Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Stowe Landscape Gardens

 Stowe House

Stowe House dates from the 1670s, but its major development took place after it was inherited by Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham in 1711. Architects John Vanbrugh, James Kent and William Gibbs worked on the neo-classical house and its park, and from 1741 to 1751 Capability Brown, then at the start of his career, was Head Gardener. The result is one of the earliest and finest English landscape gardens.

In 1822 one of Cobham's descendants (the wonderfully named Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville) was made the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. This era seems to have marked the high point of both the family and the house, for the second duke, Richard Plantagenet T-N-B-C-G, ran up astronomic debts which ultimately led to the house being sold to become Stowe School in 1922. The landscaped garden was acquired by the National Trust in 1989 and has since been subject to a sustained programme of restoration.

Stowe is about midway between our respective homes and made an ideal place to meet our friends Sally and Malcolm.

You approach from Buckingham up the long, straight Stowe Avenue, passing through gilded gate-pillars to soon see the magnificent Corinthian Arch on the ridge ahead - you know immediately that this is going to be something special.

You walk down from the car park and visitor centre to enter the park through Bell Gate. A plan of the garden is available from the National Trust website and a bigger version can be collected at the ticket office. The most informative website - which I happened on while writing this post - is by John D Tatter, Professor of English at Birmingham-Southern College (Birmingham, Alabama, that is). It is a simply phenomenal resource and is the source of many of the details included in this post.

We decided on a broadly clockwise route so we turned left past two temple-like pavilions to get our first glimpse of the house across the Octagon Lake (see above). It is a wonderfully imposing sight, with an obvious Palladian influence. The algae on the lake surface is the only discordant note.

Across the lake we saw the first of many sudden views of the various monuments: in this case the extraordinary Gothic Temple of 1741, one of the earliest Gothic Revival buildings. These dramatic, even theatrical, glimpses are surely the greatest charm of the gardens.

Carrying on along the same path (Pegg's Terrrace), now with Eleven Acre Lake to the right, you soon reach the Temple of Venus, also seemingly influenced by Palladio. It was the work of William Kent and dates from 1731.

Just after this, across to the right, is a perfect view of the Rotonda. We discovered later that it is actually surrounded by a golf course, and closer up is somewhat spoiled by people teeing off nearby. From this vantage point however it is magical.

In the top corner of the gardens you come to the two Boycott Pavilions. They are named after a village which used to exist nearby and they once framed an entrance to the estate. Capability Brown apparently lived in one. It took us a few moments to notice that the further pavilion has a little tempieto on the top, which completes its design, while the nearer one does not. We then noticed that it was hidden behind the bushes on the left of the photo, fenced off and presumably awaiting the arrival of a giant crane to return it to its home.

We now doubled back and quickly turned left to pass the statue of Queen Caroline, wife of George II. It was in fact built in 1726 when she was Princess of Wales, and renamed later when her husband became king.

We followed the northern side of Eleven Acre Lake to reach the cascade which links the two lakes. The wonderful Paladian bridge which stands at the far end of the Octagon Lake offered a great view, although the algae was even worse here. We enjoyed the apparently choreographed movements of teh Canada geese.

We now headed towards the House, passing the Temple of British Worthies below us to the right. The busts are of great men such as Shakespeare, Raleigh and Newton. I couldn't avoid a shot with some modern British worthies.

More or less opposite is the Temple of Ancient Virtue. Inside are statues of Homer, Socrates, Lycurgus, and Epaminondas. The two last were respectively the greatest law-giver, and general of ancient Greece.

Just behind the Temple is the 13th-14th century church of St Mary (which the plan studiously tells us in not National Trust). It is interesting and spacious inside, but frankly ugly from outside and further spoiled by being coated in pebbledash.

We continued on our clockwise arc to the Queen's Temple and from the plateau behind it enjoyed a lovely view of the Greek Temple of Concord and Victory. I learned from John Tatter that it was originally known as the Grecian Temple but was renamed at the end of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) to celebrate British peace at home and victory in the field.

Looking in the other direction from the plateau there is the fine view of Lord Cobham's Pillar.

Built to commemorate his death, it also functions as a viewing tower. It is 35m high (compare Nelson's Column at 52m).

We headed on the come beneath the wonderful Gothic Temple. It had gradually become clear that it is triangular, with square towers on each corner. Two corners have a cupola, while the other has a church-like tower. The ochre colour gives it great added charm. A sign idicated that it is now owened by the Landmark Trust and so presumably you can stay there. I had to Photoshop a parked car out of my picture.

We then walked down the slope to cross the Palladian Bridge and enjoy this fantastic view back up the hill. The bridge was apparently inspired by the Palladian Bridge at Wilton House near Salisbury.

There followed a little side trip to see the Chinese House. It was apparently the first building in England constructed in the Chinese style and has been relocated to its present position by the National Trust.

Finally, we paused in front of the genuinely ruined Temple of Friendship, to admire a very picturesque collection of monuments (the one on the left is the Queen's Temple).

It was a fitting end (apart from walking back to the car) to a truly wonderful walk.

Conditions: cloudy, but quite warm.

Distance: about 4 miles.

Rating: five stars. Just fantastic.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Silchester and Pamber Forest

The main track through the forest

It was a nice sunny day so I thought I would pay another visit to nearby Pamber Forest and try to take some better butterfly photos using my new monopod.

I parked near the Calleva Arms in Silchester and walked south-west towards the forest, initially along a road but soon through woodland. I passed the Upper Inhams Copse nature reserve and at the entrance to the Pamber Forest reserve turned left following a track (marked blue on the helpful leaflet) down to Silchester Road.

I followed the road into Little London and crossed a field to join the main track which, like last time, I followed about two thirds of the way towards the top before turning right to again reach the entrance and retrace my steps to the Calleva Arms.

Conditions: sunny, becoming cloudy

Distance: about 4 miles.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne).

Rating: three stars.

Butterflies of the day

Fewer to choose from than last time: no White Admirals and just one rather battered looking Fritillary. There were lots of Speckled Woods basking in the sunny glades. I think the monopod helped this to be a reasonable picture.

Even more pleasing was this Peacock basking on the ground. The beautiful colours have never seemed brighter or more iridescent, and I had never previously noticed the checkered pattern on the tops of the wings near the body.

So overall I think the monopod was a hit!

Flower of the day

I saw quite a lot of this. I think it is Creeping Cinquefoil.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Barton-on-Sea to Hurst Castle (Bournemouth Coast Path 4)

Coast beyond Barton-on-Sea

We decided to break our journey down to Poole in order to complete the Bournemouth Coast Path. (The guide book includes a further section, but it is really part of the Solent Way, so we thought we would save that for a future project.)

We picked up the route on the grassy cliffs at Barton-on-Sea and walked along above the bathing huts and the beach. The view above shows the next section of coast, with a golf course on the inland side.
A  little further on the waves pour in onto the shingle beach, with the eroding sandstone cliff behind.

The view back shows Hengistbury Head clearly on the horizon

A bit further on we crossed Becton Bunny.

We then walked along the clifftop to reach New Milton - to be honest, largely indistinguishable from Barton-on-Sea.

At the end of the promenade, a shingle spit (reinforced with - for some reason - Norwegian stone in 1996-7) leads past the Sturt Pond towards Hurst Castle. On the landward side, a narrow channel of water called Mount Lake leads through the salt marshes.

While  on the seaward side the Needles remain a striking sight at the tip of the Isle of Wight.

As the tip of the spit approached Hurst Castle became clearer, with the Hurst Lighthouse bright in a little burst of sunshine to the left.

The castle was founded by Henry VIII in 1544 as part of a chain of forts built to defend against the threat of a Spanish invasion. The original castle is the octagonal tower on the left. It is a very good place for a defence: the channel across to the Isle of Wight is only three-quarters of a mile. Charles I was imprisoned here in 1648 before being taken to London to his trial and execution.

In Victorian times massive and rather ugly wings were built either side of the original fort, which was itself hidden behind a curved battlement. Guns were mounted here during the second world war. All quite interesting, but what you see looks like some horrific prison. 

Finally, there is the lighthouse of 1867 right at the tip of the spit.

The building to the left is the Acetylene Room which provided power for the lighthouse until 1970. It is apparently the last remaining complete example in the country, but how it functioned is a mystery to me at least.

Map: Explorer OL22 (New Forest)

Conditions: mild and cloudy, lots of haze, light rain at the end

Distance: 8 miles, including the return trip along the spit

Rating: three stars. Some interesting aspects, but overall the least satisfying leg of the Bournemouth Coast Path.

Flower of the day

I haven't managed to identify this tiny low-growing pink flower seen in the grass on the cliff-top.

Butterfly of the day

This Speckled Wood posed obligingly.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Sugar Loaf

The Sugar Loaf

We met up with cousins Ruth and Jon to climb the Sugar Loaf.

We parked to the south-east of the mountain at Porth-y-parc and walked up a track gaining an immediate, but distant view of our target. At the top we entered an area of National Trust land called Parc Lodge and soon joined a sunken track bordered by oak trees in dappled sunlight, climbing all the while.

We emerged into a grassy field and then reached the bracken-covered approach to the Sugar Loaf and our first clear view. We walked up a grassy path, becoming rocky nearer the top and suddenly emerged on the long flattish summit.

The views were spectacular, but much diminished by the heavy haze. This was the view back the way we had come, a rare patch of heather failing to enliven the foreground. Abergavenny and the river Usk can be dimly glimpsed in the distance.

At the far (north-west) end of the summit, there was an impressive rock shambles and further hazy views towards both the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons.

After a break for lunch in the shelter of the rocks we descended the north face (ho, ho!) and followed another grassy track through the bracken, passing a pool with a couple of Emperor dragon flies engaged in a mating dance. A little further on we flushed some Grouse noisily into the air. Perhaps they knew the season was about to begin.

As we curved round to the east, the true nature of the summit became visible, with the initial slightly pointed view on the left and the rock shambles on the right.

 We continued on, now heading south, and enjoyed clearer views of Ysgyryd Fawr (pronounced something like Skirrid) on our left. Ruth told us that it was also known as the holy mountain on account of a legend that the large land slip on the other side occurred at the exact moment of Christ's crucifixion. I expressed some scepticism about this - how did they know? The remains of St Michael's chapel lie just behind the summit.

We entered a forest of oak trees, all of a similar age, but with improved dappling compared to the earlier ones.

At an isolated house called Summer View we did a dog-leg back into the forest at a lower level and followed the contours until we reached another track higher up from the parking point. We descended to reach the car and enjoy one last view of Abergavenny. The Blorenge, our next project, just intrudes into the photo on the right.

Conditions: warm, hazy, windy at the top.

Distance: about 6 miles.

Map: Explorer OL13 (Brecon Beacons).

Rating: four stars.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Branscombe to Sidmouth (SW Coast Path 23)

Looking west towards Sidmouth

Day 3 of our Coast Walking trip to Devon. We drove to Branscombe, where we left off yesterday, parked outside the church and climbed up to rejoin the coast path. We fairly soon emerged out of the woods, passed a couple of parked cars (how did they get there? should we have done the same?) and reached the open cliff top (Berry Cliff) with the first, rather hazy, views towards Sidmouth - today's destination.

A bit further on, the view became a little clearer, and we could make out the long sweep of coast from Sidmouth down to Otterton Ledge and the mouth of the Axe beyond, with Torbay further in the distance.

There followed a flat grassy section above Littleton Shoot, with more mysteriously parked cars, and the we could see the pebble beach of Weston Mouth, the first major descent on the walk - and the equally major climb waiting on the other side. The birds in the photo are ravens, which roost in the undercliff. We saw one quite close up sitting on a fence post and were impressed with its size.

The path takes you down right to the back of the beach, across the mouth of a pretty stream ...

 ... and through fields up the edge of the opposite cliff. We were very pleased to emerge a bit later on to Lower Dunscombe Cliff, a pleasantly undulating area, with hillocks covered in wild flowers and butterflies. The cliff itself was rugged and eroding.

After a short detour inland at Linchcombe, Higher Dunscombe Cliff was flatter and more agricultural than its Lower neighbour. The first clear view of Sidmouth opened up as we approached Salcombe Mouth, the second major descent/ascent.

This time at least it wasn't necessary to go right down to the sea before beginning to climb again. The view looking back to Higher Duncombe Cliffs and the shoreline below from the hill west of Salcombe Mouth was dramatic. It is a bit puzzling that this dramatic viewpoint doesn't seem to have a name.

Now we walked along Salcombe Hill Cliff and emerged to find a simply wonderful viewpoint over the town and its two bays.

A final winding, but quite gentle, descent, by comparison with the others, brought us to Sidmouth esplanade. The terraces with their verandahs date from 1837.

The Sidmouth Folk Festival was on, unbeknown to us, and the town was very busy. It look a little while to find a quiet pub for a recuperative drink and we decided to put off exploring until next time.

Conditions: cloudy for the most part, but warm.

Distance: 5 miles. Distance covered now 103 miles.

Map: Explorer 115 (Exmouth and Sidmouth).

Rating: four stars. Arduous, but rewarding.

Butterfly of the day

Quite a good day for butterflies. Lots of Meadow Browns and the odd Admiral, white and Fritillary. The signature butterfly however was the Gatekeeper. The photograph doesn't quite do justice to the intensity of the orange.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Seaton to Branscombe (SW Coast Path 22)

Haven Cliff at the east end of Seaton Bay

Day 2 of our three day walking trip to Devon. We are staying in a small hotel right on the sea front at Seaton, so we started today's walk by simply turning right outside the front door. A first! We walked along the fairly uninteresting sea front and made a slight detour to get a closer view of the clock we had noted last night. It is another Jubilee Clock from 1887 (we have seen others recently in Usk and Margate).

At the end of the sea front, there are red cliffs (iron ore) and beyond them chalk cliffs. There was clear evidence of the recent landslips which have affected this area.

We then walked up the road towards Beer, passing the well-named Check House, a residential home. A helpful blue plaque explains that it was formerly Calverly Lodge built for Sir Walter and Lady Trevelyan; Lady Trevelyan was an important patron of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and had a celebrated salon at Wallington Hall in Northumberland.

Further along the road was closed as the result of another landslip, necessitating a detour, but eventually we reached the cliffs at Seaton Hole and enjoyed a spectacular view across the bay.

A short cliff-top section led to the the pretty village of Beer.

At dinner last night I saw a (very poor) photograph of some Almshouses in Beer, so we decided to make a detour into the village in search of them. The first thing of note was a lovely pair of thatched cottages at the head of the main street.

The almshouses were difficult to photograph - although I am not trying to sell my picture - and seem to now be privately owned. They are of an unusual design with lovely arched gothic doorways and windows. Pevsner says they were given by Lady Rolle in 1820.

After a break for coffee we resumed the path at the back of the beach, walked up the road and made our way to Beer Head, with fine views in both directions. This is the view west: Sidmouth can just be made out at the point at which the coast bends. The high ground is Hooken Cliffs.

The path descends steeply to follow another undercliff - Under Hooken - behind three fingers of chalk, on the left in the photo above.

This path continues through a caravan park, rather incongruously located in this otherwise wild and isolated section of coast, to descend to Branscombe Mouth, where the restaurant and shop were doing a good trade.

We made the steep ascent of West Cliff and enjoyed another fine view back over the pebble beach.

A bit further on we took a path to the right leading down to Branscombe Church which we had identified as the place to end today's leg. We did not fancy trying to do the full 10.5 mile Seaton to Sidmouth section in one go and this was one of the few possible places to break the walk. The church has a Norman tower (except for the very top according to Pevsner) and nave, while the chancel is 14th century. Inside there is a fragment of a 15th century wall painting.

The rather spread-out village also has an old Forge and a Bakery owned by the National Trust.

We now hit a slight snag. Neither of our mobile phones (on different networks) had a signal and the lone telephone box was "not commissioned", presumably some new euphemism for not working. (Surely BT must know that this is precisely one of the few places in modern Britain where a phone box is still a necessity?) Happily we were generously allowed to use the phone in the Bakery tea shop to summon a taxi back to Seaton.

Conditions: mild, but quite cloudy - and wet while we were in Beer.

Distance: just over 5 miles. Distance now covered 98 miles.

Map: Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis and Bridport) and 115 (Exmouth and Sidmouth).

Rating: four stars.

Flower of the day

We saw quite a lot of this yellow spiky flower, but I have been unable to identify it.