Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Within These Walls

Yesterday I presented you with A Bunch Of Tulips without telling you where I'd been to pick them - metaphorically photographically picked them of course; I'd have found myself in trouble if I'd actually factually picked them. To find so many flowers you have to go somewhere special, somewhere like this....

or like this....

or perhaps even this.....

The irony is that this garden was never meant to be walked around and admired even though thousands of people must do it every year these days. We are at the National Trust's Wimpole Hall, which is just a half-hour-or-so's bicycle ride from my back door, and we're in the walled garden which was originally intended to produce food for the table of the great house and cut-flowers for arrangements to beautify its many rooms.

The walls, which are about twelve feet (3.65 metres) high are to shelter the garden from the cold winds and create a micro-climate that's ideal for gardening. Yesterday, when it was so blustery that I had to fight with the bike's handlebars just to stay on the road, was an ideal day to test its efficacy and I'm pleased to say it passed the test.

Today the garden is kept in shape by a couple of gardeners and a large army of volunteers, their gardening gloves making an unlikely and unintended display in the large glasshouse...

Almost as colourful as the flowers!

The walls of the garden do not only provide protection for the flowers, vegetables, windswept cyclists and volunteer gardeners; they also protect and support the espaliered fruit trees.

Those are cherries growing in the photo above. That may well be a "hot wall", that is a wall with flues within it to carry heat from a furnace to speed the growing and ripening of the fruit.

....and I think these were pears.

What else to show you?

Just outside the walls, but still to some extent sheltered by them, were these tiny miniature tulips growing in amongst the cowslips.

And just in case you think it's all tulips here.....

Take care.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

In The Valley Of The Glaven

A couple of posts back we were in Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast, enjoying an ice cream and thinking about the history of the little seaport. Its harbour, and that of nearby Wiveton and Cley, was formed by the estuary of the River Glaven. Today it's time to turn our attention a couple of miles inland to where the Glaven runs through some unusually hilly countryside (for Norfolk). We can't do it sitting on a bench eating ice cream though, we'll need a map, walking boots and maybe binoculars too.

It's pretty country but anyone trying to farm it would soon lose heart; the soil is poor stuff, mostly sand, dumped here by a retreating ice sheet at the end of the last ice age. The land is in the ownership of the occupants of Bayfield Hall down in the valley and, like local aristocracy everywhere, they've been a mixed bunch down through the ages - some incompetent, some utter scoundrels and a few good men who did the best they could with this unpromising land.

One of those who is remembered unfavourably by history was Colonel Robert Jermy who lived during the seventeenth century. In those unsettled times Jermy, despite his privileged upbringing,  saw it was to his advantage in to join Cromwell's Parliamentarians. He suppressed his opponents quite ruthlessly including several executions, rigged an election in his own favour, and eventually became so unpopular that he was forced to flee to New England, though he did return to Bayfield Hall later in life.

Successive owners of the estate let it fall into disrepair, the church stood derelict, barns were allowed to tumble down and the cottages became unfit for habitation. Presumably this poverty and hardship did not extend to the inhabitants of the Hall itself.

The present Hall dates from the eighteenth century and is based around an earlier Tudor mansion. The parkland around it was landscaped at around the same time. It's now used for filming and photographic shoots so you may have unknowingly seen the inside on TV or film.

The existing village of Bayfield would have been cleared and the occupants moved elsewhere as a result of these grand eighteenth-century plans. The church, already largely ruinous, became a picturesque addition to the scene.

The River Glaven has been diverted and dammed near to the Hall to create a long lake for scenic purposes. 

In 1882 the estate was inherited by Sir Alfred Jodrell who found much of it in a sorry state indeed. He vowed that whatever happened he would leave things in better condition than he had found them.

Today he is chiefly remembered for restoring the little church at Glandford, just over half a mile from the Hall. You can see the church tower peeking over the treetops in the photo above, but it's by no means the only achievement of Sir Alfred. He had virtually every house and barn on the estate rebuilt to the highest standards. He had a wall built around the estate to provide work during times of high unemployment. He also restored several other Norfolk churches and donated a weekly box of fresh fruit and vegetables to the hospital in Norwich.

He was a great collector too, especially of sea shells, of which he amassed so many that he had to build a small museum to house them - that's it above. It also contains many other curious items.

Glandford Church is a small jewel-box of a building. Jodrell undertook the restoration of the church in memory of his mother. It's remarkable for the quantity and quality of the wood-carving found in such a confined space. Although it was completed in the early twentieth century it has all the features one might expect to find in a great medieval church, though necessarily on a much smaller scale.

Surprisingly there's no great memorial to Sir Alfred himself in the church, though there is one to all the workmen employed on the restoration of the building. It also has a church clock that plays a hymn-tune on a carillon (a set of tuned bells) every third hour.

The present owner of the estate has turned to diversification to supplement the agricultural business. There are cafes, an art gallery, wildlife centre, antiques business and many other activities going on, mainly in the barns and farm-buildings that are superfluous to the needs of modern agriculture. Oh, and Cley-Spy, who have the largest showroom dedicated to high quality optics and other things needed by bird-watchers. That was the one of the reasons for coming here. (You won't make much sense of the name of the business unless you know that "Cley" rhymes with "Spy").

It's a lot bigger inside than it looks and has all sorts of things that I good easily invest a great deal of my hard-earned money into. In the end though, after a long chat with the salesman about walking, the weather and several other matters I went off to spend my cash elsewhere.

"One swallow doesn't make a summer" or so they say. But The Three Swallows does make excellent fish and chips.

Take care.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

"It's Cambridge, Jim, But Not As We Know It"

I rode into Cambridge on a brand new train. Looking out of the window it suddenly occurred to me that every building I saw had been constructed within my lifetime and some were very new indeed. I've often wondered just where they stand and which streets lead to them.

As the train halted a voice told me to be sure to take all my personal belongings with me. For a moment I pondered on how you could have belongings that were not personal but my drifting thoughts were interrupted by the same clinical voice telling me that if I saw anything suspicious I should inform a member of station staff. I promised myself that I would.

The automatic turnstile delivered me into the bright sunlight of the busy square which has recently been laid out in front of the station. Buckled reflections sneered back from the huge glass windows. People hurried in all directions and taxis came and went. 

It was mid-morning but cafe tables were occupied by people who had no work to do other than sit in the sun on  red chairs drinking expensive coffee. Nearby a smartly dressed young woman in stiletto heels smoked an e-cigarette.  A little further along green chairs and tables stood unoccupied.

Suddenly I found myself in a strangely empty space with perfect grass where nobody sat, surrounded by rectilinear buildings with plain walls and blank windows. I strolled on towards the newest buildings, pulled on by a magnetic attraction.

I entered effortlessly into their realm but there was something unexplained going on here. Or perhaps wasn't going on. Something was missing. Something was absent. Something had not been included in the plans. I pondered on the discrepancy and was met by silence.

Ah. That was it. Silence. No birdsong. No traffic noise. No children playing. Not even a car radio pumping out relentless beats into the warm summer air. And there was no litter. Lollipop trees stood with their roots imprisoned by concrete. Just a few perfectly parked cars. And no untidy heaps of locked bikes; this is Cambridge, there should at least be that.  Wherever you go in Cambridge there are always bikes. Now this is all "suspicious", but there's no station staff here for me to inform.

Signs quietly informed nobody at all that this was "Residents Parking". Quiet, though firm, and unwelcoming. But no signs to helpfully point the way and no advertising. Definitely no advertising. And very few people, though there were a few items - a plant in a window, a jacket hanging on a balcony chair - that showed there were inhabitants hiding inside.

Two Chinese girls walked together down the steps. One was wearing dainty white headphones, the other stared at a small screen that she held before her. They did not speak to each other although they walked side-by-side. Suddenly one of them laughed at some secret joke, disturbing the carefully controlled equilibrium.

I walked the clean pavements, I raised my camera, considered the angles, balanced the composition and clicked, collecting shapes and colours but not answers. The Chinese girls disappeared into an unmarked door, a plane passed overhead,  then I spotted it. 

This was Cambridge after all.

Take care. 

Friday, 20 April 2018

A Bit Of Blakeney

Blakeney on the warmest day of the year so far: people sit on the many benches overlooking the boats on the tidal creek, a man sells ice-cream while next door a shop displays art and curios, the man in charge of the National Trust car park leans in the doorway of his wooden kiosk chatting to a friend, several people relax in the King's Arms pub and a few others watch the ducks and geese on the pond. 

It'll get busier in the main summer season of course, there'll be fewer spaces on the benches and the ice cream seller may well have an assistant, but otherwise it will be "business as usual".

The village still clings to its seagoing traditions though in truth, apart from the boats that take tourists out to Blakeney Point to see the seals, there's not much activity here since the harbour silted up many years ago.

There was a time though when Blakeney, along with the neighbouring villages of Wiveton and Cley were the focus of a busy maritime trade. The coastline here formed a sheltered haven for sailing ships plying their trade around the coast and across the North Sea. The clearest evidence of this wealth that remains today are three very fine, larger-than-average churches.

Like many old ports there is a history of smuggling and piracy alongside the more legitimate trade. Ships that sought shelter in the haven found themselves relieved of their cargoes overnight.

The building above is known as Blakeney Guildhall but is now thought to be the cellar of  a merchant's house which would have been used for storing his goods. It dates from the fifteenth century and is looked after by English Heritage. 

In times past there were many tunnels and passages in the town which were probably very handy for anyone engaged in smuggling. A tale is told of a fiddler and his dog who explored one such tunnel playing a jig as he went. At length the music stopped and it was not till some days later that his terrified dog reappeared. The fiddler was never seen again.

It must be true because you can see it on the village sign. The only trouble is that similar tales are told at nearby Binham and at Anstey in Hertfordshire. Unless all fiddlers of yore felt compelled play tunes while to exploring tunnels it seems an amazing coincidence.

The Blakeney Conservation Area Duck Pond was founded in 1977 on the occasion of the Queen's Silver Jubilee and is stocked with many varieties of ducks and geese. That's a Ruddy Shelduck above.

And this gorgeous goose is a Red-Breasted Goose, a species which does turn up in the wild here occasionally though I've never seen one as close as this.

And now one of the men sitting on the benches overlooking the boats is going to make a purchase from the man selling the ice-creams.

Take care.