Tuesday 30 July 2019

The secret garden

Now that the temperature has taken a tumble from its lofty heights, normal service can be resumed and my travelogue can be continued.

Just a little word of explanation, though, before I proceed. The round-up of outfits in my previous post was from the weeks before we were hit by the heatwave. My actual heatwave outfits will feature in a future post and will not contain any polyester or - god forbid! - cardigans and jackets!

But let's pick up where I left off, which was at the end of our first holiday week.

Having made a foray into Wales to visit Powis Castle on Friday, our original plan was to continue to Welshpool, the nearest town of any significance, in the afternoon. However, as we couldn't tear ourselves away from the splendour of the castle's garden, we decided to leave Welshpool for another day.

Well, that day came already on Saturday, which turned out to be another glorious summer's day. 

But why did we choose to spend it in a town, you might ask? Well, we wanted to pay a return visit to Ashmans Antique and Old Lace, the treasure trove of a vintage shop we'd discovered last year, and as the shop is only open on certain days of the week, our visit couldn't be put off any longer.

We were chuffed to bits when it turned out that the shop's lovely owner, Diane, recognized and remembered us from last year. And even if this was our second visit and thus we were well prepared for the sight that would greet us, we still felt quite overwhelmed and lacked several pairs of eyes to register all the delectable vintage goodies on display and crammed into every nook and cranny.

While we were browsing, a small girl came into the shop. Her name was Poppy, and she turned out to be daughter of the hairdressers next door. Diane told us she was in there all the time, and frankly speaking, who can blame her? 

And even though trying things while the temparature was rising was quite a sticky business, there was no way we could have left empty handed. 

Jos selected a bright green waistcoat, while I fell head over heels for this Viyalla dress, by which I will remember this dreamy summer's day come winter.

Having made our purchases, Diane gave us both scarves as presents. Aww, isn't she sweet?

After saying our goodbyes, we walked back along the High Street, where I found a delightful Zara blazer in one of the charity shops, which you will get to see in one of my next posts.

By then it was time for lunch, which we had at a café, after which we walked back to our car. But not before wandering into the indoor market based on the lower level of the Town Hall. There was a stall selling all manner of vintage cameras at small prices, where Jos selected these two for our collection.

Looking for somewhere to visit in the afternoon, I'd stumbled upon Glansevern Gardens, less than a 10-minute drive from Welshpool.

Romantically positioned on the banks of the River Severn, the gardens offer 25 acres of diverse landscape and imaginitve planting in a beautiful parkland setting with sweeping views over the Kerry Hills and Mid Wales.

Once we'd stepped into the original walled garden through the ornamental Ginkgo gates created by local blacksmith William O'Brien, it became clear that quite by accident we'd discoverd a gem of a secret garden.

Near the house the gardens are quite formal, with carefully laid out garden beds. There is a Wisteria Walk, a Georgian orangery, lushly planted herbaceous beds and traditional long borders. 

The walled gardens are laid out as a series of themed rooms, including a White Garden, Cutting Garden and Rose Garden.

From the walled garden you pass to the Victorian Grotto and Rockery, first laid out in the 1840s, but alas these were currently being restored, so that we will have to pay a return visit next year to see them.

From here, a path leads to the Folly Garden and Wildflower Meadow. With its wildflowers growing among tall grasses and its dappled shade provided by trees, this part of the garden particulary appealed to me. And at every turn there were sculptures to admire or benches to rest upon.

My heart belongs to this kind of garden, where a timeless magic seems to linger, making one's heart leap for joy, and finding peace in its primeval lushness and greenness, before the inevitable draught of high summer kickstarts the irrevocable process of decay.

I stepped inside the coolness and tranquility of the folly, indulging my inner child by making use of the chalks and chalkboards provided. 

Then we proceeded towards the 5-acre lake, catching glimpses of Glansevern Hall along the way. 

The house itself, built by architect Joseph Bromfield for Sir Arthur Davies Owen between 1801 and 1806, and one of the best examples of Greek revival style, cannot be visited. The Owen family was one of the most powerful - and most ancient - families in Wales. 

My favourite sculpture was this hare which seems to be framing the distant hills with its ears. How utterly enchanting! This made us both think of the uncanny uncounter with a hare late at night on one of our first days. Glimpsing into the darkened garden before going off to bed, I thought I detected some movement at its far end. When the mysterious creature lifted its head, I could see its enormous ears, prompting me to call out to Jos that there was a giant rabbit in the garden. Then we realized it must have been a hare. Never having met one face to face (so to speak) before, I was quite unprepared for its size.

The lake has been called "the biggest bathtub in Wales", and for good reason. When it was dredged and 200 years worth of silt removed, the owners found a huge oak plug at the very bottom, stopping the entrance to an oak drainpipe. The plug measured 18 inches across and was fitted with iron handles. And just like a bathtub plug, when it was removed, the lake did indeed drain.

The Lakeside Walk is a delight, meandering through dappled, wooded shade, with plenty of peaceful places to sit and stare. At the end it takes you over an iron footbridge offering splendid views across the lake. 

The path then continues through mixed woodland and a water garden planted lushly with a variety of water-loving plants.

At one point it leads you past the island and its iron gazebo, a haven for visiting waterfowl. There's a boardwalk leading up to the island, but this too was being repaired, offering yet another reason for a return visit.

This peaceful and tranquil garden has it all and it's certainly the ideal place to while away time on a warm summer’s day.

At the end of our walk, the Potting Shed Café in the courtyard awaited us with a selection of delectible cakes. We opted for white chocolate filled brownies, which we washed away with the inevitable cappuccinos.

In a shed near the courtyard all manner of bric-a-brac and vintage objects were on sale. We had a chat with the friendly chap who owned the place and told us he'd just opened a matter of weeks before.

The red 1980s design telephone found its way into our hearts and was obtained by us for a very reasonable price. We only realized how reasonable when we spied its rather indescript beige twin being sold for a much higher price in an antique centre in Shrewbury.

I'll end this post by telling you some more about my outfit. 

The eagle-eyed among you might have spotted that this is one of the dresses Vix gave me as a present when we met up. It was the perfect day for wearing it and an utter joy to do so. I combined it with my stretchy orange belt and orange beaded necklace which I'd brought with me. 

And isn't the hat delightful? Here I have to admit that it's actually a retail buy. I bought it in the National Trust shop at Powis Castle as I'd stupidly forgotten my hat in the car. But I didn't have a wide brimmed one like this yet. Plus, it will help pay for the upkeep of the property. I know, excuses!

I've got something rather special coming up in my next post, so I hope you'll travel with me again!

Friday 26 July 2019

Too hot to blog

For the last couple of days, Belgium has been in the throes of a record-breaking heatwave. If we were happy to have avoided the first heatwave, which hit Belgium in the last week of June, by escaping to the UK where temperatures were much more bearable, we now had no choice but to bear the full brunt of it.

I'm absolutely no good with hot weather, which renders me rather useless, especially when the mercury rises to 35° Celsius and higher, so my first thought was to go AWOL, as the mere thought of writing the next episode of my travelogue left me exhausted.

But then I had a brainwave! Ever since I'm on Instagram, I've been making the effort of having my outfits photographed on an almost daily basis. And since this blog is outfit-based to begin with, what better opportunity to show you what I've been wearing since my return to the daily grind.

Having returned home on Saturday the 6th of July, I fortunately had two more days to adjust before I was due back at the office on Tuesday. 

For my first post-holiday working day, I wore this green and white floral vintage Hyltea of Sweden dress, which I accessorized with lots of pink. It was a mild Summer's day, not that I remember much of it as I spent it trawling through 700 plus emails and feeling a bit sorry for myself. 

I'd been hunting for a decent denim skirt for a while when I happened upon this button-through one at Think Twice. It had the most hideous buttons, but once again my button stash came up trumps and yielded these navy and white swirly ones which fit the bill perfectly. So much better! 

I was feeling blue and seeing red in more than one way on Wednesday, as even more backlog was generated at work due to the installation of new computers. 

But never mind that, let's have a look at the rest of my outfit! I wore the skirt with a red and white top charity shopped back in June, to which I pinned a vintage carved wooden flower brooch. A navy and white beaded necklace and red woven belt completed that day's outfit.

In spite of the fact that our white currant bush had been ransacked by the resident wood pigeons, there were still more than enough left to add to fruit salads and for Jos to make two pots of jam. We were able to pick some juicy, ruby red gooseberries too!

I hardly ever wear white, but gladly make an exception for white with a flower print. I have several such vintage frocks in my wardrobe, but it had been a while since this one got an outing. I love its unusual blue, brown and black print and the row of three white buttons at the yoke. 

The print's colours were the inspiration for my blue beaded necklace and the brown-bodied cat brooch, which was a gift from the lovely Goody

That was Thursday's outfit sorted!

Friday was a bit of a sad day as we had to go to a funeral. 

In spite of its sunny start, a leaden sky forewarned that a storm was brewing on our way back home. Sure enough, we hadn't been back for long when the heavens opened and we were treated to a torrential curtain of rain, which turned the garden into a jewellery box of raindrops.

I changed out of my funeral get-up into Wednesday's denim skirt, which I now combined with the butterfly sleeve top I bought in a charity shop in Shrewsbury. Suggestions were made as to the origin of the sleeves and both a scarf and a tablecloth were mentioned.

I was wearing my Hotter shoes, which I charity shopped on the same day as the top, for the first time, but the jury is still out on them, as I'm sure they would have given me blisters if I'd worn them for any length of time.

Saturday was hectic as it was spent preparing for the yearly flea market held in our street and the surrounding ones. I hadn't seen most of my stock for nearly a year, so there were quite a few surprises, and as usual one or two frocks might have made it back into my wardrobe ...

We were up around six-ish on Sunday morning, when vendors started arriving in their cars and putting up their stalls. What luxury to just have to open one's front door and bring everything outside!

I was wearing a black maxi dress, its top plain with one or two random flowers, and a huge, full-blown flower print on the skirt. I initially wore a thin, cropped red cardigan, but it turned out to be chillier than expected, so I soon exchanged it for a warmer, green Tricel number.

At first, trade was slow, but soon my rail of colourful vintage clothes attracted quite a few browsers, even if it didn't always result in a sale. I lost track of the number of times I heard the sigh: I wish I had the guts to wear that! 

One lady eagerly rummaged through the clothes, telling me she used to wear vintage all the time, but had stopped doing so. I had a bit of a secret chuckle when I heard her boyfriend/husband remark that now she looked just like everybody else!

My proudest moment came when I had a return visit from a lady who'd bought lots of stuff from me last year. She actually had other plans for the day, but insisted on coming along first. Once again, she left with armfuls of dresses, skirts and tops. She even came back for more at the tail end of the market. 

I was feeling a bit knackered so only made a short foray myself. These five animal themed brooches, all from the same seller, and a moss green corduroy jacket, were my only finds.

Back to work on Monday, although I allowed myself the luxury of making a later start.

I wore a mood-boosting combination of blue and orange. My azure blue and white vintage dress was accompanied by an orange belt, brooch and necklace. The midnight blue jacket sprinkled with orange leaves was a charity shop find from last year, which should definitely come out more.

I strolled to Think Twice during lunch break, just for a browse, but these two vintage frocks insisted on leaving with me. They'll be worn on the blog soon, I promise.

Tuesday's outfit wasn't featured on Instagram. This skirt and blouse combo has already made it to the blog before. I dare anyone not to smile at spying this happy marriage of floral prints. It certainly made me smile!

Both the skirt and blouse are vintage and so is the flower brooch.

The skirt has got just the right proportions for a good twirl, offering an unintentional peek of the lacy border of my vintage slip. Oops!

Skipping Wednesday, as no outfit photos were taken, Thursday's frock was a vintage cotton one bought from Ashmans Antiques and Old Lace in Welshpool last year. We have paid the shop a return visit this year, which you will read all about in the next episode of my travelogue.

This green Paisley print dress is an utter joy to wear, even though I didn't pick the right day for it as it was slightly chilly. I picked up the aqua bits in the dress by wearing pale aqua beads. Other accessories were a large oval brooch with a portrait of a lady, and a tan coloured woven fabric belt. The rose gold sandals have cork soles and heels and have been on constant rotation as they aren't just pretty, but pretty comfortable too!

Things started warming up ever so slightly on Friday. As always on my way to the bus stop, I stopped to admire the imaginatively planted deaconry garden, catching this busy bumble bee on camera.

The dress I pulled from my wardrobe for the final day of the working week was this coral one in a lightweight Diolen, its print featuring green and blue.

Cobalt blue accessories consisted of a belt, beaded necklace and flower ring.

The brooch I was wearing is a posy of gold metal flowers finished with mother-of-pearl.

Our Hydrangea bush is just the perfect backdrop for outfit photos in Summer, but you should look at the poor thing now, as it has suffered terribly from the heat.

Weather permitting, my next post will be business as usual when I continue with the next installment of my travelogue. Hope to see you then!

Sunday 21 July 2019

Summertime and the living is easy

The weather gods must have finally taken pity on us, as the view framed by our cottage's window on Thursday was bathing in plenty of sunshine.

This prompted me to wear one of my favourite frocks, a vintage red checked wrap dress sprinkled with white flowers and edged with white rickrack. If that already sounds delightful, what about butterfly sleeves? Check! The dress is fit and flare and has revealing tendencies, so vintage slip to the rescue! My Clarks Cloudsteppers, the most comfortable shoes ever, were a perfect match.

We'd slept a bit longer than usual so that we reached our destination, which was an hour's drive from the cowshed, by late morning only.

Oswestry, a charming little country town close to the Welsh border, is in the North of Shropshire, an area we hadn't visited before. However, it was by no means the first time that I had been there! As a 15-year-old, while travelling to Wales with my parents and siblings, it was the first UK town I ever set foot in. Not that we stayed there for long: on passing a little corner shop, my Dad stopped the car and sent me to buy groceries.

Back in the here and now, we easily found a parking spot near the town centre and, halfway up the High Street, we perched ourselves on a bench in the town park, Cae Glas Park, to get our bearings.

The war poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was born in Oswestry, and although he only spent a few years of his life here, his family's connection with the town goes back generations, and his grandfather was once mayor of the town. In 2018, a statue to him, created by local artist Tim Turner, was unveiled in the park.

Just a short stroll on the High Street takes you to St. Oswald's Church, which was completed in the early 1670s. Oswestry is said to be named after king and saint Oswald, and the name is thought to be a corruption of "Oswald's Tree".

Oswestry is a traditional market town with award-winning markets, both indoor and outdoor, drawing visitors from all parts of Shropshire and Mid Wales.

The town has an eclectic mix of independent shops selling anything from bric-a-brac to books, as well as quirky antique shops and galleries.

The sculpture of the man chasing a chicken was aptly displayed above USA Fried Chicken in Willow Street.

Lunch was had at the local Wetherspoon, named after the war poet, and housed in an ugly 1960s/1970s monstrosity of a building, which we believe used to be the post office. Inside, it was light and airy, and the fish and chips we had was delicious. I made a photo of both our plates as proof to Vix that Jos didn't have his usual jacket potato!

There were charity shops galore as well, and I think we visited them all, finding treasure in many.

My finds included two cotton summer tops and a pair of wide-legged trousers, which you can catch a glimpse of on the bottom right. I also found the first of my brooches, a delighful Lucite one. The chap volunteering in that particular shop was a bit of a brooch collector himself resulting in a good chat about the subject. 

Then I found Jos this amazing pinstriped linen H&M jacket, just as he was lamenting the fact that he hadn't packed a light-weight jacket.

Things were starting to heat up on Friday, when temperatures reached heights of about 25° Celsius.

The perfect day for a visit to another National Trust property and an amble through its gardens. 

Powis Castle is just across the border in Wales, the road meandering along the border, welcoming us to Wales one minute and back to Shropshire the next.

We visited this magnificent medieval castle, built on a rock above its terraced gardens, last year as well. This was on a day with a rainy start, from which we sheltered by starting with a visit to the castle itself to view its amazing collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture and tapestries. 

This time, we decided to visit the gardens only, but not before making the acquaintance of Captain Peacock, his wife and their peababy, who were begging for crumbs in the courtyard.

Here's a look at my outfit, which might very well be my favourite of our holiday. I felt fantastic in my vintage waxed cotton maxi skirt combined with a cotton peasant top I bagged in the New Look sales last Summer. A red vinyl belt, oval vintage brooch bearing a portrait of a lady and ivory coloured beaded necklace completed by outfit. Oh, and my faithful Cloudsteppers, which really make me feel as if I am walking on air.

The world-famous garden, overhung with clipped yews, shelters rare and tender plants. Laid out under the influence of Italian and French styles, it retains its original lead statues and an orangery on the terraces. 

I was photographing details of one of the lead statues, when I spotted this stone of joy painted with the cutest of ladybirds from @stonesofjoy1. I was thrilled to bits. I'm still not sure if I will rehide it here in Belgium, as I am very tempted to keep it as a souvenir. 

There were some curious objects hidden away in the trees, like this pair of shoes, which bore a note in both English and Welsh that they were Betty's. These were part of a children's trail laid out in relation to a project about a group of pupils and teachers from the Ashford Welsh Girls School, Middlesex, who were evacuated to the castle in 1939.

Exploring the garden, we wandered the Italianate terraces and marvelled at those spectacular yew hedges and lavish herbaceous borders. 

Arriving at the bottom level, we briefly sat down in one of the deckchairs on the lawn, but the sun had become too hot by then, so that after a visit to the lavs (there was a queue!) we sought out the shade once more.

This we found in the woodlands opposite the castle, where several walks have been laid out. Our weary limbs, and my rebelling knee in particular, dictated that we take the least streneous one, which at one point passed a tranquil, reed bordered pond. Here, I left Jos sitting on a rough-hewn wooden bench, following a path that brought me to the igloo shaped ice house!

Retracing our steps to the garden coffee shop, we grabbed the last shady table and sat down with cups of cappuccino. Here, more crumb-begging was being done by this funny chap, which we'll call Mr. Humphries.*

The sun still blazing, hazing the view towards the mighty Welsh mountains, we said our goodbyes to Powis Castle and drove back to England.

*Back in early Spring, two new peacocks arrived at Powis Castle and those who follow the castle's Facebook page like I do were asked to choose names for them. By popular vote, they were named Captain Peacock and Mr. Humphries (my choice as well) after the characters of the legendary British sitcom Are You Being Served. I'm not sure if I got the names of the actual peacocks we met right.

Finally, even if I'm not exactly wearing shorts, and it's Sunday already, I am linking to Nancy's Fancy Friday.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Under the iron bridge we kissed

It was a rain-drenched landscape that greeted us on the Tuesday morning of our first week, and the rain wasn't showing any signs of a let-up while we were having breakfast. So, we moped around the cottage, anxiously watching the skies from all windows and hoping for a gap in the clouds.

We'd decided to go charity shopping in Shrewsbury, but the rain was quite torrential, so that there was nothing for it but to wait it out. When by 10.30 there was a brief lull in the downpour, we grabbed our coats and made a dash for the car.

The quiet country lanes had become quite treacherous to negotiate, especially where at one point the road climbs up to a plateau, which normally offers fabulous views of the rocky outcrops of the Stiperstones ridge. Now, low hanging clouds had wiped out any visibility and, after descending from these lofty heights, we even had to contend with a partially flooded road.

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you! As a nod to the atrocious weather conditions, I was wearing trousers. Again!

This is one of a pair (the other one's red) which I bought from an outlet shop a couple of years back.
They are my travelling trousers to be worn on bad weather days, just like this one. In order to keep them "me", I wore them with a vintage long-sleeved flower print shirt and my dotty Phase Eight raincoat charity shopped in Shropshire last year.

Mercifully, it had ceased raining the minute we stepped out of our car at the Park & Ride car park.

We always try and make use of the Park & Ride system when visiting larger towns, in order to avoid having to negotiate the often complicated one-way systems in search of a suitable place to park. In this case, we were especially glad that we did, as there seemed to be major roadworks in progress.

It was lunchtime by now, so we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the M&S café, as Jos wanted to buy some essentials at the shop.

Afterwards, we trawled the charity shops, most of which seemed to be concentrated in and around a street called Mardol. We also spent some time browsing a treasure trove of a shop called Memory Lane Antiques and Vintage.

As for the weather, I'm glad to report that it remained dry for the rest of the afternoon. We were even treated to some watery sunshine!

In order to make up for the weather, the charity shop and vintage gods treated us to kindly, as I found a pair of pristine navy Hotter shoes, a Welsh wool purse, a butterfly sleeve top and an Indian made maxi skirt. Jos was in luck too, as he found a boxed Kodak Bantam camera, complete with its instruction leaflet.

No sunshine, not even of the watery kind, on Wednesday, but we counted our blessings as at least the rain seemed to have packed up and left us. Admittedly, it was a bit chilly, with highs of only about 16° Celsius.

But wait, I can hear you thinking, what about that iron bridge you kissed under? Some of you might have recognized the title as a snippet of the lyrics of a certain Smiths song, but what's the link to this post, you might wonder.

Well, our destination of the day was a place called Ironbridge, and the song just inadvertently keeps popping into my head whenever I hear or see the name.

Ironbridge is a small town on the River Severn, at the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge. The town developed beside and took its name from the Iron Bridge, a 30-meter cast iron bridge which spans the gorge and was opened in 1781.

As early as 1934 it was designated a Scheduled Ancient Momument and closed to vehicular traffic. Tolls for pedestrians were collected until 1950, and it was at the old tollhouse that our journey across the bridge started.

Now is as good a time as any to show you what I was wearing. In order to combat the greyness of the weather, one of my Diolen delights, in a dusky pink sprinkled with an orange, yellow and green flower print, came out to play. On top, my orange leather jacket, an adequate and welcome protection against the chilliness of the wind.

The bridge, the first major bridge in the world to be made of cast iron, is a Grade I listed building and together with the Ironbridge Gorge it forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The area around Ironbridge is often described as the "birthplace of the industrial revolution", owing to the fact that in the nearby village of Coalbrookdale, a certain Abraham Darby perfected the technique of smelting iron with coke, allowing for a much cheaper production of iron.

To this day, the Bridge remains an important symbol of the dawn of the industrial age.

In 2017 and 2018, English Heritage undertook a £ 3.6 million conservation project on the bridge, restoring it to its formal glory.  

The Ironbridge Gorge is home to several interesting museums, which we have yet to visit. On a rainy day perhaps?

We'd brought a picnic which we ate in our car, before undertaking the 10-minute drive to our next destination.

There's a scenic but streneous walk from here to Ironbridge and back, descending into the gorge and then climbing out of it again by way of a series of wooden steps, but we decided to give it a miss, and just visit the delightful National Trust property called Benthall Hall.

Entrance is through a lychgate, and past the quaint little church of St Bartholomew’s, which has recently been acquired by the National Trust. 

I found the approach to the church, by way of a path leading through what looked like a miniature wildflower meadow, particularly charming.

The current house was built in 1535 but there have been Benthalls living on this site since the medieval period. The house is still tenanted by the Benthall family today.

The family sold the house in 1844, but then bought it back several generations later, before passing it to the National Trust on condition that the family continue to live here.

The interior is stunning, with a carved oak staircase, decorated plaster ceilings and oak panelling, but photography was only partially allowed.

The cabinet on the top left is a so-called Antwerp cabinet. The room's volunteer proudly told us its story, especially after hearing that we lived near Antwerp. The cabinet dates from the 17th century and is quite rare. It was converted in the Victorian period, when drawers were put in to display a collection of butterflies and moths. 

We were astonished to learn that the figurine under its glass dome on the bottom left was made from beeswax!

The gardens accomodate a kitchen garden and a carefully restored and terraced plantsman's garden, including a rockery and rose garden.

The formal garden's exhuberantly overgrown appearance was due to filming which would take place during Summer, but we actually rather liked it that way!

There's a wild garden too, which was a delight to stroll through, with a working beehive set amongs the grasses and wildflowers, which included the most exquisite Turk's Cap Lilies, and glimpses of an enchanting but unreachable thatched summer house.

We concluded our visit by having the first cream teas - the full works, consisting of scones with jam and clotted cream - of our holiday which, being us, we had with coffee instead of tea. 

Sitting outside in the secluded tea room garden on this gloomy and chilly afternoon, we were sending up prayers to the weather gods for slightly warmer temperatures.

Do join me again in the next episode to find out whether our prayers were answered.