A day at Osterley

Fancying a day out of central London but nearby, we used our hardworking National Trust membership and headed to Osterley Park, in Isleworth. When built, Osterley was surrounded by rural countryside, but is now dissected by the M4 and the Heathrow flight path [which you’re unfortunately reminded of fairly frequently] – probably not something Robert Adam had to bear in mind…

Front entrance to Osterley Park

We’re big fans of Robert Adam (as you can tell from here and here) and he remodelled this Elizabethan house in 1761 for the Child family.

The garden is typically pretty, with a very lovely Adam “garden house” in keeping with the house itself.

Orangery at Osterley Park

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A trip to the Avebury stones

To road-test my fancy new pay-monthly National Trust membership [previously you had to pay for the full year in one go, but now you can pay by monthly direct debit: currently £5/month], we paid a long-overdue visit to Avebury in Wiltshire. You may know Avebury for the prehistoric stones, in the manner of Stonehenge – some would say Avebury is far superior! Although less impressive as a photo-op because they are more widely spread, the stones at Avebury cover a [much] bigger area and are many more in number. It’s also a wonderfully cute village [partly encircled by the stones] and contains a manor house which is also worth a visit.

Dinner at Avebury Manor

Avebury Manor was chosen in 2009 by the BBC for a restoration project (The Manor Reborn) with the NT. They restored each room from a different era of its life and ownership, making it the first ‘hands on’ house – everything is touchable, which makes it a great place for children (and adults! [it’s amazing, you can even try out the beds…]) to visit. The dining room (above) is a Georgian recreation, where it’s entirely possible to sit at the table as though you were taking part in that excellent cheese course… Featuring real port too, judging by the smell! [Real, yes, but I wouldn’t advise drinking it…]

Below is a detail from Alexander Keiller‘s sitting room, in rather garish 40’s style – he was the archaeologist who excavated and restored the stones, and made Avebury the site it is today. We may have played with this camera for a fair while…

Vintage Kodak camera

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Weekend in Leeds, part 2 – Hardwick Hall

After Nostell yesterday, we then headed to Hardwick Hall. Although pretty cloudy (see below), it was stunning. This year, the house is celebrating its association with Arbella Stuart, niece of Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick’s protegee. Bess, Arbella’s grandmother, built the house and attempted throughout Arbella’s youth to realise her not insubstantial claim to the English throne. Arbella had other ideas, however, and ended up imprisoned in the Tower after a secret marriage.

Hardwick Hall

Gripping as it is, the experience of the house runs alongside and yet beyond these two fiesty Elizabethan women. Built in 1590, the house is one of the earliest examples of English Renaissance architecture, and seems to herald the arrival of the ‘country house’. Its very structure has been built to accommodate the more traditional hierarchy of master and servant, with very separate living quarters and ceiling height and scale to reflect the seniority of that room’s inhabitants. It also sees a move toward the more decorative architectural style, and a departure from the fortifications of castles of old.

Bedroom at Hardwick Hall

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Weekend in Leeds, part 1 – swans and statues at Nostell Priory

Today on the blog we have two very special properties to help you make the most of that National Trust membership! (Even without it, entry fees were reasonable.)

We have a family in Leeds, so headed up there for the weekend. First stop was Nostell Priory, featuring a beautifully symmetrical exterior… [although, if you look closely, you’ll notice some damage on the left-hand side from a fire in 1980]

Nostell Priory

And an interesting lighting project, From Gloom to Glow, where they cast light on previously hidden objects. It certainly made for some dramatic photographs!

Gloom to Glow statue at Nostell Priory

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There’s more than one alma mater, you know: way up North to Durham

I suppose Cambridge is easier to get to from London. And it is quite pretty, I guess. And a *fairly* good university… [I’m not going to rise to any of this. Some people are just jealous.] Nonetheless, I was very excited to give the tour of my own university, way up at the other end of the country in the tiny city of Durham.

Even more special to me, though, was a visit to my old college, University College, or Castle as it’s known. It is, indeed, a castle, built in the 11th century [although the keep was rebuilt in Victorian times] to defend against marauding Scots, and was lived in by the Prince Bishops before the students took over.

I lived in the keep, with a very lovely roommate:

University College, Durham

Sang (often hungover) in the tiny Tunstall Chapel, built in 1540:

Chapel at University College, Durham

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The land of Shakespeare

So I was taken away on a special weekend trip… A lucky girl indeed. Although English Lit courses at uni are a distant memory, I was excited to be taken to Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Mr William Shakespeare himself.

We bought the Five House Pass [2-for-1 if you’re a Direct Line customer! or 10% if you book online], a combined ticket that gets you access to all the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust sites, which we think is good value if you visit two or more. We started with the cottage he was born in. It is a lot bigger now, though…

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Below is one of the two downstairs rooms original to the time of Shakespeare’s birth. There is a real sense of history as you experience the house, although it is pretty packed with tourists like us!

Inside Shakespeare's Birthplace

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Modern day royalty at Kensington Palace

As the second part of our Historic Royal Palaces half-price January, we headed to Kensington Palace, both of us for the first time. In the beautiful setting of Kensington Gardens, the Palace is an interesting mix of historical state apartments and high-security home of William, Catherine and baby George, amongst other royal family members.

Kensington Palace

The first highlight was not a sighting of Harry popping out to get milk, but an extremely chubby squirrel in a nearby tree.

Squirrel

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A very Tudor day at Hampton Court

Yes, we know it’s out of season to visit Hampton Court Palace and make the most of the beautiful gardens, but we had two crucial things… A beautifully crisp, sunny day, and [perhaps more pertinently…] half price entry (valid until 13th February 2015). So, we headed out to one of the prettiest parts of suburban London to visit the huge Tudor palace.

Hampton Court Palace

Henry VIII, responsible for large parts of Hampton Court, was a proud man – nowhere more evident than in the Tudor rose emblem found throughout. Except maybe his relationship history. That could take some beating.

Tudor Rose ceiling at Hampton Court Palace

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Royal Tour – guest photographer

[Normally I’m the one behind the camera, but in our “guest photographer” posts, I take a back seat while my other half upstages me using my old camera… these are the results]

And I’m back! This is my second time holding the camera…

Blurry tube

A pretty house, spotted on the way to Buckingham Palace:

House

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A short Royal Tour

Last weekend we fancied a trip to Spencer House, a Historic Houses Association property, as they were doing a National Trust member BOGOF offer, so we went while we had the chance! It was beautiful, although at £12 each not the cheapest option if you’re paying full price. However, there was a strict ban on photography [boo 🙁], so we thought we’d include some shots from the rest of our day.

From Spencer House we wandered down towards St James’s Palace, and saw this beautiful building – and many others! This was, in fact, an HSBC – one way to make that trip to see your bank manager more enjoyable…

HSBC lampposts

St James’s Palace was intriguing – quite different in look from the other royal residences, like Clarence House, I realised it had rather fallen under my radar.

Lamp at St James's Palace

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