An Alternative Tour Around Bath…

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).

2016-05-04 14.57.55

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…

Country Threads

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.

Pulteney Bridge

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!).

Victoria Park

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.

Bath Abbey

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.

The Roman Baths
Shopping Bath-style…
Go on, indulge your Jane Austen fantasy just a little bit…

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.

By the way, Dyrham Park is just a few miles out of Bath – you can read about it here.






That time of year…


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.



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!

Best wishes and happy stitching…

Croft Castle – a love letter.

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.






Sir Richard and Eleanor Croft tomb



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.

Visiting Croft Castle

The Croft family still live in the house, but it is now managed by the National Trust. Click here for their website to check opening times and prices.

This is a little video about Croft which is rather charming and shows you a little more of the interior.

And here’s a little video about the ghost at Croft Castle (it’s ok, not scary!).


Dyrham Park – lost in the mists of time…

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.







Planning a visit?

Here’s the link to the National Trust website. Check for opening times.

What’s so special about Berkeley Castle?

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).

There is however now a theory that Edward escaped and fled abroad to live as a hermit in the Holy Roman Empire, eventually meeting his son Edward III in Antwerp in 1338. It’s good to have a historical mystery and this is certain to keep fuelling controversy for the foreseeable future.

The doorway to Edward II’s cell.

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.

The room in which Edward II was murdered.

Edward’s ghost is said to haunt the castle and to be heard in a death-cry on the 21st September each year!

The Keep – and the stairs to Edward II’s cell.

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!)

Something about this corner epitomised Berkeley Castle for me.

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.

The Great Hall – a gorgeous setting for a wedding and a Wolf Hall location…

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.

Anything else?

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.

Here’s the Wiki page for Berkeley Castle – lots of lovely history facts and dates.

Goodrich – A Proper Castle…

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.

2015-04-10 14.50.30_20170511123615836

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’.


More Information

If you want to know more about the building and history of Goodrich, this is the link to the Wiki page.

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.

Oh and if you were a fan of the TV series a few years ago ‘Merlin’ – you might recognise parts of the castle, an episode was filmed there back in 2009.


Funny old week…

So, how is May shaping up for you so far?

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…

Wishing you a lovely week.




An Englishman’s house…

Do you ever watch the TV show Grand Designs? (I’m sure similar programmes exist across the world, where you follow people through the process of building their own houses) – I ask because for some reason, whenever I visit Stokesay Castle I can’t help thinking that if it had existed in the 1290s, Stokesay Castle would definitely have been featured.

The castle was built for Laurence of Ludlow, one of England’s richest wool merchants of his age and I can just see Kevin McCloud (the presenter of Grand Designs) following Laurence about on the scaffolding, talking about all the mod cons being built in, the problems sourcing the right timber, the difficulties with the labourers, how expensive it all was, how they’d hoped to be in by Christmas…

It’s fantasy of course, but you can’t help thinking that Stokesay was always meant to be someones vanity project, a way of announcing to the world that you’d arrived. Although it does have some castle-like features, it was never really intended to be a stronghold, this was first and foremost a rich man’s comfortable home in the country, a statement about wealth, not a fortress, despite being set in an area where true castles abound. The writer Norman Pound described it as ‘pretentious and comfortable’ – difficult to argue with that. Although I do wonder what Laurence’s noble neighbours made of him.

And for the thirteenth century it was pretty well-appointed. A huge hall with tall windows in the main public space, a solar suite for him and his family and a series of guest rooms. There are toilets and fireplaces built-in which was no doubt pretty avant guard for homes back then.

Going to Stokesay today it’s easy to let your mind slip you back into the thirteenth century because there’s so little change from the shell of the building that was first built for Laurence.

And it is undoubtedly a very lucky building indeed – to have sat right in the middle of some of the most heavily fought over land in the English / Welsh borders for 700 years and to remain very largely intact is nothing short of miraculous.

Its only real encounter with destiny was towards the end of the English Civil War when it was besieged in 1645. It surrendered to the Parliamentarians (quickly demonstrating it’s lack of proper defences). Unlike so many castles subsequently ordered to be slighted, Stokesay got off very lightly – where some castles were to all intents and purposes demolished, Stokesay doesn’t appear to have suffered more than the loss of a few feet off the height of its curtain wall.

The solar is the one room in the castle to have been significantly updated in the seventeenth century. The carving in the wooden mantelpiece is a tour de force.

After that fling with fate, Stokesay was gradually left to slide into decline and could easily have literally crumbled away, but it was lucky once again to have found a series of restorers in the nineteenth century who all decided to conserve rather than change the building, keeping intervention to a minimum, and as a result we now have this almost unique example of a fortified manor house to wander around and enjoy.

You know me well enough to realise that I love it particularly for the window seats. (They’re everywhere at Stokesay) – I always imagine myself sitting in one with my stitching, listening to some troubadour singing or playing a harp, gazing wistfully out across the Shropshire landscape – oh you get the picture…

The windows are what really make it for me at Stokesay, but then windows are always magical frames of liminal space. Looking out or looking in, there’s always a story.

Although Grand Designs is supposed to be about the buildings, there’s no doubt that it often also charts the impact of the stress of building on the people involved – marital strains are not uncommon. What Laurence and his family experienced we’ll never really know, but sadly he was to drown at sea in 1294, so it’s unlikely he enjoyed much time in his own grand design.

Still, over 700 years later, I’d like to thank him. He built his castle, and he left us with a remarkable window into the thirteenth century.


Visiting Stokesay?

This is the link to visitor information at English Heritage.




Coming over all arty at Buildwas Abbey

The last place we visited during our Easter break was the small-but-perfectly-formed Buildwas Abbey near Telford, Shropshire. It’s definitely in the ‘hidden gem’ category, in fact anyone visiting needs to keep a good look out for the signs or you’ll still miss it, nestled away as it is in a curve of the River Severn, at the bottom of a long hill.


But assuming you make it, Buildwas will definitely repay your endeavour. It’s an absolutely charming example of an early Cistercian abbey, now ruined of course but with some of the chunkiest round pillars the Normans built still standing and a Chapter House that will have you eagerly snapping away with your camera.

Chapter House Buildwas Abbey

The story of Buildwas isn’t about any particular person, rather it’s a demonstration in the landscape of a slice of English/Welsh history.

It’s location is in the long disputed and frequently fought over borderlands between England and Wales. It was originally founded by a conquering Norman bishop (Roger de Clinton) bringing a group of Norman monks from Savigny to England in 1135, it soon after became a Cistercian monastery in 1147 and the remains of the building we can still see date from the 1150s through to the 1330s.

One of the things I love about Buildwas is that enough of its history if known to give you the bones of a story, but there are sufficient grey areas where your own imagination can take over and fill in the gaps. So for instance, in 1340 an unnamed abbot of Buildwas was murdered – but the man arrested staged an escape. In 1350 the abbey was raided by the Welsh who took the abbot and monks prisoner. We don’t know what impact the Black Death had precisely, but in 1377 there were only 6 monks there, and in 1381 only 4 – why?

Then again the abbey’s estates were ravaged during the Glyndwr Rebellion of 1406. By the time Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners visited Buildwas in 1535, there were 12 monks there, 4 of whom were accused of grave moral faults

Now if that isn’t enough to get the historic mystery writers juices flowing, I don’t know what is. (By the way, I heard this sort of writing referred to as mystoric fiction – I hadn’t heard that before, but I thought it was brilliant).

I must admit, even while I was walking around I was thinking about the wonderful Ellis Peters Cadfael novels, you could just see Cadfael in his herb garden there. But the mystery and murder also made me think of the C J Sansom Shardlake novels. Have you read these? They seem perfect companions for Buildwas.

Way back during the early part of Buildwas’s history, the abbey owned a large number of books (by the standards of those days) – estimated at over 100 religious texts – reading being one of the important elements of the Rule of St Benedict and a daily requirement. Apparently over 40 of those books still survive and it’s believed that 15 of those were actually written at Buildwas Abbey. Not a bad legacy for a small foundation in the borders.

As was often the case, once the abbey was dissolved, it quickly declined, having been plundered for building stone and materials. Even the grand Tudor house that replaced part of it has subsequently been lost. Which means that today you see a truly romantic ruin set in the loveliest rural setting, with lots of lumpy earthworks all around certain to make your inner archaeologist desperate to wield a trowel.

I don’t think English Heritage would be too impressed if you actually tried, so instead it’s probably best to let the abbey inspire your artistic streak. Don’t go without your camera or you’ll regret it. And if it’s a nice day and you’re happy working en plein air, you’ll be painting in the footsteps of John Sell Cotman and JMW Turner who amongst many others have all been inspired to paint the ruins at Buildwas.

Finally I should say that I felt an especially lovely atmosphere there, it’s the sort of place I really do think you could sit and meditate quietly. Monastic or otherwise, it has a certain serenity and I adore it. I hope if you visit you do too.

If you’re visiting…

Buildwas isn’t open every day. Check here at the official English Heritage website before you go.

There are portaloos in the car park, no permanent facilities.

The lady at the ticket office made us the very best coffee we’d had for the whole week of our holiday – just saying.

Now, if you want VERY detailed history about Buildwas – and I admit to being fascinated – go to this website – but be prepared.

And last question…

Cadfael – Derek Jacobi or Philip Madoc?







Hidden away…

Sorry to disappear last week – it’s what happens when your youngest comes in and drops the comment that she’s got her holiday dates wrong and instead of going away this week after the Easter break, we had to rush off immediately for a few days squeezed between commitments.

But luckily for us the weather was good and so we took the tents over to Shropshire, for what turned out to be a really lovely few days, with bucket loads of heritage-hunting!


I’ll sit down and share the stories of some of the places we visited soon, including the fabulous medieval Stokesay Castle (above), but if you’re looking for an area to visit that takes you away from the hoards and shows you history throughout the ages, there are few better counties than Shropshire and the Welsh Marches.

We were there for five days and in that time toured six castles (Stokesay, Powis, Ludlow, Hopton, Montgomery and Clun), two abbeys (Much Wenlock Priory and Buildwas Abbey), two hill-forts (on the hillside above the campsite) and a bronze age stone circle (Mitchell’s Fold) and for much of the time we were the only people at the sites, so much lovelier I think than having to push through crowds. I’m a massive fan of these hidden gems.

And besides the abundant heritage, there’s the simply wonderful scenery to enjoy too. I’ve always loved walking up hills and as we don’t have that many in Bedfordshire I was very happy to trot up as many as we could manage (alright, maybe not exactly trot, but I make it up with a liberal smattering of ‘awe and wonder’ stops). We made it up the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones, Corndon Hill, and along a section of Offa’s Dyke from Knighton. My leg muscles are definitely feeling it now.

We camped on the edge of the Long Mynd (it was extreme camping but in a wonderful location – if you’re slightly mad and want the details, leave me a comment or send me a tweet).

After all that sight-seeing and exercise, I was very glad to roll into a pub each evening for a pint of Three Tuns beer. I think a visit to the Three Tuns in Bishop’s Castle might be a legal requirement of visiting Shropshire – we certainly always pay homage there, but in fact it turned out that the pub closest to our campsite (The Bridges Pub, Ratlinghope) was also owned by the brewery and I have to say kept their beer extremely well. The food was fabulous there too, so I’d be more than happy to go again. (I’ve put a link to their website here in case anyone is interested, because they offer a variety of accommodation too, which seems like an ideal arrangement should camping without any mod cons not be to your liking – ahem).

The other great find of the holiday was a new-to-us bookshop at historic Brampton Bryan – Aardvark Books. It’s the sort of place where you could happily spend hours and hours browsing through the books (new and second-hand), drinking tea from proper china cups and wandering around their art exhibition. We’ll go back I’m sure, but in the meantime you can follow Ethel Aardvark on Twitter – and why wouldn’t you…

So, it’s back into the swing of things again now just as soon as I get through the mountain of post-holiday laundry. Just before we set off for our break I started two new stitchy pieces which are calling to me now to get on with, but that will have to wait for a day or two – I’ll show you them soon.

Have a lovely week.




Two Historical Giants at Pembroke Castle

I may have mentioned before that I particularly love being able to link historic people to historic places and Pembroke Castle boasts intimate connections with two giants of English history, William Marshall and Margaret Beaufort. Both of these characters had long and colourful lives, tightly interwoven with the events of their day, and a visit to Pembroke is a good place to remember the role each played…

Pembroke Castle with the Great Keep on the left.

William Marshall

William Marshall had an extraordinary life. He was born in 1146 (or possibly 1147, it’s a grey area) to fairly lowly Anglo-Norman knightly stock, but through his immense courage and loyalty he rose in importance to play vital roles during the reigns of Henry II, Richard I, John and John’s son Henry III for whom he was appointed protector in 1216.

If you haven’t heard of him, there’s a fabulous biography ‘ The Greatest Knight’ – by Thomas Asbridge *, which is every bit as exciting as any fiction. I won’t bore you with oodles of details here, but suffice to say he got around a bit and fought a lot of fights through his 70+ years – (he led the charge at the battle of Lincoln aged 70).

In 1189 at the age of 43 he married 17-year-old Isabel de Clare (he was given her by Richard I as a reward for his support) and it was through her that he became owner of Pembroke Castle (and indeed a number of other castles – we’ll no doubt meet William quite often as we wander around the castles of Wales and the Marches). They went on to have 5 sons and 5 daughters, which was no mean feat and certainly provides fiction writers with plenty of possibilities.

How much time he spent at Pembroke I’m not sure, in those days practically all the aristocracy lived largely peripatetic lives, but he is credited with having had the castle built in stone and for building the Great Keep –  it’s a massive cylindrical tower with a stone domed roof, nearly 80′ high (you can walk up and on to it to see the views, although I have to say it brought me as close to vertigo as I’ve ever been). It’s impressive today and must have been even more so in the twelfth century.

We have William Marshall to thank for several things, including witnessing and then re-issuing Magna Carta. His descendants include both the Bruce and Stewart kings of Scotland, Edward IV of England and through him, Henry VIII and all English monarchs afterwards.

He died in 1219 and is buried in the Temple Church, London where you can still see his tomb. Isabel died a year later.

William Marshall in historical fiction

There are loads of stories featuring William, including novels by Jean Plaidy, Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick. Have you read any of them? Which ones would you recommend?

I’ve read that he may have been the inspiration for William Thatcher in the film A Knight’s Tale – I love that film although it’s set years later, I sort of hope it’s true.

Margaret Beaufort

Now Margaret Beaufort may not have built anything at Pembroke, but in a way you could claim that it was where the Tudor dynasty began, because it was in a tower at the castle on the 28th of January 1457 that Margaret gave birth to her son Henry, who would go on largely through the political manoeuvring of Margaret to become King Henry VII in 1485.

Margaret’s story is just as amazing as William’s. She was married at the age of 12 to Henry VI’s half-brother the 24-year-old Edmund Tudor. The Wars of the Roses were intimately entwined in her life and Edmund died in captivity at Carmarthen shortly after their marriage, but not before she became pregnant. She gave birth in Pembroke Castle aged just 13. Henry was her only child even though she married twice more, so I think we can imagine it would have been a pretty horrendous experience.


Like William, the life of Margaret has been the subject of numerous novels, including the enormously popular books by Philippa Gregory – Margaret is the Red Queen (I’m going to be honest and admit to not having read any of them). I know Margaret was a remarkable woman and you have to admire the way she struggled through the twists and turns of fate to bring Henry to the throne, but I’ve never been able to like her – is there a novel I should read that will change my mind?

Anyway, she outlived Henry VII and watched her grandson Henry VIII being crowned in 1509 shortly before her death. Quite some woman whatever you may think.

Pembroke Castle on film.

I’m surprised Pembroke Castle hasn’t made more film appearances, but for those of us who like to know, it featured in Jabberwocky (1976), Prince Caspian (1989), Richard II (part of the BBC The Hollow Crown series – with the simply marvellous Ben Wishaw as Richard – watch it if you haven’t already, 2011) and in Me Before You (2016). It also had a minor role at the beginning of The Lion In Winter (1968), where Nigel Stock plays none other than William Marshall…

An extra helping?

Click here to go to the official Pembroke Castle website where you can check opening hours, tickets prices, history timeline and the like – they have all sorts of events there too, including after hours ghost walks – sounds like fun.

Here’s a link to Thomas Asbridge’s website – if you aren’t familiar with William Marshall, try Asbridge’s book or search out the documentary he made about him – it’s ‘boy’s own’ stuff really it is.

Does anyone know of a good biography of Margaret Beaufort, surely there must be one? If you want a good article about her, I thought this piece from History Today by Michael Jones was useful.


Banqueting ‘medieval style’ – one of the tableaux at Pembroke Castle.

Just to say, there’s lots to see at Pembroke Castle that I haven’t attempted to mention here, but it’s a brilliant place to visit if you’re in the area. It’s privately owned and I love the approach they take to heritage and history, it’s a castle where you feel welcome and connected.



Step back in time at Canons Ashby

After all the grandeur of Gloucester Cathedral last week, I thought for this week’s helping of heritage-hunting I’d choose something a little more domestic – although it does have a monastic connection – Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire. It’s an Elizabethan manor house, built beside the remains of the Augustinian Priory of Canons Ashby, which went the way of those places at the Dissolution (what remains of the Priory is now the somewhat truncated village church).

Canons Ashby

Canons Ashby house is at the ‘ooh, I could imagine myself living here’ end of the spectrum rather than one of the jaw-dropping Chatsworth, Woburn or Blenheim types. Nevertheless, it’s somewhere I love visiting because it has that rare quality of being largely unchanged since the last phase of building work there in 1710.

If you choose your time and day to visit when there aren’t too many other people wandering around, you can almost imagine yourself back in the eighteenth century. Half close your eyes and let your senses bring you the drifting scent of candles and listen for the gentle rustle of silk skirts, perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of a servant on the stairs.

It was for many years the family home of the Drydens (not actually the home of the poet and political satirist John Dryden, but they were closely related) and it still feels like a family home to me even though it’s now being shared with all of us visitors. I love the way you’re able to see so many of the rooms, grand and less than grand.

There’s one much more recent resident of the house we do know about – have you heard of Louis Osman? He was the goldsmith who made the crown used at the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969 and he lived here from 1969 until 1979. (Although I can’t say it’s something I’d ever want to wear, not that that’s an issue – ahem…).

The house isn’t huge, but it has many small treasures to discover as you wander around.  A speaking tube to pass orders from the dining room to the kitchen, Elizabethan wall-paintings, a magnificent plaster work ceiling, mysterious masonic symbols painted onto cupboards…

Although naturally we all think we’d have been the ones swanning around giving the orders in these old places, I suppose it’s more likely that we’d have been slaving away in the kitchens, but Canons Ashby has a fabulous old kitchen, worth the visit for that alone (well I think so).

The other big draw of Canons Ashby for me is the wonderful amount of needlepoint and woven textiles around the house. It’s not so easy when the house is busy, but there have been days when it’s quiet that I’ve managed to spend really quite a long time peering at the stitched work (and getting some odd looks from the room-guides).

I always find myself thinking about the people who stitched away at those pieces and the lives they lived and what they’d think if they knew we were still admiring their work hundreds of years later.


Just as lovely as the house itself are the gardens, which are gradually being restored. Go on a fine day and you’ll probably want to spend as long there as inside. One day when it’s really warm I’m going to pack up my stitching, drive over to Canons Ashby, settle myself into a garden seat and stitch away the afternoon there.

Don’t miss the statue of Sam the shepherd boy which commemorates a sad event during the English Civil War when the pro-Parliament Drydens offered food and ale to a group of Roundhead soldiers and set their shepherd lad to watch out and alert the soldiers if any Royalist troops arrived – when they did arrive and the boy played his whistle to raise the alarm, the Royalists took vengeance and killed him.

Gaze through the window and spot Sam the shepherd still guarding Canons Ashby.
The church

If you have enough time, wander over to the church which dates from 1250 and which is all that remains of the Priory – as with other churches ‘cut down’ from monastic sites, it feels a bit oddly proportioned, which I suppose is entirely understandable.

Planning A Visit?

  • I should mention that there’s a lovely cafe there too but if the weather is good you might prefer to take a picnic – there’s plenty of space and on a hot summer afternoon it feels dreamy.
  • Bookworms should know that there’s a small second-hand bookshop in the courtyard too, you might want to allow yourself a few extra minutes for a browse around.

Are you planning any heritage-hunting this weekend, where are you off to? Or where would you like to be going? Do tell…