Today we’re coming to you with a bit of a different post. You know how we love our days out to National Trust houses; beautiful furniture, textiles, cups of tea in the café and walking amongst gorgeous gardens. But this time we made a pilgrimage to a place that, very recently, had all the above. Now, however, it has none.
On 29th April, 2015, Clandon Park was struck down by a devastating fire, which moved through the house more quickly than anyone thought possible. The fire destroyed the entire interior of the house; walls, floors, staircases, leaving a shell.
The fire spread from the basement, and is thought to be an electrical fire, although no-one is entirely certain. One room in the house survived relatively intact; there are no photos online, and we were unable to get that close, but miraculously it looks to be nearly as it was (save extensive water damage from the hoses).
We’re north Londoners, it turns out [for the moment at least]. I’m not quite sure why, but what it does mean is that we have the joy of Hampstead Heath on our doorstep. Every time we go we ask ourselves why we don’t go every week – I guess those National Trust properties won’t visit themselves…
After a short walk from Gospel Oak Overground station, you end up here at the top of Parliament Hill, looking out over London. Spottable are the Shard, St Pancras station, St Paul’s and other highlights of the London skyline.
Facing the other direction, though, was another popular activity – kite flying. Ostensibly for children, there were a fair few parents not too keen to give up the reins…
[Haven’t read part 1 yet? You can find it here!]
You know we love the National Trust. They don’t sponsor our blog (maybe they should!), but they just always seem to appear in the right place at the right time, even when you haven’t planned it…
What we did plan was a day of walking, exploring the beautiful coastline around the Fowey area. One trip to the tourist information centre later, and we found ourselves with an invaluable National Trust map of walks. It took us to secluded coves…
We made friends with some frankly hilarious-looking pigs…
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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]
And an interesting lighting project, From Gloom to Glow, where they cast light on previously hidden objects. It certainly made for some dramatic photographs!
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:
Sang (often hungover) in the tiny Tunstall Chapel, built in 1540:
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…
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!
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.
The first highlight was not a sighting of Harry popping out to get milk, but an extremely chubby squirrel in a nearby tree.