfortunately, COVID restrictions on access to the smaller areas of the cathedral meant that we were only able to peer at this through a screen at the far end of the choir, but we got some idea from there of its artistry and level of detail.

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The Jesse Window

The Chapter House was also off-limits, but there was plenty to see in the main cathedral building, including the astronomical clock in the north transept - the second oldest surviving clock in England after the one in Salisbury Cathedral. It dates from about 1325 and still has its original medieval face, although the mechanism was replaced in the 19th century with the original being moved to the Science Museum in London, where it still operates. In addition to showing the time on a 24-hour dial, its innermost circle shows the days of the lunar month and the phases of the moon. The astronomical dial presents a pre-Copernican view, with the sun and moon revolving round a central fixed earth.

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Astronomical clock, and one of the Stations of the Cross

I also liked the Stations of the Cross with colours that reminded me of Orthodox icons.

We followed a set route around the building, marked out on the floor to ensure social distancing – a necessary evil at the time of our visit. This led us to explore the tranquil Camery garden, laid out to the east of the cloisters on the site of the 15th century Lady Chapel of which only the foundation stones remain. The rest was dismantled during the 16th century so that timber and lead could be sold to provide much-needed funds to the cathedral. There were some good views of the cathedral tower to be had from here and some pretty late summer flowers to photograph.

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In the Camery Garden

We finished our tour by following the marked route, the ‘Pilgrim’s Footsteps’, around the cloisters. These date mainly from the 15th century and have been quite recently restored. The walls display monuments to illustrious locals, and/or those wealthy enough to afford an ornate cathedral memorial. My eye was caught by one in particular, to a soldier who served under a ‘Great General’ (I assume Wellington) and died in the Battle of Waterloo. Also commemorated is a young boy of the same family who was only five when he died and yet ‘had strong religious impressions’ – not something I feel would be said of today’s five year olds!

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In the cloisters

Vicars’ Close

Just to the north of the cathedral, still within the precinct of the Liberty of St Andrew, is a short street known as Vicars’ Close. Its houses were built in the 14th and early 15th centuries as homes for the group of priests who served in the cathedral, the Vicars Choral. This is said to be the oldest purely residential street in Europe to have its original buildings surviving intact. Unusually it was built with a deliberate narrowing towards the end furthest from the cathedral, to make it look longer than it is (and of course viewed from that far end it looks shorter). There were originally 22 houses on the east side and 20 on the west, but after the Reformation, when clerics were permitted to marry and households consequently became larger, some of the houses were knocked together and there are now 27 in total.

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Vicars' Close

At the north end of the street is the Vicars’ Chapel and Library, while at the south end, as you enter from the cathedral side, is an arched gate cut into the Vicars’ Hall. On the cathedral wall opposite the latter is a second clock face of the cathedral’s famous astronomical clock, driven by the same mechanism.

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Clock on the exterior of the cathedral, and detail on one of the houses in Vicars' Close

The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens

The Bishop’s Palace lies on the south side of the cathedral. It has been the home of the Bishops of the Diocese of Bath and Wells for 800 years and is a Grade I listed building. It is surrounded by a wall and moat intended to provide a defence if needed, although in practice it was never called into use for that purpose. However, the moat also serves to channel the water from the two wells in the grounds (which give the city its name).

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Moat around the Bishop's Palace

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By/in the moat

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The defensive wall from one of the towers

The main part of the palace was built in the 13th century, with additions in the 14th and 15th. Today the great hall is in ruins, and part of the rest of the structure still in use as the bishop’s house, but you can visit some of the rooms in the palace, where displays cover the history of the building and the bishopric. There is also a chapel, but that was closed for restoration when we visited.

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The ruined Great Hall

In any case we were more interested in touring the beautiful gardens, especially as it was a lovely late September afternoon. The area around the great hall is laid out as lawns, including a croquet lawn. Elsewhere there are pretty flower beds surrounding one of the main features, the pools formed by the springs themselves. From here there are lovely views of the cathedral.

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Wells Cathedral from the Bishop's Garden

Nearby is a 15th century well house. A sign explains that in 1451 the then bishop, Bishop Beckynton, granted the town a supply of water from the wells within his garden. A cistern inside the well house collected water which was forced through pipes to the outlet in the marketplace. From here the water ran down gutters at the side of many of the streets, washing away blood and offal from the butchers’ shops. You can still see the water flowing in these gutters as you walk around the city, although I believe today’s butchers are no longer in the habit of using it to dispose of their waste! On the roof of the well house is a statue of the bishop’s favourite hunting dog.

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Dog statue on the well house

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Michaelmas daisies and butterfly

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Seed-head

Gates to the Liberty of St Andrew

There are three ancient entrances to the precinct – the Penniless Porch, The Bishop's Eye and Brown's Gatehouse, which were all built around 1450. The first of these leads to the cathedral green from the market place and is so-called because beggars used to wait there to ask for alms from those attending services.

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The Penniless Porch

The Bishop’s Eye also leads from the market place but towards the Bishop’s Palace. Brown’s Gatehouse lies to the north of these on Sadler Street and has been incorporated into a hotel, The Ancient Gatehouse. We ate dinner in their Italian restaurant one evening and afterwards I took some night shots of the cathedral from just inside the gatehouse.

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Wells Cathedral at night

Posted by ToonSarah 06:19 Archived in England Tagged buildings streets architecture england history houses garden cathedral Comments (13)

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)

Britain’s first Christian martyr

St Albans

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The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban, from the Vintry Garden

Saint Alban, or Saint Albanus in the Latin form, is generally considered to have been Britain’s first Christian martyr. He is traditionally believed to have been beheaded in the Roman city of Verulamium to the north of Londinium (modern-day St Albans) sometime during the 3rd or 4th century, and the city’s abbey church is home to his shrine and has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries.

While the date and place of his martyrdom, and the exact circumstances, are both subjects for considerable debate, there seems to be little doubt that he did have some connection to the city which now bears his name.

On a practical note, St Albans makes for an easy and enjoyable day out from London, being less than 20 minutes by train from St Pancras Station. I visited a friend there recently and we enjoyed a little photography walk around the abbey and surrounding streets.

The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban

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The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban

The cathedral and abbey church of St Alban, to give it its full name, is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain. It stands on the spot where the saint is believed to have been buried after being executed for his faith.

The details of his martyrdom are as I mentioned rather hazy, with several conflicting accounts (for example, giving either Verulamium or Londinium as the location) so I will reproduce here that given on the abbey’s own website:

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Shrine of St Alban

‘Alban is believed to have been a Romano-British citizen of the third century in the Roman city of Verulamium, in the valley below the present Cathedral. The earliest versions of his history say that he gave shelter to a stranger fleeing from persecution. This was a Christian priest, originally un-named but later called Amphibalus in the re-telling of the story. Alban was so moved by the priest’s faith and courage that he asked to be taught more about Christianity, then still a forbidden religion.

Before long the authorities came to arrest the fugitive priest. But Alban, inspired by his new-found faith, exchanged clothes with Amphibalus, allowing him to escape. Instead Alban was arrested and brought before the city magistrate. Alban refused to sacrifice to the emperor and the Roman gods. When asked to identify himself he declared: ‘I am called Alban and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things’.

The magistrate ordered that Alban should receive the punishment due to the priest. He was brought out of the town and up the hillside to the site of execution where he was beheaded. Despite escaping, Amphibalus too was later arrested and martyred at Redbourn, a few miles away. Alban was probably buried in the Roman cemetery now located by modern archaeological digs to the south of the present Cathedral. Alban is honoured as the first British martyr, and his grave on this hillside quickly became a place of pilgrimage.’

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Carving by the door we used

When we visited the abbey was undergoing some major building work, the construction of a new welcome centre, which meant that some entrances were inaccessible and others, including the one we used, partially obscured by hoardings.

Once inside however, any building work was hidden from sight and we could wander around freely. And I mean freely – unlike some other English cathedrals admission here is free, and they even offer free tours, although of course donations are welcome. The suggested £5 is reasonable, given the historical significance of the building and its sights.

While I didn’t find this the most attractive of cathedrals either outside (it is rather squat and solid) or in, I did delight in the wealth of detail I found here:

The shrine and chapel of St Alban

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The shrine of St Alban

St Alban’s shrine is the most significant feature of the abbey church. The base, dating from 1308, is of Purbeck marble and supports a modern red and gold canopy under which rests a shoulder-blade said to come from the original relics of the saint’s body. The canopy is embroidered with English wildflowers, commemorating Bede’s description of Alban going to his execution up a hill ‘adorned with wild flowers of every kind.’

The shrine is housed in a small chapel behind the choir, with carvings of saints, including John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary, looking down on him.

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Statues of John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary

On one side of the chapel is the medieval wooden watching loft, the only surviving example of one in the country. It dates from around 1400 and is decorated with carvings of what seemed to me to be small angels, although they are very worn. From here the monks and local people would keep watch over the shrine.

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The watching loft

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Detail of carving on the watching loft

The shrine of St Amphibalus

On the other side of the watching loft is another stone shrine, in a rather poor condition (and badly repaired at some point in the past, it seems). This is the shrine of St Amphibalus, the Christian priest to whom Alban gave shelter. Its poor condition can be explained by the fact that after the Reformation and Dissolution the Lady Chapel at the east end of the abbey church had been used as a school, and separated from the rest of the building by a wall built in part from the stone of this shrine and also St Alban’s.

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The shrine of St Amphibalus - detail

While the latter has been restored, this one is awaiting attention. A sign nearby explains that it is hoped that soon it will be possible to carry out a more sympathetic restoration.

The North Transept

From St Amphibalus’s shrine we came next to the North Transept which has this magnificent rose window with modern stained glass. The latter was added in 1989 and unveiled by Diana, Princess of Wales.

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The rose window

When we were there the North Transept was displaying a mosaic replica of the Bayeux Tapestry made from 3 million tiny pieces of steel left over from industrial textile manufacturing. The mosaic is 64 metres long and very intricate – a real labour of love by artist Michael Linton, who took 33 years to complete the work.

The High Altar Screen

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The High Altar Screen

The backdrop to the choir is the ornate High Altar Screen. This was restored in the late 19th century and Harry Hems of Exeter was commissioned to carve and replace the statues in 1899 – the originals having been destroyed at the Reformation.

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Details of the screen

The figures include one of the most famous of the abbey’s former monks, Nicholas Breakspear. In 1154 Nicholas became Pope Adrian IV, the only English pope.

The South Transept

I found various intriguing details in and around the South Transept, which is largely given over to the inevitable gift shop and an information desk. High on the wall I spotted this green-winged angel looking down on the bustle below. The cathedral has one of the oldest and most extensive series of medieval wall paintings surviving today, ranging from the late 12th century to the 16th century, and this is no doubt an example of these although there was no sign to tell me its exact date.

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Wall painting

Nearby I spotted the Maynard family vault. These were clearly both affluent and influential, judging by the size and ornamentation of the vault. Researching a bit later, I found that John Maynard was the local MP in 1553 and 1554. This ornate plaque commemorates his son, Raffe, as well as Raffe’s wife and his mother (John’s wife). I liked the slightly doggerel style of the poems that describe the three, but especially the women who were it seems paragons of virtue:

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Maynard family vault

‘Heere lyes intombed a woman worthie fame:
Whose virtuous life gives honor to her name:
Few were her years, she died in her prime,
Yet in the worlde fulfilled she much tyme:
Which virtuously she spent providinge still
The hungry bellies of the poore to fill:
Unto the God of heaven thrise every day,
With great devotion saint-like did she pray …’

And:

‘Lo here intombed lyes a widowe worthie prayse:
Who in the feare of God devoutly spent her days:
With charytable almes relevinge still the poore,
For empty handed none departed from her doore.
A mirror in her tyme for virtues of her minde:
A matron for her years, the like is hard to finde:
Beloved bewayled of all in life and death was she:
An honor to her sex as any of her degree …’

We didn’t walk the full length of the cathedral, thrown off our route a little by the detours necessitated by the building work. I will have to go back, as the nave is the longest in England (at 85 metres) and is separated from the choir by another screen which has very recently (2015) been augmented by the addition of seven statues of martyrs, including St Alban and St Amphibalus, and looks well worth seeing.

To finish our visit for now, here is a selection of other details I spotted, and liked, in the abbey:

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Inscription on a wall in the South Transept, and another part of the Maynard vault

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I have no idea who these represent, but I liked them!

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Stained glass window, and candle holder

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Carving detail

Near the cathedral

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In the Vintry Garden -
grapevine

There are some pleasant green spaces in the vicinity of the cathedral, including the Vintry Garden. The name of Vintry has been used for this area since the 14th century and is said to derive from the abbey vineyards – grapes are grown against the brick wall as a reminder of those times. For many years though this area was used as the monks’ graveyard. After the Dissolution in 1539 much of the land belonging to the abbey was sold off and this garden became the property of one of the houses on the nearby High Street (then Market Street). For much of the 20th century that building housed Barclays Bank but in 1974 the local council negotiated a lease for the land. Excavations revealed not only the monks’ graveyard but also the 19th century layout of the garden, which has largely been replicated in today’s version. There are pretty views of the cathedral from here (both my photos at the top of this page were taken in the garden)

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The Verdun Tree

Not far away is the Verdun Tree, a chestnut grown from a conker which came from one of the last trees left standing after the First World War Battle of Verdun. This tree was planted here in 1976 to mark the 60th anniversary of the battle. The descriptive sign next to it tells the story of the battle and also points out, interestingly, that ‘a horse chestnut is in fact in many ways appropriate to mark a battle, as the starch from its conkers is an essential component of cordite – unlike gunpowder, an almost smokeless explosive.’

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On the Verdun Tree

Clock Tower

After our visit to the cathedral we walked past the medieval clock tower, built between 1403 and 1412. A sign on the wall explains that it has a large curfew bell dating from 1335.

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Clock Tower and its doorway

The same sign points out a few historic details about this old part of the town. The Dauphin’s troops were stationed here in 1216 (hence the name of one of the streets, French Row). And King John of France was detained in the nearby Fleur de Lys inn in 1356. Anther sign on the tower marks the former Eleanor Cross that stood near here. This was one of a chain of crosses (the most famous is at Charing Cross in London) that were erected by her husband King Edward I to mark the resting places of the body of Queen Eleanor as she was brought from her place of death, Harby in modern-day Lincolnshire, to be buried at Westminster Abbey.

The Museum and Gallery

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Busker on Market Street

We had a walk through the market where my friend bought some fruit and I avoided buying a bracelet! By now we were well into the afternoon but before I headed back to London (refreshed by a cup of coffee and a chat at her home near the station) there was time to pop into the newly opened museum and gallery in the restored Town Hall.

We saw the beautiful Assembly Room on the first floor where in the past dances would have taken place, now to be used again for civic functions. On the ground floor the old courtroom has been turned into a café, and some of the cells beneath it are now toilets!

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In the museum - staircase and assembly room chandelier

We didn’t have time to properly look at the exhibits, nor was there time on this visit to St Albans to explore the Roman theatre and hypocaust (underfloor heating system) on the outskirts of town. I remember visiting these as a child however, so am keen to go back one day soon to see them again.

So watch this space ...!

Posted by ToonSarah 01:25 Archived in England Tagged shrines architecture history church museum garden cathedral Comments (9)

A very English county

East Sussex

In my previous entry I described our recent visit to East Sussex (and a bit of Kent). Here are some of the other places we have visited and enjoyed in the past:

Seven Sisters and Seaford Head

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Seven Sisters

One of the loveliest spots from which to view southern England’s classic chalk cliff scenery is here at Seven Sisters. They take their name, logically, from their number, and the line of seven white cliffs, especially when gleaming in the summer sun, is truly quite striking – and very photogenic.

The cliffs are the remnants of dry valleys in the chalky South Downs, which are gradually being eroded by the sea, creating this wave effect. As the Seven Sisters Country Park website explains,

‘The cliffs are receding at about 30-40cm each year on average. The process is intermittent with major falls occurring after heavy rain or rough seas, often two of three times per year. Where these falls occur they protect the base of the cliffs from the sea and usually there are no falls in the same places for eight or nine years until the sea undercuts the cliffs again.’

(The same web page, by the way, also has a nice diagram showing the contours of the cliffs and the individual names of each).

These views are only accessible on foot, although you can get fairly close by car, as this map shows: How to see the Seven Sisters. We have in the past followed two different routes. Firstly, parking near the Visitor Centre on the A259 (for which there is a charge) and walking along the lovely Cuckmere Valley for about three miles to the beach below the cliffs, Cuckmere Haven. From here you need to climb the hill to your right if you want to get the classic view in my photo above. You can also get a bus from Eastbourne, Seaford or Brighton to the park entrance.

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Seven Sisters from Seaford Head

Alternatively you can drive via Seaford to Seaford Head, where a free car park gives you access to several walking trails across the cliffs leading to the same hill-top view, from where you can descend to the beach for a closer look.

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The path down to the beach

Once there you can of course enjoy the views, but it’s also worth taking a closer look at your immediate surroundings. Wild flowers abound on these chalky cliffs (but please don’t pick them), there are shells and pebbles to pick over on the beach, rock-pools to explore for shrimp and other small sea creatures, and sea-birds galore.

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Seven Sisters from the beach, and in the Cuckmere Valley

Battle Abbey

At the eastern end of Battle High Street is Battle Abbey. This abbey, much of it now in ruins, was built by William the Conquerer to commemorate the thousands who died in the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings – which, despite its name, took place here.

The main attraction here is the opportunity to walk around the battlefield and learn about the events that shaped English history. That may sound dull, especially as an initial view of the area shows nothing more than a slightly muddy field, but the excellent audio tour populates the field in your imagination with soldiers and other significant players. When you first put on your headphones you are invited to choose a character to follow through the events of that day – a great way of bringing history to life. I chose one of the women who followed the soldiers and cared for the wounded, which gave me a very different perspective on the battle.

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Battle Abbey, evening light

There is also a small museum devoted to the history of the abbey, with various artefacts found during excavations. Nearby you can see the spot where King Harold is said to have died. You can’t go in the re-built abbey itself however as that is now a private school.

Bateman's

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Roses above the door

This lovely Jacobean house was once the home of the author Rudyard Kipling (from 1902 to 1936). It has been left just as it was when he lived there, decorated in his exotic oriental tastes. If like me you like to see where well-known books were written, you’ll like the study with his collection of books (many unsurprisingly from India) and the original illustrations for The Jungle Book, drawn by the Detmold brothers, which are displayed here.

Outside are pretty gardens to explore, with traditional roses and a lovely lily pond. This garden was laid out according to Kipling’s own design, which still hangs in his study. They run down to the River Dudwell with its working watermill, dating from c. 1750. You can also see Kipling's 1928 Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce in the garage here.

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The lily pond

Carr Taylor Vineyard

England may not be well-known as a wine-producing country but for some years now pioneers have been establishing vineyards in the southern counties and trying to change that image. At first their attempts were laughed at and their wines dismissed as sub-standard, but increasingly both the casual drinker and the wine connoisseur have come to take their efforts and their results much more seriously. Indeed some of the wines produced here have won awards in international wine competitions.

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Carr Taylor Vineyard
(early in the growing season!)

This site was first planted as a vineyard in 1971 and consists of 37 acres of land which slope gently towards the southeast, creating the perfect micro-climate in which to grow grapes. The owners claim to produce ‘a truly English style of wine which is crisp, aromatic, fresh and fruity’. Certainly we were impressed by those we tasted when we visited.

As well as tasting and shopping for wine (and a whole host of wine-related products) you can follow a trail around the vineyard, where signs along the way give information about the grape varieties grown there and how they are cultivated. All this is on a very small scale compared to in major wine-producing countries but is a novelty here in England.

Pashley Manor Gardens

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Pashley Manor - the house

Pashley Manor is a beautiful Tudor Manor House, although only its gardens are open to the public. But these are well worth a visit, and a walk around them will easily occupy an hour or two.

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Flowers at Pashley Manor

Nearest to the house, are several well planted formal gardens with beautifully planted borders. There is even a vegetable garden that looks more attractive than many flower gardens!

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The vegetable garden

Interspersed with the planting, and on the lush green lawns, are a number of sculptures by various artists, all of them for sale (no, I didn’t ask the price!) One section here holds a lovely swimming pool which would be so tempting on a hot summer’s day. The plants in the borders are labelled, so it’s easy to identify ones you might want to try at home, and there are also helpful gardeners working here and there, willing to stop what they’re doing and chat about the plants.

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One of the borders

Beyond these more formal gardens you come to a landscaped area with a woodland walk and a small lake. Everything is very photogenic, with carefully planned views. When we visited, though, I did have a small mishap with my camera, when a black swan on the lake attacked my camera when I was taking his photo and left a small dent in the bodywork with his bill!

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Beautiful but aggressive!

There is also a lovely café here and a small shop selling good-quality gifts and a small range of plants. Alternatively, there are picnic tables in the field where you park, although picnicking isn’t allowed in the gardens themselves.

Church of St George, Brede

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Church of St George, Brede

The small village of Brede lies about five miles (eight km) north west of Hastings. We stopped here for a drink at the village pub, and sitting outside our eyes were drawn to the attractive old church on the other side of the road, so when we had finished our drinks we crossed over for a closer look. It was the church of St George, originally Norman but with considerable additions over the centuries. It sits in a picturesque churchyard with wonderful views on one side over the Brede River Valley. We spent some time strolling around looking at the old gravestones and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. I found lots of details that appealed to the photographer in me.

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Fallen angel in the graveyard

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Lichen on an old tombstone

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View from the churchyard

Inside, the church retains some of its Norman features, including a window (at the west end of the north aisle) and the pillars of the south arcade. It is worth a quick look, but for me it was the exterior and churchyard that made this such a lovely spot.

De La Warr Pavilion

Bexhill-on-Sea is a quieter seaside resort than Hastings, best known for the De La Warr Pavilion on the seafront. It was built in the 1930s, the result of an architectural competition, in the Modernist style of that era. The architects, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, were leading lights in the Modern Movement. The project was initiated by the 9th Earl De La Warr, then Mayor of Bexhill – hence the name. His vision was of a public building that would put Bexhill on the map, culturally speaking. When he opened the new building, he described it as:

‘a modernist building of world renown that will become a crucible for creating a new model of cultural provision in an English seaside town which is going to lead to the growth, prosperity and the greater culture of our town.’

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Staircase in the De La Warr Pavilion

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Staircase lighting

After some damage during the Second World War, and subsequent deterioration of the building, it was restored in the early 2000s and reopened as a contemporary arts centre, with one of the largest galleries on the south coast of England.

If you are interested in 20th century architecture this is a must visit. Its elegant lines epitomise the Modernist style at its best, in my opinion. Whether or not the current exhibitions are to your taste (they change regularly) do go inside to admire the staircase in particular.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this wander through some of the sights of East Sussex. There is lots more to see and do in this lovely county, and as I said, we visit quite often, so I will add another page to this blog when we’ve made some new discoveries.

But meanwhile I need to introduce you to Hastings, the town we visit most often …

Posted by ToonSarah 10:45 Archived in England Tagged landscapes architecture flowers coast history views church vineyard garden wine author Comments (7)

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