Monday, August 31, 2015

Hardwick Hall (part 1)

I've wanted to revisit Hardwick Hall for some time. I hadn't been there since I was a child, possibly just for a picnic in the grounds.  It is a short distance from where both sets of my grandparents lived when I was small, one couple in Mansfield, and one in Chesterfield.  Since then I have just had glimpses of the Old Hall high on the hill as I drove past on the M1 heading north.
Time to make use of the NT membership once more! Last Wednesday the weather was wet in the morning, but going north was a good move - plenty of sunshine later in the day.
After the obligatory coffee stop, we headed for the "new" Hall, and a short talk by one of the guides. 

She gave a clear and entertaining account of the life of Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, normally known as Bess. She was an astute businesswoman and eventually a very powerful woman, whose descendants include many of the present day nobility and landowners.

One of her daughters married Lord Darnley's younger brother, Charles.  After the death of both her parents, their daughter, Arbella  (Arabella) Stuart, spent a lot of time at Hardwick with her grandmother.  At one time her claim to the throne of England rivalled that of her cousin, James I (and VI).  Her story is featured throughout the house and gardens this year, the 400th anniversary of her death at the age of forty.  
Mirrors tell bits of Arbella's story - not that you can read it on this photo!

The house was built by Bess of Hardwick, when she left Chatsworth after the break up of her fourth marriage. The architect was Robert Smythson, and Hardwick Hall is in a magnificent position with views of the Derbyshire countryside to the north and west.

more glass than wall . . .

It is magnificent from the side too and the initials E S (Elizabeth of Shrewsbury - Bess of Hardwick) are clearly visible.

the ha-ha

The gardens, protected by walls, and the superb colours of the flowers

The long gallery, where guests would walk after dinner!

This year the Hall is featuring the story of Bess's grand-daughter, Arbella Stuart, who was at one time a possible candidate for the throne of England

I think I would have made a great Victorian gardener!
Near the Elizabethan mansion are the ruins of the Old Hall, also built by Bess, between 1587 and 1596 on the site of her father's  medieval manor house. For more details, see the next blog post.

Hardwick Hall (Part II - the Old Hall)

Hardwick Old Hall was the house Bess built to replace her ancestral medieval manor house in Derbyshire - that was too humble for a countess of her standing and wealth. She moved there after leaving Chatsworth when her fourth marriage - to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury - broke down. The Old Hall was a grand house, built to impress.
Four storeys high, it also had walkways on the roofs for viewing the countryside around.
It is owned by English Heritage, and although it is a shell, there are stairs and a viewing platform, and plenty of info boards. The plasterwork overmantels can still be seen.
Looking up four floors

A kitchen fireplace

Some of the plasterwork

I wouldn't mind that view

The Hill Great Chamber, well lit, with classical detail and fine views.

The "Forest" Chamber - see the decor. A richly furnished room for formal occasions and entertainments.
The Old Hall and the New co-existed for some time after Bess died. It was in the care one of her sons, William Cavendish. The Cavendishes (Dukes of Devonshire) came to prefer Chatsworth, and the Old Hall was partly dismantled in the 1790s and fell into ruins.
For more information, check this link.

We finished our visit with a walk to the fish ponds at the bottom of the hill. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stamford "Brush Off"

Welland Valley Art Society took to the streets of Stamford on Sunday 23rd August.  Each artist who took part produced two paintings, which were then framed and (very briefly) exhibited at the Arts Centre.
The weather was kind, if a little too warm, though rain arrived just as they finished.  Harry looks the part in the photos below.

Queen Eleanor's spike
St Michaels Church

Friday, August 14, 2015

Romeo always arrives too early . . .

On Wednesday we were at Tolethorpe again, doing the pre-show picnic thing, in much warmer gentler conditions than last time. After a beautifully warm, sunny day, there was a hint of clouds in the sky. At six o'clock sunshine and dappled shade provided a perfect backdrop to our melon starter, tuna sandwiches and strawberries. Time to relax and enjoy the surroundings.

Romeo and Juliet is one of the Shakespeare plays I know best, since I studied it for 'O' level, and saw a production at Stratford in 1961, with Dorothy Tutin as Juliet, Ian Bannen as Mercutio, and Edith Evans as the Nurse. 
Tonight we have Romeo and Juliet as the children of two warring gypsy clans. Well it was the excuse for a colourful stage set, and made good use of the rural surroundings, and anyway, the play's the thing, and that went very well, and was highly enjoyable.

Pre-performance tableau and bustle

The interval arrived before I was expecting it, always a good sign!  We were glad of our coats. Temperatures dropped sharply.

The second half was just as engaging - perhaps a little heavy on the histrionic tearfulness at times. 
And of course, in the last scene, however much I will Romeo to keep on talking until Juliet wakes up, it never works!

We stopped briefly on the way home to see if the Perseid meteors were visible, but the clouds had thickened.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

A taste of London in summer

Near the spot where we had a picnic lunch in crowded London! (Hyde Park)
Friday evening's Prom was excellent. The BBC Philharmonic was conducted by Nicholas Collon. The first piece they played was the ballet music from Idomeneo. The conductor gave a good impression of Mozart as portrayed in the film Amadeus. 
Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, with the pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, is very jazzy, with definite echoes of Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, among others. 
The highlights of the second half for me were Messaien's Un oiseau des arbres de Vie (Oiseau tui) inspired by the tuneful Tui from New Zealand, and Ravel's La Valse.  
Albert Hall and our view from the "choir" seats - and no we didn't have to sing.
We had time for an evening wander to the Serpentine Bridge and back afterwards.

We had a leisurely start to Saturday, as we made our way to the Serpentine, and its Sackler Gallery, past the Albert memorial shining in the sun, and the cafe in an installation, by Fortnum and Mason

Not a Duane Hanson figure!
In the gallery were sculptures by Duane Hanson, mostly of people we would ignore in real life, so spookily realistic that I watched carefully to see if they were breathing. I should have taken a photograph or two there.

We strolled through Hyde Park, with its birdlife. This huge park acts as lungs and refreshment for the humans too.

I think he needs a sunshade today
Next stop the RA Summer exhibition, fortified by coffee and a cookie. 
Joshua Reynolds conducts The Dappled Light of the Sun.
The art is a mixture of the ordinary and the very good. But out of my price range, though the investors are certainly buying up the Tracy Emin prints. This year you can view the exhibits online as well.

First, negotiate the stairs - not quite as vertigo inducing as it looks.

After a couple of hours we're all exhibitioned out, and hungry. On our way to St james Park we have another taste of old-time-rural London. 

Then it's time to hit the little cafe. Lovely and shaded, though the chair probably printed itself on my backside. I amused myself, half-listening to some kinda astrological guru chatting his companion up with his phone-fuelled guidance from the outer limits.
View from a bridge - Buck House is the other way
We make our way along the Embankment to the Festival Hall, where there's an urban dance festival in full swing. All very loud and vibrant  but at least we can sit down and have a cup of tea - all important on hot London days when you've done a lot of walking around.
We stop at the food stalls nearby for a samosa chaat and follow it up with a gelato (lime and mint sorbet) before wending our way back to St Pancras for the 9pm train.
Green man or similar on Kings College building

Fleet Street with Ye Olde Cock Tavern

By the village pump?

Hanging out in Kings Cross Square

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Rainy day near Leeds

The rain pours down, as I take two grandchildren to holiday activities. Swish of windscreen wipers, and tyres on the wet road.
When we've dropped Rose off at a friend's house, I give Isaac the sat nav to follow, though he knows the way fine well. He gives me directions as we cut through the outskirts of Leeds, and the scenery changes from suburban chic to rural. 
He's looking forward to a day with ponies, learning all about how and what to feed them. Against my expectations, this lad turns out to be animal crazy. 
One wrong turn and Mrs SatNav puts us right in a trice. 
I deposit Isaac, don't embarrass him with a hug, and drive away. My first instinct is to head for the hills, but I don't have a decent map or my hiking boots. Ok, I'll make my way back, though the prospect of sitting in a wet house is less than appealing. 
On the way I pass the back entrance to Goldenacre Park. I stop at the car park, put my old trainers on, and my waterproof coat. 
Lots of free benches
Never mind the rain, I need air and exercise! And I know there's a café too.
As usual, dog walkers are out in all weathers, and smiling, greeting everyone, chatting. We're all glad to be outside. 
The trees glisten with moisture, and as I approach the flower gardens, the colours glow like fresh paint.  

I have no intention of resisting the cafe, and it's still raining. 

Ducks never mind the rain
 The rain eases off and I take a long route home via Eccup reservoir, where I get a glimpse of proper Yorkshire scenery, with stone walls, and misty hills.
Ragwort, out of the way of horses, feeds cinnabar moth caterpillars. 

Ducks and loads of martins looking for insects
martins swoop low
over rain-splashed water
seeking food
insects galore
this English summer