HIDCOTE MANOR GARDEN & A PLUG FOR THE NATIONAL TRUST

Last Wednesday, when I had the day off from driving round the country, I, er, drove around the country. This time with my wife and we headed to Hidcote Manor Garden, a National Trust property near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire (on the northern edge of the Cotswolds). I have mentioned the National Trust in a few of my posts and not everybody will know what it is, notably foreign readers (I know there are some – thank you so much for dropping by my blog!!). So, I have added a section further on in this post telling you what the National Trust is all about. If you are visiting the UK for an extended period of time and you are interested in historic buildings and gardens, becoming a member of the National Trust may be something to consider – it could save you money on admission charges.
Back to Hidcote Manor Garden which according to a website called Great British Gardens is a top ten British garden and “one of the greatest in England”. Now, gardening is not my thing; mowing the lawn, trimming hedges and digging where I’m told is about as green fingered as I get. But admiring someone else’s handiwork is a different deal, especially when it is hidden away in the depths of beautiful English countryside and lit up by glorious sunshine. Hidcote Manor Garden was created in the early decades of the 20th century, around a 17th century manor house, by a well-travelled horticulturalist, Major Lawrence Johnson.
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Near the house, the gardens are divided into several “outdoor rooms” each with a different feel. The gardens then open out into larger spaces, ending in some places at a ha-ha with far reaching views over the neighbouring countryside. There are some formal lines, man-made features and clean cut topiary (how do they do topiary? It’s so clever. Cutting hedge technology, no doubt) but just enough to counter-balance the many exuberantly overflowing informal borders that give the gardens a mostly tumbledown air (in a good way). During our visit last week, there were no real “riots of colour” (other than acres of vibrant greens) but splashes of subtle hues with just the occasional bright red or orange catching your eye. All very calming. Since my gardening vocabulary extends only marginally beyond that of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men (flobadob, Little Weed), I’ll leave the photos of Hidcote to do the rest of the talking about the gardens.
Our day out was complemented by a tasty light lunch in the National Trust café in the company of my wife’s best friend from school days (who lives not far from Hidcote – in the quaint Worcestershire village of Inkberrow which I described in an earlier post). We then sat for a while in the shade of a tree looking out across the Cotswolds eating ice cream. Not bad.
As promised, there are a few words about the National Trust after the photos!
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THE NATIONAL TRUST
We have been members of the National Trust for many years now and feel we have certainly had our money’s worth. It is an organisation dedicated to preserving cultural heritage and areas of natural beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (there is also a National Trust for Scotland). There are about 500(!) places run by the National Trust and membership also gives you access to the National Trust for Scotland. On the National Trust website (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/) you can search for NT places to visit by county, town, postcode or place or view them on a map (remember to zoom in to your particular area of interest!).
The NT owns/preserves buildings of historical, architectural, industrial and/or social interest and also areas of countryside such as forest, woodland and coastline (most notably, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland). As well as stately homes, abbeys, gardens and castles, the NT owns properties as diverse as a restored water mill in the centre of Winchester, a Victorian workhouse in Southwell (the guided tour was fascinating), a Roman gold mine in Wales and a lighthouse near Sunderland. Individual admission prices for non-members vary from property to property but can be around £15 per adult for a large house and garden such as Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. Smaller properties will be cheaper – for example, the fabulous Corfe Castle is £9.90 per adult and the Winchester watermill, £4. However, if you are a member, you get in to all these properties for free! Currently, joint membership for two adults costs £108 for 12 months (single adult £64.80, young person [25 and under] £32.40 and family membership just £114.60). This includes free entry not only to NT properties but also stand-alone NT-owned car parks (often found at the coast). Areas of countryside owned by the National Trust are usually free to access. So, if you plan to visit, say, four to six larger NT properties within a 12 month period, becoming a member could save you money. You can join the National Trust at any NT property.
Because the properties are free for members, we often use them as a place to break a long journey in preference to a motorway service station, even if we have no intention of doing the full tour of the property in question. Most properties have good quality restaurants and/or cafés, a shop (sometimes a second-hand bookshop and/or garden shop as well) and, very importantly, decent toilets!
If you are coming to the UK but to visit Scotland only, then I’m guessing membership of the National Trust for Scotland (http://www.nts.org.uk/Home/) may be cheaper but I have not researched this.
If anyone from the National Trust happens to be reading this (slim chance!), I accept payment by cheque, cash or any valuable commodity such as gold, coronation chicken or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY AND MORE SUFFOLK

Our break in Suffolk plus the Friday bank holiday meant little time for work!:-

Wednesday: Volkswagen Jetta GT 2.0TDi, Leicester to Northampton
Thursday: Audi A6 Avant 2.0TDi Ultra SE Executive S Tronic, Leicester to Wakefield; BMW 520d Estate Auto (2013), Wakefield to Leeds.

First “normal” Audi A6 I have driven (apart from the bonkers A6 Allroad BiTurbo). Very nice. Might have to be a full post about that in due course. After dropping off the BMW at an auction site in Leeds, I made my way to the train station where I had a bizarre exchange with a member of staff. The full story of that will definitely follow at some point.

In last Tuesday’s post, I described a very pleasant drive through beautiful Suffolk. However, the route I described was outside the officially beautiful part of Suffolk! The whole of the Suffolk coastline is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and justifiably so. I exhausted my meagre descriptive capabilities in Tuesday’s post so here are some photos. These include a couple from Ickworth House, near Bury St. Edmunds, which we visited on our way home; still in Suffolk but not in the AONB. One disappointment was not being able to get to Orford Ness, a shingle spit shrouded in military mystery from both hot and cold wars. It was the birthplace of radar in the 1930s, for example. It is now a National Trust nature reserve but you can only access it by ferry which only starts running this weekend!

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Southwold. The only place in the UK with a lighthouse in the town centre? Taken from the seaward side! Probably needed to guide workers home from the Adnams brewery.

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Framlingham Castle. The Castle on the Hill (well, bit of a small mound really).

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Sunset from the Castle on the Hill

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Aldeburgh. The dinkiest seafront house in the world? Looks like it’s made of Lego.

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Aldeburgh.

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More Aldeburgh (We liked Aldeburgh!)

Aldeburgh Beach
Guess where!

Orford Castle
Orford Castle under a brooding sky.

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Orford Village – perfection?

Ickworth House
Ickworth House – a large birthday cake with wings.

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Grounds of Ickworth House
Colin

PART 2: TO MIDDLE EARTH AND BACK IN A BENTLEY MULSANNE (AND AN AUDI A6 ALLROAD BITURBO)

For those of you who read Part 1 of this tale (posted 15th February), I hope you have been able to cope with the suspense over the last week. What was I going to do? Now that we were close to somewhere near Evesham, where could the Mulsanne and I spend an hour or so in total safety, with appropriate facilities? As the forefront of my mind churned away, the answer appeared before my eyes. In the form of a brown tourist sign pointing the way to a National Trust property. Brilliant! I am a member so I could get in for free.

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The property in question was Coughton Court and as I serened glided up the drive to this imposing Tudor mansion, I waved regally to a few of my subjects. With the Mulsanne parked safely, I enjoyed the sunshine, a quick look round the ornamental gardens and grabbed a bite to eat. The same family has lived at Coughton Court for 600 years, managing to survive their involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605. Attempting to blow up King James I and the Houses of Parliament was a slightly risky thing to do.

Then it was time to get back on the road. On the final leg of my journey to somewhere near Evesham, the Mulsanne’s sat nav took me through a magical place with the achingly quaint name of Inkberrow. Inkberrow is a verdant dale, the slopes of which are dotted with heavy oak portals concealing labyrinthine, underground dwellings. These are inhabited by small hobbit-like creatures wielding extravagantly sized, inky quill pens. They are the self-appointed scribes of Middle Earth, recording the history and legends of this ancient land. Of course, that’s all twaddle. But “Inkberrow”? Surely, that name comes from the inky pen of J.R.R. Tolkien? After all, this was (more or less) his childhood stomping ground. Apparently, he used to frequent nearby towns such as Alcester, Alvechurch and Bromsgrove and the Clent and Lickey Hills, all of which are said to have inspired the Middle Earth setting for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

In reality, Inkberrow is a traditional English village, fully equipped with churches, two pubs and a village green. There’s not a hobbit, elf or orc in sight and its name owes nothing to ink at all. One of the pubs, the Old Bull, is a picturesque, half-timbered building with a roof made of gingerbread. The Bull pub in BBC Radio 4’s long-running drama, “The Archers” is based on the Old Bull in Inkberrow (I know I have wandered off into the realms of fantasy a bit but that’s true). Inkberrow also happens to be home to my wife’s best friend from school days (also true). I sailed right past the end of the small cul-de-sac in which she lives but by now I had no time to stop. Anyway, drivers of Bentleys do not knock unannounced on the doors of mere commoners (I may get into trouble for that bit).

Finally, I arrived at somewhere near Evesham and dropped off the Mulsanne to its keeper for the next twenty-four hours. The deal was that he would lend me a car from his “stable” to go back to Leicester. The car I was given for my return journey was an Audi A6 Allroad BiTurbo (3.0 litre diesel with 320bhp), a four wheel drive A6 estate on stilts. The What Car website mentions the “sheer bulk” of this car but when I jumped in, it felt like a roller skate after the imposing Bentley. And when I got on the move it felt like a rocket-powered roller skate. Whilst the dignified Mulsanne disguised its brutish power behind opulence and serenity, the Audi just felt like it wanted to show off. Like a hyperactive dog, it felt like it wanted to be let off its lead.

Well I was having none of that (well not quite, but we’ll get to that bit in a minute). In the meantime, I had a couple of interesting toys to contemplate. The first was the massage seat. This didn’t give you a gentle, soothing massage; that would be dangerous because there would be a risk of dozing off. Instead, it reminded me of the last time I had physio when the therapist used firmly planted thumbs and then the point of her elbow (with some weight behind it) to effect the treatment. However, having the Audi’s mechanical thumbs and elbows running firmly up and down my back was far more pleasant than having a physiotherapist dig sadistically into a torn calf muscle.

The second toy was the head up display; a projected image of key information seeming to float above the car’s bonnet. The technology was developed originally for military aircraft so that pilots did not have to glance down at their aircraft’s instruments; instead they could keep their eyes peeled for bandits or bogeys or whatever. Now this was all very weird. Do you remember those geometric patterns that were all the rage a few years ago? If you stared at the pattern long enough and relaxed your eyes a picture would emerge. If you were hopeless at this, your eyes eventually felt strained. Well that’s how my eyes felt now. Looking ahead at the road, my eyes kept getting drawn to the HUD and were trying to focus on two things at once. I felt like I was going cross-eyed. Since there was little risk of incoming enemy MiGs, I could probably have done without this optical embellishment.

However, I will grudgingly admit that the HUD did come in useful on one occasion. Just as I had done in the Bentley, I came up behind a car on the motorway with the active cruise control on. The Audi slowed of its own accord. Then I signalled to pull out into the outside lane in order to allow the clever cruise control take the Audi back up to the preset 70mph. Wo!!!!! All hell broke loose as the Audi took off like a weasel with a rocket up its backside. The  HUD was telling me that the cruise control was set to 115mph. How? Why? I quickly braked (with my lightning reactions, I got nowhere near 115mph) as it dawned on me what had happened. Cruising along with my hands at a relaxed twenty past eight on the steering wheel, I hadn’t flipped up the indicator stalk when changing lanes – I had flipped up the cruise control stalk (set just below the indicator) thus increasing the set speed! All very interesting and it proved two things: 1) the Audi is a quick car (0-60mph in 5.5 seconds) and 2) diesels can sound sporty.

The rest of the journey was uneventful so I was soon home where I could uncross my eyes and have a nice cup of tea.

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY

The first part of the week was spent on a break with my brother’s family in the Lake District so work this week was limited to:-

Thursday: Mercedes A200d, Leicester to Enderby, Leics and Mercedes E220d Estate Auto, Leicester to Nottingham

Friday: Nissan Juke, Leicester to Bognor Regis, West Sussex

The trip to the Lakes entailed some interesting driving in my own time. The journey up there was quite dramatic as we negotiated the A66 from Scotch Corner to Penrith in snow. The outside lane was covered and we slowed right down, plodding along through a blizzard. I have crossed the country on the A66 a few times in the past year and it is dramatic whatever the weather. A great scenic route – if you have the opportunity, try it.

The next day there was a complete change in the weather, brilliant sunshine and almost mild. The wind was a little fierce at times and one of my young nephews thought it smelt of chicken!?? We had a great drive from Keswick to Buttermere via Newlands, Birkrigg and Keskadale then back over the Honister Pass. Narrow lanes, hairpin bends, steep inclines and stunning scenery. Fabulous. In between, we had a wonderful walk around Buttermere, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Then there were welcome hot drinks in one of the cafes that the village of Buttermere has to offer. The drinks included hot Butterbeers for my nephews!

On our return from the Lakes, we stopped at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden – a National Trust property and UNESCO World Heritage Site near Ripon in North Yorkshire. I am amazed that this place is not more well-known in the UK. The ruins of Fountains Abbey are huge, the remains of a vast complex built up by Cistercian monks over a period of 400 years until the abbey was closed down by Henry VIII in 1539. The abbey is set in a picturesque valley with the River Skell flowing around and under the buildings. There is also the Elizabethan/Jacobean Fountains Hall, a mill and other estate buildings to explore.

The small green valley, like a broad fairway on a golf course, leads away from the abbey. On one side of the valley is the River Skell set against a backdrop of trees; on the other, a cliff of yellow rock eventually gives way to woodland. About half a mile down the valley you come to Studley Royal Water Garden. This testament to wealth and flamboyance was created in the 18th century by a former politician, John Aislabie, who also purchased the abbey ruins to incorporate into his estate. The water garden comprises ornamental canals, ponds, lawns, follies, statues, tunnels and a lake. Beyond the lake is a large deer park. Although on a grand scale, the simple lines of the water garden make it a restful place which can be enjoyed close up or from a path on a ridge overlooking the valley. At one point on this elevated path is “Surprise View” which affords a spectacular vista back up the valley to the abbey ruins in the distance.

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This is a stunning place for a day out and I cannot recommend it highly enough. There are good walks to be had and a modern National Trust visitor centre with the usual shop and restaurant (great Red Thai Squash soup!).

Colin