A taste of the New Forest

2021 was the year when many of us were unable to go abroad on holiday. It was disappointing but living in the UK gives you lots of choices of places to visit and discover ‘new’ parts of the country.

Earlier in the year we’d spent a week up in Cumbria and had thoroughly enjoyed exploring that area, we hadn’t expected great weather but overall it wasn’t too bad. Then September arrived and we decided to book another Airbnb, this time in the New Forest. We had a good excuse to go away, not that we needed one but it’s our wedding anniversary in the middle of September so we decided to take a mini-break and thought the area around Lymington looked interesting.

Once again my man had done some research and had found an Airbnb which suited us in a village very near to Lymington called Boldre. The owners were great, very friendly and helpful and we really liked the place especially having a garden at the side all to ourselves.

The Barn at Boldre with ample parking and our own private garden.

Boldre is in the south of the New Forest National Park. It’s a small village but it boasts a very good pub, and it’s a good starting point for walking. We found the Red Lion served a good pint and although we didn’t have an evening meal there, we enjoyed lunch sat in their very large garden.

For our first evening we drove into Lymington and had a wander around the old harbour area before an excellent meal at the Koh Thai Tapas in the High Street.

Lymington at night towards the Old Town Quay. Lovely Georgian houses.

Next morning we decided to do a little exploring, walking first of all to Boldre Church which is a mile away from the vilage. Sweet little church with a squat tower dating back to the 13th century. We couldn’t go in as on this Sunday morning there was a service going on. Nothing surprising about that but what did surprise us is that the church was packed, so unlike our village church at home.

Boldre Church with its very regimented graveyard and an
intricate engraved glass window.
Engraved glass window.

After having a wander around the churchyard we carried on our walk through Roydon Woods Nature Reserve and onto a pretty ford and footbridge across Lymington stream. We then headed uphill, followed the road for a while then through a couple of fields crossing two stiles and a footbridge before arriving back to Boldre. A very pretty walk.

Roydon Woods Nature reserve with a a ford and footbridge over the Lymington river.
Heading back to Boldre. Love the reflection of the tree branches in the stream.

We headed back into Lymington and treated ourselves to a drink at The Ship Inn before buying a crab sandwich for lunch. We sat on the harbour wall, a popular place to eat lunch. The fresh crab was delicious! An added bonus was that the sun was starting to come out.

An ideal place for lunch.

With the weather having perked up we decided to drive towards Beaulieu and then to Lepe Country Park, situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was lovely to see the sea and walk along the coastal path a little way. The sunshine had brought everyone out so it was quite busy with everyone deciding they wanted an ice cream,. Looking at the queue we decided instead to walk up onto the cliffs where there are fine views across to the Isle of Wight. If we weren’t limited with the car parking we’d have walked further along the cliffs.

Lepe – an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Remains of the breakwater.

A little along the coast from Lepe is the well-known village of Buckler’s Hard. Situated on the banks of the Beaulieu river, this unspoilt haven attracts many tourists not only to its Maritime Museum but because the area is totally unspoilt. Having driven down the lane a few miles towards Buckler’s Hard we reached the sign showing the parking charges. If we’d had the whole afternoon we might have paid the £5 for three hours but as we only wanted to have a quick walk round we decided to turn round and head back to Boldre.

On the way back we stopped at Hatchett Pond where there was a cow cooling off in the water and parked nearby, an ice cream van. Definitely a winner! We sat with our huge ice creams watching the world go by, enjoying the sunshine as much as the cow was enjoying his paddle and all this without having to pay for parking.

Cooling off in Hatchet Pond.

If you have read any of my holiday Blogs you will know that I try not make them too long, so I’m pausing this one here. I have lots more pictures and more rambings about our few days in the New Forest so I hope you’ll join me for the second half. Lots of cute pictures of donkeys and horses, beautiful gardens and an historic house.

Christmas at Tyntesfield

The Georgian House was remodelled in Gothic style from 1863 by William Gibbs.

This was only our second visit to Tyntesfield which is surprising as it’s not far from where we live. The estate itself has interesting gardens, a sculpture trail, a walled vegetable garden, an Orangery, vast woodlands and two play areas for children and lots more to see and do. As soon as you turn onto the estate it is impressive as the drive is treelined and at Christmas time these beautifully trimmed trees are decorated with red bows. It looks so pretty. Today this well-preserved house and surrounding gardens sits in 540 acres.

The house has been owned by The National Trust since 2002 and together with generous donations and a huge grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund this Gothic-style house and estate was saved for the nation.

It was owned by the Gibbs family from 1843 until the death of Lord Wraxall in 2002. The family made their fortune trading in guano. (a highly effective manure from the droppings of birds, bats and seals and comes mainly from islands off the coast of Peru, Africa and California). I guess you could say …where there’s muck there’s money! For more about the Gibbs family and how they amassed their fortune, here is the link.

When we’d parked our car we decided to walk down to the Orangery. The sun made an appearance only for a short while but enough to take a picture of the house from the path.

The House rather obscured by trees and bushes but great colours.

It wasn’t possible to get into the Orangery at this time but the window displays depicting a Victorian Christmas were really interesting, so much work had gone into them.

Victorian window displays at The Orangery.

The area around The Orangery leading onto the greenhouses and the walled kitchen garden looked Christmassy too. I was persuaded to pose underneath the prettily decorated arbour.

Formal gardens and glasshouses by The Orangery.
‘Merry Christmas from Tyntesfield’.

Posing over thank goodness it was time to have a wander round the Walled Garden. Even though it was December there were so many varieties of vegetables and not a slug or snail in sight! What a banquet for rabbits!

Beautifully neat rows of winter veg.

After admiring all the vegetables growing in the garden not to mention the very neat rows, we wandered back up to the house.

The house was bought by William Gibbs in 1843. He was a religious man: a ‘High-Church’ Anglican. He associated with Augustus Pugin who like Gibbs believed that the Gothic style of architecture was an expression of Christian ideals. Together they commissioned the architect John Norton to build this extravagant house with its pinnacles, towers, oriel windows and arches. When the house was completed in 1873 a flamboyant chapel was built based again on Gothic architecture mirroring that of Saint Chapelle in Paris. It certainly didn’t reflect the style of this area. Sadly the chapel wasn’t completed until just after William died.

The imposing Gothic-style chapel adjoining the House.

Christmas at Tyntesfield is a great time to visit as the house is beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and handmade decorations. The volunteers take you back to Victorian times as they dress as members of the Gibbs family or as a maid, a footman, and other family servants. It’s great fun as the volunteers really do take on their part and are happy to answer any questions about the running of the house as it would have been at the turn of the 20th century.

A festive feel to the House.
The Christmas decorations have been made over the years by the volunteers.

One of the reasons why the house is in such good condition is that for much of the time the window blinds were drawn so that light wouldn’t fade the paintings or the fine carpets etc. Latterly the last member of the Gibbs family lived in a small part of the house so that most rooms were covered in dust sheets to protect everything. Despite the excellent condition of the interior and the historic collections there is currently a team of conservationists at Tyntesfield carefully restoring the curtains from the Organ Room. According to the Trust’s website the house contains over 60,000 objects.

Whenever we visit a stately home or historic monument owned perhaps by the National Trust or English Heritage there is always something which catches our eye. Usually it’s a painting and often both of us like the same one, although not always. At Tyntesfield we have a favourite …and it is a painting. As soon as you arrive at the top of the stairs, you notice it. On this visit we were able to ask a volunteer a little more about this beautiful woman and the child in the picture alongside.

The Hon. Victoria Florence de Burgh Long and her daughter Doreen.

The Hon. Victoria Florence de Burgh Long is quite a name! She married George Gibbs who became the 1st Baron of Wraxall in 1878. Victoria was a philanthropist and during the First World War spearheaded the Bristol Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society. She was awarded the OBE in 1918 for her charitable work. Her first child was still-born but her daughter, Doreen born in 1913 pictured alongside her here, lived to the grand old age of 94! Sadly Victoria contracted influenza and died at Tyntesfield in 1920. George subsequently married Ursula Lawley. The couple had two sons George and Eustace. Here’s the Wikipedia link which gives lots more information on the Gibbs family and the house.

The tour of the house ends at the Chapel which is just superb. Beautiful stained glass windows, ornate stonework, bejewelled crosses on the walls and a stunning altarpiece. A lovely way to round off the visit.

The Chapel at Tyntesfield. Licensed for family services but never consecrated.

I hope this Blog shows how much there is to see at Tyntesfield. Our next visit will be in the summer when we can explore the grounds a little more. The house isn’t open every day at the moment so it’s worth checking the website before you visit as it would be a shame not to be able to see inside this fascinating Gothic pile.

A week in Cumbria – Part two

It’s been a while since I wrote about our visit to Cumbria but at long last, here I go with Part Two of the story!

A circular walk from our ‘The Old Dairy’, our Airbnb.

It’s the fourth day of our holiday and it was time to do some more exploring of the local area. There are so many walks around where we were staying it was hard to choose, however the maps in the Old Dairy gave us some options. This was our second fairly short, circular walk from our Airbnb and this time we were hoping to arrive back in the dry.

I love the stone bridges here and the white-washed houses and the stunning countryside. The hamlet of Millthrop is just down the road and is a pretty village. There’s a splendid row of cottages with a gentle curve of the frontages. This garden was so stunning although I wouldn’t have wanted to water all those pots!

What a beautiful garden!

After lunch and with the sun shining (at last), we decided to drive over to the market town of Hawes, stopping on the way to see ‘Cotter Force’ which is a secluded waterfall. The joy of this waterfall is that it’s easily accessible. You walk across a narrow bridge, along a stile-free public right of way which is suitable for buggies and wheelchairs and the short path leads from here to the waterfall. As you can see, it was well worth going to check it out.

Cotter Force waterfall.

The town of Hawes is a bustling market town in the Yorkshire Dales. Yes we had driven out of Cumbria, into a different county … but only just. The National Park Centre and the Dales Countryside Museum are both found there but Hawes is also famous for its Wensleydale cheese. The Creamery has a large shop and you can also go on tours to see the cheese being made. We did visit the shop which was packed full of people (it’s a popular tourist place), so we treated ourselves to some cheese and then headed back into the Main Street.

It’s a wide street, bustling on that afternoon with life – probably the good weather had brought people out. After looking in a few local shops we had a choice of at least three pubs along the street. We chose one and spent a pleasant time sat in the sun enjoying an excellent pint of beer and watching the world go by.

We rounded off a very pleasant day with an excellent Italian meal in Sedbergh at Al Forno. Warm, friendly service and delicious fresh pastas and pizza.

Dent village with Dent Station (Main picture).

I should explain that neither my man nor I are steam train enthusiasts but the next day we decided to drive to Dent and then go by train to walk to the famous Ribble Valley Viaduct to watch a steam train going across. This doesn’t happen every day!

The drive from Sedbergh was interesting as the road winds through a narrow valley called Dentdale, which is on the western slopes of the Pennines. Dent village has lots of history and boasts a Museum and Heritage Centre, a few shops, a fine Grade One listed church and pubs which are also B&B’s. There’s stunning landscape all around and many walkers come to the area as The Dales Way cuts through the village. It was a superb day when we were there but I can imagine life is tough in the winter and was even tougher over the centuries.

If you are expecting to catch a train from the village of Dent …forget it. Anyone expecting to walk to the station would have quite a job. The road is steep and narrow and even in the car it felt further than the four miles.The station is perched high up on the hillside and is on the Settle to Carlisle line and is the highest operational station on the National Rail network in England.

The station house itself is now a private house and as there was no means to buy a ticket we had a free ride to the Ribblehead Railway Station There was more life here and thankfully the station master, who was manning a small shop had a key to the loo. Feeling relieved (quite literally!), off we set down the path towards the Ribblehead Viaduct.

Ribblehead Viaduct

The viaduct is very impressive and what a lovely day it was to sit around waiting for the train to go across. I’m rather proud of the picture below even though it’s quite a distant shot. Of course no sooner had we spotted the train coming it was over the viaduct in next to no time but it had been a great sight and we felt it had definitely been worth coming up here.

Steam locomotive 34046 Braunton built in 1946.

We didn’t get a free train journey on the way back and felt the price to go just a few miles and only one stop was expensive but as we had only paid for one way, we had no grounds to complain! Had another hearty meal that night at The Dalesman pub in Sedbergh, our second visit. Excellent reasonably priced pub food and good wine and beer.

View from the train heading from Ribblehead station to Dent station.

For our last day in Cumbria we decided to drive to Ullswater, after all we were staying near ‘The Lakes’. It’s true to say that roads in this part of the world mean the journey takes quite a while irrespective of what is says on the map. Being on holiday we weren’t in a hurry but I imagine some of the locals get a little frustrated with tourists clogging up the narrow country roads.

Stopping en route to buy yet another excellent baguette for lunch from the friendly Spar shop in Sedburgh we headed off towards Ullswater, 35miles. We noticed lots of signs alerting us to red squirrels in the area, unfortunately the only ones we saw were on the signs. Our first stop was the car park for the National Trust’s wood and waterfall known as Aira Force. It’s a popular place and finding a space to park wasn’t easy but we managed it. The woods are lovely with lots of very interesting trees, mostly evergreen, loved by red squirrels but they weren’t coming out that day.

The river is so clear and although the path in places is a little tricky we thoroughly enjoyed the circular walk going across the river and down the other side. Before that we stopped to take pictures of the waterfall including from the viewing platform which at present is closed due to a fallen tree.

Aira Force waterfall and a rare picture of me!
Clear water cutting through the granite rock.

Leaving the woods and feeling ready for lunch we found a pleasant spot at the side of Ullswater. Our friend who knows the area well said we were lucky to find anywhere during the summer months!

Beautiful Ullswater.

We could have stayed there for the rest of the afternoon but decided to go over to Ambleside. It’s a narrow, twisty road up and over the Kirkstone Pass beginning in Patterdale and ending in Ambleside. With its 1 in 4 gradient, stunning views all round, it’s a great drive and is the highest pass in the Lake District.

Kirkstone Pass (r.h. picture features Lake Windemere).

As you can see it’s quite some road and probably not one to tackle in the ice and snow. I’m not going to say too much about Ambleside other than it seemed very crowded after all the other places we’d been to. The weather was starting to close in and was getting quite chilly so we decided to have a hot drink …a good idea you would think. Unfortunately both the tea and the coffee at this lake-side cafe were terrible so we left after a short while and headed back to the tranquility of Sedbergh and ‘The Old Dairy’.

The ‘poshest’ place in the town to eat is The Black Bull and as it was the last night of our holiday we booked a table. We weren’t disappointed; the food was delicious and the restaurant had a great atmosphere. It was the perfect choice for our ‘final’ meal of the holiday.

I hope this account of our holiday in Cumbria might inspire you to visit this area. We only saw a couple of the lakes and just explored a small part of this beautiful county but it was enough to whet our appetite for The Lake District and I know we’ll be back.

A week away in Cumbria

Usually by early summer we would have been on our way to France but of course this year has been different. The option to travel abroad wasn’t easy so we got out travel books for the UK, discounted some areas, made a list of possibles, whittled it down and decided on Cumbria. What a good choice!

Next step was to find an Airbnb for our week’s stay. Once again we made a good decision. The Green is just outside the market town of Sedbergh It’s an interesting town with good local shops, pubs, restaurants and the best fish & chips you’ll find anywhere. We were very happy in ‘The Old Dairy at The Green’ which was quiet, being the end ‘outbuilding’ of what used to be a working farm. There were lovely views all around and inside had everything we needed. Viv and Ernie were excellent hosts – on hand if we needed anything but otherwise left us to enjoy our time there.

‘The Green’ near Sedbergh, just in the county of Cumbria.

I should mention that our first stop before arriving at our Airbnb was at Kendal for something to eat. It’s just six miles off the M6 motorway and only twelve miles to Sedbergh. Kendal is a bustling town which we instantly liked. A pot of tea at one of the many cafes and a thick slab of delicious toasted fruit bread set us up for the afternoon.

After settling ourselves into the cosy ‘Old Dairy we drove into Sedbergh. We could have walked in but we had had quite a long journey. It’s easy to park just near the High Street and walk through the town. We would thoroughly recommend ‘The Dalesman’ a 16th century coaching inn where we had an excellent meal and a good pint of beer.

One of the many interesting ‘snickets’ off the main road in Sedbergh, (top picture) and the stunning countryside all around the town.

Our second day and time to walk off our meal from the night before. (Meals are very ‘hearty’ in this part of the world)! We took one of the recommended walks from the information cards in the airbnb and what an interesting walk it was.

First of all we walked down the lane to the village of Millthrop then crossed the river Rawthey and into Akay Woods. There used to be a Georgian manor house there which eventually after years of neglect was bought by Sedbergh School and demolished in the 1930’s. There’s very little left but one archway stands proudly almost taken over by nature.

One of the last remnants of the Manor House built around 1824. Nearby is this landmark, appropriately-named, ‘The Pepperpot’.

Coming out of the woods the first thing you see on the horizon is ‘The Pepperpot’. It’s a well known landmark and sits just feet away from the Dales Way path. The building is believed to be around 100 years old and is commonly thought to have been built as an isolation house for the daughter who lived at the Manor House who had Tuberculosis. In spring 2015 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Sedbergh School Foundation a grant to rebuild ‘The Pepperpot’.

We then walked across the fields admiring the stunning scenery. There was a short tunnel underneath the disused railway line with surprisingly, a horse standing above us, minding its own business. We carried on after having a few words with him and crossed another field to Brigflatts.

On the left is an old stone step stile. As for the horse …we didn’t expect to see him standing on the disused railway line!

There are just a few houses here including one very historic Grade 1 listed building. The Friends’ Meeting House was built in 1675 and is the second oldest of its kind in the country. We would have gone inside but the Quakers had a meeting and were sat in the garden absorbed with their thoughts. We retraced our steps up the lane and then a short distance along the A683 before taking the Dales Way path alongside the river.

Brigflatts Meeting House c1675.

It was a beautiful walk along the river even though it started rain and boy did it rain! We were thankful to get back to The Old Dairy to dry out.

Start of the path following the river. (Top picture). Bottom right is where we were staying with the Winder Hill behind.
It’s absolutely pouring down!

We more or less dried out after lunch which was just as well as we were going to visit friends who live in Silverdale. I went to Uni with them. It’s always lovely when we meet up and great to see their two girls. One is a star baker and had made a delicious chocolate cake with fruit on top. After tea, cake and much talking we decided to risk the weather and go fishing for minnows.

Those minnows just didn’t want to be caught!

Having spent a lovely afternoon with our friends we drove back in the pouring rain stopping at Kirkby Lonsdale to look at the 14th century ‘Devil’s Bridge’ (I also liked the other bridge which spans the river there) and to have a pub meal. They certainly go in for big portions at The Orange Tree however the food was hale and hearty and perfect for a very wet, dull evening. Good beer too.

Cumbria was certainly living up to its reputation for rain but then we hadn’t come here for the weather. We were hoping that it wouldn’t rain all week …

The more modern road bridge just up river from the c14th Devil’s Bridge.

The third day of our holiday and it was time to do some more serious walking. The obvious hill to climb is Winder which dominates the skyline but it’s a big hill and my man didn’t feel his knees were up to it. Actually, I don’t think I could have climbed up there either. So we chose to walk up to the waterfall called appropriately Cautley Spout – great name. It’s England’s highest waterfall and cascades down the eastern side of the Howgill Fells at the head of a glacial valley.  There are several walks you can do but we took the easier option of parking on the road and walking up from there.

Our walk to Cautley Spout and a wonderful view down the valley.

You can probably tell from the pictures that it was an overcast day and by the time we got close to the waterfall it was pouring down and getting quite slippery. Amazing view though down the valley so it was all worth it.

Cautley Spout – England’s highest waterfall.

What we needed now was a warm meal and a hot drink. The beauty of this walk is that just by where you park is a four hundred year-old pub, The Cross Keys Inn. It’s a temperance pub, owned by the National Trust and run by a lovely couple serving delicious homemade food. It was once possible to buy alcohol at the Cross Keys but the then landlord was drowned when trying to help a customer home from the Inn. ​The next owner, Mrs. Edith Bunney removed the licence in 1902. She left the property to the National Trust who now let it to Alan and Christine Clowes. We didn’t sit on any of the chairs in either rooms as we were soaked and instead sat in the conservatory enjoying watching all the birds flying down onto the terrace and the view up towards the waterfall. This is a place truly set in a different time and the good news is that when you have an evening meal there you’re welcome to take your own alcoholic beverages. 

Inside the Cross Keys Inn.

You’ll have to believe me as I didn’t take a picture but in the afternoon the sun came out so we sat in the field alongside ‘The Old Dairy’ enjoying the weather and a good book. In the evening we had an excellent meal at ‘Al Forno’, the Italian restaurant in Sedbergh. It had just re-opened after having to close temporarily as a member of staff had had to self-isolate. (These are unusual times …). Good to see that every table was full.

We’re almost half-way through our holiday and a good place to end this part of the Blog. It will continue … Thanks for reading it. Don’t be put off with all the rain I’ve mentioned; this really is a lovely part of England and well worth exploring.

A day out to Hidcote, Glos.

Like all of the celebrated gardens in the UK, Lockdown has had an effect on their care and maintenance programme. With few volunteers to help alongside the gardeners and no visitors to admire them, the gardens aren’t quite up to their usual standard. Worse still for organisations like the National Trust they’ve experienced a huge drop in income.

We belong to the National Trust and during the periods between Lockdowns we went to The Vyne twice, also The Courts Garden,and Stourhead and other places not owned by the National Trust. This year so far we’ve enjoyed the snowdrops at Newark Park and had a wonderful time with our daughter, husband and grandchildren at The Vyne celebrating my husband’s birthday with an al-fresco picnic.

We decided to go to Hidcote as we hadn’t been for a few years and it’s one of our favourite gardens. A great place for taking pictures too. It had been a Bank Holiday that weekend and true to form on the Monday the weather was awful – cold, blustery and wet! No wonder the Hidcote gardens looked a little bedraggled in places when we visited the next day but the gardeners were out there tidying up. It still looked lovely as you can see from the pictures. How they get the lawn to look that good I don’t know although mostly they were pretty sodden after all the rain and were cordoned off

So let me take you on a tour …

I’d like to say that it was a warm, sunny May day but actually it was breezy and cold although the sun did come out from time to time. To warm ourselves up we headed back to ‘Mrs Winthrop’s Cafe, where we bought a warm drink and found a seat back round by the Italian Shelter. It’s just to the side of what was the Bathing Pool and is a wooden, thatched structure. It’s a strange building and on the back wall has two watercolour paintings. I suppose in days gone by the owners and their guests would sit in there sheltering from the sun and looking through to the Bathing Pool or maybe the croquet set was stored in there? If it was used as a changing room it would have been very draughty!

A warming drink and a rare glimpse of the sun.
The two panels along the back wall of the ‘Italian Shelter’. Anyone for croquet?

Spurred on by the sun coming-out, although it soon disappeared again we walked out to the perimeter of the gardens through an area called ‘The Wilderness’. It’s a little wild and full of bluebells at this time of year. From the edge of the garden there’s a fine viewpoint across the hills. I also like the view of the ‘Long Walk’ looking through the wrought iron gates.

We then walked round to ‘Rock Bank’ to look at the view across to the Malverns. The lambs were having a great time playing in the corner of the field where there was a pile of branches.

Then we followed the winding pathway along the stream with lots of large Calla Lilies growing alongside it and headed back to what’s called the Stilt Garden. It has two splendid gazebos either side of the steps at the top end.

Gardener at work doing a great tidy up job in the Stilt Garden.

From here we walked across to the Kitchen Garden and the Plant House. We paused to look for newts in the Lily Pond and were delighted to spot one. The Plant House is closed at the moment but I managed to take a picture through one of the windows. I particularly liked the potting shed with its array of terracotta pots and display of dried grasses. And here vying for attention by one of the benches was yet another tame robin happy to pose for a picture.

Plant House, Potting Shed and another tame robin.
A perfect place to sit.

Once we’d wandered around the kitchen garden we felt we’d covered most of the garden. I bought a plant from the well-stocked Plant Centre and a few things from the shop and then it was time to head to the nearby village of Mickelton for a pub lunch at The Kings Arms. – Highly recommend it. We’ll look forward to going back to Hidcote as it’s gardens are delightful throughout the whole year.

A mini break in Somerset Part II

The first part of this account of our few days in Somerset ended where we’d just walked around the picturesque village of Dunster. Now picking up again to continue the second part of this Blog …we left Dunster after walking back to the castle to pick up the car and drove over to Porlock Weir.

It’s a scenic drive as you get nearer to the little port. Narrow winding roads made all the more interesting as that day they were trimming the hedges. Not much room for cars coming the other way and no chance of overtaking. At least there’s a large car park when you get there and because of the lovely weather, the place was buzzing, or maybe it is most times. I was hoping the tide would be in but you can’t have everything.

Porlock Weir

The wooden, re-inforced harbour gates are very impressive and were built to keep the inner harbour free of stones. We walked over the harbour bridge across to the comically named, ‘Turkey Island’ where in front of you is the cute, thatched ‘Quay Cottage’. Most definitely worth a picture.

Porlock Weir, Somerset

It was great just wandering round and of course we walked along the beach for little way too. Loved the old wooden breakwaters known as groynes. It had been a while since our tea and cake in Dunster and with The Bottom Ship looking splendid in the sunshine we felt it was time for a pint. And very pleasant it was too! The good news is that the pub will be re-opening on Monday April 12th for outdoor seating only but table service for food and drink – I’m getting excited just typing this!

Feeling refreshed we drove over to Watchet and had a wander round. Oh dear! I didn’t take any pictures of the harbour as I remember it being full of small ships and having lots of character. Sadly it was converted in 2000 to a modern marina and well …it was disappointing. The town was very quiet with a few shops open and dare I say -it just felt sad. Perhaps we didn’t see it at its best …

Time for another picture.

St Andrew’s Church, Lilstock

A couple of guys in the pub where we were staying in Crowcombe had said that we must go over to the hamlet of Lilstock to see the little church of St Andrews. “Its off the beaten track,” they said, and they weren’t kidding. As you can see we did find this ancient church which was declared redundant in 1980 and threatened with demolition. The Rector in the Benefice personally paid for the repairs and restoration which was completed in 1993. The chancel is all that remains but this does include a 14th century arch just inside the present doorway.

As most of my friends know, I enjoy taking picture of churches both inside and out and love a good graveyard. The graves were well spaced out and most of them very old. One notable grave there is that of Sarah Perrett who was lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.

The other reason for driving over to this side of the Quantocks was just down the road from Lilstock is a beach, not at all touristy which has a treasure trove of fossils. Reading about the beach doesn’t entice you to go; it’s waters are murky and polluted apparently and the only sand is beyond an expanse of rock. There’s a certain irony about a beach with lots of fossilised remains that is within sight of a power station, Hinkley Point. Not surprisingly there was just the two of us down there that afternoon and yes we did bring one small rock home.

Lilstock Beach, Somerset
Lilstock Beach – a fossil hunters’ paradise

For our last night, as requested, the chef cooked me an excellent curry. They really did look after us at The Carew Arms. Unfortunately the pub and hotel is not open at preset due to the Lockdown restrictions but we do wish them well and hope they will be able to open up soon. Such difficult times for the hospitality business and others too.

And so it was our last morning, but before heading back home there was just a couple more things we wanted to do …the first to walk up to Cothelstone Hill. It’s said to be the best vantage point in Somerset where you get a 360 degree view over the Blackdown Hills and when its clear to the Bredon Hills and Exmoor National Park. There are two earthworks at the top which might be bronze age burial mounds and also a clump of beech trees known as ‘The Seven Sisters’

View from Cothelstone Hill on The Quantocks
View from Cothelstone Hill on The Quantocks

As you can see from the picture it was a wonderful day to see the spectacular views …all we wanted now was to spot the ponies and it wasn’t long before we did.

The resident herd of Exmoor Ponies.

Originally a group of Exmoor ponies wandered over to The Quantocks and decided to stay. They are wild but obviously used to walkers because even though they knew we were there, they didn’t show any sign of moving on. While I was (excitedly) taking pictures a land rover drew up with a couple of wardens just checking that the ponies were ok.

Part of the Herd.
A splendid beast.

What a magnificent, photogenic lot! I just loved taking these pictures.

And so they wandered on.

All too soon the herd moved on so we continued our walk across the heathland and then through the woods following the escarpment and back round to the car.

Walking through the woods with fine views across to the Blackdown Hills

There was one last place we wanted to visit before heading home and that was Fyne Court, owned by the National Trust. We weren’t sure if the cafe and loos would be open, but they were. We couldn’t resist buying a hot drink and a (huge) piece of cake. We’d deserved it after our walk.

There isn’t a house there but the walks are interesting especially as some of the features give a few clues as to what the garden would have been like. The walled garden is now a haven for wild flowers and bees whereas originally the owners would have employed gardeners to grow fruit and vegetables. The Boat House is now a ruin but the Folly is being restored – we were there to enjoy the stunning autumn colours and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

One of the woodland walks.
Just magical.
Autumn is a wonderful time of the year.

It’s interesting that Fyne Court is quite understated with few attractions as such except for the woods and walking trails. I’m sure they are worth a visit at any time of year but I think we chose the best season.

Wandering along, just the two us was a great way to round off our ‘mini-break in The Quantocks. We’d packed quite a lot in and both us said we would come back another time. It’s an interesting part of the country and there’s lots more walks we would like to do. Maybe this Blog and the previous has inspired you to visit this area too?

A mini-break in Somerset Part 1.

It was a superb autumn last year and we were lucky enough to have a few days away in Somerset before the second Lockdown. We decided to stay in the area of The Quantocks as most people go further west to Exmoor or Dartmoor.

Once again we were lucky on our second mini-break as the weather was warm and sunny throughout the three days we were away. The evenings were chilly but the sunsets were wonderful.

Sunset taken from the car park of ‘The Carew Arms’.

Driving down to Somerset we had been recommended a place for lunch and it couldn’t haven’t been better –The Kitchen at Quantock Lakes was an excellent stop. The home-made soup was very filling and was so huge, I had to cancel my toasted tea cake, I just couldn’t manage anything else! We would throughly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever near that part of the world.

Suitably replete we drove onto the Quantocks to start our circular walk and what better place to park than somewhere called ‘Dead Woman’s Ditch’?! It’s a large open clearing by a shallow stream and during the summer is a popular place to bbq and you could probably go for a paddle too.

The Quantock Hills, Somerset
Ramscombe Circular Walk from Dead Woman’s Ditch on The Quantocks.

The Ramscombe Circular Walk is about 4.5 miles, mostly flat at the beginning but after you have descended into Ramscombe it is a steady climb back to the top. You walk across the moorland first of all, between the bracken and gorse hedges and then into the woods. We hadn’t expected to come across the wild ponies which live on The Quantocks but there on the open land were a group of five. Although they are found on The Quantocks they are actually Exmoor ponies who migrated across to Somerset years ago and never went back. These ponies may not have been the wild ones as they seemed fairly undisturbed by us but we were delighted to see them all the same.

Ponies on the heath and the woodland walk.

Walking through woods in the autumn is definitely my favourite time and as you can see, this wood was magical. We didn’t see a soul all the time we were walking along – no traffic noise, just the sound of birds singing. When you come out at the bottom there is a path which takes you to a minor road, past the Christian Study Centre then up onto the heath and back along to the car park.

Not a soul in sight! (Shot on the r.h.s. was taken with the lens of my sunglasses over the camera lens!).

If you would like details of the Ramscombe Walk, copy this link to print off the details. https://www.quantockonline.co.uk/tourism_leisure/activities/walks/circularwalks/ramscombe01.pdf

Village of Crowcombe, Somerset
Church of the Holy Ghost, Crowcombe with the 16th century Church House. (On r.h.s.), view of the pub garden from our room.

Arriving back at the car it was time to drive down off the hills to Crowcombe where we were staying for three nights. The village itself is very old dating back to 854 and is mentioned in The Domesday Book. The village cross dates from the 14th century as does Church House. The tower of the Church of the Holy Ghost dates back to the same time although most of the imposing church was built in the 15th century. We popped inside to have a look inside the church and peep through the windows of the rather splendid Church House before going back to The Carew Arms to check out their beer.

Like all pubs, 2020 was a tough year for this small hotel/village pub. Functions cancelled including the regular skittles matches and event nights. This current year hasn’t been any kinder so far and you can only wonder whether a place like this and dozens more similar pubs and small hotels will survive.

Despite lean times, the staff at the pub were great; so friendly, we couldn’t have been looked after better. The beer was well kept and the home-made food was excellent. A huge breakfast is included in the price and sets you up for the day and as for the curry …I couldn’t do better myself. We spent our evenings in the ‘snug’ sat on the old settle by the wood-burning stove. No need for a TV or live music – the customers kept us entertained.

Unfortunately the first thing that you notice when you arrive is the look of the place from the outside. You have to bear in mind that the main building is very old and to be truthful both the outside and interior need a great deal of money spending on it. Our bedroom was in the accommodation block which joins the main building. Whilst our room was clean, the only heating was from a free-standing electric fire … with no double-glazing at the windows, it was hard to get it warm. The bathroom was an ice box! I don’t want to be anymore disparaging than that as it must be hard these days to afford to update guest bedrooms but 21st century they are not. Whether all the rooms lacked central heating, I don’t know. All I do know is that as I write this on a freezing cold day in February I would not want to spend a night at The Carew Arms! Having said all that …if you are looking for a decent pint, good home-cooked food and a very warm welcome don’t drive past, you will be well looked after.

I mentioned the village church earlier on as it’s well worth a look. Along the nave the carved bench ends have unusual carvings which depict such pagan subjects as the Green Man and the legend of the men of Crowcombe fighting a two-headed dragon. Across the road is the Church House; one of only two in the country still in use as was first intended. It is believed it was built in the early 1500’s as a single storey building. Originally it was used for parish functions and later to house the poor of the village on the lower floor and a school on the upper. It has now returned to community use and a venue for functions with the ground floor used as a village hall and the upstairs room to house exhibitions.

Dunster Castle including a shot of the downstairs sitting room.

Day two of our trip and we drove over to Dunster. We obviously came to it on the right road as the view of this medieval castle on top of the Tor is very impressive and definitely worth pulling over in a lay-by to take a picture. The castle itself is owned by the National Trust. We arrived just after opening time so had the house to ourselves. All the guides were very friendly and happy to tell us more of the castle’s history. We were lucky the house which was formerly owned by the Luttrell family who lived there for 600 years was open although there wasn’t a great amount to see. The castle grounds and gardens are very interesting with stunning views from the top terrace together with the formal gardens. There seemed to be several terraces snaking around the gardens each offering a variety of shrubs and plants. along the borders. Our favourite area was down by the river; it’s a wild, wooded area, a little like ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’ but on a smaller scale. The river Anvil runs through the garden, alongside the working watermill and under an 18th century double-arched stone bridge. This was built by the Luttrell family to replace a mediaeval mill bridge. I love the way a small waterfall has been created just down stream. This area is so peaceful and a perfect place to have a cup of tea at the tea rooms. Sadly both the watermill and tea rooms were closed. No problem …there are plenty of tea shops in Dunster which is where we went next.

Grounds of Dunster Castle, Somerset
Lovers Bridge (top picture) and castle gardens.
Mill Gardens at Dunster Castle, Somerset
Mill Gardens with the River Avill flowing through.
Grounds of Dunster Castle, Somerset
Grounds of Dunster Castle with stunning views.
The medieval town of Dunster with its iconic octagonal Yarn Market.

We left our car in the castle car park and walked down the back street into the village. Dunster feels more like a small town but as it claims to be the most intact medieval village in England, I am not going to argue with that. I have fond memories of Dunster and it’s fine church as I photographed a wedding there about twelve years ago and remember that day with great fondness. I was pleased to be back and also to be able to pop into one of the shops in the High Street to say hello to ‘my’ groom. At least he remembered me which was nice.

After taking a picture of the iconic Yarn Market and checking out a few local shops we were ready for a warm drink and a piece of home-made cake. Spoilt for choice we opted for a tea-shop where we could sit outside on the pavement and enjoy the autumn sunshine. It felt great to be able to do that in mid-October and yes, we did feel like tourists …and we were!

I am going to finish the first part of our three-day trip in The Quantocks as there’s more pictures and narrative to come. I hope my account so far of our visit will tempt you to read Part 2 which will be coming soon.

The beautiful Gower Peninsular.

It’s a while since I wrote my last Blog so now as we’re into another Lockdown it’s time to bring it up to date.

Rhossili Beach and the Swansea Bay coastline

This year because of Covid19 and the restrictions that have been placed on us all we haven’t been able to go on any long holidays since early February 2020. Yes we were lucky to go away when we did and during our week in Laos and ten days in Thailand we felt pretty safe. Since then we haven’t travelled abroad but we have been away on a couple of mini-breaks. Three days on The Gower Peninsular in mid September was the first one and as luck would have it, the weather was perfect.

It’s about two hours drive from here to Swansea Bay although it was a little longer as we stopped at The Gower Inn on the way to have a pint of Gower Gold, a locally brewed beer. Suitably refreshed and armed with a couple of M&S sandwiches we ate our lunch sat on a cliff-top overlooking Rhossili Beach. As you can see from the picture above, the bay is breathtaking. We were to find out that this is just one of many areas on The Gower that has the most breath-taking scenery.

Worm’s Head

Although there were only a few people on the beach the cliff-top area was quite busy but then it was a warm, Sunday afternoon. Most people were walking in the same direction to look at Worm’s Head which is the furthest westerly point on the Gower Peninsula. At low tide you can walk across but leave it too late as the tide is coming in and you’re stranded on the headland for quite a while.

There are lots of walks in that area and we chose one that took us around the coast and then inland across the field back to the car park. Hardly any people seemed to have walked further than Worm’s Head which surprised us. Once back to the car we headed for the hills to a little village where we were going to stay.

King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston

Following a recommendation from a Welsh friend of ours we’d booked three nights at the family-run King Arthur Hotel in the village of Reynoldston. Looking at the picture above takes me back to our stay there and reminds me of sitting in the garden enjoying the wonderful weather … and a glass of beer. It was a perfect place to stay; good food, helpful staff, reasonably priced room and a quiet rural setting including free to roam sheep.

We didn’t have a meal at the hotel that first night as we were celebrating our wedding anniversary and thought we’d go a little ‘up market’. It wasn’t our best decision. Yes the restaurant has a Michelin star and a very good write-up with a lovely location on the beach but it didn’t do it for us. Don’t even ask how much the bill came to and that was without having a bottle of wine! What it lacked in atmosphere was matched by the small, beautifully conceived dishes – even the Welsh lamb lacked flavour. Enough said.

Overlooking Pobbles Bay and Three Cliffs Bay.

Our first full day and the weather was amazing. We didn’t expect to spend a couple of hours on the beach or go into the sea but that’s what we did. The walk down to Pobbles Bay is really interesting. Lots of people practising going down the craggy rocks using climbing gear which tells you how steep it was to walk down to the beach. We were happy to walk down the path. By the way, it isn’t us sitting on the rocks in the picture above, made a good shot though.

The tide coming in to Three Cliffs Bay

Having scrambled down the steep, sandy path to the beach we settled ourselves down by a line of rocks and a rock pool – a little area all to ourselves. The beach wasn’t busy anyway but it was nice to have our own private area and the rock pool was handy for keeping the drinks cool. We just couldn’t believe how hot it was – who’d have thought!

The plan was to walk to the next bay and then back up to the top of the cliffs however the tide had other ideas! We hadn’t realise it would come in quite so fast and we weren’t the only ones. As you can see from the top picture, there was no way we were getting round to the next bay. What you can’t see is a group of people around the other side of the rock scrambling in the water rescuing their belongings. They’d gone for a swim not realising their things were being submerged under seawater!

Our cliff top walk to Pennard Castle

As we couldn’t walk along the beach to the next bay we had no choice but to walk up to the top. Yes it was quite steep in places and although we hadn’t planned to walk to the ruined Pennard Castle it was more or less on our way. What a great place to build a castle although it was only in use for two hundred years before it was abandoned in the 14th century. There’s not a lot left but it was worth walking up to it and the view was fantastic.

The ruins of Pennard Castle

By the time we’d walked across the golf course and into the village we were ready for a sit down, a piece of cake and then an ice cream. What a handy pit stop it was! We were quite tired by the time we got back to our hotel but it was great to just chill out in the pub garden and enjoy the last warm rays of the sun.

The Japanese Garden, The Bee Hives, The Butterfly House and the Walled Garden.
The tranquil Japanese Garden

On our last full day we drove our of The Gower and headed for The National Botanic Garden of Wales which is located in Llanarthney in the River Tywi valley, Carmarthenshire. It wasn’t until we left Reynoldston by the top road that we realised quite high up the village is. You are quickly onto wild, barren moorland with lots of sheep everywhere. It almost seemed strange leaving The Gower as we’d got very used to the area but I particularly wanted to visit The Botanic Gardens. It’s established itself as one of Wales’ main tourist attractions and is also a centre for botanical research and conservation.

Because of the first lockdown and also because gardens start to look a little bedraggled by mid-September we felt there were areas that had been left and perhaps another year would look very different. A place like this would depend on volunteers as well as paid staff and probably there just weren’t enough people to keep the gardens looking at their best. Our favourite areas were the Japanese Garden which is pictured above, the  several fascinating water features along The Broadwalk and The Great Glasshouse.

The Great Glasshouse

On the complex is the world’s largest single-span glasshouse designed by Norman Foster, measuring 110 m long by 60 m wide. It’s very impressive and houses some of the most endangered species of plants on the planet. This was definitely the main attraction.

As it was only mid-afternoon by the time we drove back onto The Gower we decided to walk along the coastal path from Caswell Bay to Langland Bay. Our Welsh friend had recommended this walk which follows the headland around from one bay to the other on a neat, tarmaced path. We were so pleased we took his advice. It’s an interesting walk and late afternoon was very quiet until we got to the village of Langland. The bistro cafe had just one table left outside which we nabbed and enjoyed a very large glass of wine.

The coastal walk from Langland Bay heading towards Caswell Bay.

As the sun was getting quite low by now we didn’t dally over our wine too long and got going again to walk back to Caswell Bay. As you can see the light was fading but the orange glow over the water was beautiful.

Near the brook in Reynoldston

Wednesday morning and time to head home. The breakfasts served at the hotel are excellent and there’s plenty of it so we felt in need of a walk round the village before getting in the car. Reynoldston is an attractive little village with wide expanses of common land on which sheep roam everywhere, including the pub garden when no-one is there! The King Arthur hotel was a perfect place for us and we shall definitely go back there and explore more of this beautiful coastline.

The Grounds of Blenheim Palace.

Some interesting features around the Palace Courtyard.

Blenheim Palace is a monumental country house in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. It’s the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough and the only non-royal, country house in England to hold the title of Palace. It would be an understatement if I said it wasn’t impressive, this is a huge stately pile.

We had to wait a little while before going into the Palace so I took a few pictures around the Great Courtyard and one of the ‘Column of Victory’. It was built in 1730 by the 1st Duke of Marlborough to commemorate his victory in the war of the Spanish Succession.

Column of Victory

After walking around the wonderful interior of the Palace we went over to the East Courtyard to the Oxfordshire Pantry to grab a sandwich and a hot drink. Because of the current Covid restrictions all the tables were outside but thankfully it wasn’t raining.

Suitably refreshed we walked past the gates of the Courtyard towards the Formal Gardens. You can’t fail to notice the ornate bridge on the right between the Great Lake and the Queen Pool, which is called Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge. You can imagine carriages driven across the bridge when the Marlborough’s were touring their estate. Perhaps they still do?

Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge
The Boathouse by The Great Lake.

Just by the entrance to the formal gardens we paused to look down the lake by the the boathouse where you could see work going on in the area of the Cascades. We were intrigued by a remote-controlled lawn mower which you can see in the left of the above picture. It was going up and down the grassy bank but there was no sign of anyone about!

The Temple of Diana built in the 18th century.

As you go into the gardens the first building you come across is the Temple of Diana. It’s famous as being the place where Winston Churchill proposed to his future wife Clementine Hozier. Wish the sun had been out when I took this picture but that’s the way it is.

Despite it being a grey old day the rose garden looked beautiful. We really enjoyed sitting in there for a few minutes. There are scores of different varieties of roses and no sign of any black spot!

So many rose varieties.

We eventually dragged ourselves away from the rose garden and continued along the path through the Arboretum. There was hardly anyone about and so we meandered through the trees and across the South Lawn towards the back of the Palace.

Here there is a small formal garden which has a very Victorian feel about it, probably because of the central fountain you see in stately homes. This area was cordoned off but it was easy to get over the chain and take this picture. Hopping back, we continued across the South Lawn to the Secret Garden.

It must be quite a secret as we were the only ones there. The pond was surrounded by lots of ferns and had a Japanese bridge at one side. It was very damp in this area so the ferns were doing well. As we came out of the garden I spotted this little statue which I thought had a lovely, sweet face. We then headed back to towards the house as we didn’t need to go on to the play area.

Back to the house I just had time to take some pictures of the Italian Garden before leaving the formal gardens and heading to The Orangery for my birthday treat.

The Italian Garden

In my previous Blog I explained why we visited Blenheim when we did …my lovely friends had given me a wonderful birthday present – afternoon tea for two in The Orangery. What an absolute treat! A glass of fizz got the high tea off to a good start and then an array of sandwiches, scones and cakes arrived. We worked very hard to get through all this sumptuous food but we didn’t quite make it. Doggy bags are provided.

Afternoon Tea in The Orangery.

What a fantastic tea! I’d thoroughly recommend it – not just the food, the setting was lovely and the staff couldn’t do enough for us.

As the weather was closing in we decide not to walk over the bridge to the Column of Victory. It was a good decision as it started to rain as we walked back to the car.

The Queen Pool – slightly lower water levels than usual due to the works on The Cascade.

Our visit to Blenheim had been a truly memorable one. The admission charge isn’t cheap but you can go back as many times as you like during the following twelve months. At the moment not all the rooms in the Palace nor the exhibitions are open but there is still a lot to do and see. Hopefully it won’t be too long before everything is open again …

Inside Blenheim Palace

I celebrated a very special birthday in late spring which despite Lockdown was a truly special day.

Presents included a Paragliding flight which I have yet to take and lots of other treats including a voucher for Afternoon Tea at Blenheim Palace. I am very lucky to have so many wonderful friends including Sally & Chris who gave me this fabulous present.

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

As I write this we are in the middle of another Lockdown so the Palace is currently closed although the gardens are open and the woodland walks. When we visited Blenheim just before this preset Lockdown, the Palace was open but some of the areas were closed including ‘The Churchill Exhibition’. Notwithstanding that, you could walk through the stunning gilded State Rooms and The Long Library. As you can probably tell from the pictures above it was quite a grey old day when we were there but it did brighten up in the afternoon when we walked around the grounds.

I decided to split this Blog into two so the second part will be pictures of the formal gardens and our meanderings around the grounds before going into The Orangery for Afternoon Tea.

Whenever we visit a National Trust place or any other stately home I love taking pictures inside preferably avoiding any people in the shot. If I see a great painting or photograph, I just have to take a picture of it and so you’ll see a few of those here.

A little bit of history to start with …Blenheim Palace is one of England’s largest houses with 187 rooms. It was built between 1705 and 1722 on land gifted by Queen Anne and is the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. It’s the only non-royal house in England to hold the title of ‘Palace’. It’s famous for its unique Baroque style of architecture and in 1987 was designated a World Heritage Site. Today’s it’s the home of the 12th Duke & Duchess of Marlborough. The Palace is also famous as the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.

Because of the Covid restrictions we had to queue quite a while before going into the palace. We hadn’t realised that we could have booked a timed slot but despite some very dark clouds overhead it didn’t rain on us so we weren’t too worried.

Centre-piece of the ceiling in The Great (entrance) Hall.
A superb painting depicting Churchill’s life.

As we entered the Great Hall which is very impressive, the first thing we noticed was the painting on the ceiling and then the very large painting depicting the life of Sir Winston Churchill. It’s a fantastic montage covering all aspects of Winston’s life but turning to go down the corridor the painting below was the one that caught my eye. It depicts the society beauty Consuelo, formerly a Vanderbilt who married Charles Spencer Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough. This lady deserves a paragraph all to herself along with Gladys Deacon who became the second wife of the Duke …

Consuelo 9th Duchess of Marlborough.

Consuelo Vanderbilt was born 1877. Her mother was determined her only daughter would marry the highest-ranking aristocrat possible and set her sights on the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo had no interest in him and was secretly engaged to an American. Eventually she had to marry the Duke because her mother appeared to be at death’s door and told her daughter it was all because she was refusing to marry this English aristocrat. Sadly for Conseulo she did marry him as it turned out to be an ill-fitting match and a loveless marriage. The Duke, not surprisingly turned elsewhere for affection. He fell in love with Gladys Deacon, another American beauty who had little money but great intellect. He brought her to Blenheim Palace in the late 1890’s and she became friends with Consuelo even though Gladys was clearly the Duke’s mistress. The 9th Duke and Consuelo didn’t divorce until 1921 whereupon he married Gladys the same year. Once again the marriage didn’t turn out too well. Later in their unhappy, childless marriage the story was she kept a revolver in her bedroom to warn the Duke from entering. Consuelo died in 1964 and is buried in St Martin’s Church, Bladon.

Portrait of Consuelo, the 9th Duchess of Marlborough.

When Gladys and the Duke began drifting apart she became increasingly erratic and started retreating from the world. Her mental state was a great cause of worry to the family and she was forcibly moved to a lunatic asylum were she died in 1977 aged 96. There is a biography written by Hugo Vickers entitled ‘The Sphinx’ about the life of Gladys Deacon which tells of …’scandal, misery and madness marking the life of this society beauty’. The striking thing for me is the picture chosen for the front cover looks so like the late Princess Diana.

Portrait of the socialite Gladys Marie Deacon, second wife of the 9th Duke.

Moving down the first hallway you turn into the bedroom Churchill used when he visited Blenheim. Sir Winston was born at Blenheim Palace on 30th November 1874. His mother, Jennie Randolph Churchill was visiting Blenheim when Winston decided to arrive two weeks early. He was born in a cloakroom near the entrance after Jennie went into labour prematurely during a ball being held there. Sir Winston always loved Blenheim and proposed to his future wife, Clementine Hozier in the grounds, at The Temple of Diana.

Winston Churchill’s bedroom.

There is a permanent exhibition at Blenheim which follows the life of Sir Winston, ‘The Churchill Exhibition’ also in the West Courtyard is ‘Churchill’s Destiny’ which tells the story of two great wartime leaders. Sadly both exhibitions are closed at the moment as they are unable to meet social distancing requirements. It would have been interesting to see the exhibition but at least we were able to walk through the magnificent Palace State Rooms.

These rooms are full of sumptuous wall hangings, carpets, gilded furniture, paintings and interesting artefacts – hardly a square inch anywhere that doesn’t smack of opulence.

One of the State Rooms.

There’s another painting in one of the State Rooms which I really liked. I think it’s of the 1st Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchhill. She was a great friend of Queen Anne’s who was instrumental in donating the land on which Blenheim Palace stands.

The 1st Duchess of Marlborough.

Walking through the State Rooms then takes you through to The Great Hall with its central table laid out for an evening dinner party. If the guests felt they were watched whilst eating they were quite right. Set back between the faux doric columns are paintings of people. These are superb examples of the ‘trompe l’oeil effect.

The Great Hall.

And before you know it …you have arrived in the last room which is The Long Library. It certainly lives up to its name! There are some interesting artefacts in here as well as the 10,000 books. I love the set-up with the tables for afternoon tea with delicate sherry glasses and sweet little china cups.

The Long Library.

Once again I was drawn to the photographs on the side tables and the ephemera alongside them.

Pure Victorian.

I was delighted to spot a photograph of Gladys Deacon ; it’s the picture which was used for her biography. I think the photograph alongside that one is also of her.

Photographs of Gladys, 9th Duchess of Marlborough with a picture of the Duke positioned at a distance.

The picture below, which I’ve enlarged shows just how similar Diana looked to the Duchess even though Gladys wasn’t part of the Spencer bloodline.

Gladys, 9th Duchess of Marlborough.

And finally before leaving the Long Library I must mention the giant 125-year old organ. It was built by ‘Father’ Henry Willis and was transported in sections to the estate in 1891. The organ was commissioned by the 8th Duke who was Winston Churchill’s uncle. Sadly the Duke died just a year after the organ was installed.

The giant ‘Willis’ organ.

During the First world War the Long Library was used as a convalescent hospital and the organ was played to entertain the troops. There’s no doubt it is magnificent but like many of these fine things its in need of restoration.

My final picture is a close up of one side of the organ showing the stops. Apparently not all of them work at present but its hoped when concerts can begin again that the £400,000 needed to restore this beautiful instrument will be raised.

Stops and more stops!

So that’s finished this Blog on the inside of Blenheim Palace, I imagine there’s lots of skeletons in the cupboards of the Marlborough family hidden from Wikipedia where I ‘lifted’ some of these facts. I hope you found them interesting along with a little history about this magnificent house. The next Blog will have less text and (probably) even more pictures.