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.
Last weekend we found ourselves in beautiful York for a wedding of two close friends. They had chosen The Hospitium in the York Museum Gardens, an intimate 14th century, two-storey building which was the perfect setting for their ceremony, dinner and dancing.
The next day, we met up with some family for a stroll around the centre of York, which is one of our favourite cities (and, for once, we weren’t there to sing!). The day started as every Sunday should [apparently], with tea – and this time we went all out at Betty’s. Yes, we probably should have gone to Harrogate, but this Southerner had never experienced Betty’s at all and was too excited to wait any longer. It lived up to the hype: silver teapots, cosy corners and very good tea.
We walked down the cobbled streets to explore some of the less well-known attractions, with the Minster still always in sight around the corner.
No, we’d never heard of it either. All we knew was that it was a city in northern Wales and we’d been asked to sing there. Enticed by some good music and lovely friends, we agreed – and then realised that it was rather a longer drive than we thought; about 4.5 hours from London [urgh]. So, we decided to make a weekend of it and go up early, spending Friday night in a hotel nearby.
St Asaph is the second smallest city in Britain [it was only awarded city status in 2012], but the cathedral has been a cathedral for 1,400 years, while the building itself dates from the 13th century. Musicians may recognise Mathias’s name – a composer of considerable renown, he was buried here with his wife upon their deaths.
The cathedral is simple in design, but with a historical feel to it:
Neither of us had visited Lincoln for a long time (I had once, at university) and had forgotten quite how stunning it is. Perched up the appropriately-named ‘Steep Hill’, the cathedral looks out over the city.
As John Ruskin said, “I have always held and proposed against all comers to maintain that the Cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles.” [And I whole-heartedly agree with him.]
Building started in 1088, under William the Conqueror’s instruction, and in heavy Norman style, opposite the castle he had already built across the city. Around 100 years later, a fire and an earthquake between them caused extensive damage to the great building, and parts were rebuilt in the Gothic style, which included the use of flying buttressing to enable huge stained glass windows, and pointed arches replacing the original rounded ones.
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…
It’s time for the second (and final, sob) summer holiday post of the year… After our rather more exotic trip tothe Algarve, we decided to re-run last year’s brilliantcampingholiday to our beloved Cornwall. However, this time we thought we’d try somewhere new – Padstow, Mevagissey, we love you, but this year we drove to Fowey, two days before the miserably forecast Bank Holiday weekend.
But fabulous as Cornwall nearly always is, we arrived to its own micro-climate of bright sunshine and barely a cloud in the sky… Fowey welcomed us with brightly-coloured houses and bunting all over the town, steep hills to the car park (ouch!) and picturesquely narrow streets.
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!
So I grew up in the countryside. Next to a farm, in fact. But after a few years in London it’s a bit exciting to go to a farm park… Especially one where you can hold bunnies, since that just doesn’t happen on normal farms.
As a very welcome and exciting surprise, I was taken to the Cotswolds on 24 hours’ notice. Excitement! Our first stop was Bourton-on-the-Water, a town chosen mainly for its tandem-hiring ability but one which turned out to be picturesque and gorgeous.
You may remember us hiring a tandem bike in Cornwall. We now consider ourselves practically pros [that might be pushing it], although it turns out that Gloucestershire isn’t quite as flat as the Camel Trail near Padstow… Our tandem trail took us to Upper and Lower Slaughter (much nicer than they sound!) complete with beautiful little church to explore.