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Archive for July, 2010

The weather warmed up enough today that I could shed my jacket.  Our first stop was Winchester  Cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral

We have been here before but I didn’t remember anything about it.  It is an Anglican church and extremely large.  The exterior is massive and from the 11th century.  It hit me as sort of plain compared to a Catholic cathedral.  There were no statues, however there were several graves, the most important being Jane Austen’s grave.

Jane Austen's Grave

Jane Austen's Grave

She lived in Winchester the last year or so of her life as she was going to a hospital here due to being ill.  The choir stalls here were from the 1300’s and so quite fascinating and an architectural highlight.

Choir stalls

We also went in the crypt but could only see a small portion of it behind the ropes.  Crypts are usually a fun and interesting site to tour.

On our own for lunch so we headed to a Frommer recommendation of the oldest bar in England, The Royal Oaks pub.

BEER GARDEN

We did manage to stumble across it down one of the side street passageways.  My husband enjoyed his last fish and chips.  He said the chips are absolutely delicious here.  I have avoided trying even one because I was afraid if I had one I couldn’t stop.  The fish are deep-fried and are about a foot long.  After lunch we had a little time to wander about the town before we had to be back on the bus.

Next stop was Bramdean House.

BRAMDEAN HOUSE

FRONT OF BRAMDEAN HOUSE

This was a private traditional English garden with wonderful herbaceous borders.

BRAMDEAN HOUSE

BRAMDEAN HOUSE

BRAMDEAN HOUSE

BRAMDEAN HOUSE

This was a normal house, not a palace type house, only 7 bedrooms.  We didn’t tour the house, just peeked in the windows.  The tour of the garden was led by the head gardener of the house – that is what I need a head gardener.  It was quite interesting.  He and another gardener take care of the grounds and I’m sure they work steady 8 hours a day, every day to keep it up.  The gardens were originally designed by the legendary garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.  I know these names mean nothing to you but I have read about her for years, about the innovative things she introduced.  She is long dead,  but her design ideas live on.  And at this house they have several bee hives which helps to pollinate all the flowers

We had our farewell dinner tonight.  This has been a really enjoyable group.   I guess since everyone was interested in gardening this was a basis for everything.  Tomorrow they will drop us at our hotel, which is near the airport.  We will take a train back into London and do a little more sightseeing.  I am going to miss the English tea.  I don’t know what it is about it, but it certainly is good.  And hopefully tomorrow I will have another scone – they are so good.

See you all soon.

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On the drive to our first stop today we passed some fields of lavender.  They were all in bloom and just beautiful to see.  Unfortunately by the time I got my camera out we passed them, so no pictures.

Our first stop today was Petworth House.  It is a stately 17th century palace, still lived in by the Lord and Lady Egermont.  One of its claims to fame is that it provided the setting for many of Turner’s (the artist) most stunning works.  He often stayed here through the winter.  The way they know exactly how it looked during his time is he would go around and make sketches of all the rooms.

We have been in so many stately homes and you would think if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.  This was like none we have ever seen.  It was truly spectacular.  This home has been in the family for some 900 years.  Somewhere in the past a relation had some connection with the queen or some royalty. So the family has always felt they were an equal of the queen.  So many of their treasures came from when the young men would do the grand tour of Europe and bring home furnishings, paintings, sculpture  They felt they needed a place to properly display these treasures.  Thus the rooms as we see them today.  They have a collection of art that is equal to the queen’s collection and the collection of the National Gallery.  In one room there were wood carvings all over the place.

PETWORTH HOUSE

PETWORTH HOUSE

Even the frames were of this same wood carving.  They were works of art in themselves. They also had many Greek and Roman sculptures.  Sort of reminded me of going through the Vatican museum.

The grounds, or park as they refer to it, is many, many acres.  The type of property where they have hunts.  I don’t remember, but I think in 17th century the celebrated landscape architect Capability Brown landscaped the grounds.  He didn’t deal with flowers but rather in making a most beautiful landscape that looks like nature made it.   He would make mounds, clumps of trees, lakes, etc.  Many of the palace gardens we have seen in the past were designed by Capability Brown.

A great thing about this tour is that we are having guided tours of many places before they are open to the public.  After our tour we had free time where we had lunch and then we wandered back into the house.  At that time it was just packed and there weren’t guided tours.  The guides have been so good, make the things come to life for you.  We found a little tea room for lunch and the waitress there gave us a map and told us what roads to follow for picturesque sights. It was a matter of finding a foot path, behind a church, through a gate, etc.

Our next stop was Chawton Cottage, which was the home of Jane Austen. It’s a modest brick home and has a charming English country garden.

Chawton Cottage, home of Jane Austen

JANE AUSTEN'S HOUSE

An interesting thing is that there is only one known picture of Jane Austen.  It was a drawing made by her sister Cassandra. The home contained many articles of Jane’s.

Chawton Cottage Jane Austen writing table

JANE AUSTEN'S WRITING TABLE

We have a few  Jane Austen buffs on the tour so you can imagine how excited they were about seeing her home.  Actually this is a good thing because they can give you a lot of information.  Makes me want to reread some of her works.

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Woke up to dark clouds again.  This is very typical England weather.  It was cool, about 70 degrees but without sun it feels cooler.  Only slightly windy. Nothing like yesterday.  Apparently it was really bad in places yesterday as our guide was telling us about road closures due to downed trees.

Each day we have a drive on country roads to get to our first sight.  The country side goes on for miles and is just beautiful.

ENGLISH COUNTRY SIDE

 These are narrow roads, about 1 ½ car wide, so when the bus encounters another car someone has to move off the road to make way for the other.  We travel on the highway some but most sights are in these small villages or hamlets.  The scenery has been interesting with lots of open spaces and rolling hills.  Then we go through small towns, some of which are very old with the timbered houses and thatched roofs.  Some of these thatched roofs have an interesting design along the peak of the roof, almost like a scalloped design. 

THATCHED ROOF

We have also seen a lot of fields with sheep.  At least they are in the fields and not blocking the road like we encountered in Ireland. I have books downloaded on my MP3 so I can listen to a book and watch the scenery.  Our guide is good in that she gives a lot of interesting information, giving us the whole history of England.  One thing I do need to learn more about is English literature.  I guess I haven’t read a lot of English authors.

The food has been good.  It seems their main fish is salmon, which is fine with me.  I have had some very good poached salmon, which I don’t often get at home.  Of course they are big on potatoes, so those tiny new potatoes come as a side always.    Another interesting thing on the menu is rocket. I have encountered this in other countries and have finally figured out what it is.  It is just  field greens type of lettuce.  Actually in one place I got some seeds to plant rocket.  My dictionary app on my I touch has come in handy.  There was some strange word in the meal I got tonight  When I looked it up it was cream cheese.  So even though they speak English not everything is the same.

So for today’s sights  We first went to the town of Rochester.  We walked through the town and saw the Cathedral.  Charles Dickens lived nearby Rochester and his description of it appears in Pickwick Papers and Great Expectations.  Before we left I saw the movie.  It was based on our first sight, Restoration House.

RESTORATION HOUSE

 So named because of the visit to Rochester of King Charles II in 1660 for his restoration as king after 15 years in exile.  It was really a fascinating house.  Unfortunately you could not take pictures inside.  This has been the case with most places. 

Not all the furnishings were original to the house but most of the flooring and paneling was.  It has been renovated and decorated with furnishings from the period.  The house is a combination of 2 medieval buildings that were combined in the late 16th century.  When the current owners bought it, in their process of restoration have uncovered  many of the original  paint colors, etc.  When King Charles was coming to visit this house the owners did a lot of work to the house in preparation for his visit..  One thing was on the paneled walls they did the faux marbling, which is still in its original state.  In one room there are large double doors that just blend into the paneling and is hard to tell they are doors.  Apparently a tapestry has hung there for many years.  When the current owners took the tapestry down they found the doors and that is how all this original marbling has stayed so well preserved.

The house seems to be on many different levels, with stairways all over the place.  Part of the reason is the joining of the two buildings.  There is very little electricity in the house today, they have a lot of chandeliers, etc. with candles.   Then we toured the garden. 

It is a walled garden about ¾ of an acre. 

RESTORATION HOUSE GARDEN

 Very formal with a parterre .

RESTORATION HOUSE GARDEN

Also a herbaceous border .  There were archways and a water garden and I would have loved to have it as my back yard.   After this another drive to a pub for lunch.  We had a traditional ploughman’s lunch, which wasn’t too exciting.  The pub was really interesting and picturesque but lunch consisted of basically bread, ham, cheese, white round onions and chutney. 

Then on to one of the major highlights of the tour, at least for me.  Sissinghurst castle garden. 

REMAINS OF CASTLE

The garden is situated between surviving parts of an Elizabethan mansion. I have been wanting to go to this garden for a long time – it is a quintessential English garden.   It is divided into a series of romantic compartments or rooms

featuring a theme.  There are 10 themed garden rooms, such as the white room,

WHITE GARDEN

where there are all white and green and silver flowers and foliage, a rose garden, herb garden, purple & blue, etc.  I know my photos will never do it justice but it was absolutely beautiful.  Each room is either bordered by a brick wall with the vines growing on it or the big yew hedges.  There is statuary in the garden as well as small houses in some.  I think we spent 4 hours here.

What remains of the castle was the home of Vita Sackville-West and her husband.  She is the same Vita that was a child in Knole House, the one that Virginia Wolff often visited.  Vita was an author and had her study in the old tower of the castle. 

VITA'S STUDY IN CASTLE TOWER

 You could climb the tower, by those tortuous circular staircases and get a wonderful  view of the gardens from there.  The garden was also the work of Gertrude Jekyll, one of the foremost designer of English gardens.

Finally back to the hotel about 6.  Then we went back to the area we were last night and found another good restaurant.  I got something that said spinach, mushroom, and something else (which I found out was cream cheese) pancakes.  Turned out to be crepes, which I thought it would be, and some rocket.

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The time seems to be going very quickly.  I guess because our days are pretty full and we don’t have any down time, which is fine by me.

Today we woke up to a lot of wind and rain.  By the time we left the hotel the rain had stopped but the wind kept up pretty much all day.  Our guide had a saying.  Goes something like rain starting before 7 stops by 11, and that is what it did.

We had about an hour bus drive to our first stop, which was Great Dixter, someplace I have been wanting to see for a long time  It is the house and garden of one of  Britain’s most revered horticulturists, Christopher Lloyd. 

HOME OF CHRISTOPHER LLOYD

GREAT HALL

His garden consist  of eclectic mixed borders, sunken gardens, topiaries. There are many garden books out there written by him.  He did such things as tear out a rose garden and replace it with an garden of exotic plants.  Well in England to tear out a rose garden is really unheard of.  His garden consist of many so called garden rooms.  Each one would  be different, depending on the area in the garden it was.  It was very interesting but there is no way I could reproduce anything I have seen in my own garden.

GREAT DIXTER

GREAT DIXTER

The great thing about touring these gardens is we always have a guide who provides a lot of insight into the planting, the why and wherefore.  Not just telling us what each plant  is.  Some of these gardens are public gardens however they are not open daily or open later.  We are able to go when the public is not there which is a big plus.

Christopher Lloyd died just a couple years ago but his head gardener is continuing to experiment with color and form in the garden as Christopher did.  Next we toured his house which was as interesting as his garden. It was built in the early 15th century with some slightly later additions.  It’s sort of a combination of a 3 different houses, from different periods all combined together.  So part of it is a half timbered type house and the last part is from 1912.  It gives the apparence of a very lived in comfortable house but the interior true to its original roots.

We spent a few hours at Great Dixter an then headed to Rye where we had lunch at the Mermaid Inn.  The sign of the front of the restaurant reads Mermaid Inn, rebuilt 1420. It also was a really neat place and allegedly haunted. 

WHERE WE HAD LUNCH

MERMAID INN

The whole town of Rye is very scenic with timbered houses,

RYE

RYE

the city gates

RYE CITY GATES

and an old fort.  After lunch we saw the church in Rye and then toured Lamb House.  This is where the novelist Henry James spent the last 18 years of his life.   Then we had time to just walk all around the town and shop, take pictures, whatever.  It is a very picturesque town with funny names on some of the doors.  One said “the other side”, another house had 2 doors and above the doors was the sign “2 front doors.”

Finally back to the hotel about 6.  We went to dinner with 3 of the other ladies in the group.  We walked about 15 minutes into an area of town where they had colonnaded shops, and lots of restaurants.  By now the sun was out and all the restaurants had their tables outside.  In the center of the area was a jazz band playing.  We had a good time with these ladies, lots of fun conversation.

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