Friday, 24 September 2010

Stourhead, Charmouth, and some boats in Bristol Docks.

The last of my holiday ramblings.

Lying in secluded privacy in its own valley, Stourhead features one of the world's finest 18th-century landscape gardens. A magnificent lake is central to the design, and there are classical temples, enchanting grottos and rare and exotic trees. A majestic Palladian mansion housing a unique Regency library with fabulous collections of Chippendale furniture and paintings.

I came across this artist in residence who had been at Stourhead for weeks sketching and painting the views. He was working on a tree, to his right, but, although happy to talk, he wasn't giving away any of his secrets!

Mick Abbott is a full time artist, dividing his time between Cambridge, Brittany and New York.  He has a fascination and fondness for gardens.

Some views across the man-made lake to a folly on the distant slope, and some snapshots of the grotto.

The estate workers' cottages.

A view across the lake from the grotto, and inside the grotto.

I think this was supposed to be Neptune. There's a close up of the rock ceiling above.

Lots of trees of course; I loved the trunk on this one, all twisted ... make a fabulous drawing.

We ended our short break with a delightful paddle in the sea at Charmouth.  It was so wonderful to hear the sea and feel the cold water on one's toes; I can't tell you how happy it made me!

The beach is an famous place to hunt for fossils.



 And then a cup of coffee, a packet of biscuits and a warm blanket!

And a quick look at Bristol and some boats before home.

The SS Great Britain.
SS Great Britain was a passenger steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for transatlantic service between Bristol and New York. It was the first ship to be built of iron and have a screw propeller.

I remember her coming home to Bristol in 1970 and seeing her towed down the estuary to dry dock. It was where she was built and has now been turned into the most beautiful vessel.

She was launched in 1843 and was by far the biggest vessel afloat but she was expensive and was forced out of business in 1843 and left standed. She was sold for salvage and then carried thousands of immigrants to Australia until converted to sail in 1881.

She was then retired to the Falkland Islands where she was used as a warehouse and coal hulk and was scuttled in 1937.

......and The Matthew

(for DD2 and Talk Like A Pirate day.)

Over 500 years ago John Cabot and his crew set sail for Asia aboard the original Matthew hoping to trade goods and commodities with the people who lived there.

However, he finally arrived on the coast of Newfoundland and therefore was the original discoverer of America, not Christopher Columbus as most people are led to believe. (Mind you, I think there may be even earlier claims, but I haven't the energy to go and look this up at the moment!)

We had a quick look around The Matthew But our visit was cut short as the crew were waiting to take a lot of pirates on board for a cruise and fish and chip supper. It was someone's birthday, and was also Talk Like A Pirate Day. Unfortunately Johnny Depp was nowhere to be seen.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

I risk scaffolding to get a bird's eye view of Tyntesfield

When I was small, I used to be driven to Bristol past the longest unbroken hedge in England. (It isn't anymore btw) and told that behind the hedge lived a man who was strange and rich. Strange, (and this was my father's description, not mine!) because he was supposedly gay though kept quiet about it, possibly because it was still illegal at the time, and, rich because his family made a fortune out of guana (mounds of fertilizer to you and me).

Lord Wraxall died in 2001 without issue, and the mysterious house behind the hedge came up for sale. It was bought by the National Trust, who just managed to pip Kylie Minogue to the post, and restoration of one of the most interesting Victorian country houses began.

I've been to a lot of National Trust houses, but this one is by far the most fascinating. It is in a very poor state of repair at the moment, but is being renovated throughout, and, because in some of the rooms  there's no electric yet, the rooms are very dark. Some of the photos didn't come out well, but here's some for what they're worth.

Left: the library, used as a drawing room.

Left: the ladies sitting room and right, the library again.

Wonderful wood panelling throughout

 Looking from the staircase to the hall.

And finally, we were asked if we would like to climb the scaffolding to see the roof where repairs were ongoing. You have to be reasonably fit and not in the least bit drunk. Here's what I saw...

I was feeling a bit wobbly at this stage as the scaffolding was beginning to sway.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

I go in search of Jane Austen's Lyme Regis

A long post for which I apologise!

The museum at Lyme, and a distant view from the beach near the museum to the Cobb.

You've probably realized that I'm a bit of a Jane Austen fan.  I also like Lyme Regis, so combine the two and I have a heavenly day out.

I decided to walk around the town and see if there was anything remaining in the way of buildings or information, that would help me see Lyme as Jane had when she visited in 1803 and 1804.  Apparently, she was very fond of the town; she talked about walking, bathing, dancing and people watching in a letter of the time. Her warm descriptions of the place also surface in her novel, Persuasion.

Above is the bottom of the main street through the town, leading down to the sea. To the right of the building on it's own in the middle, is Pyne house where she initially stayed with her family. She later moved to cheaper accommodation further up the street when some of the family moved on. In a letter dated 14th September 1804, she talks about Lyme to her sister Cassandra, and says

"we are quite settled in our Lodgings by this time, as you may suppose, and everything goes on in the usual order. The servants behave very well and make no difficulties, tho' nothing certainly can exceed the inconvenience of the Offices, except the general Dirtiness of the House and furniture, and all it's Inhabitants"

A small pamphlet  of which there is an extract below, also mentions that the town has:

"The excellence of Provisions in this part of England is not exceeded, and at more moderate prices than elsewhere. - Fish is abundant, and the supply regular; especially Turbot, Brill, Soles, etc. The Prawns here are remarkably fine; Lobsters are abundant. The Town is likewise well supplied with Poultry, Butter, Eggs, etc. The Lodging Houses are let very reasonably".

Cheap lodging were essential as Jane was unmarried and reliant on others for financial support.

To the right is a map of Lyme showing the main points of interest, and those places mentioned in Persuasion, and below is an extract from a pamphlet published in 1817 describing some of the places to see in Lyme. She died in 1817.

She mentions in her letters to her sister Cassandra, the joys of the Assemblies, and dancing etc.

In search of the place where Louisa Musgrove bumps her brain and forces our hero to notice how useful his heroine is.

Persuasion was Jane Austen's  last novel, published in 1817, 2 years after her death from (suspected) Addisons disease (inactive adrenal glands, sometimes caused by tuberculosis. Symptoms include weakness, loss of energy, low blood pressure and dark pigmentations of the skin. Fatal in Jane Austen’s time, but is now controlled by hormone replacement therapy)
In Persuasion there is a denouement at the point that Lousia Musgrove falls and cracks her head on the Cobb…….

“There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth. In all their walks, he had had to jump her from the stiles; the sensation was delightful to her. The hardness of the pavement for her feet, made him less willing upon the present occasion; he did it however; she was safely down, and instantly, to shew her enjoyment, ran up the steps to be jumped down again. He advised her against it, thought the jar too great; but no, he reasoned and talked in vain; she smiled and said, “I am determined I will”: he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless!” 

Here’s the higher part of the Cobb for you, showing the upper and lower levels.

You can see there are no hand rails and the top has quite a camber. I was a bit unhappy to be walking along it on a sunny, calm day, and can appreciate that it would be dangerous in a flappy long dress and flimsy shoes, in strong winds, and especially if the sea was crashing against the side of the wall.

I could find 2 sets of steps that may be contenders for those in the book. Since Jane visited in 1803 there have been alterations to the Cobb and the steps may have been different; I could find no records in the museum. I’d like to think that one of these sets of steps were the very ones she was talking about; they certainly look old enough. DH is kindly demonstrating the ease of ascent!

The second set of steps look easier to manage if you were in a long dress. The first lot also known as Grannies Teeth, look a bit precarious and I didn't even try them in my trainers.

Before I leave here are a couple of photos of Harville Cottage and Benwick Cottage. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest these are the two houses mentioned in Persuasion, but they are in the right place, and look old enough.  Because of the angle I took the photos at, they don't show that both cottages are thatched.

 A watercolour done of Jane by her sister Cassandra whilst at Lyme. Note the undone bonnet ribbons. I'm also puzzled slightly by her position. Are both knees drawn up, and rather inelegantly parted? Is one leg flat on the ground?  Or perhaps Cassandra hasn't quite got her posititon right. I wonder what she's thinking of gazing out from her vantage point.

and, finally, a photo of the harbour. I believe The French Lieutenant's Woman was also shot here.

Monday, 20 September 2010


I always worry a bit about booking hotels on line, and half expect that things will go wrong; a forgotten booking, or a dirty, ill run hovel!  I'm delighted to say that neither of those things happened to us, and we rocked up to Montacute to find friendly people and pleasant surroundings.

I thought some readers who have never seen inside an English village pub  before might like a squizz at the bar. They're the same the world over I guess, but I was having such fun! I'm sitting on a sofa opposite getting quietly squiffy on cider. Sooooo relaxed.

It's not cold enough here yet to be lighting the fire, but it will be in a few weeks time.

Montecute itself is the prettiest of villages, and the houses are all built out of the local yellow stone.

I understand that Sense and Sensibility was filmed here..but couldn't say which version, sorry.

This house was for sale and DH was trying to guess how much it was!

Montecute church on the right houses the village clock which marks the hour all through the night with the tolling of a bell. Of itself, it didn't keep us awake, but was useful to work out how many hours sleep we were loosing because of indigestion and general over indulgencies.

Montecute House

Well, it wouldn't be natural if you didn't visit the largest attraction in the village whilst there. A huge great pile of a house built from wealth made as a lawyer in the 16th century. Famously, Sir Edward Phelps, the owner, was responsible for prosecuting Guy Fawkes after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Yes, it was huge, delightful, with fab architecture, furniture, gardens etc., but my great delight was finding an exhibition of Tudor and Elizabethan portraiture on permanent loan from the National Portrait Gallery.  All those famous portraits you see in history books were there for me to gaze at closely....and....for once....I remembered my glasses.  Oh, deep joy.

There were about 50 portraits in all and some of the detail of the clothes was exquisite.

It was also housing an exhibition of the Goodheart collection of samplers. The work in them was unbelievable, and even more so because it was done my young girls.