Doorstep Tranquillity

For those times when you are perhaps seeking a moment of tranquillity, connecting with the environment just seems to work.  Fortunately for me, Stourhead a National Trust property in Wiltshire is just a stones throw from home.  It’s the perfect place for a Sunday morning stroll, whatever the season.

I visit Stourhead many times during the year to exercise or just to soothe the soul. To take the opportunity to sit awhile and think. [Read more...]

Beeline August

Our Beeline monthly update

The top English Countryside places on our list we are planning to make a Beeline for this August. Plus, some not to be missed events for your September calendar. [Read more...]

The Courts Garden

The Courts Garden near HoltThe National Trust describe ‘The Courts Garden’ as a delightful English country garden and one of Wiltshire’s best kept secrets. We have to agree… The Courts Garden is right on English Countryside’s doorstep but this was our first visit.

A wonderful mixture of topiary, water garden, orchard and arboretum, with beautiful lawns and English country garden borders, carefully designed to provide an interesting perspective and unexpected vistas at every turn.

Set in approximately 7.5 acres the original grounds and house were associated with a cloth mill, although The Courts Garden were only laid out in around 1901 when the mill was finally pulled down.

Sir George Hastings laid the original garden framework and subsequently Lady Cecile Goff who lived in the house in the 1920′s expanded on his designs, whilst her daughter, Moyra Goff enhanced the Arboretum. Since the 1930′s the primary layout has stayed the same and provides visitors with a marvellous example of English garden history.

The Courts Garden has many aspects which will appeal to garden history buffs, plant lovers and practical gardeners, but for me there were two elements that would draw me back for multiple visits…

The Courts Garden - Typical English country gardenThe tranquil spots in which to ‘plant’ yourself on one of the  numerous benches and perhaps become engrossed in a good book whilst indulging in the luscious atmosphere and beautiful surroundings.

The orchard – when we visited the apples were just approaching their best and grand they looked for sure. A superb range of scrumptious crunchy apples just waiting to be picked… Alas, it was not to be -my hand firmly rapped by ‘her indoors’ as I stretched for the perfectly formed fruit just drifting softly in the breeze.

 

The Courts Garden has a privately run tea room beyond the house and we though we would give it a try. It easily matched any National Trust establishment and provided attentive and pleasant service. The cutlery, crockery and utensils were immaculate as catering operations go, (the first thing my partner checks) and the menu provided a good choice of fresh food and beautiful deserts. We would give it a five star rating for the service, food choice and quality, although the tables were a little close together.

Scrumptious English Countryside ApplesThe Courts Garden is a fantastic example of an English country garden, spend a couple of hours strolling around taking in the detail then grab a snack in the tea room, whilst you consider where you might drift off to for the rest of the day.

For us -Caen Hill Locks, a flight of twenty nine locks with a rise of 237 feet and located between Rowde and Devizes  in Wiltshire was our next stop…

Somerset’s Hidden Secrets

Somerset’s towns and villages are full of hidden secrets and Treasure Trails are inviting people to embrace their region with a series of walking, cycling and driving Trails with a difference.

For kids of ALL ages they are the perfect opportunity for you to do a little detective work, embrace your inner pirate and seek out the location of the hidden treasure, or crack the code and save the world!

Hmmm… why are pirates called pirates? Because they just Aarrrghhh!

There are over thirty locations perfect for exploring throughout Somerset but you won’t be the first to head this way, nor will ye be the last! growing in popularity the scallywags at Treasure Trails are continually expanding the choice, range and location of Trails eventually leaving no stone unturned throughout the region.

What’s great is for little more than a fiver you can take the whole family out for the afternoon, or maybe just sneak out the back when no one is looking and do the Trail yourself. Come on, who you kidding you’ve always fancied yourself as a bit of an Indiana Jones or maybe Miss Marple!

The Trails provide a fun, healthy and educational experience, as you solve the clues around the region’s villages, towns or cities. Trail typically take around two hours but are designed to be completed at your own pace to allow for detours and refreshment breaks.

Treasure trails can be downloaded and printed at home or be sent to you as a printed booklet. In most cases Trails can be completed at any time of your choosing.

Once completed you can submit your answer online to be in with a chance to win a cash prize!

You can find out more at Treasure Trails

Great Ways To Explore The English Countryside – 1

The English countryside offers some fantastic views, panoramas and simple pleasures, so what better way to explore them than from the air – from a balloon!

Appreciate the English countryside from a balloonWe were lucky enough to have the opportunity to make our escape from the delightful Victoria Park in Bath.  This was our first time in a hot air balloon, we had no expectation of what was before us, other than perhaps some anxiety of this basket carrying us atop without any help other than the flames from an oversize barbeque bottle.

The loading was an interesting experience, as we attempted to board whilst undergoing some quite gusty conditions. Nevertheless, there was no turning back now, and the sight of our posteriors hanging out the back of a giant picnic hamper provided some frivolity amongst the bystanders and self appointed experts on how to get in a balloon.

Wer’e off, and as we drift into the distance I get the urge to recreate a scene from ‘UP’ or perhaps ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ but am swiftly brought back to reality as the pilot refers me to this thin red cord adjacent. “Don’t pull that, it lets the air out!” Enough said.

If you’ve never been aloft before and have some concerns about vertigo, I can assure you there isn’t any. It’s quite a surreal sensation, no wind, no sound apart from the occasional burst from the extra large Bunsen burner, which does wonders for split ends if you stand a little to close.

Hot air balloons in ascentOnce our loved ones have disappeared, never to be seen again, we get down to the serious business – surveying all that we own  ( I can dream!) from 1500 feet. We gently purr along, the people busying themselves below. mostly oblivious to our presence. It gives you this strange feeling of detachment. Like the world is going on around you, and you have left it behind, for a moment anyway.

A quick blast of the Bunsen and sheep, deer and rabbits momentarily scatter, until they realise the risk has passed and carry on their scrumping from the abundance of grass that surrounds them.

What amazes me, as you leave the large areas of urbanisation behind, how much of our countryside remains intact and almost untouched, it’s just so much better than browsing ‘Google Earth’  and much more an experience than landing or taking off on commercial aircraft.

Cars and trains take on this distinct toy-like appearance, whilst the gentle murmurings of  cattle seem to travel from afar, unabated by the normal hubbub of everyday life. The whole experience really is quite wonderful. Observing the farms and fields, the woodlands and rivers from above gives me a new perspective on farming and agriculture, how much I still have to learn and discover about the countryside I love so much.

We once again pass over an urban area, where a family offer up some sausages from their evening soiree, and two lads pursue us with vigour on their gear-less cycle, perhaps hoping to hitch a ride or see us crash!

Our pilot is seeking a suitable place to land, deflate, stall, crash – or whatever the technical term is for bouncing and dragging our hamper along the ground, as long as he misses the electricity pylons, I’ll live with the alternatives!

Having scooted over the local cricket pitch we crouch down before touch down, which can only be described as unusual, bouncing twice and then gently dragged through some rather long vegetation, scattering grass tops amongst our hamper contents. A pleasant and uneventful landing, leaves us with the tiresome yet fulfilling task of packing the balloon and awaiting our more regular form of transport home.

Ballo0ning is just the most perfect way to experience the English countryside, it’s a surreal and gentle form of transport which gave us the opportunity to appreciate the abundance and beauty that surrounds us. If you haven’t done it – do it!

Kilver Court – The Secret Garden of Somerset

The viaduct and rockery at Kilver Court Gardens in SomersetKilver Court Gardens in Shepton Mallet is known as ‘The Secret Garden of Somerset’ Originally a mill and later the headquarters for British fashion label Mulberry, the stunning historical gardens are an oasis in the centre of an industrial area on the Mendips.

This was my first visit to Kilver Court, whilst I had some expectations of what would greet me, I have to say I was gobsmacked that this little English Countryside delight was on my doorstep, and I didn’t know about it. It certainly was ‘The Secret Garden’ but that probably highlights more about my dormitory existence in recent years, rather than their marketing!

The gardens are of a modest size, around 3.5 acres but beautifully laid out with a spectacular backdrop – a vast Grade II listed viaduct, built as part of the Somerset and Dorset railway in the 1800s.

The foreground is dominated by the award winning rockery and Victorian boating lake. The rockery is beautifully designed and populated with a diverse and well considered range of conifers and rockery plants, interspersed with cascades and lawn. The Viaduct not only provides this quite outstanding backdrop connecting you with the rolling Mendips beyond, but also reveals a quiet, well cared for lawn area with beautiful and traditional English garden borders, taken over by an abundance of butterflies and bees.

Kilver Court Gardens provide an excellent addition for Somerset visitors, and an oasis of tranquillity for locals to indulge in perhaps, a little historic reading. The history of the gardens and surrounding industrial area, from the wool and silk trades, local riots and social reform  through to the days of Babycham. Fascinating and revealing stuff.

Beeline July

Our Beeline monthly update

The top English Countryside places on our list we are planning to make a Beeline for this July. Plus, some not to be missed events for your August calendar. If you want to feature your own countryside, art and craft, garden event, drop us the details on our ‘get in touch’ page.

[Read more...]

Lytes Cary Manor

Volunteer to help maintain the gardens at Lytes Cary ManorThe English Countryside provides plenty of opportunity to drift back to another era, not for nostalgic purposes, but to indulge a little in what life must have been like for earlier generations.

Lytes Cary Manor provides just this opportunity. Home to the Lyte family from the 13th to the 18th century at which point the family could no longer afford the upkeep.

The property was sold to a local MP, and despite the second home allowance (just kidding!) was allowed to fall into disrepair, neglected and used as a workshop and agricultural store.

In 1907  Sir Walter Jenner, a Lt. Col. in the 9th Lancers acquired the property and tastefully restored and furnished with a range of 17th/18th century furniture.

In 1948 Sir Walter bequeathed the property to the National Trust who take care of it on behalf of the nation today.

Like many of these properties they have an element of formal gardens as part of a much larger estate. The formal gardens are small, but delightfully cared for, by NT Gardeners, and when I visited, an army of volunteers.

I found a quiet spot in the formal gardens to absorb the sun and drift a while. The lavender garden, is peaceful with the gentle buzzing of a variety of bumble and honey bees, butterflies are in abundance, the sound of the fountain just beyond the hedgerow adds to the therapeutic atmosphere.

The gardens are laid out in fifteen or so distinct areas, including the formal Apostle garden, Orchard, white garden and lavender garden. Adorning the South side of the property is a enticing croquet lawn just waiting to be played upon, but alas, I could find no takers for this quintessential English garden game, perhaps next time :-(

The garden areas are separated by well groomed yew hedgerows and each area offers a mixture of plants in the Art and Craft style. Inspired by the original ideas of Sir Walter.

You enter the house through the Tudor great hall, rebuilt in 1453, adjacent is the 14th century chapel, originally completed in 1348. Take a look up at the ceiling as you enter the great chamber, the magnificent coved and ribbed ceiling is the earliest of its kind in Somerset and includes the Lyte and Horsey family coat of arms.

The house includes nine or so rooms open to the public, other areas are available for short holiday lets.

Beautiful Village of Nunney

Nunney Castle - English Heritage near FromeThe English Countryside is amass with beautiful villages which provide the inspiration for many a poet,artist, photographer, tourist, rambler and day tripper from the Cities.

Nunney, is no exception to this, a beautiful village set amongst the Mendips and close to the market town of Frome in Somerset.

Centred on the village is Nunney Castle ruins, complete with moat, which date back to the 1373 when John de la Mare built the castle under royal license. This 14th Century Knight was hoping to gain favour within Royal Circles and it’s suggested the Castle was built to improve his circle of influence.

Looked after and maintained by English Heritage, castle entry is free and is a perfect place for perhaps a little quiet fishing and a family picnic.

All Saints Church near the Castle at NunneyThe castle was extensively modernised in the late 16th century, but parts suffered significant gun damage during the civil war as the parties held the castle for the king. Despite this damage to the main tower, it wasn’t until 1910 that the tower finally collapsed.

Overlooking the Castle is All Saints Church, separated by the quiet dusty high street with it’s ‘local Post Office and convenience store. The Church dates back to the 12th Century.

Aside from the gentle strolls around the village the immediate area offers some wonderful walking opportunities. Companies like Treasure Trails also provide fascinating walks which provide clues for the whole family to follow,  as you explore and discover this ancient village surrounded by English Countryside.

Simple Pleasures

Having been involved with the dissemination of technology for as long as I can remember, I suppose I’m not the best person to advocate that we should perhaps give a little more thought to how we use it in our lives.

Who cares -I'm having fun

But, as we become more and more ‘hooked’ on the constant ‘desire’ to be connected, maybe, just maybe we should seek to strike a better balance between the simple pleasures of life and the arguably, artificial pleasure of ‘constant connectedness’.

As  I look around me I become more and more disturbed by the impact of the so called connected society, digital productivity tools and the unenviable mobile phone. Whilst I have no doubts, of the obvious benefits the right tool can have when trying to complete a task, or the ability for people to connect to loved ones afar, the ‘constant connectedness’ brigade that put you on hold in mid conversation whilst they reply to their latest superfluous text, super important email, tweet or incoming flikr photo of the latest escapades on a Saturday night really get my goat.

Perhaps, I am a little unfair, as a blogger I am dependent on technology, or more important the users of technology to appreciate what I produce, but for me there is a side of the ‘constant connectedness’ brigade that reinforces the self importance, the I’m more important than you attitude. For me it’s just plain rude, to put someone you are with ‘on hold’ whilst you satisfy your desire for recognition, for instant acknowledgement. It’s like ‘social road rage’.

I wanted to express a desire for the simple pleasures in life, or perhaps the ability to reconnect with our environment, maybe even with ourselves and those close to us. To indulge in aspects of life that don’t allow us to succumb to the disease of ‘multi-tasking’ or ‘multiplexing’ or whatever the latest buzz word is that prescribes that we do multiple things at once badly, rather than perhaps give more sustained attention to those people and habitat that deserve our indulgence and appreciation.

In fact, the more I seek, the more I find; individuals, families, organisations that don’t depend on being constantly connected. Volunteers that do so much to sustain the fabric of our society, families that try hard to connect with their local environment, organisations that encourage face to face contact amongst youth and aged alike, groups and individuals that commit 100% to their hobby or pastime. Not everyone is sat glued to the Internet, joined at the hip to their mobile phone, or getting withdrawal symptoms because their email has gone quiet for 60 seconds.

Welcome to the rather unpopular world of the simple pleasure society – for those of us that choose to disconnect from time to time.