If you’ve been here recently you’ve probably heard me talking about my attempts to build a new website over the last few weeks and now I think I’m about as ready as I’m ever going to be to make it live.
I feel perhaps there should be fanfares and trumpets, but we all know that’s not me. In fact if I’m honest I feel a bit more like Philip Hammond, not moving into my new house all in one day – I have this intense urge to flit backwards and forwards between the two.
But I know very well that if I wait until the new website is perfect I’ll wait for ever, so ladies and gentlemen, I very much hope you will do me the honour of accompanying me over to my new space on the interweb – A Stitchery Spellbook…
When you move house there are always things you find out after the event that you didn’t before and I’m anticipating some of that will happen here. I’d be enormously grateful if you come up against any problems with the new site if you’d let me know. This whole process has seriously tested my techno-abilities and if it’s flawless I’m Mother Theresa.
I’m not planning to change anything very much, if at all, from what you’ve been finding here, evolution not revolution as the management consultants will insist on calling it, but now I’ll have everything under one online roof and under my control (manic laughing sounds in background)…
Just to say too, if you’ve previously signed up to receive Loose Threads you’ll still have that delivered, no change and no need to do anything.
(If you haven’t and would like to, the new site has a nice little box that doesn’t insist on interrupting your reading if you would like to sign up for Loose Threads over there).
I’ll be leaving Dreaming In Stitches and all the content here with no plans to delete anything, but I won’t be moving the archives across to A Stitchery Spellbook, I’m happy to have a fresh start. (Although you might notice a couple of duplicate entries which I’ve used to test out the new site).
So many people have drifted away from blogging over the last couple of years, some to other social media, others have completely left the scene, but I’ve realised that for me the really wonderful thing about blogging is the community, the opportunity to talk to so many wonderful and diverse people all over the world about anything and everything. Having been born long before the internet this connection still has the power to overawe me and so I’m committed to being around and I do so hope you’ll come along with me.
If you use a blog reader to pick up my posts, I’m afraid you’ll have to update it for the new web address https://www.astitcheryspellbook.com/blog-1/ Alternatively on the sidebar of the new blog page there’s a box to sign up for email updates which will pop them straight into your inbox if you’d prefer.
And so, with that, I thank you a million times for all your visits and comments here over the years and I wish you all very happy stitching x
Well another busy week under the belt. I did manage one little history-junkie’s treat this week but I’m going to save that one for another day. Instead I thought we’d go on an alternative tourist-cum-shopping trip around my favourite town in England – Bath. Actually this is going to end up being rather more shopping than history, so switch off now if you’d rather.
Oh and before you go, just to say with a fair wind I’ll be sending out the third Loose Threads at the end of the week, so if you haven’t already signed up and would like to receive a copy, you just need to fill in the pop-up that annoyingly interrupts you here – sorry – you only have to do it once).
Bath is one of those towns whose history goes back to pre-Roman times and where heritage drips from every street corner. I’m lucky to be able to go a few times each year and spend a day wandering around the streets, doing the whole tourist bit and generally enjoying the atmosphere.
I’m going to assume that if you went you’d be similarly bowled over by all the gorgeous Georgianess everywhere, so I’m not going to dwell on that – let’s just agree that this is actually the best bit and it’s the backdrop, the scene-setting for the following suggestions.
Oh and before I start, if it is your first visit to Bath, you simply have to see the main attractions – go straight to the Roman Baths and get in the queue, then pop over to the Abbey and then leg it up to the Assembly Rooms and then up again to the Royal Crescent via the Circus.
But if you’ve done those before and you have a few hours to spare – this is what I’d do…
I’d pop into Country Threads in Pierrepont Place down near the railway station. This little shop has quite possibly the best collection of printed cottons you could ask for. I regularly spend a small fortune in there and I don’t even quilt. Be warned, time can go strangely quirky in there – remember British Rail time…
The Guildhall Market
Next I’d walk up to Bath’s Guildhall Market. Inside there are about 20 different stalls including two that I always make a point of visiting – Skoobs Bookstall, which has every second-hand book you ever wanted (well ok, maybe an exaggeration, but they are seriously good, especially if you’re looking for series of books. My OH is working his way through the Patrick O’Brian’s at the moment and I’ve had no end of detective fiction from there – and the other must-see for me is Not Cartiers, which has so much bling it will make your eyes water, but you’ll be crying with happiness when you spot the prices. It’s a little jewellery cavern, twinkling with diamanté and I defy you not to fall in love with something small and shiny.
Once I’ve managed to tear myself away from the market I’d probably be looking for lunch. The Bridge Cafe on Pulteney Bridge has the advantage of windows overlooking the weir – and last time I went, they made an excellent cheese salad sandwich (this isn’t really a general recommendation, but a decent cheese salad sandwich isn’t something I’ve found very often and finding anywhere to sit down for a few minutes in Bath can feel like a huge relief).
Fortified with tea and cake I’d leg it up to the Topping bookshop at The Paragon. Bookshop again I hear you shout – well yes, nothing at all wrong with spending all day doing a bookshop crawl (ahem, Hay-on-Wye – just saying)… If you’re familiar with their shop in Ely, you’ll know why I like this one so much. There are to be fair several other really good bookshops in Bath.
The Fashion Museum
Then I’d stroll along, detouring to walk past the Assembly Rooms. If you have time, the Fashion Museum under the Assembly Rooms is a real treat, both for the clothes which are fascinating, but also because they let you dress up (and we’re not just talking children here – they positively encourage us grown-ups to dress up too! Do it, I promise it will make you laugh, but only go if you have time, it isn’t cheap and you’ll want to stay and have fun.
The Royal Crescent
After that walk along to the Royal Crescent. There’s something so ostentatious and at the same time so restrained about the Royal Crescent, I can’t make my mind up about it and you really do have to pay homage to the architects at least once on your visit. Still, you get to peep in through the windows and wonder about what it’s like living inside. There is a hotel on the Crescent too – when I win the lottery I’ll tell you what it’s like (if you’ve actually been, do tell all about it!).
My next stop would depend on whether the family were with me or not. If they were, we’d undoubtedly be going to play a round of crazy golf at the Victoria Falls Crazy Golf course in Victoria Park. This has become a family tradition, something we do whatever the weather (and yes, even torrential rain hasn’t stopped us). You may not feel a similar need, I absolutely understand.
The Georgian Garden
Alternatively on the other side of the road is a little gateway at the back of some lovely old townhouses which takes you to the Georgian Garden – and it proves that there is beauty in small packages. Pop in there instead, it’s free and a little oasis of calm.
Afterwards I’d make my way back into the centre of town and stroll around the Abbey. This is a beautiful building from every angle. If the tower is open go up and see the city from up there, it’s quite something. You could probably justify an ice-cream or cream tea if you’ve made it this far.
And there we have it, a wonky circuit of sorts. A mixture of mildly eccentric shops, hidden and not so hidden gems, set in a glorious creamy Georgian dream world – or so it seems to me.
I’d love to know what are your Bath highlights. Which places do you always visit and why? Hopefully I’ll be back in Bath again during the summer, so any suggestions gratefully received.
Oh and just so you know, there are public toilets down near Debenhams (modern and generally acceptable), just past Waitrose (a bit dodgy looking but generally ok) and over at the Pavillion in Victoria Park. Plus of course pubs etc.
I wonder, is there a time in your annual calendar you refer to as ‘that time of year’? For us it is always June and July. During these two months we squeeze the best part of our entire annual social life into about six weekends of frantic travelling about the country, bell-ringing with very old friends and generally meeting up with people we only see at this time of year.
It’s always a pleasure, but it does tend to throw you off your routine and I’m now right in the middle of our busiest period. Which would make this a terrible time to choose to embark on something new, something that requires a lot of learning from scratch or something that’s extremely time-consuming…you can guess where this is going can’t you.
So yes, on top of all the other things that are happening at the moment, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting to grips with building a new website. If you saw my post a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know that I found the initial stage quite a challenge. For someone who spends such a lot of time quietly stitching, I’m really not naturally a patient person, and trying to teach myself new things doesn’t always bring out the best in me.
But I’m pleased to say I bit my lip and got on with it. Inevitably once you really get down to something eventually it comes together. I’m now at the ‘playing with it stage‘ so I won’t ask you to race over and have a look just yet, but don’t worry, once it feels ok I’ll give you all the details.
I’ve been blogging now for nearly ten years in one guise or another and over that time I’ve changed so much and so indeed has the whole blogging community. For many people their blog has been superseded by other social media, especially Instagram, which it has to be said does make micro-blogging much easier to do and also it makes connecting with people who’re interested in what you have to say much easier too. Then there are so many people who simply seem to have run out of blogging steam. I miss hearing from them, but life changes and things move on.
The major change for me in recent years has been finding a balance between the three things that go to my core; observing the rhythms of the seasons, evangelising for Britain’s old places and creating slow-stitched pieces of art. Now I finally feel properly at home with what I’m doing and it’s come as such a relief. Thank you to everyone who has born with me chopping and changing, and the frequent dithering over past months and years.
I will never cease to be amazed that I can now speak directly to friends, artists, nature-lovers and history geeks across the globe with just a few clicks, and it is being a part of this truly incredible online community that makes me certain that although the format evolves, I’m definitely happy and grateful to carry on being a part of it.
So when the new website goes live, it will be evolution rather than revolution. Still the same haphazard mix of content, hopefully better presented, more flexible for what I might want to do in future and importantly under my own control.
And so after all that, you may well be going never mind all that waffle Anny, where’s this week’s dollop of heritage?
Well, I hope you’ll forgive me this week for not coming up with an entirely new piece. What with website building, weekends with friends, children ferrying and general spinning of plates, I’ve simply not sat down to do it properly. So instead here is a flavour of what we get up to on our annual ringing get-togethers from a couple of years ago and which first appeared on my old history blog.
A CHURCHY AFTERNOON…
IN WHICH WE DON’T GO FAR, BUT VISIT FOUR CHURCHES IN THE HEART OF ENGLAND…
The wonderful thing about being a history junkie living in England, is the prevalence of parish churches. Every one of them is a little time capsule, telling stories about our national, regional and very personal histories. I love looking at them for what their architecture tells us about their building history and then going inside, or walking around the graveyards and seeing the human histories remembered in tombs, memorials, windows and simple graves.
At the weekend, we visited four churches, all fairly close together in the Warwickshire/Worcestershire borders. Each very different in character, and each a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of our past. None is particularly exceptional, but that’s the wonderful thing about them, wherever you go, a fascinating journey into history is waiting for you.
St Mary, Ullenhall, Warwickshire
This was our first stop. A strange little church, with a mix of architectural styles that can mean only one thing – Victorian! It was designed by John Pollard Seddon and built in 1875.
You need to walk around the outside to get a full impression – the rear is much prettier than the front, but you can’t tell from first glances. For me the clock face up on the odd little spire was the best bit.
St Mary Magdalene, Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire
Tanworth-in-Arden is one of those perfect villages where you imagine Miss Marple would feel at home, wisteria and hollyhocks around the doors. And the church lives up to that ideal too, standing right in the centre of the village.
There were people rehearsing in the church so we didn’t have a proper look around inside, but the cool interior felt serene.
Outside an unusual monument butts right up to the side door, but I couldn’t read the inscriptions, so I don’t know who it commemorated. One face appears to have had a new piece of stone inserted – it’s obviously still important to someone.
I didn’t know at the time, but Nick Drake’s ashes were interred in the churchyard and somehow that seems to fit well with the character of the music he left behind.
St Leonard’s, Beoley, Worcestershire.
This is another church close to a big town but hidden away on the side of a hill. A huge mixture of styles reflecting the age of the church, but I couldn’t help feeling that the hand of the Victorian renovator had been a bit overpowering.
There is a chapel to the left of the chancel – the Sheldon Chapel – built in 1580 for a recusant family, which was a peculiarly oversize attachment. I always want to see the faces of these effigies, but it was very difficult to get into a suitable position. I held the camera where I thought it should be and hoped.
This whole area, Worcestershire and Warwickshire was deeply embroiled in the turbulent religious times and politics of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with many characters involved in the Gunpowder Plot living in the region, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find the chapel there.
When we came home and I looked up Beoley, I found this lovely story which connects Shakespeare with Beoley – if you have a few minutes have a read and see what you think.
St Mary the Virgin, Hanbury, Worcestershire
Now I must admit that I am not an impartial visitor to Hanbury. I spent the first twenty years of my life very close to Hanbury and it has a special place in my heart. That said, I’m sure anyone would find it a fascinating if not classically beautiful church.
The Vernon family who built and lived in Hanbury Hall (now managed by the National Trust) are closely connected to the church, with many of them buried in the Vernon Chapel. I rather like the marble figures in all their finery. I especially liked the juxtaposition of medieval door with the marble statue.
However, the very best thing about Hanbury is the position of the church itself, perched on top of a hill, with wide-open views across to the Cotswolds and Malvern Hills. Long before the church was built, there was an Iron Age hilltop fort there. Later the Saxons built a monastery on the site.
It’s exactly the sort of churchyard where you could sit and contemplate life the universe and everything.
A truly enjoyable afternoon of exploring.
Back next week, when we’ll still be in that time of year, but hopefully I’ll be better prepared. Having said that, I’m giving a talk to the Embroiderers’ Guild over in Northamptonshire next weekend, so that might be a bit optimistic!
You know how it is when you fall in love with someone, they might be odd or quirky or ugly or strange, but for some reason you can’t explain, you find them intoxicating, your spine starts to tingle and you feel all excited. Other people may well be immune to their charms, but you’re not, you’re enchanted.
Well, I have to tell you, hand on heart, I love Croft Castle. And I just wanted to tell you that first, because I’m not sure you’ll feel the same way. You may look at these photos or visit yourself (or may have visited) and think to yourself what on earth is she going on about. After all, Croft Castle isn’t particularly grand, it’s not full of priceless treasures it isn’t really A-list heritage, (it isn’t really even a proper castle), but for some reason I fell under its spell way back in the 1970s when I first visited, and I still feel the same to this day.
So accepting that I’m a pitiful fan-girl for this house, why would anyone not fixated by it want to visit? Well here are my highlights…
Inside the house
The interior decor is largely early Gothic revival (by T. F. Pritchard) so lots of pointy arches, elegant plaster work, exquisite mirrors, long corridors and tasteful decoration. It’s not what you expect from the outside.
The Library is a pale ochre-orange, with white bookcases. I should tell you that I’ve often fantasized about moving my own books in there – oh yes, (although to be entirely honest it might need an extra couple of IKEA Billy’s to fit them all in).
Sit in the gloriously panelled Oak Room and look out across to the Brecon Beacons. The view through the window is as marvellous as any painting in the house.
Croft Castle is full of faces. Portraits hang in most rooms, some good, others a frankly a bit iffy, but my favourite is of Nancy Borwick, wife of Sir Henry Page Croft. Her eyes follow you around the Dining Room, and it’s not scary because she looks so lovely.
However, you might be scared if you met the ghost of Owain Glyndwr who is reported to walk the house (one of his daughters was married to a Croft at the time of his death and in the absence of any proof of his burial, legends abound – some people think he’s buried at Croft).
Definitely buried at Croft in the tiny and truly fabulous St Michael’s church – right next to the house – are Sir Richard Croft and his wife Eleanor. Their tomb is original gothic and of a very high standard. What’s amazing for me is knowing that this couple were right at the heart of key historical events during the Wars of the Roses. Sir Richard fought at the key battles in the period, including Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, fought on Croft land nearby, which led to Edward IV becoming king. He survived through the reigns of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII, and Eleanor was governess to the sons of Edward IV known to history as the Princes in the Tower.
The walled garden contains a vineyard… (and lots of deck-chairs so you can soak up the atmosphere).
There are figs swelling in corners of the garden, fruit trees humming with the sound of busy bees and butterflies flitting daintily about – it’s as close to a garden idyll as I can imagine. You could reasonably take a book or your stitching and spend a perfectly relaxed afternoon in the garden. (When we finally move out west I fully intend to become a garden feature there).
Out in the parkland are huge gnarled Spanish Chestnut trees, beeches and oaks, many over 300 years old. They’re breath-taking in their own right.
Walk through history and reach Croft Ambrey, a superb Iron-Age hill fort, evidence that people have lived in this area since at least 500 BC. (Who wouldn’t want the remains of a Celtic settlement on their estate).
So there you have it, just a few things I love about Croft Castle. But none of these really explain why I love it. All I know is that it exudes an atmosphere of serenity and welcome and I’m happy to accept that why remains a bit of a mystery.
Do you have a special place you love to visit? Please tell us where it is and can you say what makes it special? I’d be absolutely fascinated to know.
Well then, another eventful week, we’re certainly living in interesting times…
Anyway, I’m all behind again and this time it’s entirely my own fault. I’ve been having a look at a different website platform, and naturally the only way to decide if it does what I want is to try to use it. And there you have it, a learning curve that’s more like a vertical cliff.
So I’ve spent an entire day attached to my computer with practically nothing to show for it (no, actually with nothing at all to show for it) and now I’m not convinced if it’s really for me, my head aches and I can’t decide if I should go back to it again tomorrow or give up now.
And Theresa May thought she was having a bad day…
But on a brighter note, it’s been a lovely week in the lane despite some really torrential rain. The poor dog roses have suffered badly, but for some reason the elderflowers appear to have thrived on the rain, I’m sure they’re looking better now than they did before. The sloes are beginning to form their tart little fruits – there will be sloe gin this year. And the bees have been my companions every day this week, I can’t help thinking they’ve been out on a bit of a binge.
I’m off to visit one of those historic houses I’d most love to move in to on Monday – so forgive the lack of history today, I’ll make up for it next week, promise.
Thank you so much to everyone who contacted me after receiving the last edition of ‘Loose Threads’ – I very much appreciate it and I hope you’ll keep giving me your feedback. If you’d like to receive a copy of the next issue just fill in the annoying little pop-up next time you’re here (you’ll only need to do that once).
Now, here’s the thing. Remember how I said that when I visited Berkeley Castle recently after having last been there on a school trip in the 1970s it was incredibly familiar and I could recall so much about it. Well, just a few weeks earlier I paid a visit to Dyrham Park, near Bath. This is another historic house I had last visited on a school trip way back in the 70s. And guess what – I could hardly remember a thing about it!
Which makes me wonder why, because it’s definitely somewhere I’m surprised hadn’t made a bigger impression on me. Perhaps not having a murdered king connection weighed against it.
Anyway, if you should find yourself trundling down (or up) the M4 near junction 18 and you fancy a dollop of National Trust style culture, pull off at Dyrham Park and have a look around.
You should know that it’s a bit of a walk down to the house from the car park but you can hitch a ride on the buggy if you need to. (It’s downhill to the house, so you might prefer to save the buggy ride for the return journey). As you make your way there, look out for the deer which roam around the park (indeed the name Dyrham comes from the Anglo-Saxon name for a deer park so we can assume they’ve been here some time).
The house itself appears to be trapped in the bottom of a little valley. It has an odd arrangement, but that’s because like many other English country houses, it grew and was adapted and updated over several generations. If you remember that there was once an Elizabethan manor house on the site which was subsequently hacked about, the slightly strange positioning makes a bit more sense (although perhaps not).
Inside, you once again find yourself exploring a fascinating but for me at least incoherent arrangement of rooms. I couldn’t help feeling that the family who lived there in the eighteenth century would have been better off just scrapping the old place and starting from scratch, but instead they made a valiant attempt to reuse what they already had. You visit some of these old stately homes and immediately feel as if you’d be able to live in them, but others and for me Dyrham fits this category, are just awkward.
But don’t get me wrong, for all its quirks, I still thoroughly enjoyed looking around. It has some really beautiful architectural features. (One of the facades was designed by the same architect who designed Chatsworth).
If you visit, once you’ve walked around the main house, make sure you don’t miss the servants quarters. I’m going to admit to liking this area better than the main house. There’s also a second-hand bookshop in the old kitchen, which you should certainly see books or no books.
And then visit the church which butts up against the house to one side. This is much older than the current house and includes some impressive tombs and memorials.
Oh and the gardens are indeed absolutely lovely both in their own right and as a frame for the house. We were there before the spring had really kicked in but you could already tell that the gardens were going to be fabulous over the coming months.
So why did none of it come back to mind? You know I just can’t put my finger on it. Still I”m pretty sure I won’t forget it again and I’d certainly pop back for another visit if I was going to be in the area for a while.
Well, it’s certainly been a difficult week and I hope you’ll forgive the lack of an offering for the history-junkie today. Everyone has their own ways of dealing with the stuff that happens and mine are simply to walk in the countryside and to stitch and that’s what I’ve been doing.
Quite often when I stand to look at the oak tree each morning or when I lean on the Thinking Gate and survey the field, watching the crows and kites, I whisper a little prayer. When I have absolutely no idea what would help and am powerless to do anything else, all I can think of is to ask for love to spread to the people who need it and to enfold them.
It’s all I can offer, but I do believe in the power of love (even if I can’t hear those words without singing along with Huey Lewis and the News)…
I apologise for being the world’s worst blog reader in recent months, and massive thanks for sticking with me here. I’ve set up Feedly and am determined to do better. I’m still having problems with leaving comments on Blogger blog posts, so if you’re not hearing from me, I’d be very pleased to have an alternative email address or Twitter or Instagram contact details – (I’m afraid I’m not currently using Facebook).
A bit late this week with a dollop of heritage-hunting. Our little car (the one the OH and the girls use, came to a sudden halt on Monday and we’ve spent the rest of the week juggling everyone’s transport needs and trying to buy another car – it’s thrown me right off plan. Anyway, hopefully we’re getting sorted out now, so here’s my take on a remarkable castle I went to see on Monday, (which feels like a month ago now!)…
On Monday I drove west over the Cotswolds to meet up with my brother and visit Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire – somewhere I last went to on a school trip in the early 1970s. As I was driving I wondered if it would be as lovely as I remembered and would it still be as fascinating all these years later for a confirmed history-junkie?
And the answer I’m delighted to say was an emphatic ‘YES’
Considering how long it had been since the last visit, I was astonished at how much I remembered. I genuinely lost count of the times I turned a corner and gasped ‘I remember this!’ It was a strange feeling, to walk around a building I’d only once visited previously, but to still know it so well. I do remember that when I went on the school trip we had a guide to talk to us as we went around, and all I can say is, he must have done an exceedingly good job on that day.
So what made and continues to make Berkeley Castle such a great place to visit?
Well for me there are at least five reasons you should divert off the M5 for a visit if you’re passing.
1. Simply because no history-junkie could possibly resist a visit to a proper intact medieval castle.
Berkeley is one of those rare survivors, an inhabited medieval castle which has never been ruined (although a chunk of the keep was demolished after the Civil War).
A visit to Berkeley, (as with Powis and a handful of other castles which avoided a crumbling decline) gives us history-junkies a remarkable glimpse into the castle as it was originally intended to be – colourful, grand, strong, powerful, impressive. It’s all very well looking at ruins and using your imagination, but when you can see the real thing, it’s thrilling.
I’ve often thought that ruined castles, roofless and with crumbling walls fail to give you the feeling of enclosure which they must surely have had when complete. At Berkeley you get to feel the proper effect of being closed in all around. It also makes for a fascinating mix of architectural styles as you see the changes made to the fabric over the centuries.
Over the years, the Berkeley family who have owned the castle since its earliest days in the eleventh century, have done what all home-owners do, they’ve added bits on, moved bits around and redecorated from time to time. So walking around the castle today you’re never quite sure what you’ll see next. I suppose you could walk around quite quickly, but we found ourselves stopping to look at so many quirky details and I’m sure we missed loads – but we’re determined to go back soon and see what we missed.
Oh, by the way, if symmetry is your thing, you’ll hate it…
2. Because it was probably the scene of a gruesome royal murder
Then of course there’s Edward II. If you read my post about Gloucester Cathedral you’ll know that this unfortunate king met his end at Berkeley Castle in September 1327. Who arranged his murder, who did the deed and how the deed was done all remain open to conjecture. The official story is that Roger Mortimer ordered the murder, and that Sir Thomas Gurney, John Maltravers and William Ockley carried out the order (possibly by the application of a red-hot poker to the poor man’s nether regions – more probably simply by smothering).
The room where the murder is alleged to have happened is at the top of a flight of stone steps – a small door leads to the chamber in the wall of the keep. Visitors can’t enter the room itself, but there’s a window to peep through and whether or not it is the location of a murder, it certainly makes you stop to think. I doubt if anyone looks into that room without pondering what happened in there.
Edward’s ghost is said to haunt the castle and to be heard in a death-cry on the 21st September each year!
3. To embrace your inner nosey-parker tendencies…
Berkeley is full of treasures, some grand and priceless, others entirely domestic. I just love being led along from one treasure to another. Every room (and you see many) is full of delights and although there’s plenty of information, you can have great fun searching out all the amazing details. The dining room for instance has a stunning array of silverware, looked down upon by family portraits with people wearing the distinctive yellow hunting colours of the Berkeley hunt. The medieval kitchens which were still being used until the 1940s are worthy of a visit alone. You must see the spider’s web ceiling, it’s absolutely wonderful. (There was a large model dragon in the kitchen when we visited this week, made by local school children we were told. He was superb!)
4. To be able to say you’ve sat in the same window as Mark Rylance…
About half way around, you come to the Great Hall (which is indeed great!) And whilst taking photos of some stone carving, my brother noticed a leaflet in a window about Wolf Hall (the brilliant TV series based on the books about Thomas Cromwell by Hilary Mantel) and then we realised that in fact Berkeley Castle was one of the locations where the series was filmed. (You have to hand it to the producers of Wolf Hall – I’ve been to most of the places where it was filmed, but you’d hardly know it from watching, they did a magnificent job of recreating a very convincing Tudor world. If you really want to get into the Wolf Hall flow, they’ve even provided you with a costume to put on (yes adult size) – now that’s what I call visitor satisfaction.
5. To suss out a possible wedding venue
One thing you need to be wary of is that the castle isn’t open to visitors on Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays – which I assume is because these are the days when they hold weddings and private events. I had a little scroll through their Instagram account and it looks as if they do a fantastic job with weddings.
I must admit, it has the right atmosphere, which isn’t true for all potential wedding venues (in my opinion). I may be wrong but I got the distinct feeling that you’d have a very good time indeed if you got married at Berkeley, so if you’re on the look out for somewhere very special, put it on your list.
Well I think you can tell we loved our day at the castle. We’ve already decided to go back again soon. Oh and we had very acceptable tea and cake in the castle’s yurt – now that’s not something you hear every day…
For more information…
Here’s the link to the official Berkeley Castle website. Remember to check here before you visit because you don’t want to go on a day when it isn’t open. It also has wonderful photography of the castle – have a look anyway.
Have you ever wondered why castles were built exactly where they are?
I don’t mean why they were built at all, just how and who decided where the first spade went in. I wonder about the pre-Conquest landscape – largely without castles as we know them – and the nature of the Norman invaders, riding about the countryside (presumably often hostile countryside), determining the precise spot on which these alien buildings would be erected.
In the absence of a helpful set of Ordinance Survey maps, how did they make those decisions? Did they have a hoard of surveyors, architects and castle-designers offering their services to the victors of Hastings? Was there a handbook on castle building they could refer to, how did the man on the horse know what he wanted his castle to look like?
(You can tell I haven’t been sleeping well can’t you…)
I just have this image in my mind of all these Norman knights riding around, pointing at hills and saying ‘Alors! Contruisez-moi un chateau la-bas! Vite! And a retinue of workmen with clipboards and abacuses (what is the plural for abacus?) following them around, tugging their forelocks.
Goodrich in Herefordshire, between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye, is one of those truly defensive castles which appears to have grown organically out of the rock it sits on, and even today I think you’d nominate any architect who could come up with it’s design for an award. When you walk around it’s difficult to decide in some places where the building actually begins. How did they do that in the days before computers and 3D modelling?
In fact very little is known about the origins of the first castle at Goodrich.
It was probably first a wooden affair, rebuilt in stone about 1120. At the beginning of the thirteenth century it was given by King John to one of my historic heroes William Marshal (he of Pembroke Castle fame), and he had further work carried out, which in turn was rebuilt around 1280 as relations with the Welsh made the area increasingly dangerous and required stronger defences to be added.
Much of what you see now dates from that time and you can see similarities with the castles Edward I was having built in Wales around then.
Over time Goodrich was altered to make it a more comfortable residence, without compromising its defensive capabilities and if you were a high status visitor in the fourteenth century, you’d probably have been very comfortable staying there.
But as with so many other castles, it was besieged during the English Civil War and was heavily bombarded – you can still see the mortar ‘Roaring Meg’ which did so much of the damage. Later the castle was slighted to prevent it being used again.
After that, it was only a matter of time before it crumbled into ruins. Although in the eighteenth century it became popular with the romantic poets and painters who fell for its decaying charms.
If you haven’t been to Goodrich, don’t miss an opportunity to go. It’s got everything a textbook castle should have and is an ideal place to explain castle basics. It’s definitely what I call ‘a proper castle’.
If you’re visiting check here at the English Heritage website for opening times and prices. By the way, the cafe at Goodrich is particularly good and the last time we were there they served the best cheese scones I’ve ever tasted.
This coming weekend I’m taking part in an exhibition of artists’ work in Bedford. It will be the first exhibition I’ve done for over a year and part of me is quite excited.
But I’m going to be totally honest and tell you that part of me is also wishing I wasn’t doing it. The problem isn’t the exhibition itself, I love meeting people and talking art, but I just hate the whole process of getting the artwork ready to show – mounting, framing, labelling, wrapping… arrrgh!
My difficulty is that I’ve always loved the process of making the artwork, but once the final stitch goes in, my mind is off to something else. Framing? It can wait for another day…
But there you go, it has to be done and I’m well on the way with it now. Everything is pretty much under control. The exhibition is open on Friday evening May 12th from 7.30pm to 10pm and on Saturday May 13th from 10.30am to 5pm, at the Harpur Suite in the Harpur Centre, Bedford.
There will be about 50 artists taking part so If you’re in the area and fancy seeing some original art, I hope you’ll pop in and say hello, it would be wonderful to see you there and put some faces to names.
Of course I know that most of you reading this aren’t anywhere nearby at all, (not even on the same continent!), so if you can’t make it, here’s a sneak preview (shhhh, don’t tell)…
Inspired by the layers of history, patterns and textures in the English landscape. Sometimes when I’m dreaming I soar above the fields and woodlands and look down on my imaginary landscape.
A Celtic Mystery
If you come here regularly you’re probably sick of this one, but just in case, here’s the link to the post I wrote about it a little while ago. (It’s inspired by the Celtic Bann Disc).
As Above, So Below…
This is the piece I made over the winter of 2015/2016, you can read the story of its creation here. My very dearest friend died in the autumn of 2015 and I found myself deriving enormous consolation from the meditative process of making this textile. It will always feel special.
Where does the fascination, even enchantment with stained glass originate? I have no idea, but I am that woman standing in front of the stained glass, transported through the colours, the play of light, being led into a dream world. I try to bring some of that transience into the stitch work I make. Silks and metallics lend their mercurial nature, but they are tricky characters, sometimes they cooperate, but it’s always a game and I’m never sure who’s going to win.
So, there you have it, these are the four pieces I’ll be showing ‘in the flesh’ at the weekend. I wonder if anyone visiting will feel a connection with them. I wonder if there’s someone out there who’s just waiting to discover them, or who knows, who might just want to take one home. Oh well, we’ll see.
Everything seemed to start off quite well for me, I even managed earlier in the week to get a few textile pieces mounted up ready for framing (I hate doing that, so it was some achievement), then having had a great couple of days things began to unravel – I suddenly realised that the event I was preparing for is a whole week closer than I’d thought – well that certainly concentrates the mind! So then of course to top it all the Delinquent Dog has had another bout of pancreatitis.
And now here I am on Friday evening all behind yet again…
Anyway, as I’m currently madly doing the old ‘spinning the plates on sticks‘ routine, I thought instead of rushing a new post I’d give you the link to an old one of a place that I think is rather special. It first appeared on my old blog The Mists of Time, so apologies if you read it back then, but if not, I hope you enjoy a little trip into the Oxfordshire countryside to visit the ancient and enigmatic Rollright Stones…
Do you celebrate? A quick browse on the interweb would have you believe everyone in England was currently out taking part in some ancient ritual, Morris dancing, cutting boughs of hawthorn blossom, lighting bonfires, singing madrigals from Magdalen Tower, dressing wells, eating cake and dancing round a Maypole…
Nothing quite so energetic happening here today (that was yesterday, when for some reason I decided it was just the right time for a big clear out and change round in the hidey-hole (aka studio/workroom/glorified cupboard). Surprising just how long that sort of thing can take, it’s the domino effect isn’t it – you decide to move one thing and that means having to move something else which means moving something else – ad infinitum…
But I must admit, I do like to have a walk along the lane on May Day making a mental note of what’s flowering in the hedgerow. It does feel like a special day. I’m one of those awkward people who tends to think of it as the start of summer – somehow for me the months of May, June and July feel more summery, whereas I’m never sure about August – sometimes it’s so hot, but often it feels to me like the month when the energy stops, and sometimes well before September you can sense a change in the air.
Everything seems a little late here this year. The cow parsley is nowhere near its frothy best yet and even the may is late blossoming, only the sunniest sections of the hedgerow are in full blossom, still lots more to come.
But mainly today I plan to get down to some stitching. I’m currently working two companion pieces based on a golden-reddy-orange palette. They’re quite vibrant, something of a change from the very blue pieces I’ve been making recently. I’m using more of the recycled sari silk ribbon which I just love. It has the most gorgeous texture, is really easy to stitch and best of all, it looks different from every angle – even more so once I stitch into it.
It’s at an early stage here, but you get some idea of the colours…
Any special traditions for May Day that you keep, I’d love to know?
If you signed up for ‘Loose Threads’ I hope it reached your inbox ok on Friday. I’ll distribute the next edition in a few weeks, so if you haven’t yet and want to join in, just fill in your email details next time you visit Dreaming In Stitches (I’m afraid I don’t think WordPress will let me put a box in the sidebar – or if it will, my techno-abilities aren’t up to it!). Thank you so much x