Archive | May 2017

A Castle for Kids

After such a satisfying visit to Sizergh Castle, we decided to try our luck on another castle. Located on the largest lake in England and built in 1840, Wray Castle is a family destination.


The National Trust encourages visits by boat or bike as they have limited parking available. We elected to take the ferry, which does a 50-minute loop of the northern part of Bowness for £8.25. The stop for Wray is only 15 minutes away from the pier at Ambleside (northeast end of Bowness Lake).

A surgeon from Liverpool, James Dawson had the castle built using funds from his wife’s fortune (Editor’s note: there is a reason this is such a popular theme in fiction—wive’s fortunes are responsible for a good deal of what’s been erected in this country.) Neo-Gothic in styling, this Victorian castle has 54 rooms—and was built for two. As in any building this tall, be sure to look up!

Over the years, the furnishings and fixtures have been sold off or removed to the point that when the National Trust ended up with it, there weren’t any contents left. It’s housed non-profits and the merchant navy, been left empty, and now has found its niche as a kid’s castle. We learned why after a short introductory talk—most of the rooms have been painted or furnished with children’s activities in mind. There’s a room where they can play dress up, a room to have a Beatrix Potter birthday party, a room with tents for camping, another room for drawing. Even the tearoom looks like it was designed for children.

There are a couple of rooms furnished with contemporary couches and chairs, their walls painted with accent colors—but it all feels a bit wrong for a building that should be housing a collection of neo-Gothic furniture.

Outside is far more satisfying, with sweeping views and some rock walls. There’s not much in the way of florals, but they can be found.

We took the next ferry back to Ambleside to find a pub.

We have a week to go on our visit to the UK. With two more nights in Cumbria, we’ll be spending some time in the Lake District National Park. Ta-ta for now!

A Sizable Sizergh, Part 2

A sense of having visited a complete castle is one of the most satisfying aspects of visiting Sizergh—nothing’s been torn down (other than some stairs), there are gardens and all the outbuildings you expect of a place that’s been home to a family for over 750 years. When we completed the garden tours, we headed inside this impressive castle in the company of a tour guide. He regaled us with stories of the history of the Strickland family as well as some of the furnishings and paneling that can be found inside.


Sizergh started as a solar tower—a typical castle tower, square, but far larger than you would find on a regular castle (it’s the tallest part of what your see above). On one side, an entry was added that allowed visitors to enter up a grand staircase into a massive first story (what you see in the middle). Wings were added on either side, one for the kitchens and servants quarters and the other for long galleries. The stairs were eventually removed and rebuilt on the inside so that horse-drawn carriages could enter the horse, drop off the guests, and exit out the other side. All that’s been closed up again so there’s a set of impressive doors in which to enter.


Once inside, you know when you’re in the oldest part versus the Elizabethan and Victorian-era sections. The house is filled with treasures—including the original paneling from one room that had been sold off for display in the Victoria and Albert Museum and has since been returned and reinstalled. If walls could talk! It also features a number of pieces made by Gillows Furniture.

When we finally took our leave of this place, we had to pass by some more plantings—such a pleasant way to go! Next up: A castle for kids.

A Sizable Sizergh, Part 1

For over eight-hundred years, the Strickland family has held the Cumbrian lands on which an impressive castle was built about 750 years ago. Members of the family still live in one of the wings. Sizergh, with its pond, lands, impressive gardens, adorable chickens, conservatory, and stumpery, is that castle.


Under the care of the National Trust, Sizergh is open for tours. We paid the extra quid to have a guided tour of the interior, but toured the gardens on our own.

Sizergh features a stumpery, a garden planted around old tree stumps that make for some artful arrangements. These are just a few.

The rest of the floral gardens include indifying tags—helpful for those of us who have never seen some of these flowers before.

Our favorite on today’s walk was the perfectly named poached egg flower.  We’re sure you can guess which one it is.

Once you’re past the gardens, you find yourself in an orchard. At the back is the chicken coop. We were suprised by one one that wasn’t in the coop, but upon our arrival flew into the coop.

When we emerged from the orchard, we found a delightful rock garden.

At the front of the castle, you’ll find a gorgeous vantage, more flowers, and stairs decorated with wildflowers.

Once we completed our tour of the exterior, it was time to make our way inside. We’ll cover that in Part 2.

A Victorian Estate with a Deer Park—and Gardens Galore!

Dunham Massey was once the home to the Earls of Stamford and Warrington, but it’s another National Trust treasure now. Although the home isn’t open on Thursdays and Fridays, the gardens and falllow deer park are available to the public.


On such a glorious day, it was perfect to spend our afternoon here. The estate includes the house, stables, a mill, a motor house, a restaurant and gardens.


We elected to take a free tour of the gardens with a guide—highly recommended since this estate includes plants and flowers we haven’t seen (or heard of) before. It’s also home to one of only two moss gardens in all of England. Rhodedendrons are in bloom along with blue bells, comfrey, tulips, magnolia trees, and even a handkerchief tree.









There are other details in the most surprising details—a hidden gate that includes the three matiff heads of the Earl’s shield, a distant obelisk dedicated to a racehorse that managed an unlikely win and resulted in a needed windfall for one of the earls, and the mastiff atop a column.


And then there’s the wildlife. They’re everywhere! But then, who wouldn’t want to live on this estate?


We’re off to Cumbria. Our home base for the next three nights will be in Windermere-on-Bowness. Ta-ta for now!




Another Day, Another Pemberley

During our travels around Derbyshire, we’ve passed Panavision trucks and vans several times. We now know where they were filming—at Lyme Park. For those of you familiar with the BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice” starring Colin Firth, this is Pemberley.


Located in Disley, Cheshire, this 16th century and 1720s era estate was architected by Giacomo Leoni. The estate was originally granted to Sir Thomas Danyers back in 1346 and came into possession of the Leghs of Lyme by way of marriage. The family kept the estate until there was no one left to inherit in 1946.  The National Trust now owns it.


Due to filming, the house was closed to tours, but the gardens and grounds were open. We started on the north (front side), went through the main entrance, passed by the well, and headed to the south side to see if we could pay witness to any action on the balconies. Although we could see people on the balconies, alas, we couldn’t make out any details.

Next, we headed for the formal gardens on the east side. These are parterre gardens, meticulously maintained by a staff of full-time gardeners.

The orangery is right behind the gardens, and next to it is a rose garden. The reflecting lake is just south of the back of the house.

Paths lead all over the estate with floral delights throughout. Rhododendron are currently in bloom as were some flowers we’ve never seen before!

We had a look from across the lake—still no action on those balconies!


So it was off to the Italian gardens. You can view them from several different levels.


Ducks have it good here, as do the rest of the plants.

As today is a travel day—we’re on our way to our next accommodations in Windermere-on-Bowness—we took our leave of Lyme Park and headed to our next stop—Dunham Massey. Ta-ta for now!


This entry was posted on May 11, 2017. 2 Comments

Pemberley! Well, Not Really…

If you saw the version of  “Pride and Prejudice” featuring Matthew MacFadyen and Keira Knightly, then you saw Chatsworth House—the treasure box of Derbyshire. We paid a visit this afternoon on what had to be the warmest and sunniest day of our trip. We opted for the whole package—house, gardens, tea, and audio guide—and spent nearly five hours on the property.

The home of the Cavendish family, this is the house that Bess of Hardwick built. She outlived at least four husbands and completed her version of the house in the 1560s.

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In the 17th century, Bess’ original Elizabethan structure was built onto and surrounded by the Palladian palace we see today by the 4th Earl of Devonshire (the earldom would later be elevated to a dukedom).  He wanted more bedchambers, and then more staterooms, and one thing led to another, and he just couldn’t stop adding on!

Once you’ve covered the semi-circular drive surrounding a weeping ash, you’re into an entryway that at one time had been the kitchens of the house. The new arrangement makes for an impressive entry, though, and sets up the tour that allows you to see the ground floor as well as the rooms on the second and third floors (the first floor includes the apartments of the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, so they’re off-limits).


The 2nd and 3rd Dukes of Devonshire didn’t change the house, but rather added to the collections inside. Paintings, statues, drawings, prints, porcelains, and furnishings have filled up the space. A special exhibit, Five Hundred Years of Fashion, is also on display, although the mannequins sometimes get in the way of the important artwork (there’s a Rembrandt that’s practically ridden from view).

This massive estate has it all—besides the impressive house (it’s essentially a palace), there is an orangery that’s been converted into a fashionable shop, a rock garden, cascades, a hedgerow maze, a coal hole and tunnel, an emperor fountain, a restaurant where you can have a proper tea, stables that have been converted into shops, more gardens, a conservatory, and even a trout stream. With some of the exterior of the house undergoing conservation efforts, there was scaffolding hiding a good portion of one side and one end of the building (the renovation should be complete this fall).

Below are the grand staircase (it goes up two stories) and the barrel ceiling in the dining hall as well as some of the detail of wainscoting .

One of Bess’ husbands, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, was tasked with the custody of Mary, Queen of Scots, so the rooms in which she was housed are here.

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The grounds we see today were designed by Lancelot Capability Brown and feature some new mixed in with the old. The cascades, for example, are rather modern, while the hedgerow maze and parterre gardens are tradional. The rock gardens feature large blocks—this isn’t your typical rock garden! There’s a huge pond on one side of the main house with an emporer fountain in the middle. Other landscaping close to the house has been removed during remodeling.


For us, the most impressive room in the house is the one that features the marbles you would have seen in the movie. Although the room is dimly lit, the marbles are stunning.  It’s hard to believe these Neo-classical works of art fell out of favor for a time.

A few surprises included the bust of Darcy (you can purchase a miniature for £50) and an ornate embroidered gown.

The end of our visit was the afternoon tea, a rather pleasant end to a very satisfying tour!

We’ll be traveling to our next destination tomorrow—the Lake District—but we have some stops in Cheshire planned along the way. Ta-ta for now.

This entry was posted on May 10, 2017. 2 Comments

A Fortified Medieval Manor House and Gardens

On what had to be the most sunny and warm day since our arrival in England, we spent the morning at Haddon Hall in Bakewell, Derbyshire. The home of the Dukes of Rutland and the current Lord and Lady Edward Manners, this fifteenth century combination of Tudor and Elizabethan architecture has been left mostly untouched in terms of renovations, but it’s in amazing condition.


When you approach from the car park, there’s a gatehouse and beyond is a delightful topiary garden.

The entrance to the manor brings you into a courtyard, but be careful where you step—the stone are all original, the lentils of the doorways worn down from over five hundred years of use.


The self-guided tour allows you access to the Chapel of St. Nicholas, where the original stained glass windows provide plenty of naural light and rare frescoes are still in evidence.


The banqueting hall, great chamber, ante room and stateroom, Tudor kitchens and the long gallery are still furnished. The parlor, a private room created by John Vernon in 1500, features the Tudor Rose and Talbot Dog in the carvings.

The windows are intact and beautiful.


Most impressive for those who love tapestries is how many you’ll find on the walls—they’re everywhere!


Wander outside, and you’ll find an impressive multi-tiered garden with majestic views of the Derbyshire countryside.

Flowers and their meanings are an important part of Haddon’s history. They’re on display everywhere—in tapestries, carvings, and in the gardens.

Depending on your interest, you’ll want to allow to about ninety minutes to tour the property, although some have been known to spend all day here. We had anothr place to go, though, and it wasn’t far away. Next up: Chatsworth House.


My Beautiful Laundrette in the Peak District

We’ve been on the road for two weeks, which meant it was time to do some laundry. The nearest self-service launderette to the Izaac Walton Hotel is in Buxton, a historic town about a half-hour’s drive. Two things struck us as amazing. We could do two loads of laundry—wash and dry—in an hour’s time while spending the waiting time writing, and then there’s so much to do when we were done!

Stalagmites, anyone?


Below the surface, this area is rife with two-million-year-old limestone caverns and caves. We paid a quick visit to Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park, right in Buxton. Poole, an outlaw, used this as a hideout from which he could rob 15th century travelers as they passed by. Later, Mary, Queen of Scots, was said to have been a visitor, and then the 6th Duke of Devonshire opened it as a show cave in 1853. This attraction offers 50-minute guided tours of the cavern where the temperature is a constant 7°C. Be sure to bring a coat.


Next we took a long drive through Peak District National Park.  We managed to pass through parts of Derbyshire, Cheshire, and Staffordshire without ever leaving the park! The landscape is ever-changing, and the views are magnificent. Cows and sheep dot the fields, and the sun even made an appearance.

That’s a helicopter in the photo above. From the way it was flying in circles and by how the sheep were on the move, we thought it was an ingenious way to herd sheep. It was actually a rescue copter on the hunt for an injured hiker.

When we returned to the hotel, we had an excellent surprise waiting for us—a tea tray of fruits and cheeses and a bottle of prosecco, courtesy our tour operator, Across the Pond Vacations.  Thanks, Anne Marie and Simon!


Next up: Chatsworth House. Ta-ta for now!

Visiting the Settings from Books—Spread Eagle Inn

In addition to searching for settings to use in future books, we’ve also been on the hunt to discover how those we’ve already used have faired two-hundred years later. Bilston, just south of Wolverhampton, is the seat of the earldom belonging to Gabriel Wellingham, Earl of Trenton. His house, Trenton Manor, is fictional, but we imagined it looked somewhat like Hanbury Hall.

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In Bilston, we found the Horse and Jockey. Except for the flags, I t still looks the same.


We then headed to Stretton, Staffordshire, home of The Spread Eagle. That’s the coaching inn where Sarah Cumberbatch was a tavern maid when Gabriel first visited (at the very beginning of The Kiss of a Viscount) and then the manager of in My Fair Groom. Now a gastropub, it’s in excellent shape, has a huge wine list, and serves really good pub food.



Our final stop for the day? Our next accommodations! The Izaac Walton Hotel is located in picturesque Dovedale near Ashbourne. We’ll be spending three nights at this 17th century former country house.

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We’ll be touring the Derbyshire countryside for the next few days. Ta-ta for now.

This entry was posted on May 8, 2017. 2 Comments

A Home for a Man with an Imagination—Hanbury Hall

When John Vernon died in 1692, his nephew, Thomas, a lawyer, inherited his estate. On the land near Hanbury in Worcester, Thomas built Hanbury Hall and acquired additional lands to make an 8000-acre estate. Opened in 1706, the home became the country estate for the Whig MP and his family. It’s now a National Trust site, and docents are available in several rooms.


The creative touches found in this home are both whimsical and wonderful. You know you’re in for a treat when you see the unusual windows in the faux gatehouses at either side of the entry to the forecourt.


The painted walls and ceilings impressive in their scope —the entire story of Achilles and the tale of the Trojan Horse lines the staircase.

Much of the furniture is still in place, some well used, but all polished. You’ll also find a huge collections of porcelains in glass-doored cabinets throughout the house.

Outside, it’s evident that gardeners have continued to keep up the various gardens on the estate. There’s a parterre, an orchard, a pond, a walled garden, and acres and acres of parkland.

There’s even an orangery filled with orange trees and mushrooms.


While you’ll pass sheep on your way to the front entrance, you’ll probably see cows outside the walled garden.



All in all, this was an excellent way to spend an afternoon in Worcester. We had more stops to make today, so we took our leave of Hanbury Hall and headed straight north. Ta-ta for now.