After a busy and work-filled start to the year, we managed to escape for a well-deserved weekend away from London just before lockdown started. Given that we haven’t been able to leave London since, this was a lovely opportunity to explore the gorgeous town of Stow-on-the-Wold, which was new to us. The market cross was at the centre of the little town, and has a slightly gory history dating back to 1646 and the English Civil War. The Royalist Army marched through the Cotswolds on their way to Oxford, but were intercepted by the Parliamentarians, and the battle which ensued in the market square was so gory that it was said ducks could bathe in the pools of blood left behind [maybe it’s good that we didn’t know this beforehand?]. This apparently led to the street’s name, Digbeth, from ‘Duck’s Bath’. However, we can confirm that it is now much more peaceful and full of interesting antiques shops [well done if you can leave without buying anything!] and gorgeous cafés. This is a place to come prepared for scones, tea and cake!
You might recognise this famous little door! The 13th century north door of St Edward’s Church, the town’s church, which itself dates back to the 11th century, is said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to create the “Doors of Durin” in The Lord of the Rings.
Mottisfont Abbey started life as an Augustinian priory dating back to 1201. From this, it was transformed by Lord Sandys into a large house; this family also owned The Vyne, also in Hampshire, and divided their time between the two properties.
Now that the sun is (sporadically) here, the days are getting longer and flowers are starting to appear, we’ve decided it’s officially springtime and time for us to start exploring again! And where else to start but Standen House, a National Trust property near East Grinstead in Surrey.
An Arts and Crafts property, the house was designed by Philip Webb, a friend of William Morris. It was designed in keeping with the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, where the everyday domestic object was exalted through thoughtful and pleasing design, and thus William Morris’s Golden Rule: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. This stunning coffee table showed this perfectly [I love the geometric patterns].
Although we do love a steam train, this wasn’t actually our choice of trip, but a family birthday celebration. It was also exceptionally cold, so I wasn’t sure what to expect on a freezing and grey Sunday morning! However, the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre turned out to be a great place to visit, for all ages – and conveniently close to London too.
There is so much to see, but if you like a map with suggested routes, a list of attractions or a guided tour, you won’t get it here. There are trains [and more] everywhere, at varying stages of repair and restoration, some open to visitors, some in use and some looking like they’ve been forgotten about. There is obviously a large team of committed volunteers working to bring these huge machines back to their former glory, which is great to see.
There were some truly sumptuous carriages, showing just how possible it was to truly travel in style [a far cry from a modern commute…]. Also on display was the specially-designed carriage used by Winston Churchill as he travelled across the country during the War; the intricacies of D-Day might well have been planned in that train.
There was even a working steam train, though its route was limited to a few hundred yards and back [they go back and forth twice to make you feel like you’ve had more of a trip]. The interior of the train was fascinating though, making you feel like the heroine of a WWI film, featuring compartment carriages with blinds to pull down and seating facing each other; perfect for a romantic rendezvous, if super awkward in the wrong situation. [You can also treat yourself to the added comfort of First Class!]
After leaving Clandon Park, we headed to Polesden Lacey nearby for a restoring burst of National Trust normality. An Edwardian country retreat, it was home to famous society hostess Mrs Margaret Greville, and is presented as it would have been in her time, with her collection of furniture, paintings, porcelain and silver.
The house was completely rebuilt by Thomas Cubitt in 1824, and remodelled for the Grevilles by the architects responsible for the Ritz – hence the luxurious bathrooms!
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).
After a pretty hectic Saturday, we headed to Brighton for a day of relaxation on the beach. With the cost of the train under £15 from central London [if you go on Thameslink – there are quicker Southern trains from Victoria but they cost more], we took a morning train with croissants, strawberries and apple juice, and were ready to go by the time we reached the coast.
We avoided the stag and hen parties and walked along the pebbly beach towards the famous Pier.
We passed a Punch and Judy show, but by the time they came out to play we had continued on to discover the next excitement!
By the time we reached Cambridge itself, had done some wandering and had a pleasant late lunch at Harriet’s (great food, less great service) [they have a pianist though!], it was starting to get dark. An excellent opportunity to practise some night photography techniques, including some long-exposure shots of the Cam – punts included…
He even managed to capture some beautifully soft light quality (I think, anyway!) in this shot, taken of Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College.
So we decided another trip to Cambridge was in order, to give us a bit more time to explore. First on our list, and a rather sombre start to the day, was the American War Cemetery. Commemorating a large number of Americans killed in the Second World War alone [almost 4,000 people are buried here, and many more whose bodies were never found are memorialised on the Great Wall], it was exceptionally peaceful, beautiful and immaculately-kept – a fitting tribute to the surprisingly (for me, at least) huge sacrifice that country made.
It was also a wonderful time of year to visit, with the brightly-coloured autumn leaves adorning the gravestones. Inside the Chapel, there was a concept map of the various air and naval attacks the Allies undertook. Although interesting in content, it was the execution and craftsmanship of this enormous map that really stood out.