Monday, June 26, 2023

Waltzing Along

 The title of this blog is a track by Indie band James, one of our all time favourite bands.  We went to see them last week with our friend Ade and his son, Billy.  They've been going for a whopping 40 years now, but their clean living frontman, Tim Booth (who, incidentally, also attended a boarding school just over the border from us in Shrewsbury) is still in fine voice.

It was a double celebration so beers were consumed.  



Ade was marking a landmark birthday...and as for Gareth and I, a little over 22 years ago, we got married at a local country house where we partied until dawn.  The owner was extremely accommodating, if a little eccentric and pretty much let us have free run of the place.  One of my abiding memories of that day was our impromptu midnight "Library Disco."  The band we had booked to play outside earlier in the evening, had long since departed.  We had planned for this eventuality by bringing along our CD player, knowing that no one would be ready to call it a night until the wee small hours.  In this photo, we're all singing along to James's "Sit Down."

We've seen James a number of times over the years and they always deliver.  


Still on a high from this, we were excited to get the best seats for Glastonbury (shimmying between our living room and garden sofas).  

Whilst I still hold out hope of visiting Glastonbury Festival some day, this year we were grateful to be a few strides away from the refrigerator and the shade of the garden.  I'm not moaning....I'm not...but the heat has been intense and we seem to have evaded the predicted thunder storms.   

We saw Billy No Mates, Foo Fighters, Manic Street Preachers, The Pretenders (amazing), Arctic Monkeys, Guns n Roses, a sprinkling of Young Fathers, Sparks, Kelis, Texas, Sparks, Queens of the Stone Age and Rick Astley (covering a number of Smiths songs).  For me though, the standout performance was Cat Stevens (fine voice, fine human being).  

I saw Sunday's headliner, Elton John when I was 18 and recall feeling quite bored, but decided to watch his headline slot on Sunday anyway.  Sadly, this time my experience was no different.  I like a few of his songs and he's undisputedly talented, but for some reason, I once again found myself drifting.  He just doesn't do it for me.  However, I'm obviously in the minority, judging by the humungous audience.

In between watching Glasto coverage, we squeezed in our annual Mini & VW Meet just down the road.



Headlight selfie!

Sunday's weather was scorching hot and many people took shelter in the shade of our trade stand.  Friends joined us, bringing along their cool cars, company and ensuring that the music played on.






The few photos I took on Sunday need little explanation apart from the winner of "Best VW T4" which was conceived and created by its Welsh owner, Jon Power.  The attention to detail was phenomenal and the entire build took him six months.  I loved the copper bar with its soft close fuel can drawers and of course, the occupier, Evie.

Back at home, garden wildlife is everywhere to see.

Fledgling Blackbird

Speckled Wood Butterfly


Nosey Wood Pigeon


Green Bottle Fly

But this has to be the most spectacular mini beast I've ever seen.  I say "mini beast" but with a wing span of around 10 cm, this Hawk Moth spotted resting on our water butt on Friday night, looked as if it could take on the world.  Surely, this is a "festival ready" insect if ever there was one!  



This week will be all about preparing for our long awaited mini break.  For those of you who know me well, will know that I would rather put needles in my eyes than fly.  However, life is short, this place looks pretty special and there's really only one way to reach our chosen destination.  We're also hoping to catch up with the Glasto Queen at the airport before we leave.

So where are we going?  Ending on a song, here's a clue.


See you soon!






Sunday, June 18, 2023

Hazy Days and The Six

Flaming June is living up to its name and last week we took advantage of the weather.  At the invitation of fellow blogger Polyester Princess (Polyester Princess (polyester-princess.blogspot.com)), we joined Ann and Jos - over from Belgium for a holiday in Shropshire - and long standing friends, Vix and Jon, at Attingham Park for an epic 6 hour bloggers and partners' meet up.  You can read Vix's account of our day with its inspired title here: Vintage Vixen: Attingham Park with the Princess & the Peach (vintagevixon.blogspot.com)

Whilst I already feel like I know Ann quite well through reading her blog, it was the first time we'd met in the flesh and didn't we have fun?


First a coffee and a catch up, so I'll give you a little info on Attingham Park, a Regency mansion under the care and control of the National Trust.

The property was built to impress and commissioned in 1782 for the first Lord Berwick.  Twenty first century suburban equivalents include grey UPVC windows, anti theft driveway car barriers, block paved driveways (in and out even better), key code electric opening Blenheim gates, kitchen bifold doors, double garages and garden rooms.  You get the picture.





We took an exclusive tour of the East wing, occupied from the mid 1980s until his death a few years ago, by one Bronx born Edwin Cohen.  Born into a working class New York family, Cohen developed an obsession with antiques from an early age, courtesy of being taken to work by his mother and being captivated by the furniture and collections housed by her wealthy employers.  A bright student, Cohen ended up attending a minor Ivy League college before embarking upon a career as a stock broker.  The thrill of finding and securing a bargain at auction became a lifelong pursuit and after taking on a lease for Attingham's East Wing, set about installing his ever increasing collection of Georgian furniture and living the life of a member of the landed English gentry. Yes, he had monogrammed towels.

Sadly photos were discouraged, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say that the tour was well worthwhile, conducted by a passionate and knowledgeable guide and, dare I say, more relatable than most.  Aside from the fact that Cohen's story ended here in middle England, it was very much the American dream.

Artist at work in the entrance hallway

After lunch in the former stables, we headed outside.

This land is your land!  

Berwick and his successors may have staked their claim to the estate, but the archaeology of Attingham Park is diverse, covering many different periods of history and human habitation.  People have lived in the area of the estate for around 4,000 years since the Bronze Age, utilising the rich soil for agriculture.   The Berwick name itself derives from the medieval village Berwick Maviston, although Lord Berwick removed the village from his land.  There are seven scheduled ancient monuments across the wider estate, including an Iron Age settlement, Roman forts and Saxon palace remains.

Next, we headed for the walled garden, pleased to note how many areas had been left for nature to claim.



Of course, there were well tended gardens growing alongside their wild border neighbours, in perfect harmony.




Check out these gorgeous double headed Oriental Poppies...


...and I'm pleased to report that the pollinators were out in force.



The temperature was hovering around the mid twenties, but the humidity encouraged us to seek the dappled shade of the apple orchard.  We took some persuading to move from this spot...


...made even more magical by their unusual flowers.


I could do with a few dozen of these mirrored flowers to deter the magpies intent on terrorising our resident nesting blackbirds here at home.

More mysterious figures emerged from the long grass as we explored.


Created by Scottish artist, Rob Mulholland and on loan for the summer, they couldn't have looked more at home in the apple orchard, reflecting the sights and sounds of nature...and these stylish creatures.




From here, we followed the winding woodland path into the deer park.  The park was landscaped by Humphry Repton and incorporates the deer park with its 200-300 Fallow deer (descendants of the original herd).  

The park is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest due to it being home to many rare species of invertebrates.  The amount of deadwood left by fallen trees around the parkland makes it the perfect habitat for a variety of different species, principally beetles.


Despite our floaty summer outfits, hats and copious amounts of sun cream, refreshments were required at this point, our thirst fuelled by the site of the estate cattle, drinking from the River Tern flowing through the centre of the estate.  



Back in the stable yard we continued to chat until the cafe shut up shop.  



Reluctantly, we headed back to the car park and exchanged gifts before saying our goodbyes.  Ann and Jos treated us to some Belgian beers (one brewed in their town, Contje - a not so polite word for "bottom"), sweets ("Noses") and the best chocolates on the planet.  



Ann also generously gifted me these treasures; a camera printed tote bag made by a friend from Berlin, tapestry bag, brooch, honeycomb earrings, vibrant bangles, a funky floral maxi skirt and patchouli scented drawer sachet.  


A couple of days later, we were delighted to hear from Ann that they were planning to visit Kinver Rock Houses.  We met them and took them on an exhausting, but not exhaustive tour of Kinver Edge, taking in Nanny's Rock, Iron Age hill fort and the brass relief map, before leaving them to enjoy the Rock Houses.  



After a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days, the world seems somehow smaller, but brighter.  






Wednesday, June 7, 2023

A Grand Day Out

I doth my hat

 As regular readers will know, Enville is one of our favourite places; a truly magical location set in the rolling hills and valleys in the West Midlands between the rivers Severn and Stour.  The scenery is breathtaking and the village is noted for the historic Enville Hall and a more recent discovery.  More on that later.


The Hall was originally the residence of the Grey family from Leicestershire, who also built Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, the home of Lady Jane Grey.  A minor branch of the family made the move to Staffordshire in the late 15th century and acquired the manor through marriage.  Thomas Grey built a new house with turrets and crow stepped gables in the 1530s.  A large number of the family were executed in the early part of the 16th century, but the Leicestershire branch survived.

The 2nd Baron Grey of Groby wed Anne Cecil, the youngest daughter and co-heir of William Cecil, 3rd Earl of Exeter in 1620.  Through his wife, Henry inherited land and property and in 1628 was created Earl of Stamford.  The title was at first held by the Bradgate branch until it descended to his cousin Harry, an Enville resident, on the death of the 2nd Earl.  His son (also Harry) became the 4th Earl and decided to make Enville his home.  The Bradgate house accordingly, was bricked up and the park retained for hunting and game.

The 4th Earl began work, assisted by Sanderson Miller, an architect from Warwickshire and local poet, William Shenstone.  The resulting great landscape garden in an already naturally beautiful area of hills, pools and streams became the envy of high society from the 1750s onwards, extending to over 750 acres with a variety of buildings, cascades and bridges.

"How sweetly smiled the hill, the vale

And all the landscape round!

The river gliding down the dale

The hill with beeches crown'd"

William Shenstone

Giant Purple Beech


It was the 5th Earl who completed the park in the 1770s before modernising the house.  There are suggestions that Capability Brown had a hand (perhaps he signed off on work carried out by one of his minions).  Plans for a new Palladian mansion were drawn up by Sir William Chambers, but the 5th Earl opted for a design created by Thomas Hope.  The original Tudor country house was encapsulated within a gothic castellated frontage which is what remains today (glimpsed here in November 2021).


Two years ago, after a break of around two decades, we were frustrated to have missed out on Enville Hall's decision to open its gardens to the general public, being away on holiday at the time.  So you can only imagine my excitement when, a couple of weeks ago, I spotted a sign in the village advertising another open day on 4th June.  This time, not only the gardens (listed as a Grade II landscape on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens) were open, but there was a Coronation Exhibition on in part of the hall.  I wasn't so interested in the exhibition, but a chance to catch a glimpse of the interior?  Yes please. Desperate to see and visually document everything in full, this date was immediately scrawled and underlined on the calendar.

Post viral fatigue aside, the perfect sunny day dawned and we met up with my Mom and Gareth's Dad after lunch for a leisurely stroll around the pleasure gardens, or as Gareth's Dad phrased it "We'm goin' up to the big 'ouse to collect our wages."  

Fancy joining me?  Warning.  This is a photo heavy post!

Let's first venture inside.  


A first for me and whilst the access granted was limited, isn't it divine?


It may be grand, but evidence of the owners and their country pursuits was plentiful in this entrance hall.





Still, there was no doubting its grandeur.



I loved these period radiators and even the pipes hadn't been overlooked!



Oh and don't forget to look up!



Various portraits adorned the entrance hall, including this one, of the aforementioned Lady Jane Grey (Queen for nine days in 1553, before being executed, alongside her husband, at the tender age of 16).  Lady Jane was rumoured to have visited Enville Hall during her short life and there have been numerous reported sightings of her ghost in the surrounding area.


The coronation exhibition was small and presented in an adjoining room, although photography was prohibited.  Shame, there was the most beautifully aged Porter's chair.  We've only ever seen another like it at the NT's Snowshill Manor.

Back outside, I couldn't resist popping into the outside toilet, purely to photograph these stunning floor tiles.


Let's head outside and up towards the lawn, 


past a pile of architectural salvage...


and these impressive potted hostas (no slug damage - what is their secret?)


Refreshments anyone?  Or shall we just carry on?





Just a few more steps away off to the right, we came across this beauty of a swimming pool, drained and jaded.


I followed Mom into this quintessentially English country garden along a delightful pathway through borders bursting with colour and life.



Clematis, poppies, alliums and peonies.

Roses, Phlomis Russeliana, Irises





Through the arch at the end, we encountered this enchanting little building, erected using reclaimed materials.


The sweet peas approved.


The path eventually opened out into a larger, more untamed area.  


No Mow May had clearly been observed, but winding pathways had been mown in readiness for the June open day...

Mom taking in the views


...some edging around the perimeter of the grounds and others leading to carefully trimmed box hedged corridors with statues and planters - stone and former water tank providing focal points.





Check out this very lifelike statue!


We were soon back to the wilderness and this stumpery with its exquisitely twisted branches.


Bugs were well catered for in this area of the garden.  A large bug hotel was located within the layers of sandstone.  


Once again this narrow pathway gave way to yet another open green space with a choice of routes.  We elected to follow this path, winding up a gentle incline with a tantalising glimpse of what lay ahead...


...the "Gothic Greenhouse."  It's quite possibly the most beautiful garden building I've ever seen (designed by Sanderson Miller) and used variously, throughout its history as a place to over-winter tender plants, a Billiard Room containing busts of Homer and Cicero and by the Victorians, as a tiny Natural History Museum!




You might recall my recent blog about the Knight's Templar graves recently uncovered at Enville Church - Winter Peach Photography: A Night for Knights and Greensleeves

If you look closely to the left of the photo above, you might spot a cordoned off grave.  Just out of sight was the distinctive Maltese cross marking.  The final resting place of another Templar Knight?  I think it might just be.

A glimpse inside before we move on....


...past the remnants of a boat house...


...and through the rhododendron walk.



By now, the hall looked very far away.


One intriguing area was out of bounds.  Whilst perfectly visible as just another field, it was once the site of this incredible conservatory, a Midlands Crystal Palace, delivered piece by piece by barge and horse and cart.  Sadly, the building was destroyed by fire, but in this surviving photo, you can see the impressive Moorish domes.


Finally, the Hall was once again in clear view, just beyond Seahorse Pool.


This fountain, built in 1853 to a design by local architect Edward Smith depicts Triton, the Greek sea god, surrounded by four seahorses.  These are very early concrete structures reinforced with iron rods and before builders became aware of the issue of corrosion that would result from a mix of water, iron and concrete.


We retraced our steps back towards the beautiful flower borders, this time via the vegetable garden...


...and the 'Eel Stew'; where once upon a time, eels fished from the ponds and lakes were left to detox before being served up at dinner!


The penultimate item on our to do list was a visit to the pet cemetery, accessed via a sloping path in front of the hall.  We passed this suitably creepy lightning casualty before spying a lengthy line of grave stones running adjacent to a fence in the shade of still living trees.



A few caught my attention, for various reasons...an interesting name or detail of the occupant's demise.


Delialiah (1918-1921), Zina and Tom ("a gallant old dog") and Don ("Her Ladyship's dog, found dead on Enville Common, February 22nd 1895").

Finally, a breather in a shady nook....








Chair arm detail

...but I resist a rare opportunity to examine the front of the house at close proximity.











I'll leave you with a brain tease.  Can anyone identify this, taking pride of place outside the Hall's main entrance?


Thanks for reading and a fond farewell to Enville Hall!  I really hope to see you again some day.






Panic!

It's been a curious week of unexpected connections, conversations, sights and sounds, underpinned in some shape or form by panic. I was ...