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Posts in heritage
Officially Spring...phew!
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officially spring

...phew!

So here we are - spring has officially arrived in the northern hemisphere! Not a moment too soon for me!. What a thoroughly drab winter that was and to go out on a snowy blizzard - what an exit…(and it better had be the end, that’s all I’m saying…).

On Tuesday I scoured the lane for any signs of spring and was rewarded with one brave little celandine. Oh, it made me incredibly happy. I looked back at the photos I took on the same date last year and discovered that the banks of the lane were yellow and green with celandines in full bloom. Proof indeed that we’re well behind this year.

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But then we were treated to a couple of days of sunshine (although not a lot of warmth) and at last, the magic of spring has begun to reach us.

On Thursday, as we were leaving the wood, a heron flew overhead making it’s wonderfully primaeval call. There’s a heronry close to where we park our car and people travel for miles to come and watch them on their nests, but I’ve found that the herons regularly fly over us on their way I suppose to the canal, so we are treated to a private view.

On one memorable morning last year, we were overflown by a group of five herons, I’d heard the noise and initially assumed they were gulls, only to look again and realise they were in fact herons. It’s moments like that which really take my breath away, even now as I think about it I feel a little awe-inspired.  I’m so fortunate to have the time to spend outdoors every day. You can’t buy an experience like that.

On days when I’m struggling to find colour in the lane, I’ve discovered that it helps to look closer, to get down amongst the leaves or peer deeper into the hedge. And this week it was the mini-gardens of moss growing on a decaying tree-stump that amazed me. Such fascinating plants, tiny but with wonderful shapes, colours and textures. I don’t know the names of any of these little beauties and I feel a touch guilty about that.

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Then, finally, on Friday we found the first leaves beginning to unfurl on the elder trees. Elder, the tree of regeneration and wisdom according to Glennie Kindred. It certainly inspires me with joy when I see the first hints of green returning to the hedgerow trees.


In other news

  • Thank you so much to everyone who’s been in touch with ideas, thoughts and suggestions about a Contemplative Stitch workshop - you’ve helped me enormously. I think I’ve got some ideas now and I’m going to spend a while developing my thoughts. If there’s something you’d like to add to the melting pot, please get in touch. All input is very welcome.
  • On Monday we hung the new spring exhibition at The Workhouse, Dunstable. Lovely to meet such talented artists bringing their work to show and to sell. It’s an open exhibition this time, no actual theme, but many people seem to have brought along very springlike artwork, which is giving the gallery a fresh boost. Do call in if you’re in the area.
  • I’ve started a new piece of stitching. (No pictures yet - not deliberate, just a lack of time and light!)
  • I’ve just added a page to the Spellbook for Stokesay Castle, Shropshire. (Click here if you want to see it). As I mentioned once before, I’m not really a sketchbook keeper and I intend to use the Spellbook as a place where I can stash words and images that inspire me, that was really one of my reasons for creating this space. I’m still working on how I’m going to do that. Sometimes there are more words than pictures, other times it’s all about the images. Often I’m not really sure what I want to show or say - it’s a feeling of scribbling in the margins, but I want to capture a feeling or an atmosphere. Anyway, my intention is to gradually add to those pages. They’re currently grouped under hedgerow and places in the menu for ease of finding.
     
  • Stokesay Castle is a perfect example of a fortified manor house, built during the reign of Edward I and largely unaltered since. Which makes the history-junkie in me deliriously happy.
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  • And last week, I read on impulse a book by Gretchen Rubin (the author of ‘The Happiness Project’) called ‘Better than Before’. It popped up on my Kindle suggestions and something made me buy it. I’m really pleased that I did because it was one of those ‘light-bulb’ reads. It’s all about the power of habits and how to adopt them. I particularly appreciated the way she characterises people according to certain traits - this made so much sense to me and it was a relief in some ways to feel understood. Anyway, I have a theory that sometimes we find the right book at the right moment. It may not be of any interest to you right now, but it certainly was for me.

Until next time…

Happy stitching!

Anny x

Almost Halloween...
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And finally I get to sit at my computer and write! It's been an age, I apologise, I'd meant to be here well before now but then real life kicks in and you're on a roller-coaster that leaves just enough time for sleep and marathon ironing sessions (I'm guessing I'm not alone).

The part of me that used to live in corporate world thinks this is an error of prioritisation and that I should certainly have put writing before ironing, but then the post-corporate me thinks well if I don't clear the pile there's practically no chance anyone else will do it and I'm probably the one who'll run out of things to wear first. And so...

Anyway, how are things with you? Are you celebrating Halloween or Samhain? This year we were given a packet of giant pumpkin seeds and after a couple of false starts managed to grow 3 enormous pumpkins. If you've never tried I can thoroughly recommend growing them for the entertainment value. They grow so fast you can practically see them spread across the garden. Our plants also kindly took off across the lawn, so we haven't mowed it since mid August - result!

Whitby Abbey

As it's nearly Halloween and there's been everything Dracula on the radio lately I thought I'd show you a few of the pictures I took in Whitby back in August. The Abbey is wonderfully atmospheric whatever your gothic desires, it's easy to see how it inspires people. I particularly love the eroded stone work, the arches look like sinuous fingers to me.

I love Whitby. It's a town with fantastic character, great pubs and excellent fish and chips. If I was Dracula I might well have come ashore there too.

In Other News...

  • It's been a wonderful three weeks so far at The Workhouse in Dunstable. For the next couple of months you can find me there on Wednesdays and Fridays. I've learned - or should I say I've re-learned - the lesson that art is in the eye of the beholder. It's a fabulous gift to sit and watch people's reaction to the art as they walk around and to listen to their comments. It is a fact that what one loves another won't, but there is someone who will connect with your work. I have heard people look at the same work and dismiss it, while others give the identical work high praise. So it is, and for us artists it's a lesson to keep front of mind. Make what you are called to make, don't worry about who's going to want it. The right people will find you.
  • I've been on a mini-jaunt to Wales. I'll try very hard to post photos before I am called back to the laundry heap. We visited Tretower Court, Hay on Wye, Llanthony Priory, Raglan Castle, and Goodrich Castle - all my favourite places and only slightly diminished by me having a grim and evil tummy bug which denied me the excellent breakfast at the hotel - arrrgh!
  • I've finished stitching another piece - hurray! But I haven't taken any decent pictures yet, so that will have to go on the 'To Do' list too.
  • And lastly, I've done something I've never done before - I've had a small number of my photographs printed and framed for sale at The Workhouse in November for the 'Mist & Mystery' exhibition. I will definitely show you those too. Photography is the the way I capture the essence of the seasons as I make my daily walks along the lane and through the field and woods, it's become so much a part of what I do I hadn't stopped to look at it as another art form. This week I was prompted to go back and consider them with a view to showing a selection and I have to say it's made me quite excited, they've printed up so well.

Have a good Halloween if you're celebrating. I'll be lighting a few candles and having a quiet contemplation. Reflection has gone out of fashion, but I find the wheel of the year, the cycle of life and the rhythms of the seasons keep me grounded and somehow deeply reassured.

Blessings to all and happy stitching x

This week...

We're having a very green early autumn this year and I'm wondering if it will turn golden later or not - there have certainly been other autumns I can remember when the whole orange and red tapestry failed to materialise - or am I just being impatient?

The colours are the only thing missing, apart from that there's no doubt which season we're in. As I walk along the lane each morning I can smell the crab apples crushed in the road, it's a faintly boozey scent, that ancient aroma you used to have in the barns and sheds where the apples were stored.

Our path through the wood is slightly more fraught as we try to dodge the spider's webs strung between bracken fronds and hogweed skeletons. But I'm not so scared of these outdoor spiders, their weavings are exquisite especially with a string of dew diamonds twinkling in the early light. It's their indoor cousins that send me screaming across the room.

There's been a wonderful amount of hedgerow fruit this autumn, I have sloe gin slowly turning a ruby red in a cupboard and I've breakfasted on blackberries several times. The hips and haws pepper the hedgerow with their splatter of crimson and scarlet. In one sunny spot in the hedge a bramble has decided to flower again, blossom in October...

These mornings are still warm enough to stand at the Thinking Gate and pause. Everyone should have their place for a moment of calm, somewhere to just be.

My stitchiness has been of the meditative kind this week. I've been playing with colours, thinking about texture. Taking the recycled sari silks and wondering about what to do with them. Part of me I think is hankering after doing another needlepoint so I begin stitching one evening and the familiar repetition feels natural, but I don't know where it wants to go and I abandon it to the side of the sofa. Mind and fingers are not entirely in harmony just at the moment.

In the way that somethings work, I ended up driving to Worcestershire twice last week. This is the county of my birth and the earth that made me. I visited the country churchyard where generations of my family are resting for eternity. It's a lovely place, tucked into the folds of a hillside and visiting although a little melancholy is also strangely soothing. I have a chat with the old lot and it feels perfectly natural. I put chrysanthemums on the graves because that's what my mum did, a tradition I suppose.

This is not a very old churchyard, only just over 100 years since the church was built and I get the distinct feeling that it won't be so long before it returns to nature. I find this doesn't worry me, in fact it feels right in some way. There are other ways of remembering.

And later in the week we made a trip to Worcester with our youngest daughter who's thinking of studying there. She hadn't realised that this is the city I know best, hadn't realised its significance to me, she just liked the feel of the place. Inside the cathedral an orchestra and choir were rehearsing a performance of Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man and it was simply sublime, the acoustics were just marvellous, it was almost too moving.

I sloped off to say hello to King John before we left, another tradition but this one is just mine.

On our way back we passed my second-favourite building in Worcester - The Guildhall. A perfect counterfoil to the gothic splendour and elegance of the cathedral. The Guildhall is all gold and shiny and a bit over the top - I wonder if that's part of it's appeal, and if subliminally it feeds my metallic habit?


This week I'm off to The Workhouse, Dunstable for it's opening exhibition where I'm showing some work. We set up mid-week and welcome people in at the weekend. I may surprise everyone and wear a dress...

Have a wonderful week whatever you're doing. Anyone in the Bedfordshire area do come along to Dunstable and find us, we'll be so pleased to see you and there's the possibility of cake.

Happy stitching

Anny x


footnotes

  • Just to say in case you didn't know, I post daily on Instagram mostly with photos from the lane, occasionally old places I've visited and sometimes little snippets of stitchiness in progress. Do follow me there if it's your thing.
  • Occasionally I put together some extra snippets and send out a copy of 'Loose Threads' to anyone who'd like to receive it - the subscription box is over on the right or in the menu.
  • I've been so tired my bedtime reading hasn't gone far this week, but I'm really enjoying Max Adams' - The King In The North (all about Oswald of Northumbria).
The Many Faces of Lincoln Cathedral...

Lincoln Cathedral has to be one of the most impressive surviving medieval buildings in the world. I'm a self-confessed history-junkie with a passion for the medieval, but honestly I don't think anyone could deny just how amazing it is. Perched on top of the only hill for miles, you can't miss it and as you get closer, the sheer size and elaborate decoration are breath-taking.

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On our recent travels with a tent we were able to snatch almost twenty-four hours in Lincoln (actually we stayed in Bardney and cycled along the Witham to Lincoln, pushing our bikes up Steep Hill when we got there, but that's another story). I'd only been able to have a quick visit inside the cathedral once before, so I was determined to have a more detailed tour this time.

But you know, I've come to the conclusion that just like major art galleries and museums, you shouldn't attempt to see everything in one visit. One look at the West Front of Lincoln Cathedral and you quickly realise that a life-time would scarcely be enough to fully appreciate it. Trying to take it in you rapidly reach a kind of medieval-cultural-overwhelm.

Still, if you only have a few hours you have to give it your best shot, so I set off with eyes wide open, soaking up the atmosphere and trying to let it seep in and not wash over in great waves of gorgeousness.

The first building here was begun shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1088 and it was pretty much a continual project throughout the medieval period. During that time it suffered a number of set-backs, including being seriously damaged by an earthquake of all things in 1185 and the collapse of a tall central spire in 1549 (until the loss of that spire it was the tallest building in the world).

Parts of the West Front are survivals from the pre-earthquake era and arguably the most impressive part of the building - the sheer intricacy of the carving is mind-blowing (well it blows my mind for sure).

A selection of the intricate Norman carving surrounding one of West Front doors, Lincoln Cathedral (rotated 90 degrees). Those faces! Is it just me or are they somehow hypnotic? Who are they? What are they meant to be?

A selection of the intricate Norman carving surrounding one of West Front doors, Lincoln Cathedral (rotated 90 degrees). Those faces! Is it just me or are they somehow hypnotic? Who are they? What are they meant to be?

See what I mean - even if you could see that far, it would take months to really study all the carving.

See what I mean - even if you could see that far, it would take months to really study all the carving.

Going inside the grandeur is compelling. Almost all medieval cathedrals manage to fill me with awe, goodness knows how the average medieval peasant thought about them but Lincoln must have been right up there with 'wonders of the world'.

Looking up to the ceiling of the central tower. The geometry evident everywhere is staggering. 

Looking up to the ceiling of the central tower. The geometry evident everywhere is staggering. 

Somewhere around this point under the tower, with stained-glass windows in every direction I began to get a touch overwhelmed. I stood slowly revolving, staring up, gaping and no doubt looking like a prize idiot, except that most other people appeared to be doing much the same thing.

Coming back down to earth I began to notice a whole load more faces - men, animals, comic, serious - adorning the screen to our side and so I spent the next considerable time photographing some of them (clearly these were once painted, you can still see traces of the paint in many places).

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A little devil would you say?

A little devil would you say?

Eventually I had to tear myself away from all these goodies, because there was one more thing I had to see on my visit and that was the tomb of Queen Eleanor of Castile.

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Eleanor of Castile

Now in fact although there is an exquisite gilded brass effigy of Eleanor looking wonderfully serene in the cathedral (the work of English sculptor William Torell) only her viscera were actually interred here. Her body is in Westminster Cathedral (and her heart was buried in the Dominican Friary of Blackfriars, London).

I don't know if you're the same, but I have a small cast of historical favourites that just interest me more than others and one of mine is King Edward I, the husband of Eleanor. Now I'm the first to admit that although he was tall and athletic, he wasn't an entirely likeable chap. He was famous for his temper, could be extremely aggressive and had a relaxed attitude to fair-play and justice, and then of course he went about subjugating the Welsh, building the ring of Edwardian castles that still stand today, and followed that up by attempting to do the same thing in Scotland - although with rather less success.

I don't think Edward was every woman's ideal husband. But here's the thing, from surviving records it appears that they had a very happy marriage and were truly deeply attached to each other. They were both just teenagers when they married. Over the years she gave birth to more than 12 children, although only one of her sons survived her. Rarely apart, Eleanor accompanied Edward on his military campaigns throughout her life. And Edward, such a difficult man in many ways is not known to have had any extramarital affairs or fathered children out of wedlock, which was certainly unusual at that time.

When Eleanor died aged 49, Edward mourned her, they had spent most of their lifetime together. It was for Eleanor that he had crosses erected at the locations where her cortege stopped on the way to Westminster - now known as the Eleanor Crosses.

Needing to secure the dynasty, Edward was to marry again nearly 10 years later at the age of 60 and again it appears that this second marriage to Margaret of France, 40 years younger than him was also deeply affectionate and loving. This marriage produced two sons and a daughter and she was named Eleanor in honour of his first wife. Margaret never remarried after the death of Edward even though she was still a young woman.

So, whatever his political and military history and significant character flaws, I find Edward fascinating. If you want to know more about him, try reading A Great And Terrible King - Marc Morris.

And finally: Lincoln Cathedral or Westminster Abbey?

When I was reading about Lincoln Cathedral, I discovered that the cathedral is the stunt double for Westminster Abbey - appearing in the films The Da Vinci Code and Young Victoria. Apparently the real Westminster Abbey refused to have the film crews in, so Lincoln was made to impersonate it - I'm off to watch the DVD now and see if I can spot it....


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I wonder if you have a pet historical bad-boy or girl? Do tell who and why.

And until next time,

Happy Stitching x

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling the energy...

Well what a week! Thank you to everyone who's followed me over here from Dreaming In Stitches, I really appreciate that very much indeed. And a huge welcome to the new readers who've found your way here too - welcome. 

early elderberries

After all the excitement of going live with A Stitchery Spellbook last weekend I was half expecting this week to be a return to something less frantic, I had a mental image of wafting about in a clean tidy home, scented with fresh laundry and sitting down to stitch with a vaguely beatific smile on my face.  Which as you can imagine isn't exactly what happened. Instead the pile of domestic stuff which I'd probably been ignoring for a bit too long decided to gang up on me and pounce - but anyway, here I am, trying to regain my rhythm and to settle back into what I've occasionally laughingly called my routine....

In the lane...

While I've been out walking the dog this week, it's really struck me how the energy of spring has now given way to something different, something slower and more introspective. The showy blossom season has passed and now we're beginning to see the fruits appear. The energy which was so palpable has turned inwards and it's harder to connect with it as we walk along the lane every morning.

Looking closely it's surely going to be a wonderfully abundant autumn. I've got my eyes on the sloes (so long as I can afford a couple of bottles of gin to pop them in), and judging from the cascades of tiny bullet-hard blackberries that are starting to form, there will be ample blackberry and apple pies this year. But there are also masses of elderberries on their way, acorns aplenty, haws, hips and crab apples by the bucket load and best of all, hazelnuts.

And these are just the things I can spot and know what to do with. I imagine any naturalist worth their salt could easily add to this list of foods for free.

But for all that, the feeling I have in the lane at the moment is almost tiredness. It's not the first time I've experienced this, to me it seems as if all that effort during spring has left it exhausted. Now it's conserving itself, pouring it's energy into the fruits with little left to dazzle the daily dog walker as she ambles past.

Well, that's as it should be. We're all creatures of cycles and rhythms and there are times when we sparkle and times when we just trudge on. The thing is to recognise that and not to fight against it. Sometimes you have to let things roll, put your energies into the place they need to be.

Over the last few years of walking this route every day I've begun to feel these patterns as they happen and now it's much less of a worry than it first felt, now I think I'm beginning to learn to roll with the rhythms too.

In the frame

I'd have to admit that my stitching rhythm's been a bit off lately too. I've been working on this latest Rose Window inspired piece and although there are aspects of it that I'm enjoying, I can't say that I've entirely bonded with it yet. From past experience I know this isn't necessarily a problem, some pieces don't reveal themselves until you've committed quite a lot of work, nevertheless, I can't decide how this one really feels at the moment.

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What I'm learning from these Rose Windows is that there is something hypnotic about the shape, and whilst the gothic windows which inspire them are perfectly symmetrical, I rather like bending them, twisting them a little and introducing some leafy curves or petal shapes. It is confined within a circle, a repeated segmentation, but each part is unique. I'm already thinking about the next one - which might be part of the problem - but I'll stay with this one for now and see where we go.

Old Places...

I thought this week was going to be gallivanting-free and devoid of old places but on Monday evening the OH asked if I fancied going with him to Bath again the next day and so off we went at crack of dawn on Tuesday. This time I have to admit my main preoccupation was with books - I may have re-homed a few more, which of course is merely a public service. One of the books I came home with is The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair. Did you hear excerpts on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago? Well it's brilliant, buy a hard copy if you're in the smallest bit interested in colours.

(The others (ahem, several in fact) I'll tell you about another day).

To be honest I didn't really do much heritage-wandering on Tuesday apart form the inevitable gazing about that you always do in Bath without even thinking about it. The rain had kept the crowds back down by the Abbey so I took a few pictures of the Abbey front. It's a bit later than many medieval cathedrals, dating from about 1520 and unusually features angels ascending Jacob's Ladder. 

And so there you have it. A week of trying to get back into a routine and not entirely succeeding, but that's alright, I'm going with the flow. Hope you are too. Do you have any tips for riding the ups and downs of energy levels? I feel that women of a certain age are probably the world experts on energy levels, but that's another story.


As always, you'll find me on Instagram and Twitter most days, it would be lovely to hear from you there or here anytime. 

Happy stitching x

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 for another day, instead I thought we’d go on an alternative tourist-cum-shopping trip around my favourite town in England - Bath.

Now 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 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…

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, it's just that finding a decent cheese salad sandwich can be quite a challenge and I was delighted to have a freshly made one here on my last visit)

Topping

Fortified with tea and cake I’d leg it up to Toppings 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)…

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 todress 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.

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 can’t stop 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 townhouses which takes you to the Georgian Garden - and it proves that there is beauty in small packages. Pop in there instead for a moment or two 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.

And after all that you'll have earned yourself an ice-cream at the very least!

And there we have it, a wonky circuit of sorts. A mixture of mildly eccentric shops set in a glorious creamy Georgian dreamworld - 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 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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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 at its beguiling best...

Have I ever told you that there's a parallel universe where I live in Croft Castle? It's right up there in my top 5 favourite places to visit and this may surprise you, because to be brutally honest, it isn't exactly an A-list historical attraction. But there's something about the house (it isn't really a proper castle) that enthralled me on my first visit, way back in the 1970s and it still has me firmly in its power.

Have I ever told you that there's a parallel universe where I live in Croft Castle? It's right up there in my top 5 favourite places to visit and this may surprise you, because to be brutally honest, it isn't exactly an A-list historical attraction. But there's something about the house (it isn't really a proper castle) that enthralled me on my first visit, way back in the 1970s and it still has me firmly in its power.

Of course you might not feel it too, I understand that, but I'm sure that at some time in your life you'll have been somewhere and immediately felt comfortable and at home. There's just that certain feeling that makes you feel welcome, where you quickly relax - well that's Croft Castle for me. 

And try as I might, I can't entirely decide what it is about it that creates that atmosphere, all I can say is, I've never visited and not experienced it.

I'll tell you what I love seeing while I'm there though. 

The trees

Croft has the most amazing collection of ancient trees. If 300 year old Spanish Chestnuts float your boat, this is the place for you. There are many other species too, old, gnarled, venerable. It could easily claim to be worthy of a visit for these alone.

the walled garden

Ok, I'll admit it, I'm jealous of anyone who has a walled garden, and the one at Croft is my absolute favourite. There are fig trees in the corners, gates that lead off into the parkland and frame the views, masses of fruit trees, a vineyard! Forget the house, spend an entire visit in the garden (they put deck chairs out for you to relax in, how thoughtful is that).

the library

It's a toss up whether the Library or the Oak Room is my favourite room in the house. The library might just have it though, because it's probably the most elegant library I've seen and I love the white bookcases, oh and there's a tiny turret room off to the corner where I can imagine hiding for days while I read my way through some enormous novel.

the portraits

Now don't get too excited. These are not Gainsboroughs or Holbeins. But when you visit Croft Castle you can't ignore the number of portraits that look at you from every wall. They're a mixed bunch, a smattering of royal rip-offs, but mostly family members going back for a few hundred years. I wonder if those are what really give the place it's special atmosphere. It's difficult to walk through the rooms where the same people once lived without feeling some connection with them, and they look such a very normal lot, you feel as if you'd quite like to know them better.

And finally, the church...

Don't you think it's so classy to have your own church quite literally on the doorstep? St Michael's is tiny, but it pre-dates the current house and I can't visit without imagining it as a wedding venue (provided you didn't have a large family to accommodate). Wouldn't it be so romantic to be able to walk from the door to the church and back.

But in fact my top favourite thing of all at Croft is inside the church, and it's the tomb of Sir Richard and Dame Eleanor Croft. This couple were right at the heart of the events of the Wars of the Roses. He fought at all the key battles from 1461 - including Mortimer's Cross, which took place on his land nearby and which saw Edward IV assuming the crown. Eleanor was governess to Edward's sons, the tragic Princes in the Tower. They both lived long lives through immensely turbulent times - no mean feat. I can't visit Croft without going into the church to stand and have a few moments contemplating the lives of two people separated by centuries but somehow still so intriguing.

Visit Croft Castle if you have the opportunity (even if it's just to tell me I'm completely overreacting).

Where is your special place? If it's somewhere we should visit, do let us know. Please leave a comment below.


Visitor Information

Croft Castle is still lived in by members of the Croft family, but it is managed by the National Trust. Click here to go to the official website and check opening times, prices and events.