A tour of some country houses

Last month, my belovèd and I tool a gentle tour of some of England, and called in at some lovely houses along the way. First was a trip to my homeland of Yorkshire to visit my parents, and to take in some of the National Trust’s best properties in the lovely March.

Beningbrough Hall

Beningbrough Hall

First on the list was Beningbrough Hall, just north of York. This house was built in the early 18th Century, and contains some excellent examples of local woodcarving, a skill for which York was justly famous in that period.

Beningbrough Daffodils

Beningbrough Daffodils

Photography is not permitted within the house unfortunately.

Additionally to the house, there is a lovely spring garden, which at this time of year is full of various breeds of daffodils, and is a real haven of peace and tranquility. The house itself looks over wide open grounds, and takes advantage of the flatness of the surrounding area to create grand vistas over the fields.

Day two of the trip consisted of an excursion to Whitby (where sadly the Abbey was not open), and a walk up to the delightful, if somewhat unusual church on the cliff top. This church has grown over the years in a rather random fashion, and contains some very unusual box pews (in which half the seats face away from the front) and quite a few areas where there is no possibility of seeing the altar.

Triple-deck pulpit

Triple-deck pulpit

It has two particular aspects which stood out to me – 1) the triple-deck pulpit, which still has attached ear-trumpets for the wife of a past vicar; and 2) the wonderful coal-burning stove which is still the only mechanism of heating the nave of the church.

On the return to York from Whitby, we passed through Nunnington Hall, a much smaller house than Beningbrough, but which was also particularly interesting – over time, the main axis of the house had changed by 90 degrees as extensions were built and rooms were reassigned. Some of the panelling and artefacts date back to the 16th century, although much of the house is in the condition that it was during ownership by the Fife family in the first half of the twentieth century.

Nunnington Hall Dining Room

Nunnington Hall Dining Room

Day three and our trip further North (Cumbria) commenced. Having stopped at the llama Karma café (see also my Scottish trip blogpost), for a quick bacon sandwich and cup of tea, it was to our next National Trust property, Acorn Bank mill and gardens. This house is not yet open for viewing, although the intention is to open it up soon, but there are lovely gardens, and a very interesting partially restored watermill. The gardens are particularly known for their collection of several hundred edible and medicinal herbs.

Aira Force

Aira Force

Next up on our journey was an old child-hood destination of Aira Force (National Trust car-park here!), and the classic short circular walk up the side of the falls, around to the next village, and back down the other side. We were blessed by a magical improvement in the weather in the Ullswater environs, and some excellent views down over that lake. A drive over an increasing misty Kirkstone Pass took us down the “Struggle” to Ambleside, and an excellent pub lunch, then over the hills towards Thirlmere and our Inn.

The King’s Head coaching inn (www.lakedistrictinns.co.uk), was our choice of location. Reasonable rates (c. £60 per room per night for B&B in winter), quirky rooms (ours had a four poster and Victoria bath), odd artefacts (the odd miniature suit of armour sort of thing), and a lovely location between the slopes of Helvellyn and the waters of Thirlmere made for a lovely two night stay. Only drawback is the noise from the road (single glazing), but that wasn’t too much of a problem in March (traffic pretty much stops after about 8pm!). There’s also a decent bar and excellent resident’s restaurant, with good quality food such as pheasant and other local produce. All very excellent.

Surprise view

Surprise view

Day Four and it was “walk day”, obviously facilitated by parking in another National Trust car park, Our route took us from the banks of Derwent water, up past the famous Ashness Bridge (postcard territory), beyond “surprise view” (pictured), and up to Watendlath, a very remote hamlet and tarn, which is allegedly Prince Charles’ favourite spot. A gentle walk over the watershed and down into Borrowdale took us to the half-way point of our expedition. The descent took us past the Bowder stone (a large rock deposited on what looks like a precarious knife-edge) by the action of glaciers in the last ice-age. No time to linger though, onwards toward Grange and the foot of Derwentwater, and finally back to the car. 8.5miles, 4hours, and generally a lovely day. The day still had enough time for us to venture to Castlerigg stone circle, but the combination of a bitter wind and our tiredness reduced that visit to long enough to take one photograph, before we went to find a nice dinner. For this we went to the location of my first legal drink, and provider of excellent, succulent sizzling steaks, the White Lion Inn, Patterdale. And then for an early night!

Hardknott Roman Fort

Hardknott Roman Fort

Day Five did not dawn as appealingly as the previous days, but nevermind! We set off in the car to another National Trust site – Hardknott Roman Fort. This is over the somewhat ridiculous Hardknott pass road, which is not in the best of condition, and is insanely steep – the road surface is buckled at the bottom of each of the steep sections, owing to years of abuse with the force of vehicles trying to get up, which has a rather negative effect on grip on these key sections of the road. The fort itself, known as Mediobogdum, is in a very remote, hilly location, which I’m sure has a great aspect on a sunny day, but on this most normal of Cumbrian days, in the gale and the drizzle, seemed like a very depressing place to have been posted, especially since most of those posted here allegedly came from the Dalmatian Coast of what is now Croatia. An afternoon snack at Coniston, and it was then time to head to our next beautiful country house destination.

Johnby Hall

Johnby Hall

Johnby Hall is not a National Trust property, but is the delightful home (and now B&B) of two of our friends and their family. With unique accommodation, and breakfast served in the Great Hall, it makes an excellent place for a stopover. Our room was in the “modern” 17th century wing of the house!

Hardwick Hall

Hardwick Hall

Our return home, via an excellent performance of Brahms’ Requiem in York Minster, given by York Music Society, was rounded off by an excellent tour of Hardwick Hall (you guessed it – National Trust), just off the M1 in Derbyshire. It is particularly noteworthy for the enormous collection of tapestries, which literally carpet the walls. It is also incredibly grand (as befits a home owned and used by the Countess of Shrewsbury). Well worth a visit and a tour, but the carpark was a total quagmire (despite the dry spell in March!).

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5 Responses to A tour of some country houses

  1. Great itinerary and beautiful pictures. I may well take a page from your book and use it as a starting point for planning our future trip. I didn’t know March was a particularly good time for visiting the country, I imagined it would be quite wet. Is this a classically good month for visiting or was it happenstance that the weather cooperated? Is there a pleasant and warm time you’d recommend?

    • paulmthomas says:

      The delight of travel in the UK is the fact that you never know what the weather is going to do. I’ve taken a break in March for the last three years (twice going to Northwest Scotland), and been lucky with weather each time. The advantage of trips in March is the fact that there are not many other tourists about so it’s very quiet, the disadvantage is that that means that not everywhere is open!

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