A Simple Check-in
It’s been a while since I wrote up a simple check-in post. For you wonderful people wondering what we’ve been up to of late, let me recap for you. Some of it you’ve had an insight into already, some will be new. It all begins back in late September…
Saturday 23 September
I’d driven over to Cheshire for the weekend and we had so much to choose from. I had had it in mind to go back to Biddulph Grange to see the renowned dahlia display since my first visit back in April. The direction was set.
Our route took us via Congleton – speaking of which, has the big random ship by the river been taken away? We couldn’t see it, but that could have been down to the leaves on the trees. From Congleton, with National Trust membership in hand, we decided to stop off at Little Moreton Hall. I wasn’t expecting much, I’m now ashamed to admit. Any expectations would have been surpassed by this fascinating structure.
We’d only just exited the entrance building when a fantastic boom shook ground and air alike. Cows rushed over the field alongside us, surely not knowing where to run to. This was quickly followed up by a small girl, hands over her ears, dashing full pelt round the corner, screaming in terror. Is it so very wrong that I found humour in this? Schadenfreude, I believe the term is.
Matt and I pressed on, and discovered the origin of the explosion: a medieval ballistics display involving plenty of gunpowder and more than one shot of the cannon. Each item was being described by reenactors dressed in period costumes. The main shooter quite rightly sported some Tudor ear protection.
The display was part of a medieval mop fair, where workers were hired and prices set, following the labour shortages from the Black Death. You could find tents displaying various crafts and also an armoury tent. Matt gravitated towards this one, particularly enjoying the shield and sword. In fact, he enjoyed the sword a tad too much (cue immature reaction from Matthew…)
There was to be a further demonstration on “fire power” later in the afternoon, with other talks and presentations scheduled between. We missed these, however with good reason: it was time to focus on the house.
We crossed into its courtyard just two or three minutes before a guided tour was planned. Our brief wait was not wasted. You have to marvel at the craftsmanship in the building. What’s more, you have to wonder at how it even still stands with the wonkiness of it all. In the middle ages, before brick became widespread and stone more common, wooden houses were made of green timber. It was not aged, nor was it treated. As it matured in its resting place, it warped. Additional to this is the lack of proper foundations, so the earth has sunk beneath the edifice. Stone slabs pave the ground floors inside, but these were a Victorian alteration.
Just check out the long gallery here, originally created for indoor sports and walking in cold winter months:
Julie was our tour guide, and we relished it. She was a font of knowledge and kept the momentum up the whole way. She took slightly longer than the standard tour time, but it was worth it. We were told about the construction of the place, key features were pointed out, and we learnt the fortunes (and misfortunes) of previous occupants.
We finished the tour with rumbling tummies, so Matt and I skipped the small Tudor gardens and head off to Biddulph Grange where we ate, drank and revelled in the worldwide scope of its 19th Century grounds.
Sunday 24 September
What a non-stop weekend we ended up having. It was like a whirlwind tour of National Trust properties. From Little Moreton Hall and Biddulph Grange one day, to Quarry Bank Mill and Speke Hall the next.
This was my second visit to Quarry Bank Mill this year as well. The idea was to see inside the mill itself. We didn’t have the time, unfortunately. We took in the smaller yet shapely gardens. In spring, the garden had surprised me with just how much colour was packed in its cliffside borders. In autumn, the colours were no less lovely. It has a wilder, damp sense to it by the riverside, which neighbours more Victorian-style annual bedding in the lawns. Scrabbling up the cliff paths, you pass more ferns, geraniums and statuesque trees. How amazing is this beech, clinging to the rocks?
Heading over the partially walled veg garden, you pass abundant beds, dotted with lilac iris, purple nepeta, swishy panicum, popping aster and blistering orange crocosmia. Clumps of towering yellow helianthus conflicted with the whole, and I can’t say I particularly appreciated their inclusion other than for height variation.
I did enjoy the greenhouse though, packed with pelargoniums and succulents.
We left behind the mill and hurried over to Liverpool to pick up our friend Suzanne. Bless her, she was slightly housebound with a wrist injury – how crazily easy it is to break bones sometimes – and we were more than pleased to be able to give her some escape.
Speke Hall was on the agenda. It’s been on my radar for a while. I always used to see the signs when my parents drove me to and from Liverpool airport, during my year abroad. Additionally, I have friends who visit the hall regularly, for its antiques and proximity to planes. I seem to always attract “AV geeks”.
How unusual – food and drink was the first thing on the menu upon arrival! I love National Trust eateries. They’re so unfussy but satisfying.
The Tudor hall – yes, another late medieval property! – was kept from me for a while. Matt and Suzanne led me through the woodlands on the edge of the house initially. The path takes you on the trail of a giant, past his shoes, buttons and house, with poems along the way. All good fun for kids, little and big alike.
Rounding a bend, Speke Hall itself emerged from the trees, rising ever more from behind a yew hedge. I was glad to see some rich red planting close to its walls, whether acer or sedum, contrasting nicely with variegated hostas and white blooms. The property also boasted a frothy and flowering rose garden, understated but effective at this time in the year.
Here was a property combining Cheshire timber with brickwork. We found out this weekend that these homes wouldn’t have originally been white and black. They would have been left a combination of green-grey oak and creamy daub between.
We also learnt the origin of the term eavesdropper. A hole was left in the eaves above the main entrance. A servant would hide up here when individuals arrived at the door. The aim was to learn the visitors’ purpose; be they friend or foe?
The interior of the hall, to say it had remained a home for generations, retained its overwhelmingly medieval feel. Clad in dark wood, each room was dark. There were some wonderful features; in particular I took a liking to this octagonal table, fitting perfectly into the bay window. Shame the afternoon tea wasn’t edible!
On our way back to the car we passed a well-stocked little veg garden – the second of the day. However, the absolute highlight of the day had to be having a go at archery before we entered the hall. You paid £1 each (or was it £2? I forget) for the firing of six arrows. A local society expert instructed you and away you went. I did pretty well I think. Very modest of me… I’ve always fancied doing archery, and now I’m even more curious about seeking out a club some day. Robin Hood, eat your heart out ha!
Thursday 05 October
We jump ahead to October, and I had half a day off. Matt was over so we went for a wander up from Damflask to Ughill and back down again. The sun was shining which made it all the more enjoyable. We passed the gates to Ughill Hall, site of an infamous murder in the late 1980s. Here a solicitor shockingly murdered his partner and her infant daughter. On a sunlit afternoon such as this, you’d never believe it.
Sunday 08 October
Sunday just gone Matt and I drove out to Hardwick Hall – “more glass than wall”, as Matthew likes to remind me. In fact, I’d counter that by saying “more fabric than wall”. I’d never been inside before, and I’m so glad we did this time. But, you know what, more about Hardwick in a future post…