|Original Victorian Cabinet Card which inspired the painting.|
It was my dream to take home one thing which would become a treasure for Nik and I for the remainder of our lives. We were beginning to despair that we would find anything. All the roads we took lead us to amazing experiences but nothing we could physically take back with us. Then our path lead us somewhere we didn't expect. On our way from Corfe to Brighton we stopped in at a little antique store and there we discovered two Victorian Gothic Revival Pews. These oak church pews are glorious with their hand carved backs. Before I ever saw them they sat in a room of the house I have in my head and when they appeared it was as if we were always supposed to find them. In reference to the style of the Pre-Raphaelites I have tracked down embroidered material by William Morris, the builder of The Red House to cover the seats and add another degree of fantasy to them.
I must apologize for the lateness of this post. My last few days in London were so exhausting that I had little enough energy to drag myself around let alone try to blog about it. Our time in Brighton with its endless queues had taken the wind out of our sails but I was in London and I wasn't going to give up. I'm glad I didn't. The Tower of London was much more interesting then I remembered from my last visit ten years ago. Whether it is age, perspective or the fact that much more was on display this time, I came out full of inspiration. There was a display of armor worn by the princes and kings of England and just seeing the girth of Henry VIII, the ostentatious filigree on Charles I armor and the sweet little suits worn by Henry VIII and his son Edward as children was quite a wonderful experience. I've always held a fascination for medieval warfare (hence Hastings and Sherwood Forest) and this collection of Royal Arms through the ages gave me a unparalleled window into the ages where royal armor clad the bodies of kings.
Even though I had experienced a degree of disappointment with the Pre-Raphaelite art I had seen at the beginning of my journey in Aberdeen I wanted to go to the comprehensive exhibition at the Tate Britain.
When I was a little girl and said things to friends that I no longer felt were applicable all I had to do was a takeback. 25 years later I'm going to invoke the rule of takebacks once again.
To put it lightly I was overawed. It felt like I was Howard Carter plumbing the depths of an intact royal tomb, moving from one room to the next as the treasures became even grander and more awe inspiring. Stained glass, embroidery, enormous tapestries and the most magnificent treasures of all - Edward Burne-Jones' paintings. I have NEVER seen anything so stunning in my entire life. His works were alive, they glowed. I felt like I had finally found that one thing I had been looking for for so many years. In front of Burne-Jones' works everything else paled. I would have cried if I hadn't worried about everyone in the room thinking I was a little mad. I had two days left in London and I had to force myself not to go back and look at the works again for fear they had somehow altered since the day before and that that invisible thread connecting them to my heart had somehow frayed.
Strangely we had dinner before the Jack the Ripper night walk in the Indian restaurant at the corner of Thrawl Street and Brick Lane and later during the tour we learned that this used to be the Frying Pan Public House where one of Jack the Rippers victims Mary Ann Nichols was seen on the night of her death.
My last treasure from London was the V&A. I wish I had a sketch book with me as there is so much within this glorious building which was inspiring. I can't believe that museums like this actually exist. The wealth of medieval art and sculpture was staggering and my two new loves - stained glass and tapestries were abundant here.
England & Scotland were fascinating and enchanting places filled with such a variety of treasures. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and all these experiences will certainly lead to a new artistic development in my work which would never have been possible before.
|The View from our hotel room in Brighton|
After Brighton we decided to go to Battle and watch the annual celebrations for 1066 which included a battle with over 1000 participants. When we arrived we were told that the 10 minute bout of heavy rain and hail the day before had waterlogged the ground and the battle had been cancelled. However the British Heritage people were very good and we still got to go in for free and see Battle Abbey and the actual field which played such an important role in British history.
After that we went on to the Red House just outside of London to see William and Janey Morris's specially designed Pre-Raphaelite house. The exterior was charming and this particular day was the day of the apple festival so we were lucky enough to get to try apples from the trees which had been there in the days of Rossetti, Lizzie Siddal and Edward Burne-Jones. Inside though it is a sad place, stripped of any feeling of warmth by the fact that it contains only a couple of pieces of the original furniture which had been built in. If only the galleries which hold on to these precious things would let them go back I think this house would be transformed. Many of the frescoes that had adorned the walls were painted over later but there is enough there to get a feeling of what it may have been like in its heyday.
|The view of Corfe Castle from just outside our B&B|
|Morton's House Hotel built in 1590.|
|The sitting room at Morton's House Hotel|
|One of the towers of Corfe wedged against another section of wall|
|Corfe Castle seen from the village below|
Later that day and a new change of clothes later we were up at the castle, now a romantic and subsiding ruin. It's history is just as varied and wonderful as any I have read so far and wandering around one gets the sense that at any minute one or other of the precariously balanced stone structures leaning at various worrying angles could slip down off the steep hillside and be lost forever. I think it may be this sense of imminent disaster coupled with the past ones that brings a kind of energy to this forlorn and striking place. There is enough of it left that one can imagine it as it had once been and there is also something surreal in the enormous chunks of wall still intact that balance one against the other while huge sections still stand guard at the top of the hill.
|St Michael's Mount at high tide.|
|St Michaels Mount has to take the prize as the most spectacular castle I have ever seen. The fact that visitors have to take a boat that is little more then a dingy across to get to the tiny port with its collection of old houses is wonderful in itself but once one has climbed the pebble pathways to the top there it is nothing I have seen so far that matches it.|
|On the little island of St Michael's Mount the castle appears like a ghostly vision.|
We took the first boat over to the island at about 10 am. The night before we had stayed at a bed and breakfast with a view to the castle and only for a few hours around midnight had the mist cleared long enough to see the castle lit up amongst the darkness and the twinkling lights of the settlements beyond. When we awoke the next morning the castle had disappeared again.
Undeterred we took the little boat across and were rewarded by the faint looming silhouette above the village.
|After climbing to the top the castle looms out of the mist.|
Here on this island the vegetation is lush and wonderfully varied and the castle seems to grow out of the rock it is perched upon to sit at its apex with gardens sliding downwards into the sea.
|My heart was in my mouth as I leaned over the battlements and was greeted with this view.|
|One of the interior rooms of the castle.|
Once inside it has all the things one would want from a castle that is still being used as a residence. It has a strong sense of quiet solitude with its sweeping views from the battlements and a beautiful interior which celebrates a mixture of styles and periods. We saw a lovely collection of objects from decorative to religious and military and I was delighted to discover a pair of rooms decorated in Chinoiserie style.
We are on our way to Brighton to meet a friend and take in George IV's splendid and over the top creation Brighton Pavilion. It's been ten years since I was last there but it made such an impression on me I have to go again. It's a long drive so we are breaking up the distance with some interesting stops. The first of these is A La Ronde.
|Shell bell jar display in a stairwell|
This is an unusual building, passed down through the female line which contains an eccentric collection of mementos and keepsakes. Its use of space is enchanting with the rooms arranged around an interior reception space three stories high. Its hand painted walls reach up to the second floor where fabric folded to resemble a tent terminates at the base of a small walkway decorated with shells and paintings. This shell mania reminds me of the Calke taxidermy collection but on a smaller though no less eccentric level. Because of its age and fragility the shell walk is not open to visitors which was a real pity but you are treated to shell displays throughout the rest of the house as if to make up for the greater loss. These quirky arrangements can be found tucked away in corners or presented in fire grates, assembled into framed pictures or in cases. All in all A La Ronde is the perfect display case for these ladies loves and fantasies and I am very glad I was able to experience a little of their world.
|A La Ronde|
|Interior reception hall of the house.|
|Large collection of Shells in a cabinet|
Gothic Revival is such a wonderfully grand imaginative style with houses crammed with carved wood and stone, painted ceilings and colour. As we traveled down the country we came to Knightshayes Court and Tyntesfield Manor, both commissioned by wealthy Victorians craving a bit of Medieval wonder. They were both breathtaking in their own rights but I have been told that Cardiff Castle is Burgess’ ultimate triumph where his wings were clipped in his plans for Knightshayes. With only eight days left it’s not possible to visit Cardiff Castle this time but next time I am in England I will have to make a pilgrimage there.
Castle Drogo has to be a favorite. Built in the early 20th Century it is austere yet completely inviting. The name of Edwin Lutyens will stand next to Burgess in my admiration. He has a simpler less fussy style, grander in its own bare and monumental way. There is less of the fairytale in Lutyens architecture but his dressed stone interiors and sweeping statements lead on to small comfortable rooms which were livable and inviting.
|Wall Sconce Castle Drogo|
|Gargoyle at Nightshayes Court|
Lanhydrock later in the day unveiled its own splendors but was a house to be seen in and I think not one to love in the same way. I was still thrilled by the wonderful old gatehouse and the topiary and the stepped garden spaces which were delightful.
|Lanhydrock Long Gallery|
The sense of craftsmanship and attention to detail in all of these houses was spectacular. As well as artistic inspiration I am looking at each with an eye of how I can incorporate them into my own ideas. In a few years’ time Nik and I will start to design our own house and though we don’t have the huge budgets that these people had we have the imagination to hopefully create something very special and unique to us.
A trend has been forming recently. Every day I go to a new place and rave about it. It’s the best thing I've ever seen and I thought that nothing could beat Castle Howard for its impressive interior and I was right in a way but I hadn't yet visited Calke Abbey…
|Even though this room is massive the collection has taken over somewhat.|
|The obsessive taxidermy collection in one of the little rooms at Calke Abbey|
|A bedroom as it was left by its former occupants|
The pull of this particular house is that it is in a state of decline.
The National Trust have been careful to preserve it in the condition in which they found it; a painstaking process of expensive and time consuming work to be sure the wallpaper peeled off that part of the wall just so and the mold in that hallway remained exactly as it had always been when they acquired the property without getting worse. This particular family were not big on socializing, updating or showing off. Instead their lineage follows a trail of eccentric recluses who enjoyed to hoard. Calke’s halls are stuffed with bits and pieces from various collections. It is sad that death duties ate up half of the taxidermy collection because it is quite a statement about the house and it's quirky family but there is still enough of the curious stuff crammed into various rooms to give the viewer a real feeling of the place and the obsessive nature of its former owners.
Calke opens very late on a Sunday so we arrived at Baddesley Clinton without much time to spare. This medieval moated house was glorious with its little half timbered hallways, stained glass windows and makeshift chapel. It's little inner courtyard was a real delight and I loved the way that ivy and wisteria is grown everywhere here. It adds a real charm to these houses and the different topiary is enchanting and will probably pop up in some paintings sooner rather than later.
As the sun began to set we found ourselves on white horse hill and then later within The White Horse Inn, a half timbered and half thatched in nestled in a little village just past the foot of the hill. A very tiring but incredibly rewarding day.
|1910 Well at Birdoswald Roman Fort|
|The latrines still mostly intact after almost two thousand years|
This holiday was planned around all the things I’d been dying to see in England. It’s been ten years since I had last been there and as my tastes changed so did my wishlist. My long suffering husband was happy to go along on my flights of fancy but there were a few things that were on his wishlist too. One of these was to see Hadrian’s Wall. On a cold and windy day we drove down the little country lanes with their dry stone walls and rolling hills beyond and found ourselves climbing a large hill to the remains of one of Hadrian’s forts on the wall. It was surprising how much of it remained intact for the fact it has stood for many centuries being constructed only a hundred years or so after the death of Christ. Nik and I didn't choose to read the material on the fort but used our brains instead to figure out the reasons for the different constructions and their placement and were rewarded by the little plaques around the place.
|Fountain at Castle Howard|
|Temple of the Winds|
The sky was full of heavy clouds tinted peach by the setting sun as we made our way to our next destination. We had nowhere to stay but trusted in luck and came across a little farm stay bed and breakfast near the gates of Castle Howard.
The next day was a tribute to my favorite programmes the first being Brideshead Revisited. I adore the BBC adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s spectacular novel so we were there first thing before the maddening rush of tourists to see the place as it sat quietly in the landscape. It was for lack of a better term, magnificent. We wandered around the tracks for the lake and copse coming to views of the mausoleum and the spectacular ‘Temple of the Winds.’ The park was planted with the most splendid assortment of trees which I admired greatly for the thoughtfulness of their planting. These huge old sentinels were touched with autumn colours and the play of gold, copper, green and turquoise as well as their textures one against the other were truly delightful. It seems odd to be talking about how much I enjoyed the trees at such a place but I have never seen this kind of garden achieve such a sense of loveliness and continuity.
Even though I had seen the interior through my beloved Brideshead Revisited it was nothing compared to the reality of being there. This place was epic. It seemed as if I had stumbled on the biggest and most elaborate stage set complete with cupola, painted murals and carved stone everywhere. How dramatic it must have been to live in such a place.
After tea and scones, necessary for any fantasy tour it was another long drive but this time to pay homage to Jane Austen. Anyone who loved the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice must have Lyme Park on their list of must do’s. It makes no difference that Colin Firth didn't swim in the lake by the house or that his stunt double got poisoned by the water, this place was well worth the visit. The older medieval house was rebuilt in the more fashionable Italian style but still they liked to recycle and little bits and pieces of the old house popped up now and again to add a quirky statements to this fantastic old mansion. The National Trust attendants were the friendliest people I’ve ever met, in each room someone would greet us and tell us fascinating stories about their part of the house. We only had an hour before closing so we had to rush through but we left with a very welcome feeling which was coupled by our combined love of the house. It was one of the highlights of our trip so far.
That night we stayed in The Pack Horse Inn, a little old inn which sat at the top of a hill crest overlooking a valley which was a patchwork of fields and small farm houses.
The next morning the landscape was white. A deep mist had penetrated into the valley adding a ghostly demeanor to our travelling. Soon it thinned and opened up like a series of cut out silhouettes on a light box. We were heading south again towards Nottingham. The day was beautiful and perfect to wander through Sherwood Forest which was a real treat. I have an idea in my head based on a tintype I found last year for a Joan of Arc painting and these woods would be the perfect backdrop. I took many photos of the gnarled old trees and the Major Oak with its rotted out center and sheer age was something special to behold.
|The Major Oak Sherwood Forest|
Nottingham itself is sadly just another large town and the old castle, one of the three important medieval strongholds of England (if our tour guide is to be believed) was pulled down to build an Italianate pleasure palace. It was incredibly difficult to get carried away in the medieval drama of the Robin Hood myth and finally after an hour of wandering around the caves and tunnels under the new castle I had to admit defeat. Ah well we can’t win them all.
We spent the night in the new labyrinthine construction which was tacked on to D. H. Lawrence’s lovely old birthplace; a nondescript hotel room without charm or finesse but perfectly adequate as a place to sleep after such a day of such highs and lows.