Saturday, October 31, 2009

Montacute

After stopping at a surprisingly large Mega Super Tesco, in surprisingly large Yeovil (ever heard of Yeovil?), we drove on to our house of the day, Montacute, which hosts the National Portrait Gallery collection of Tudor and Stuart portraits. (Montacute: there are some very pointed ("acute") hills nearby.) The House is late Elizabethan, in the Phelips family (briefly, Robert Dudley) for centuries, then last occupied by Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India, who was living there with his mistress when he was told, alas, he was not going to be PM. 1920s or so. Very interesting old furniture. The “samplers” on display go back to 1604, lace, embroidery, etc., incredible detail and color preservation. The portraits themselves were of higher quality but less numerous than those at Knole. There was very helpful narrative with each, however. We drove on, as the sun set, toward our next house, Killerton, and parked in a nearby village, on the outskirts of Exeter, in a designated parking place near a school, seemingly quiet, residential. We have "camped" in such places half a dozen times in the UK, and I always wonder if the residents are watching at their windows, shotguns loaded and cocked. "Gypsies! From America! What is the world coming to?!"
Approach to the house, late Elizabethan









Heraldic windows and turret











View from garden







Main garden; the gardens and grounds are defiantly
Elizabethan, never having been visited by Culpability
Brown; but the plantings are 19th century












In the garden; late October, still blooming
away...

Roman Road

The carpark near Hardy's cottage was ample, remote, and un-signed, so we pitched our camp there. Several trails in Thorncombe Park take off from the carpark, and we decided to follow one. It was another bright autumn afternoon.
We got a few hundred yards before encountering this sign









The newly re-cleared Roman road; I visited with some of
the rangers later and learned the road linked present-day
Dorchester with the Bradbury Rings and Exeter; ultimately
with London; the Roman roads are easily identifiable,
they said, pitched, with drainage ditches; "wide enough
for two chariots to pass?" I wanted to ask









Note the pit on the left; the area is largely limestone and
subject to what Floridians call "sink-holes"; some here
were sufficiently old that the Romans had to run the road
around them, deviating from their normal "straight line"
approach to the world

Hardy Cottage

We drove on to near Dorchester, stopping, at Thorncombe Park, to visit the Thomas Hardy cottage. It is where he was born and grew up and where he returned to write his first few novels. To be candid, Hardy is Vicki's thing. I have never read a word of Hardy; not one word (although I did once watch the Tess movie years ago). Vicki actually re-read Tess in advance of this visit. She has been doing this sort of thing all the way through. Absolutely all I know about Hardy is from the Monty Python "Novel Writing" sketch, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogPZ5CY9KoM. You must listen to it before proceeding.
Hardy memorial











Hardy cottage, built c. 1800







Vicki at the cottage








Hardy's bedroom

Cultural Treasures of Winchester Cathedral

"Winchester Cathedral
You're bringing me down
You stood and you watched as
My baby left town"

The grand patriarch of all fishing guide books is Isaac Walton's mid-17th century tome The Compleat Angler. If you fish, thoughtfully, you know this book. One of the chapels at Winchester contains Walton's tomb, and the fly-fishing federation of Great Britain (whatever it is called), has endowed and decorated it.

"Oh-bo-de-o-do oh-bo-de-o-do
Oh-bo-de-o-do de-do-duh"
Altar in the "Walton" chapel: nice neolithic water symbol,
tying (!) things together for us; the pews are carved in
beautifully rippled surfaces










Walton's tomb











Stained glass piece from the Walton chapel 











Especially for lunkers; actually the caption is,
"I swear, he was THAT big!"











Oh, yes, Winchester also contains the tomb of Jane Austen
(please, no comments about my prejudices or sensibilities)
(nyuk-nyuk-nyuk)









 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Winchester Cathedral II

"You could have done something
But you didn't try
You didn't do nothing
You let her walk by

"Now everyone knows just how much I needed that gal
She wouldn't have gone far away
If only you'd started ringing your bell"

We did both the general cathedral tour and the crypt tour at Winchester, both very fine presentations.
Everything you see in the nave and choir
areas is perpendicular or Gothic; but when
you get to the transepts, here, the north one,
it is still the original 12th century Norman
Romanesque; not "updated"; the reason
being that the central tower fell down in
the 13th century, and there were,
consequently, higher priorities....

















In the crypt, here, you begin to get some insight: every
spring, the crypt floods, knee-deep; it turns out the whole
thing has serious foundation problems; really serious
foundation problems







Consequently, and unlike most cathedrals, the crypt at
Winchester is used only for spare parts












In the first several years of the 20th century, this man,
William Walker, a diver, spent six hours a day beneath
the foundations of Winchester Cathedral, replacing
rotted oak and heather with cement, saving the great
cathedral; "by his hand alone"














Still, in the south aisle, the floor and wall
don't look exactly perpendicular; I was glad
to get to the gift shoppe...

Winchester Cathedral

"Winchester Cathedral
You're bringing me down
You stood and you watched as
My baby left town"

We drove into Winchester, the Saxons' ancient capital, and where William was first crowned, to see the cathedral and a bit of the town. Somehow, Winchester cathedral gets two Michelin stars. In most any respect--size, history, art, relics, architecture--it is of secondary importance, if that. Yet, it has great appeal, particularly if one is awed by these great monuments, how they are put together, what keeps them together and still up. Winchester was of interest to me for just these reasons. And it will take two or three posts to explain it all, so bear with me.
Winchester Cathedral; 2/3 of it; only St. Pete's at the Vatican
is of greater length










All white (just once I'd like to see one painted,
in bright colors, as they originally were)












Choir, looking back to nave











West window, destroyed in the Civil War;
shards collected and put back together by
townspeople













Screen; similarly destroyed in the Civil War,
rebuilt in the 19th century












Screen through choir from nave











St. Swithun's tomb; hey, you got to have a saint and relics if
you want tourists, I mean, pilgrims...










North aisle, incredible 12th century tile work
on the floor












A green man misericord in the choir







Winchester is so long (the lady hall was an add-on) that the
townspeople would short-cut through it; whereupon, the
clergy erected this 13th century sign: pray, this way; walk,
that way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Petworth House

I think this is extremely photo-shoppped






I'd love to claim this as mine







Actually, this is pretty close to what I took






























[Note: in a rare computer/camera screw-up, I managed to lose even the few pix I took of Petworth (none on the inside). So I have borrowed a few from the web.]

You wouldn't think anything called Petworth would be all that great. Petworth R Us. But it was great, one of the best we have seen, and a reminder that all these properties are like individuals, so different, but each with interesting features or histories. Sometimes exceptional features or histories. At Petworth, it was the art. The building was not of great interest, although old in parts and going back to the Percy family of Northumberland ("Hotspur"); and the grounds, although another Capability Brown job and nearly 1,000 acres, were just OK. (Maybe we're getting a bit jaded). The art is stunning, however. 20 Turners, 20 van Dyke's, all sorts of Gainsboroughs and Reynolds, and of others of interest, and Breughel, Bosch, and on and on. And those were just the paintings. Then there was the Gibbons wood carving (the "Carved" room, said to be the best in all England), an entire gallery of marvelous sculpture, etc. I imagine only the Tate has more Turners. He stayed at Petworth for some time and painted the place. ("Two coats!"). There are not many museums that can match what is here. And unlike most urban museums, the paintings are not under glass, and you can walk right up and eye-ball the brush-strokes if you want (except in Turner's case...it is so smooth...). Of particular interest was the oldest known English globe, acquired by the family from Sir Walter Raleigh, early 1600s. Geez. And, not least at Petworth were the kitchens. Nearly all the great houses have some sort of kitchen display or representation. At Petworth, the whole thing is on display, 1,000 items of copper cookery, stoves, ovens, pastry molds, room after room, the evolution of cooking from the 18th to the 20th centuries, the best we have yet seen in this regard. Anyhow, we spent way too long, gawking and following the guides around and asking questions, and then spent a while on the grounds too.

Another gorgeous if short day. Summer Time (as the Brits call it) is over ("fall back"), and you better have found a place to land by 4PM, because, by 5, it's pitch dark. We drove on toward Winchester, but stopped short at a nice bucolic lay-by, just in time for the sunset.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Arundel Castle

Approaching the castle







Another view--it really is a beautiful, fairytale-like structure








The old keep--built by Henry II








Interior of the chapel








The chapel adjoins Arundel's (city) cathedral









Curtain and tower











Interior of the newer (13th century) bailey; the present Duke
and his family reside in the buildings to the left































































Arundel is famous for a variety of reasons--it is one of the older castles that is still fairly intact, is has excellent collections of furnishings and historical materials, it was the stronghold of the Dukes of Norfolk, the most Catholic and generally most senior among dukes outside the royal family. The 4th Duke actually challenged Elizabeth the Queen; and lost his head for it. The death warrant, with her seal and signature, is in the library.  Anyhow, we toured Arundel on another brilliant, sunny and dry October day and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is only five miles from the sea, on a hill with a commanding view.

Motor Camping in the UK

Granted, we check in to a holiday park or caravan site only about once a week. The rest of the time we are at car-parks or lay-bys or county parks or wherever looks quiet and safe and without obvious prohibitions. And often with an incredible view and no expense. Nonetheless, over the years, we have acquired considerable experience in staying at UK campgrounds, and I thought I'd share at least a few pix from our most recent stay, at a modest park in West Sussex. It's fairly typical--probably 100 pitches--if not as large as some of its fellows, but it has most of the relevant and common facilities. Although they differ in lay-out and amenities, all share the same (pseudo-military) culture, lingo, even personalities.
Reception, the command and control center; typically, the
smaller campgrounds are husband-and-wife operations
(something we could never do), she taking bookings over
the phone or internet, checking people in, explaining the
rules, selling whatever candies/pops/magazines they have
(larger parks have whole stores, liquor licenses, etc)...he
puttering about on a golf-cart, cleaning this, fixing that,
explaining how the electricity works to stupid Americans;
entry is by an electric gate, the secret code to which you
get after check-in; typically, the park is locked tight at
11PM or so







The landscaping is generally owner/manager-designed












Main Street, circular, around the park, other areas radiating
off...








The Toilet Block--toilets, showers, lavatories, but also a
launderette and a kitchen area (sinks, but no stoves,
refrigerators, as in some other countries of our acquaintance);
admission requires a key or secret-code; showers, etc.,
are exceptionally clean













Hooking up to the mains; the Caravan Club
even has a pamphlet on this (and other topics);
can't watch football without electricity














A typical pitch--at least in mid-October; in summer, there
would be two or three tents or awning-houses attached to
every caravan (trailer) or motorhome; the British have no
concept of roughing-it, at least in these types of facilities








"Charles?"
"Yes, My Love?"
"Charles, whatever is that odour?"
"Yes, My Love?"
"Charles, the cassette is nearly topped up"
"Yes, My Love?"
"Charles, the effluent is evident!"
"Yes, My Love?"
"Charles?!"
"Yes, My Love?"
"Dump the shitter!"
"Yes, My Love"


Culinary Interlude

British food is even more meticulously labeled
than American food (is anyone surprised?);
apparently it's cheaper to print the warning
than to clean out the vat...