Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chiltern walks - 23 & 24 September

Harvest Festival flower arrangementThe weekend started at Little Gaddesden village church, where they were preparing for their harvest festival. From there we did a two-mile walk circling the village including a lunch stop at their traditional English Pub.

Ashridge House

The large house for this village is Ashridge. We had read that the gardens were open in the afternoon, but when we arrived, the opening hours on the sign said they were open but also had a ‘Closed’ sign up. Since it was just a few minutes after the supposed opening time and the gate was not locked, we invited ourselves in for a quick look around. The buildings and gardens combine to give an inspiring picture of past splendour: quite an amazing place. (see more pictures)

Grand Union CanalSince we were a little unsure of our status in the garden we moved on to do one of the Chiltern walks based around Cow Roast. After a pleasant stroll along The Grand Union Canal we found the walkWild berries turned into our own harvest festival of sorts, as the path was continually lined with various trees and bushes covered in red berries.

One highlight of the walk was King Charles Ride. This is now part of the Ridgeway track and was an avenue of large lime trees, planted over two hundred years ago.

Chalfont St GilesSunday was too pleasant to stay inside, so we headed again to the Chilterns. After a pleasant pub lunch in Chalfont St Giles, we walked a loop track to Chalfont St Peter and back.

Chalfont St Giles is the perfect traditional English village: complete with village pond, green, several pubs and church, a very pleasant place to visit and the home of Milton, of Paradise Lost fame. (see more pictures)

Thames Festival - 17 September 2006

Sunday was a beautiful day to enjoy the London festival. The riverside on the South Bank was lined with artists of various types, from the stand-alone statue type to groups on stages. We enjoyed wandering along and catching various performances. The most effort award should go to a group who endeavoured to portray a Hieronymus Bosch's painting of Hell. Their costumes were colourful and imaginative.

During the afternoon we experienced a first for us: sitting in a deck chair on a lovely sandy beach, which just happened to be on the Thames riverbank. Looking out over the water to St Paul’s was rather different from that level.

Fortunately we were able to find a pub table on such a popular night and enjoyed a delicious dinner looking across the Thames.
At 7 p.m. a two-hour street carnival started: a very colourful end to a different day.

London Open House weekend - 16 September 2006

Marlborough HouseThe annual London open weekend this year enjoyed beautiful late summer sunshine.

This year's first visit was to Marlborough House to see the Commonwealth Secretariat. We were able to imagine our representative sitting there behind the NZ flag. Next was a look inside the Treasury, two floors above us was Gordon Brown's office. This elegant building, Georgian on the outside, had been totally remodeled inside. Inside the Treasury

We also visited the Banqueting Hall to admire the beautiful Reuben's ceiling.

Banqueting Hall ceiling

After that we sauntered along the Thames enjoying the various artists participating in the London Festival on the way to our final buildings. Window in the Apocatheries' HallFor us no open weekend would be complete without visiting a livery company and true to form we saw three over the weekend. The Vinters’ Hall and Apocatheries’ Hall both have very handsome buildings that date back to the Great Fire of London. As a contrast the Haberdashers’ building was only opened in 2002: their previous building being one of the casualties of the Second World War.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

One last castle before home - 10 September 2006

A Dumfries bridgeThe fabulous sunshine continued for our final day in Scotland. We spent the night in a beautiful Victorian townhouse in Dumfries and before leaving town had another look at the picturesque set of four bridges.

Water over the weir at DumfriesHaving not quite filled our castle quota, we visited Caerlaverock Castle: a magnificent, triangular castle, still surrounded by a moat. It was never taken in battle, until a siege by King Edward I when the force of 60 finally surrendered to the besieging force of 87 knights, 3000 men and a collection of siege engines.

Caerlaverock CastleSaying farewell, at last, to Scottish castles we followed the tourist trail to Gretna Green. Judging by the numbers, this seemed to be the most popular tourist destination in Scotland, and also the best value.

Gretna Green Blacksmiths shopWhat was fascinating here was to read about a conman who sweet-talked his way into a Gretna Green marriage with a wealthy heiress. The rogue was none other than Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a man we learnt about at school as founder of the New Zealand Company and who played a huge part in the settlement of New Zealand in the mid 1800s.

RomaldirkIt was then farewell to Scotland, and we took the scenic route through the North Pennines along Teesdale, with one final stop for lunch at the cute village of Romaldkirk before taking the motorway back to London.

Abbeys - oh, and a castle - 9 September 2006

KippfordThe perfect weather forecast for the weekend made today's trip down the coast road from Kilmarnock to Dumfries a real treat.

Glenluce AbbeyAlong the south coast are a number of ruined abbeys, the first, Glenluce, had a fascinating display of interlocking clay water pipes: they looked 21st century not mediaeval. Each pipe was marked so that the system could be lifted for cleaning and replaced with every pipe back in the correct location.
Sweetheart Abbey

Whithorn Priory, the next, was the birthplace of Christianity in Europe. However, the abbey we liked best was Mill pond at New Abbey Sweetheart Abbey. It is so named because the founder, Lady Devorgilla, is buried holding her husband's embalmed heart.

Before Sweetheart Abbey, we made a stop at a castle in a most romantic setting.Threave Castle Threave Castle is the only Castle in Scotland on an island in a river. Visitors are ferried across to explore the ruins including the remains of the little castle harbour which still exists: a magical place to visit on such a lovely day.

13th century bridge at DumfriesDumfries is a very attractive town, built in striking red stone. No doubt we saw it at its best, arriving in the late afternoon with the setting sun illuminating the perfect relections in the river spanned by four handsome bridges: the oldest of these was built in the 13th century by Lady Devorgilla, using the same red stone as Sweetheart Abbey. We enjoyed walking around the town on a surprisingly warm September evening.
Dumfries from across the river

Just for a change, we visit a castle - 8 September 2006

Culzean CastleOur holiday was literally ending on a high. A big high was situated over the whole of the UK, and the forecast was for perfect weather for the whole country until Sunday.

Culzean CastleWe followed a coastal road to Culzean Castle. This was a fortress castle on the sea cliff edge and was converted, into an imposing “grand house” by Robert Adam in the 17th century. His beautiful interiors were then modified in the 19th century. The result is an imposing, graceful castle in a very dramatic location. We spent most of the day enjoying the gardens and walking along a cliff-top path.

Culzean CastleWe then drove inland to a small loch. Like many of the lochs in Scotland, Loch Doon is now part of a hydro-electricity scheme. When the damn was built in the 1930s, they relocated the castle on its shore to higher ground.

Around the area were relics of a WWI target practice range for aircraft. The Ministry of Defense spent a shed load of money on this project only to mothball it, unused, when they found that the weather prevented flying on most days of the year. Doh! Surely that would be question number one?

Ness GlenStarting at the dam outfall was a walk along a gorge, Ness Glen. This loop track was very picturesque, and reminded us of NZ, especially the return path alongside the river. The rapids through the gorge are either grade 3 or 4, depending on the weather and water flow conditions.

Bridge near Stair InnWe then drove back to Kilmarnock, looking out for a picturesque pub to eat at. This is not as easy in this part of Scotland as it is in England, but we were fortunate and came across the Stair Inn: the perfect solution for our high expectations.

The power of ideas - 7 September 2006

Royal Yacht BritannniaAs the sun was shining brightly we decided to do leave Perth via a scenic route past two lochs. Loch Earn and Loch Lubnaig. St Fillians, on Loch Earn, is a popular holiday spot, and a lovely place. We passed several pretty villages on this, the best day we had in the loch areas.

Rosslyn ChapelWe headed into Edinburgh, to enjoy a great tour on the Royal Yacht Britannica. An audio guide takes you through the whole ship: from bridge to the royal apartments, reception rooms, crew quarters, galleys, hospital and engine room.
The Fallen AngelHaving previously visited Edinburgh we simply drove through the city centre on the way to our next destination. Dan Brown has ensured that no trip to Scotland would be complete without visiting Rosslyn Chapel. It is certainly a worthwhile destination to have made so popular. The dream of one man, it is an amazing achievement and also amazing is the fact that it has survived nearly six centuries.

New LanackOn the way to Kilmarnock, we stopped by the UNESCO world heritage site at New Lanark. It was, by then, closed but we were able to wander around the buildings. What was once a busy woollen mill, is now a scenic spot in a sheltered valley. This too was the inspiration of one man, David Dale, but it was the ideas of his son-in-law, Robert Owen, who revolutionized this place and helped change the world for the better with concepts like childcare, education, healthcare and cooperative shopping for his work-force.

500 years in a day - 6 September 2006

Falkland CastleThe sunshine returned today, and we made the most of the day. The first stop was Falkland: a very attractive town, with a most interesting Palace; the royal holiday home when James V and Mary Queen of Scots were around. James married a French wife, and he had the first tennis court in the UK built in his back yard. Coming long before Lawn Tennis it has a different court layout and different rules to the modern game. Similarities are a ball, a racquet and a net, but not much else: the spectators’ gallery roof is part of the paying area. ‘Real Tennis’ is still played on this court.

Kinross GardensIn our search for the perfect formal gardens we called at Kinross Gardens: they were lovely, but the quest was not satisfied until the end of the day.

Bishop's Palace, CulrossNearby was Culross: an amazing village where it feels like being in a time warp. Buildings dating back to 16th and 17th centuries have been restored by the National Trust for Scotland. CulrossUnfortunately the Bishop's Palace, Abbey and Study were not open.

Falkirk WheelWe then drove to Falkirk, as we had seen an article regarding their Millennium Wheel. This is a huge wheel which raises one barge to a high canal, and at the same time lowers the barge already at the top: a very spectacular piece of modern engineering.

Falkirk WheelNext stop was Stirling, to look at the castle. This is a huge castle on a strategic promontory. It was home to the Kings of Scotland, and is currently undergoing renovation. The feature we liked best, was watching two weavers at work, they are currently making the third tapestry of a series of six, to hang in the Queen's bed- chamber. The modern tapestries are so colourful, but to see the weavers working on one was very interesting.

En route from Stirling Castle to Drummond Castle we made a quick stop in Alva from where Christine's forebears left when they emigrated to NZ.

Drummond Castle GardensAlva was, as her ancestors had decided, a good place to leave, so we pressed on to our final stop for the day, Drummond Castle Gardens. Having seen a brochure, we thought they looked rather special. The drive in set the scene: a very long, narrow, tree-lined driveway led to the Castle. The old and new castles are built side by side, and below them is a huge formal garden. It is magnificent: we had finally found the best formal garden in the UK.

Drummond Castle Gardens

Friday, September 22, 2006

Oh no, not another castle! - 5 September 2006

Scotch thistleUnlike yesterday, the weather forecasters had warned us that today would be wet: time for some indoor touring. Fortunately we were near two of Scotland’s best-known castles.

Scone Palace

First was Scone Palace, which has been associated with the coronation of the Kings of Scotland ever since McAlpin came over from Ireland and became the first King. He brought the Scone Stone with him and subsequent kings were crowned on it at Scone on Moot Hill: an artificial mound supposedly brought there in the boots of his Lords so that they could swear allegiance standing on their own soil.

The Palace is amazing: the interiors are very impressive and well worth visiting.

Blair CastleAlter a substantial lunch of very thick Scotch broth (perfect for such a miserable day) we set out in the heavy rain for Blair Castle.
This is a very stunning looking castle, painted white. Even on a grey day, it looked very striking. They advertise that you get to see 30 rooms in the castle, which was an excellent way to while away a miserable day. They weren't exaggerating, then were actually 31, plus many small connecting rooms. This castle was not as sumptuous as the previous one, but still very interesting, with many fine rooms and furniture. One very useful feature was that they numbered the many family portraits, and then identified the person by their number on a relatives family tree in every room.

Castles, cathedrals and cottages - 4 September 2006

St Andrew's CastleWe left Dundee this morning in glorious sunshine with the forecasters promising the best day yet.

Over the Tay Bridge is St Andrews where we enjoyed a very interesting tour of the castle and the old Cathedral. The castle has two mine tunnels beneath it. The first, the attack tunnel, was built from (what is now) a house opposite, trying to tunnel underneath the gatehouse and blow it up. The monks inside the castle found out and had three attempts to make a counter tunnel. They could only guess the direction to dig by the digging sounds that the attackers were making.

St Andrews Cathedral ruinsUp above ground again we toured the cathedral ruins. One part that is left is a very high tower [Not the tower pictured] and the climb to the top affords marvelous views over St Andrews.

Glamis CastleAfter walking around the town, we drove back through Dundee and Perth to Glamis Castle. This kept our royal theme of the last few days, as this was the childhood home of the Queen Mother. The visit was by guided tour, which was very interesting.

Highland cowWe sat at their picnic tables and watched their very handsome highland cattle while we ate the delicious goodies we had purchased in St Andrews.

The Wendy HouseAt Kirriemuir we visited JM Barrie's childhood home. It was just a humble cottage, which shows that talent can flourish in any environment. In the back yard was their washhouse - the original Wendy House.

Barrie had donated a camera obscura to his home-town in the 1930s. We have seen one before, but never one so clear, and the surrounding countryside, so vivid. The lady who demonstrated it to us, made it amusing by making a dog or trucks run over a little cardboard bridge which she would place on the image screen.

We then drove through the attractive town of Forfar to the Pitmuies Gardens. These are very simple, but attractive gardens.

FurtherEdzell Castle garden on, past Brechin was our final attraction, Edzell Castle. This was a ruin of a once attractive castle, but the main attraction is the walled garden. It was built in 1604 and restored in the 1930s. The gardens are our favorite formal box hedge type of garden and attractive in their own right, but surrounding the garden is an amazing wall. Edzell Castle wallOne side is the castle, the other three feature themes of carved plaques: One wall the virtues, one the arts and one the planetary gods. The summer-house and well have survived but not the bath house. It was a tranquil, romantic garden: quite an amazing find.