The Retirees go Abroad – Greg’s Visit to Nottingham – Wet and Cold in Chester and Llangollen

Sunday and Greg has put his washing on early. We will get away again today after hanging out the washing. Very domestic.

Kerry wants to show us the aqueduct over in Llangollen and to fill in the day plans we visit Chester. Chester is a city in Cheshire, lying on the River Dee, close to the border with Wales, Chester was founded as a Roman fort with the name Deva Victrix, during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian in AD79. One of the three main army camps in the Roman province of Britannia, Deva later became a major civilian settlement. In 689, King Æthelred of Mercia founded the Minster Church of West Mercia, which later became Chester’s first cathedral, and the Saxons extended and strengthened the walls, much of which remain, to protect the city against the Danes. Chester was one of the last cities in England to fall to the Normans. William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle, to dominate the town and the nearby Welsh border.

On arriving in Chester I again scored a hit with the parking. A short walk brought us to the Information office just as the rain started. A good day to take the hop on hop off bus, so we walked around to the bus terminus and waited for the bus. It finally showed – delayed by road closures because of a fun run through the city. We can pick them!

Boarding the bus we found we were the only passengers. The tour guide seemed to take a shine to us straight away and joined us under cover on the upper deck to give us a personalised presentation.

The more unusual landmarks in the city are the city walls, the Rows and the black-and-white architecture. The walls encircle the bounds of the medieval city and constitute the most complete city walls in Britain. A footpath runs along the top of the walls, crossing roads by bridges, and passing a series of structures, particularly Phoenix Tower (or King Charles’ Tower), so named because Charles was supposed to watch his army be defeated by the Parliamentary army in 1645. On Eastgate is Eastgate Clock which is said to be the most photographed clock in England after Big Ben. Unfortunately it was being repaired and we could not view it.

The Rows consist of buildings with shops or dwellings on the lowest two storeys. The shops or dwellings on the ground floor are often lower than the street and are entered by steps, which sometimes lead to a crypt-like vault. Those on the first floor are entered behind a continuous walkway, often with a sloping shelf between the walkway and the railings overlooking the street.

The most prominent buildings in the city centre are the town hall and the cathedral.

Another notable building is the preserved shot tower, the highest structure in Chester. This is where lead shot was made before cartridge shot replaced lead shot. The most important Roman feature is the amphitheatre just outside the walls which is undergoing archaeological investigation. To the south of the city runs the River Dee, with its 11th century weir. According to our guide the River Dee had a basin on which the Romans built a large inland port and that Chester retained its commercial importance as a port until the weir was built and caused the basin to silt up. This area between the river and the city walls is known as the Roodee, and contains Chester Racecourse

With the rain still falling we found a pub had lunch and hoped the rain would stop. As we farewelled Chester the rain did stop until we arrived at The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. It is a navigable aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee in Wrexham County Borough in north east Wales. Completed in 1805, it is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain, and a World Heritage Site.

Arriving at the aqueduct, it started to rain and the wind picked up to the point that it became miserable but still we walked the aqueduct clutching our umbrellas against the wind. Unbelievable views and scenic vistas only spoiled by wind, rain and close to freezing temperatures. It is summer you know.

 

The Retirees go Abroad – Living the Ordinary Life UK –Kinver Edge and Mosely Old Hall

Spring is supposed to be just round the corner but someone forgot to tell Mother Nature – it is still cold and wet. You learn that you make do with the weather otherwise you would never leave your flat. So we rug up and then travel south west to Kinver Edge to see the Holy Austin Cave Houses.

Kinver Edge is a high heath and woodland escarpment just west of Kinver, about four miles west of Stourbridge, and four miles north of Kidderminster, and is on the border between Worcestershire and Staffordshire, England. It is now owned by the National Trust. Kinver Edge is home to the last troglodyte dwellings occupied in England, with a set of complete cave-houses excavated into the local sandstone. One of the rocks, “Holy Austin”, was a hermitage until the Reformation. The Holy Austin rock houses were inhabited until the 1950s. They are now owned by the National Trust. The cottage gardens and an orchard are being replanted and restored.

The heathland and woodland on Kinver Edge are inhabited by wildlife, including adder and common lizard present on the heaths, and Common Buzzard, Eurasian Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, badger, red fox, and many other bird species present in the woods. The area around the summit is mainly heathland, with birch, oak and sweet chestnut trees in the woods at the northern end.

We had an enjoyable time and shared some of our travel stories with one of the volunteers in the tea rooms. He is an avid mountain climber and walker and gave us some great tips about the Severn Railway – a steam locomotive trip from Blewly to Bridgeford North and the Malvern Hills. We teased him with stories of climbing Mt Kosciusko and the Glass House Mountains.

We went back to the village of Kinver Edge and had lunch at the White Hart pub (very disappointing). The village is very pretty and includes antique and second hand shops and some buildings that look as though they are from Tudor times.

Kinver Edge is south west of Birmingham (very industrial and dirty scenery as we passed around it) and south of Wolverhampton (home of the Wolverhampton Wanders) and whilst a big city seemed more hospitable than Birmingham. So we told tommy we wanted to call in at Mosely Old Hall.

This is what Wikipedia says about the Hall. “Moseley Old Hall is a National Trust property located in Fordhouses, north of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom. It is famous as one of the resting places of Charles II of England during his escape to France following defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

Charles II’s father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War. Cromwell then defeated Charles II at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, and Charles fled to mainland Europe.

The Hall was built in 1600 and was the home of the Whitgreaves, a local Staffordshire family, mostly Catholics and Royalists. Thomas Whitgreave assisted Charles II when he arrived in the early hours of 8 September after the journey from Boscobel House. Thomas gave the King dry clothes, food, and a proper bed (his first since Worcester on 3 September). The King was hidden in the priest-hole for two days whilst planning the route for his escape. He was accompanied by the family’s Catholic priest John Huddleston who cleaned and bandaged the King’s feet.

Descendants of the Whitgreave family owned the house until 1925, and during that time made few structural changes, apart from encasing the Hall with brick walls and replacing the Elizabethan windows. After the 1820s, it appears to have been abandoned as the family home, in favour of Moseley Court, a new Regency style house built for George Whitgreave. It was used as a farmhouse until the Second World War but was suffering from neglect when the National Trust took it over in 1962. It is now fully restored, and furnished with generous donations of period furniture. The original four-poster bed used by Charles stands in the King’s room.”

We arrived close to closing time and had missed the last tour so we guided ourselves with the help of some written notes. On entering through the same door as Charles II (the back door) we went into the brew house (kitchen – as you could not drink the water in those days they brewed beer as the common drink, hence the brew house). Here we met one of the guides who gave us a bit of a short run down on a few things.

In my pictures below you will see a picture of a kitchen table and on the table you will see some black jugs. These are actually made of leather and coated in pitch to preserve and stiffen it. The small one is a “pitcher” after the coating and the large one is a “bombardier” for God only knows what reason.

You will also see a wooden square plate. This was the servants dish and from this came the phrase “a square meal”. The third thing to note is the straw on the stand. The straw would be coated in animal fat and lit at both ends and were used instead of the more expensive candles. From this comes the saying: “burning the candle at both ends”.

We then went up stairs to the King’s Bed Chamber and checked out the “priest’s hole” where the good king hid from the pursuing army. The house reminded us of the visit to Little Moreton in Cheshire and we were right – it is a timber house over which a brick exterior has been constructed. The attic contained the chapel – quite unusual but I guess it is a hangover form the persecution of Catholics at this time. Although only a short visit (about an hour) it was enough time to take in all we needed to see and know about this famous hall.

The Retirees go Abroad – Living in Tudor Times

 

If you have been following my blogs then you may well be sick of manor houses and gardens. But before you turn off, this is a tale of a manor house built in wood that has been in the same family ownership since 1500 and was last added to or changed in 1610. When you see the photographs you may agree with me – how is it still standing?

Little Moreton Hall at Congleton Cheshire is a National trust property. It is moated. It is built of wood and daub plaster. It is the ancestral home of a family of yeoman farmers named the Moretons. The earliest parts of the house were built for William Moreton in about 1504–08, and the remainder was constructed in stages by successive generations of the family until about 1610. The building is highly irregular, with three asymmetrical ranges forming a small, rectangular courtyard. The house’s top-heavy appearance, is due to the Long Gallery that runs the length of the south range’s upper floor which was built in about 1560–62 for William Moreton II’s son John It includes the Gatehouse and a third storey containing a 68-foot (21 m) Long Gallery, roofed with heavy grit stone slabs, the weight of which has caused the supporting floors below to bow and buckle. I could not remember all this so I have extracted what I thought would explain to you the uniqueness of this house from Wikipedia. If you wish to read more go to http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/little-moreton-hall/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Moreton_Hall.

Wikipedia has this comment which I thought was important for your understanding: “Architectural historians Peter de Figueiredo and Julian Treuherz describe it as “a gloriously long and crooked space (the Long Gallery), the wide floorboards rising up and down like waves and the walls leaning outwards at different angles.” The crossbeams between the arch-braced roof trusses were probably added in the 17th century to prevent the structure from “bursting apart” under the load.”

A small kitchen and Brew-house block was added to the south wing in about 1610, the last major extension to the house. The fortunes of the Moreton family declined during the English Civil War. As supporters of the Royalist cause, they found themselves isolated in a community of Parliamentarians. Little Moreton Hall was requisitioned by the Parliamentarians and used to billet Parliamentary soldiers. The family survived the Civil War with their ownership of Little Moreton Hall intact, but financially they were crippled. The family’s fortunes never fully recovered, and by the late 1670s they no longer lived in Little Moreton Hall, renting it out instead to a series of tenant farmers.

Elizabeth Moreton, an Anglican nun, inherited the almost derelict house following the death of her sister Annabella in 1892. She restored and refurnished the Chapel, and may have been responsible for the insertion of steel rods to stabilise the structure of the Long Gallery. In 1912 she bequeathed the house to a cousin, Charles Abraham, Bishop of Derby, stipulating that it must never be sold. Abraham opened up Little Moreton Hall to visitors, charging an entrance fee of 6d (equivalent to about £8 as of 2010) collected by the Dales who had taken over the tenancy in 1841, who conducted guided tours of the house in return. Abraham carried on the preservation effort begun by Elizabeth Moreton until he and his son transferred ownership to the National Trust in 1938. The Dale family continued to farm the estate until 1945, and acted as caretakers for the National Trust until 1955.

Tours of the house are available and they are really worth it. In the course of the tour our guide told us the house originally had a dirt floor and as the chooks and other animals would also be running through they threw a grass like product called “thresh” onto the floor and to keep the thresh in the house they erected a bar at the foot of each door called a “hold”. Hence our word “threshold” There is a chair in the main hall and we were told this was probably the only chair as everyone bar the elder of the house (the chairman) had stools or benches.

The house still contains a little furniture from the end of the 16th century. Apart from the chair there is the table top. We were told that in the 16th century this was called the “board” and it was not affixed to legs like today but rather sat on trestles. When the servants cleaned the room and everyone retired the board would be turned over because many servants received “board and lodging” instead of pay. There would have been other boards at the side of the room for other eating utensils – “side boards” and “cup boards”. If minstrels were visiting they would receive food in exchange for entertainment. So the boards would be taken into the courtyard and placed on the cobbles for the minstrels and troubadours to perform or “tread the boards”. Amazing where our vocabulary comes form.

Our tour included a visit to a room where we saw 16th century wall paper. In maintaining the house the National Trust has uncovered original “wallpaper” form that same time. The fashion was to draw patterns on the walls and colour them in but between the top of the wall and the ceiling is a fresco of biblical scenes drawn on paper affixed to the wall.

The Chapel is a sight to behold. It must have been constructed out of square to be so obviously crooked. The tour ends in the Chapel (which is still consecrated and used for short services). Walking around the remaining rooms there are picture boards with information on various aspects of the house. The “garderobes” are simple benches with holes and a drop into – you guessed it – the moat. Even so some poor sod had the job of cleaning out the mess and spreading it on the fields.

There is a good little café here with reasonable prices a warm fire and tasty food. We both recommend a visit to live in Tudor times.

The Retirees go Abroad – Surprise at Cheshire Cottage

 

As autumn unfolds and winter prepares to settle upon us, we await the arrival of our visitors from Australia. The days get shorter but because of the rain and cloudy skies it remains grey and some mornings the mist does not leave us. We are taking it easy as when they arrive we have a full itinerary –  London for a day then Scotland as far as Inverness then down Loch Ness and visit the distilleries of Islay before coming home (Long Eaton) for a few days before having Xmas in France and New Year in Paris.

Still, taking it easy doesn’t mean sitting still. So on a not so overcast day, we took out the National Trust guide book and decided we would visit Biddulph Grange National Trust Garden in Staffordshire and Little Moreton Hall Tudor house in Cheshire.

We arrived at the Garden shortly before the Garden opened, just enough time for a cup of coffee. So out came the flask and the home cooked oat biscuits and we sat in the mist enjoying the morning. We watched various cars arrive indicating the Garden had opened so we strolled over to the gate produced our passes and when asked where we came from the receptionist was surprised to hear we were from Nottingham. It’s a trick I love to play as the Notts/midland accent is just so different to a Queenslander. This always starts a conversation. As these sites are manned by volunteers it is often interesting to hear what secrets they can tell you about each place.

These gardens were billed as amazing and imaginative. This description undersells the Garden. They are truly innovative for the time of their creation. James Bateman designed the garden 150 years ago. The garden is a framework of hedges rocks, banks tunnels and discrete areas with their own distinct style and planting. There is feeling of exploration and surprise as you walk through various gardens some of which are designed to portray particular places in particular China, the Pyramids and the Glen.

The garden starts with the house. Unlike other great gardens, the house is just an entrance, tea room and gift shop. The remainder of the grand house has been converted into 9 private apartments. After walking from the house we were met by one of the volunteers and he gave us a few tips to make our exploration more enjoyable and showed us how to read the map of the garden.

We walked down a series of stairs to the Araucaria Parterre, a type of patio overlooking a lake full of fish and then circle around the Pinetum where we encountered our first tunnel. We walked through into an area of pine trees of every kind. The path was leading us to a cottage. As we approached the cottage a young couple with their children caught up to us and we walked together chatting. On reaching the cottage we see it is named Cheshire Cottage. We open the door and it is dark. Once your eyes adjust, you realise that there are no rooms but four further entrances. The fourth entrance houses a squatted figure whilst the other entrances remain a mystery. We choose to follow the young family and enter a tunnel with a point of light at the end.

We come out into the pale sunlight onto Wellingtonia Avenue; an avenue of pine trees running up a low hill. Walking up the hill we notice a bush walk off to the left so we take that path and wind through what appears natural bush land then we encounter that young family again as this walk returns onto Wellingtonia Avenue.

From the top of the avenue we get a grand view of the house, its valley and hills behind. We return along the avenue taking in the jigsaw of colours – greens, yellows reds and browns. At the end of the avenue we have a choice: the Cherry Orchard or re-enter Cheshire Cottage. There is not much happening in the orchard as the trees have dropped their leaves and await spring so we select the cottage and a different tunnel. We pop out in Egypt. Back into the tunnel and we pop out in the Watch Tower over looking Dahlia Walk (no dahlias til spring) and viewing the apartments.

Back to the tunnel and we arrive at the Stumpery, an area where old tree stumps have been used to create an eerie landscape of moss covered stump walls leading to China and the Temple. We travel through China and surprise another tunnel leading us to the Glen. It is autumn so the Rhododendrons are not in bloom. The glen leads us back to our first tunnel and the lake. The tour has finished but a most relaxing and surprising hour and a half. We must do this in spring. The garden will have change entirely with new growth, birds, animals, and insects.

 

So we leave the garden reinvigorated and feeling at peace.