Saturday, 31 December 2016

Beaulieu and Buckler's Hard

Palace House

We were on our way to Poole for New Year and decided to stop off on the way to explore Beaulieu. It was quite quiet and we were delighted to be able to buy a ticket which did not include the Motor Museum, so our visit got off to a good start, despite the misty weather.

We followed the main path in the direction of the ruins of Beaulieu Abbey. It was founded in 1204 on land given by King John to the Cistercians and dissolved with other abbeys at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538. When the abbey was dissolved, it was sold to Lord Montagu’s ancestor, Thomas Wriothesley. Some of the stone was used to build coastal castles such as Hurst Castle.

We first came upon this interesting ruined structure, apparently once used for fulling (improving cloth).

A little beyond it lay the Domus, one of the best-preserved parts. It once housed the brothers' refectory and dormitories. Some of the timbers have been dated to 1440.

To its left is the site of the abbey church, it was once 336 feet long and 186 feet wide, the largest Cistercian church in England.

The arch on the right leads to where the cloister once was, in its usual position on the south side of the church. Not much remains today, but on the far side is a building which was once the Choir Monks' Refectory.

This building, which dates from about 1230, is now the parish church of Beaulieu. It seems to have become the parish church immediately after the Dissolution. It is a lovely building, no doubt much altered through time. The wooden ceiling may date from the 18th century.

We now went into the Domus and found the upstairs to contain a single large hall with rather lovely wall hangings by Belinda, Lady Montagu. She was the first wife of the best known Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (the 3rd Baron, 1926-2015).

Now we moved on to Palace House. From the side view this looks like a Victorian mansion and in fact it was mainly built by Arthur Blomfield in 1872.

However, when you go inside you discover that the origins of the house lie in the gatehouse of the abbey, which dates from the 14th century and was later converted into a hunting lodge. The Lower Drawing Room, with its fine 14th century vaulting was once effectively the road into the abbey.

This continued through what is now a fireplace into the Dining Hall, which also has a lovely vaulted ceiling. To my mind, these two rooms were by far the most interesting in the house.

Outside there is an Outer gatehouse which Pevsner dates to the 13th century.

Having completed our tour of the abbey ruins and Palace House, we returned to the car and headed round to Beaulieu village to walk two miles along the Test Way to Buckler's Hard - along with lots of other people.

After leaving the village the track passes between fields and then goes past Bailey's Hard, where ships were once made, and this nicely restored house, once an 18th century brickworks.

We now entered a woodland, with the Beaulieu river over to our left. The sun streamed through the trees in a wonderfully atmospheric way.

Eventually we emerged onto the river bank, where I enjoyed the bright reflection of this highly coloured dredger or whatever it was.

Soon we were in Buckler's Hard. According to the Beaulieu River website Buckler’s Hard was created in the early 18th century by John Duke of Montagu, who planned to build a free port on the banks of the Beaulieu River for the import and export of sugar from the West Indies. From the 1740s the site was used for the building of over 50 wooden ships for the Royal Navy, some of which were involved in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

What you see now are two terraces of red brick houses facing each other up a slope at right angles to the river. It is a fine sight. There is also a pub, a chapel, a cafe and a small maritime museum.

After looking round we retraced our steps back to Beaulieu, this time able to photograph the Duke's Bathhouse, built in 1760 by George, Duke of Montagu for his son who suffered from arthritis (salt water was believed to offer a cure).

Conditions: misty at first, becoming clear and bright. Quite cold.

Map: Explorer OL 22 (New Forest).

Distance: a bit over 5 miles.

Rating: four and a half stars. A fascinating place to visit. Presumably five stars if you like cars.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Corton to Hindon (Wessex Ridgeway [Wiltshire] 8)

The Dove Inn, Corton

We set out from the Dove at Corton, wher we had enjoyed an excellent lunch at the end of the previous stage of this walk. A left and a right brought us to a green path heading uphill to the south. This is the view back from near the top.

At the top we turned left and enjoyed a lovely view of the hillside sloping back down towards the Wylye Valley. The trees on the far side were especially pleasing.

We followed a farm track as far as Corton Filed Barn, where we turned right (south) and followed a broad track offering fine, if hazy views towards the west.

Pausing to find a hedge to go behind, we found this wonderful sign: Floristically Enhanced Green Margin. We imagined some poor florist dutifully planting loads of seedlings.

A bit further in we had a better view of the combe we saw earlier - it is clear from the map that it is     Whatcomb Bottom.

We continued on the same line and headed into what the map suggested was going to be a large, dense forest, Great Ridge. In fact it was more widely planted than we had expected and quite straightforward to navigate, if not especially photogenic.

This is the view back once we emerged on the other side. The sun had come out to welcome us and the sky was clearing somewhat.

We walked down to the busy A303 which we crossed without mishap and climbed along a muddy track towards Hindon. There was a nice view back once we reached the next ridge.\

We headed downhill into the village, passing the church of St John the Baptist (T H Wyatt, 1878). Pevsner says that the village was created by the bishops of Winchester in about 1220 and soon had about 150 houses. It was built all along the road from Salisbury to Taunton. Most of it was rebuilt in stone after a fire in 1745. It is very harmonious and attractive.

At the crossroads was the Lamb pub where we had an enjoyable lunch.

Conditions: not too cold, cloudy then brightening up.

Distance: 6 miles.

Map: Explorer 143 (Warminster & Trowbridge).

Rating: four stars.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor: Entrance Front

Waddesdon is one of those places we had long intended to visit and we were stimulated into making a trip there by a piece in House and Garden describing a new house built in the park, Flint House. We were lucky to find Waddesdon open at this time of year and this turned out to be because there is a big tradition of celebrating Christmas.

Waddesdon Manor dates mostly from 1877-1883 and was built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the style of a French chateau. The architect was Hippolyte Destailleur who had worked on the restoration of real French chateaux, and so knew what he was doing. It was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957, but at some point the Trust leased it back to the Rothschild Foundation.

A shuttle bus service takes people from the massive car park, but we set out on foot towards the Manor, and having found the location of Flint House on the Waddesdon website, knew we had to turn off to the left after a short way. This gave us a nice initial view of Waddesdon.

We followed a tarmac track and soon admired this beautiful stand of trees.

We passed Windmill Hill, the headquarters of the Rothschild Foundation (Stephen Marshall Architects, 2010) ...

 ... and headed downhill to find the splendid Flint House sitting in the centre of a wide valley. It was commissioned by Jacob de Rothschild from Charlotte Skene Catling in 2015. The house is clad in knapped flints set in black mortar which gradually give way to smooth grey squares towards the top. A small annex sits facing the main house out of shot to the left.

We headed back uphill past Windmill Hill, admiring the hyper-realistic horse and cart statue on the ridge, to re-trace our steps to the main path to the Manor.

We passed a nice grove of trees.

On regaining the main path we headed uphill to pass the Garden facade. This faces south and looked lovely in the early afternoon sunshine. The ground floor is obscured by the slope, but actually this was a great benefit as it was anyway blocked by a whole series of wooden huts used for the Christmas Fair.

Heading round the right side of the Manor to the Entrance Front (which of course faces north, and which explains why the picture at the head of this post is so dark), we found this entertaining installation, one of a pair. These  sculptures in the form of giant candlesticks are called Lafite and are the work of Portugese sculptor Joana Vasconcelos. Closer inspection reveals that they are made from 1000 magnums of Château Lafite Rothschild (Château Lafite was bought by Baron James de R in 1868.) The inspiration for the work was apparently Marcel Duchamp's bottle holders of 1914.

Elsewhere in the grounds was a light installation, Field of Light, by Bruce Monro, which consists of 9,000 glass spheres which light up as darkness falls. It sounds lovely and we regretted not being able to stay until dusk.

Round the corner was the cast iron Aviary of 1889. It put me in mind of Otto Wagner's art nouveau pavilions in Vienna.

We did also make a brief visit inside the Manor. Unfortunately, as we saw it, the interior had been subjected to a Christmas makeover, with seemingly every room containing a monster, fully decorated Christmas tree. It was cluttered, crowded and basically horrific. Of course, everybody else had presumably come to see just this and seemed well pleased.

Finally, we walked back to the car park. On leaving the grounds and heading through the village I spotted these almshouses.

They were originally built in 1642 by Arthur Goodwin but were renovated in 1892 by, guess who? Yes, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. Modernisation was financed in 1972 by Mrs James A de R.

Conditions: quite cold, but clear and sunny.

Distance: we walked about six miles all told.

Rating: four and half stars. A great day out.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Kensington and Holland Park

St Mary Abbots

After a recent visit to Leighton House in Holland Park I realised that I ought to explore the area. I found this walk in the excellent London's Hidden Walks 2 by Stephen Millar. The walk starts at High Street Ken tube and you exit the station bearing right to quickly come face to face with St Mary Abbots. The present church is by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1872), although there was an abbey here until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

After crossing the road to the church I looked back to see the wonderful art deco exterior of the former Barkers department store.

The route now meander uphill to reach Hornton St where there are some magnificent houses of red brick with white stone dressings.

Continuing uphill, the route envisages a let turn to reach Holland. This was closed for some reason and anyway I had decided to detour to the north to see the Sheppard Trust's almshouses in Lansdowne Walk (numbers 3 and 14). This is number 3, surely one of the most upmarket almshouses.

I headed back to Holland Park Avenue and turned left into Abbotsbury Road where I passed this lovely Mews.

Soon after this I entered the park from the other side and reach Holland House where I rejoined the walk route. The house dates back to 1605 and was known as Cope's Castle, having been built by Sir Walter Cope. It was largely destroyed during the Second World War. Nearby is the lovely Orangery, which rather defied photography.

Exiting by Ilchester Place, the route leads to Melbury Road, where in the right is Tower House, built by William Burges in 1877. A wonderful surprise as I have always admired Burges! It was bought by the actor Richard Harris in the 1960s and later sold to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (who allegedly outbid David Bowie for it).

I departed from the route again here to photograph a house with wonderful windows - obviously an artist's studio - we saw on the visit to Leighton House. A blue plaque reveals that the artist in this case was Marcus Stone RA, who painted illustration for books by Dickens and Trollope. This area was an important artists' quarter in Victorian times.

Further along Melbury Road on the right was a house with wonderful terracotta panels.

I turned right and right again to reach Holland Park Road and Leighton House, looking resplendent in the sun. It was built by the painter Frederick, Lord Leighton for his own occupation and is now a museum.

The current exhibition is absolutely wonderful, as it the interior of the building. It reunites a group of painting submitted to the Royal Academy by Leighton not long before his death. The most famous of these is Flaming June which is noiw seen as Leighton's masterpiece.

It has a wonderful story. It was on loan to the Ashmolean in Oxford in the early 1900s (leightion died in 1896), but vanished for decades before being rediscovered in the early 1960s, boxed in over a chimney in a house in Battersea. The composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose own collecting helped revive serious interest in the art of the period, never forgave his grandmother for refusing to lend him £50 to buy it when he saw it soon afterwards in a shop on the Kings Road. “I will not have Victorian junk in my flat,” she told him. It was bought by a collector in Puerto Rico and now graces the art gallery there. It was something of a coup for Leighton House to secure it on loan for this exhibition.

I headed back towards Kensington, pausing to explore the new Design Museum, which has just opened and is not of course mentioned in the walk book. It occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building on the south east corner of Holland Park.

The redevelopment of the site included a couple of blocks of flats by the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. They are not especially memorable.

The real glory of the Design Museum is inside where the architect and designer John Pawson who has created a wonderfully spacious interior ...

... and made the concrete tiled roof an dramatic component of the design.

I continued along the walk route which heads towards High Street Kenthen diverts off to the south past Edwardes Sq and a number of, to be honest, not very interesting streets, before returning to the main road. I did rather like the gable of St Mary Abbots Mission Hall and Infants School with its bas belief brickwork and plate of grapes.

Kensington Square contained several houses where famous people had lived, notably John Stuart Mill, and led to Derry Street with the former Derry and Toms store with more art deco decoration on the left.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day.

Distance: officially 3.2, but I probably walked about 5 miles.

Rating: five stars if you visit Leighton House and the Design Museum. The final section of the route was disappointing.