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 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.

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

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

"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?"
"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...


Shopping on High Street, Brighton, Jamie Oliver's; interesting
concept, but the back jacket of his book on America, touting
"the big sky of Wyoming," absolutely turned me off; I hope his
recipes are better

George IV--waited a long time to become
king, secretly married, built the crazy Royal
Pavilion, made "Hindoo" architecture famous,
made Brighton famous...

The Royal Pavilion, part of it; we were feeling opulented-out,
so didn't go in

Brighton Pier; about 1/3 a mile long, part amusement park,
part casino, part eateries

Kid trampoline/bungy

Like Miami Beach

Except for the white cliffs, and the English Channel, and it's
not so warm you really want to take your clothes off...

Beach...fully clothed; it's a pebble beach

At the pier's amusement park

Residential a pre-Art Deco Miami Beach?
Maybe not...

I should add we had the obligatory fish and chips at a restaurant on the pier; well, fried shellfish and some fish for me, and fried sausages and chips for Vicki; and John Smith bitter, which was...bitter

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hastings and Beachy Head

The hill, where the abbey is now, occupied by Harold's
English; William's Normans had to charge up-hill

Battle Abbey ruins

Beachy Head

On Beachy Head

Sunday we drove the short distance to Battle, where the Battle of Hastings occurred. The pope directed William (the Conqueror) to build an abbey on the site of the famous battle, penance for the sin of spilling blood. It was a small battle, by 20th century standards, but perhaps 10,0000 were killed. Since the pope had directly authorized the invasion, I am sure William probably considered suggesting that the pope himself build the abbey. Oh well. William's brother, Odo, was a bishop, and therefore carried only a club into the battle so as not to commit the sin of spilling blood. OK to bash skulls, but don't spill blood.

Anyhow, Vicki and I toured the exhibits and gift store and then walked the battlefield listening to the audio guide. It was quite good, actually. Best of all was the video introduction in the visitor center, a mixture of narration-over, stills, video from re-enactments, and animated extracts from the Bayeaux tapestry, the last being extremely cool. William and Harold would not have recognized the place, the hill mostly obliterated by the abbey and its grounds. But the basics are still there. We think Harold was rash and over-confident. He should have collected more troops, rested those who had just repelled the major Danish invasion in York, and let William's communications get further (over-) extended. Maybe also call in an air-strike.

From Battle we drove on south and west to Beachy Head, taking a few pix, and then on to Brighton. We have been driving the rural bits mostly now for months, so it is interesting to get back into urban congestion and density. Brighton is 55 miles south of London and has long been known as London Beach. The Brighton holiday park was full--the first time on our travels that there was no room at the inn--and so we rough-camped a half mile down the road in a huge public park (18 soccer fields).

Later: no, there was one other time the inn was full, at Loboche, on the Everest trek, just about a year ago. The inn there was full--floor space, benches, rooms, everything, rented. All they could offer us was a tent out in the corral. By our standards, the tent was fairly opulent, and warm, for 16,000 feet in October in Nepal, but the yaks' bells kept ringing all through the night. Those animals never bed down.

Fortunately, England is yak-free.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bodiam Castle

We drove on, in brightening weather, to Bodiam Castle, still in Kent. If you were to call central casting and order up an archetypical medieval castle, they would send Bodiam. It was built rather late for such a thing, 1385-88, and for that reason, many think it was a "show" castle rather than a serious attempt at defense. It was built by a knight/adventurer, Edward Dallingridge, who spent much of his time in France, during the Hundred Years' War, plundering. But the French were plundering back at this time, and Sir Edward may well have had defense in mind. It is a ruin, but a pretty good one, only the interior structures really destroyed in the Civil War. Evidently, the Parliamentarians in southern England were not quite as bent on destruction as some of their counterparts elsewhere. They hardly touched Knole. We spent the night at a Forestry Commission carpark.

Bodiam Castle
Gate tower and portcullis

Murder holes; if you somehow got into the tower,
the first portcullis, another would fall, and then
they would pour stones, boiling oil, and other vile
things on you


Spray paint has really taken the fun out of graffitti
1940 pillbox; just in case the Germans tried to do some

Knole Castle

Knole Castle; sorry, no interior pix, but there's probably a

Knole Castle was built originally as a palace for the archbishops of Canterbury (the meek shall inherit the earth, etc.) until Henry VIII "persuaded" them to hand it over, c. 1535. Sometime later, it came to the Sackville family, in whose hands it remains, along with the National Trust. In the 17th-18th century, one of the Sackvilles was Lord Chamberlain or somesuch...anyhow, the guy in charge of royal possessions, furniture, etc., who had first call on whatever the monarch did not want. The monarch at the time was William of Orange, who did not want to be reminded of the Stuarts, and so thousands of items of Stuart possessions went to Knole and remain there, now on display. It is, indeed, the largest collection of Stuart stuff there is, and includes some Tudor stuff as well. The three galleries of portraits, pretty much all Tudor and Stuart personages, are incredible, as are all the other royal-quality stuff from the age. The most stunning pieces, however, are the items of silver furniture in the King's apartment. Louis XIV initiated the fashion of having furniture made from silver (not solid, I assume...). All the French pieces eventually were melted down to finance wars, revolutions, 1947 Lafite-Rothschild, chateaubriand, etc. But a few pieces in England survive, and they are on display at Knole. Stunning.

Shoreham: Sex and Violence on the Allotments

The Brits are all over allotments--community
gardens, sort of, though more established and
legal--and here we saw a shocking advert on
"sex and violence on the allotments"--but
then remembered the great old Peter Cook
routine..."So I've re-written it a bit. I've given
it a new title. I've called it, 'Sex and Violence
Down the Mine.' And chapter one begins with
these three nude ladies; Beryl, Stella and
Margaret, and they are completely nude, and
they are wandering around the desert...

Shoreham parish church--Norman in shape,
but younger, the brick work alternating with
flint; flint...there must have been a paleolithic
axe factory nearby

At a Shoreham pub in a building dating from
the 16th century (another flatly states 1500,
AD), a re-creation of the ostler's station; the
ostler was the guy who cared for your horse
while you were at the pub; not too many of
these left

Beautiful Kent countryside

The Brits are just endlessly interesting. After Chartwell, we parked over-night at a public carpark in the hamlet of Shoreham, in Kent. There are a few score houses and buildings here, many dating from centuries ago. But there is always plenty to see, learn, and enjoy.


Chartwell, from the garden below

The pool and pond, among many water features leading the
eyes to the view down the valley to the weald

The fish pond, where Churchill sat and fed his koi

In the larger garden, the Golden Walk, which the children
planted with 50 varieties of yellow rose, on the occasion of
the Churchills' 50th anniversary

Part of the wall around the lower garden; from reading
Churchill, I had imagined something, oh, chest high, and
enclosing perhaps 1,000 square feet; rather, it is 8 feet
high and encloses probably 2 acres of vegetable garden,
rose garden, cutting garden, and so on

He built the wall, "by his own hand," in the
years 1925-32, when he was in the political

The studio; Churchill took up painting when he was 41,
during the first world war; he was quite a serious painter,
producing some 500 works in his long life-time;
anonymously, he won several awards and prizes; t
he house and studio contain scores of his paintings

The inner studio and the unfinished painting

We had planned on visiting Windsor, but a state visit (or rehearsal for a state visit; we're not sure) changed our plans, and, on another beautiful fall day, we drove east and south to Kent, and Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill. With my interest in 20th century history, WWII, literature, and so on, it was an important visit for me. I can think of only a few authors of whom I have read more than Churchill (Samuel Eliot Morison; Douglas Southall Freeman...). Churchill wrote some 51 books, supported himself most of his life as a journalist and author, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. He was elected to Parliament in the early 1900s, had 3 or 4 distinct political careers, and became PM when he was 65.  The house is largely Clemmie's work, I think, and it is a wonderful, real place, not quite a mansion, but beautiful and radiating comfort and grace both inside and out. The exhibits are very good, indeed, although, in fairness, they might include just a bit of stuff on the negative side of Churchill. (I have been amused that none of the Churchill shrine bookstores we have seen have carried Charmley's Churchill and the End of Empire.  I can still quote the NY Times August, 1944, assessment, that he was "a 19th century man fighting a twentieth century war for 18th century purposes." But still a great man, perhaps as great as they get.)