Sunday 31 July 2022

Ups and downs

We could get used to this gentle pace of life, with nothing more taxing than deciding on the day’s itinerary, we mused, waking up on Thursday the 23rd of June. Gingerly lifting a corner of our bedroom curtain confirmed that the sun was already out in full force. 

Alas, the outlook on our phone’s weather app wasn’t exactly promising, forecasting rain, perhaps even a thunderstorm, later that day. What’s more, the forecast for the week ahead was a bit of a turn-up for the books, with a considerable drop in temperature and lots of rain to look forward to ... 

For now, the temperature was steadily climbing into the high twenties, and it looked set to be a bit of a muggy day. Our usual cooked breakfast was had with the patio doors thrown wide open, followed by a bowl of fresh fruit and mugs of coffee on the terrace.

Our destination for the day was selected with the possibility of rain in mind, opting for another National Trust property with lots of inside options. Again, it was one we had visited previously. 

Erddig Hall, a Grade-1 listed property set in a 486-hectare (1,200-acre) landscape park, and surrounded by a fully restored 18th-century garden, is just two miles south of the Welsh town of Wrexham, and a drive of about an hour and a quarter from the cowshed.

Courtesy of the ubiquitous roadworks, the morning was well advanced by the time we finally got there and, as we were parched, we decided to have coffees first. It was when we got out of the car that Jos realized he’d forgotten his straw hat in the cowshed and only had his wool cap at his disposal.

As neither this nor going bareheaded was an option on this sweltering day, we made our way towards the shop to see if they had anything suitable. However, the choice for men, other than baseball caps or safari-style hats, was rather limited, and the only hat which made the grade was far too big. We were just about to get desperate when I found one in a smaller size at the bottom of the pile.

That settled, we had a mooch around the estate buildings, which include a joiners' shop, smithy and saw mill, all of them left complete with all the fittings and tools inside, just as they were when the last craftsmen and artisans left.

Continuing to the Stable Yard, we explored the stables and tack room, before admiring the carriages, bicycles and vintage cars, including the red Rover, dating from around 1907 and the green Austin, which dates from 1927.

Then we walked to the creeper-clad front of the house, with its glorious view of the Welsh landscape.

Originally built in 1684-1687 for Josiah Edisbury, the High Sheriff of Denbighshire, the wings at each end of the central block were added by John Meller, a rich London lawyer, who bought the property in 1714.

 Obviously, I had to do my Lady of the Manor pose on the house’s curving double flight of steps. 

I was wearing the blue organic cotton maxi skirt I snaffled in the Mango sales last Summer, with my lobster printed top I found new with tags in a charity shop in May 2019. Apart from my trusty Clarks Cloudsteppers and the aforementioned skirt, everything was either charity shopped or found on flea markets. And yes, that includes the hat, which is from the German Mayser brand.

After lunch, we escaped from the afternoon heat into the relative coolness of the house which, unusually, is entered via the servants’ quarters.

Meller's original interiors have been left intact. On his death in 1733, unmarried and childless, the property went to his nephew, Simon Yorke, and the house was subsequently passed down through generations of the Yorke family.

In the servants’ quarters, the walls are filled with paintings and photographs of the people who worked below stairs. From the kitchen porter and housekeeper to the gardener and gamekeeper, the Yorke family had a close relationship with their servants and celebrated their loyalty, length of service and hard work. The portraits were commissioned by the Yorke family, a tradition started in 1791 by Philip Yorke I. 

Philip I also initiated the custom of writing charming, light-hearted verses about each of the servants. Jane Ebrell (above, bottom left), for instance, is referred to as “the Mother of us all” whose enthusiasm for cleaning is recorded by her Master:

"From room to room, She drove the dust, With brush and broom, And by the Virtues of her mop, To all uncleanness put a stop."

 John Meller created a set of elegant rooms facing the garden, each leading into the next with their doors arranged in a straight line. When the doors were open it was possible to look from one end to the other.

This arrangement originated in the French Royal Court and was called 'enfilade' and was very fashionable in the early 1700s.

The volunteer in the saloon regaled us with the story of the George III cut glass chandelier (above, top right) which still bears the marks of damage sustained in 1903, when it was dropped by the butler while he was cleaning it.

According to the lady of the house, Louise Yorke, he was "non-too sober" and rotated it until the thread ran out. It had to be repaired by Sheratt of Chester in 1904 for £38, and they had to send it to Bohemia to match the glass!

We trudged up another flight of stairs, but the rooms were quite oppressive and airless here, the initial coolness of the servants' quarters evaporated into thin air.

By the time we reached the bathroom, I was quite ready to use the unusual contraption which turned out to be a Victorian shower. Made from iron and wood, the uprights are painted to resemble bamboo poles. The tank above and basin below are similarly decorated, with integral stirrup pump and brass chain.


Leaving the house through a door leading into the garden did not bring any relief, as it had become decidedly sticky and stifling by now, the humidity index indicative of an impending thunderstorm.

Even the briefest stroll through the garden, keeping mostly to the shade, was enough to make us break out in a sweat. Still, I persevered, leaving Jos sitting on a bench just outside the house (below, top left).

When I passed the entrance to the kitchen garden and its Victorian glasshouses - the bilingual sign reminding us we were well and truly in Wales - I walked back towards where Jos was sitting and persuaded him to accompany me for some final Lady of the Manor photos.

After refreshments at the café, we geared ourselves for the return journey. Obviously, our car had become reminiscent of a hot oven by now, so that we definitely needed its life-saving airco.

If only Jos hadn't insisted on putting it on at full blast ...

Clouds started gathering on our way home, and the weather gods even regaled us with a couple of scattered raindrops, but the expected thunderstorm refrained from happening.

The temperature, however, had already dropped several degrees when we arrived at the supermarket where we stocked up for a couple of days. We'd only just made it inside the cowshed when the heavens finally opened.

Thursday's cloying temperatures, followed by the blast of the airco, had triggered one of my migraines, which came on during the evening. A good night's sleep usually brings some solace, but unfortunately I kept waking up at all hours, so that I felt tired with a lingering headache in the morning. Consequently, it took me a while to get going.

Adamant not to let a minor detail like that spoil all the fun, we decided on a trip to the historic market town of Bridgnorth. The town, which we have visited quite a few times before,  is split into Low Town, on the edge of the River Severn and High Town, the two connected by the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Meanwhile, the temperature had dropped to a mere 18°C, and with rain still very much on the horizon, I was wearing the first of the pairs of wide-legged trousers I'd packed (charity shopped back in May) and the famous green raincoat which has accompanied me on many a UK holiday.

The usual journey of just under one hour had taken quite a bit longer due to a road diversion, and as we'd had a late start, it was almost midday before we arrived at our destination. What's more, the minute we started walking towards the town centre, it started drizzling, which it would do on and off throughout the day.

We made a quick dash around the town's charity shops, which are plentiful, but I only ended up buying the Zara blouse (above, bottom right) and the yellow pleated scarf I started wearing immediately, as in our haste I'd left without one.

Then it was time for lunch, which we had at the local Wetherspoons. While I opted for fish and chips, Jos stuck to his usual jacket potato! 

Still not feeling energetic, we refrained from walking from High to Low Town by descending one of the seven sets of ancient donkey steps, and taking the Cliff Railway up again, which was our original plan. 

Instead, we strolled along Castle Walk enjoying the incomparable view over the Severn Valley, with the plaintive whistling of the steam locomotives of the Severn Valley Railway as a soundtrack.

Before returning to the town centre, and ultimately to our car, we sat down for a while in Castle Gardens, reigned over by the remains of Bridgnorth Castle. As a result of a botched attempt to blow up the building by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, the latter now leans at a 15-degree angle. 

My previous attempt to prop it up dates from our visit visit in 2018.

Would the weather and my migraine improve in the next couple of days? Please do stay tuned if you want to find out!

Tuesday 26 July 2022

The happy highways where we went

Hello, and welcome back to my travelogue, which I'm now ready to resume after the brief heatwave interruption. 

By now, we've arrived at its fourth installment, in which I'll tell you all about our adventures on the Wednesday of our first holiday week. A glimpse at the calendar tells me that this was the 22nd of June which - eek! - is now well over a month ago.

I guess I'l need to get my skates on to finish the series before it all becomes a distant memory. Although the saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, I'm still glad of the notebook into which I diligently scribbled a page or two of actual words at the end of each day!

Another glorious Summer's day had been forecasted, with lots of sunshine and highs surpassing the previous day's mid-twenties. Indeed, there was hardly a cloud to be spied in the sky when, after a 45 minute drive, we parked our car in a shady spot in the perfect little Shropshire town of Much Wenlock.

The town, whose history dates back to 680 AD, and which lies at the Eastern edge of the wooded limestone escarpment of Wenlock Edge, had been on our must-see list since we first travelled to Shropshire in 2018. 

It's a miniature town filled with half-timbered, black-and-white buildings, of which the four and a half centuries old Tudor Guildhall (above) must be one of the finest. Passing under the arch to the right of the building, above which a cheerful hanging basket had been suspended (above, bottom right), takes you to some tranquil gardens and the aptly named Church Walk leading to the town's parish church.

The church, which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, dates back to around 1200 and encompasses many time periods as it went through restorations. During one phase the remains of three unidentified people were discovered. It is said that they can sometimes be seen in the churchyard as ghostly shadows with their heads hung down. Phew, I'm so glad I didn't know that at the time of our visit, although I rather doubt they would have been around in broad daylight!

In fact, our visit to the church was fairly brief, as there seemed to be a small service taking place which we didn't want to intrude on. We only just had the time to spot the memorial to Doctor William Penny Brookes (1809-1895), who put Much Wenlock on the map for founding the Wenlock Olympian Games, and thus inspiring the modern Olympics!

With the sun climbing ever higher, we mooched around the streets of the little town, my camera's shutter clicking whenever we came across any interesting or quirky details.

I've got a soft spot for old-fashioned cast iron road signs, which speak of a bygone age of motoring, when family road trips were a popular Sunday pastime and motorways few and far between.

On the top left is the Old Police Station, dating from 1864. It is made of special blue bricks,
believed to have been made in nearby Broseley.  My eye was caught by the small iron plaque to the right of its doorway (bottom left).

We came across a row of almshouses, their doors painted a bright blue. They probably date from around 1800 and the otherwise plain brick houses stand out by the Gothic double-curved ogee arches above their windows and doors, which were a thing at the time.

An eye-catcher on the High Street is the timber framed Elizabethan building, constructed in 1682 and called Raynald’s Mansion (bottom right). Late at night some say they've seen Victorian ghost children playing on the balconies!

Just a short stroll from the town centre, along a delightful lane lined with picturesque cottages covered in climbing roses and Clematis, are the dramatic ruins of Wenlock Priory, which are managed by English Heritage. 

Wenlock Priory has had a colourful history. An Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded here in about 680 by King Merewalh of Mercia, whose abbess daughter Milburga was hailed as a saint. Her relics were miraculously re-discovered here in 1101, attracting both pilgrims and prosperity to the priory.

In the 11th Century, French monks were brought to Wenlock, and it was re-founded as a priory subject to the Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy. 

There are many tales of great wealth amassed by corrupt abbots and connections with several kings and queens.

Evidence remains in the beautiful, evocative and extensive ruins, of one of the largest monastic churches in the country, as well as some of the most elaborate stone carving to be found anywhere.

The best preserved part of the monastic church is the south transept (above), which was part of a new church and was probably constructed during the 1230s. Jos's diminutive figure is giving a perfect indication of the sheer size of the place.

The glaring midday sun wasn't very conductive to taking great photos, so we mostly limited ourselves to shady nooks and crannies. 

Again, it was the cool and shady south transept we made for to make some quick outfit photos.

I was wearing a grey and white striped seersucker skirt I charity shopped back in April, combined with two other charity shop finds: the yellow cap-sleeved top sprigged with blue and white flowers, which I found in May, and the haori style cover-up - last seen the day before at Wightwick Manor - which my blog tells me was found in June 2019.

Both my necklace, ring and belt were bought on the high street at one time or another, while my Clarks Cloudsteppers, which surely do not need further introduction, were a sales bargain bought in Aberystwyth in June 2017.

Our faintly rumbling stomachs made us look at our watches and notice that it was well past midday by now. We made our way back to the town centre and after traipsing up and down the High Street in search of a place to eat, we settled for a café on the square. Our lunch consisted of toasted sandwiches with ham and cheese (which we'd call Croque Monsieur back in Belgium), accompanied by coleslaw, a salad and a handful of crisps!

Before hopping into our car and driving to our next destination, we decided to check out Memories Antiques & Collectables, which we'd spotted earlier on Wilmore Street.

Entering the shop was a bit of a hazard and felt quite claustrophobic. As it was filled to the brim with porcelain, china and glassware, we felt almost literally like the proverbial bulls in a china shop!

Jos had already beaten a hasty yet careful retreat and I was about to follow suit when I spotted the guide book to the 1951 Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition, priced at £ 7. Even a non-collector of Festival of Britain memorabilia like me realized that this must a good price, something which was later confirmed by a quick trawl on the Internet.

We already visited our final stop of the day, Benthall Hall, in June 2019, but being just 5 minutes up the road from Much Wenlock, we thought it well worth a repeat visit. Besides, we did need to get our money's worth on our National Trust Touring Pass, didn't we? And speaking of the latter, it was quite the novelty for the student manning the ticket booth in the car park. After taking note of our pass's details, he assured us that parking was free, even though we were certain this was only the case for regular members.

Same as three years ago, we were utterly charmed by the view across the miniature wildflower meadow of the quaint little church of St. Bartholomew’s which greets you once you've passed through the lychgate.

Inside, we were met by the result of an incident which took place over Easter, when part of the plaster ceiling came down. 

After a whirlwind visit to the church, we proceeded towards the house, 

The current stone house, with its mullioned and transomed windows, was built in 1535 but there have been Benthalls living on this site since medieval times. 

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 house is still tenanted by the Benthall family today, which is why, although both the ground floor and the second floor can be visited, photography is only allowed downstairs.

Here, a carved oak staircase, decorated plaster ceilings and oak panelling awaits you. 

Some of the house's treasures include the figurine - which incredibly is made of beeswax - under its glass dome. It was all I could do not to surreptitiously lift the dome and put the beeswax lady back in its proper place in the centre of the dome's base!

The figurine is standing on top of the chest on the bottom right. Dating from between 1660 and 1690, it is made of oak, bone, mother of pearl, snakewood, rosewood and sycamore.

On the top right is the metal escutcheon plate belonging to a walnut cabinet dating from around 1700-1730. Note how the plate is engraved with a landscape. 

I loved the design and colours of the bowl on the bottom left, but forgot to note its details, nor could I find it in the online collection. 

By the time we'd finished our tour of the house, we were gasping for a drink. Back in 2019, we'd had cream teas while sitting out in the courtyard at the back of the house, which we were now very much looking forward to. Imagine our disappointment when we were informed by one of the volunteers that the tearooms were closed. Judging from my face, I was none too pleased!

Before embarking on our journey home, we sat down and admired the formal garden, which wasn't looking nearly as unkempt as it was on our last visit. At the time, it had been given a deliberately overgrown appearance due to filming which would take place that Summer.  Apparently, the garden featured in the Netflix film Enola Holmes. You can catch the briefest of glimpses of the house and garden in the trailer.

Thursday 21 July 2022

A week in July

With the advent of a short but searing heatwave here in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe, culminating in temperatures of nearly 40°C on Tuesday, it has been too hot to think, let alone write a cohesive blog post.

So, I'm taking a short break from my travelogue and thought I'd do a catch-up on what's been happening in my life - and what I've been wearing, obviously - since we came back from our UK holiday instead.

In between unpacking, laundering and catching up with blogland on Sunday the 3rd of July, Bess claimed our laps whenever we dared to take a breather. 

If she had only recently discovered the joys of napping on our laps in the weeks before our holiday, she now seemed to be determined to make up for lost time. Not having had a lap cat before, this is quite a revelation, but the problem is that once she's made herself comfortable you must be prepared to stay put for a while. But what a joy she brings to our lives. Never mind the needles and pins, or her sharp claws ...

It was a good thing I'd taken Monday off as well, as the garden, and in particular the poor patio pots, sorely needed some TLC. 

I'd grouped together most of the pots in the passageway, giving them a thorough drenching the day before we left, but basically they'd had to fend for themselves for two weeks. 

Most of them survived surprisingly well though, with only one fatal casualty. However, the majority were looking a bit straggly and had all but given up flowering, so I gave them a haircut, quenched their thirst and hoped for the best.

The orange top with its blue leafy pattern was charity shopped back in May, and for its first outing I paired it with a denim skirt I'd picked up in a Shropshire charity shop. I accessorized my outfit with my tan leather belt and multi-coloured beaded necklace, both thrifted ages ago, and one of my cat brooches, a cheeky retail buy from Katshop, a delightful shop catering for cats and their personnel.

A stroll through the garden revealed quite a few novelties which had decided to rear their heads during our absence. There were spikes of Verbascum nigrum, its cheerful yellow flowers enhanced by contrasting pinkish-purple hearts and orange anthers (left). More yellow cheerfulness was provided by double yellow Hollyhocks (top right) and Nasturtiums in the palest of yellows. The latter were self-seeded the offspring of last's year's.

Tuesday was my first day back at the office, and as I loved Monday's outfit so much I wore it again in its entirety. As I passed the coat rack in our hallway, my eyes were drawn to the blue jacket with its pattern of orange leaves - to all intents and purposes the top's mirror image - which surely couldn't have been more perfect.

As usual, chaos reigned at the office, and it took me the better part of two days to get back on top of everything and wrestle through nearly 900 emails. Fortunately, things were back to the usual office routine by the end of the week.

More garden surprises were offered by the drumstick Alliums (Allium sphaerocephalon, top left), which seemed to have multiplied in their second year.  There is Phlox 'Sweet Summer Wine' (top right) in abundance as well, but the lavender flowers of Geranium 'Rozanne' (bottom left) appear to be less plentiful than before. 

Lately offering only a handful of flowers each year, any of the purple saucer-like blooms in Clematis viticella 'Etoile Violette' (bottom right) are welcomed with squeals of delight.

My outfit, worn on Wednesday, was employing a similar colour palette of blues, lavenders, purples and pinks. My cotton floral frock, with its front zip closure and solid blue collar and pocket tabs, is vintage and an old Think Twice find. Those are real pockets, by the way!

I added a tan belt with a cream lace inset at my waist, while oodles of pink were supplied by my cardigan, beaded necklace, ring and flower brooch. My rose gold sandals are by Gabor and a sales bargain in the Summer of 2019. 

Helenium 'The Bishop' has been brightening up the garden with its sunshine yellow flowers for the third Summer running and it seems I'm not the only one drawn to its daisy-like flowers with their prominent brown hearts. 

Legend tells that Helenium sprang from the ground, watered by the tears of Helen of Troy.  Apparently, this perennial is also known as Sneezeweed, because the leaves were once used in snuff.

I can do yellow too, although this beloved Diolen frock is more of a mustard. Whatever the case, it's an instant pick-me-up for a humdrum working day. 

After a string of days with temperatures hovering around the mid-twenties, the mercury dropped below 20°C on Thursday, which was the perfect excuse to wear a dress in a fabric which is a close cousin of Crimplene!

I picked out the green of the flowers in its print for my belt, necklace, ring and unusual green Cameo brooch. No sandals, but a pair of comfortable flat-heeled gold shoes. And yes, I was wearing nylons, although the weather turned out not to be too bad and I could very well have done without them.

There's something weird going on with our Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’. Planted last year with great success, I initially feared it hadn't made it through Winter when finally its tiny flowers started popping up. However, apart from the usual fiery red ones with a bit of white, there were half red/half white ones, and even a couple of pure white blooms.

The white pom-poms (top right) belong to Achillea ptarmica 'The Pearl', also into its second year, as is Astrantia 'Primadonna' (bottom left) which has really come into its own this Summer, offering a plethora of ruby pincushion flowers.

Having only started on Tuesday, I forewent my usual Friday off that week, so that my weekend was only a two-day one. It couldn't have come soon enough though.

Saturday was a warm yet windy day, with the sun playing a game of hide and seek with the clouds, and highs of 21°C. 

In spite of a to-do list as long as my arm, we decided the day was too good to be wasted inside, so we  went for a rummage in the charity shop near the park.

I spent some time happily trawling the full to bursting rails and, having been very restrained lately, ended up buying just three items. 

The blue blouse patterned with twigs and birds is by Belgian label Wow To Go. It had the most boring and annoyingly teeny-weeny blue buttons, which I replaced with slightly bigger domed green vintage ones.

Two jackets made the grade as well. The mustard blazer is by L' Histoire de Louise, which is another Belgian label, while the green speckled short-sleeved one is vintage. I suspect it originally paired with a skirt.

Afterwards, we went for a stroll and a picnic in the park. Here, there were plenty of opportunities to take outfit photos alongside the wildflower borders which seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere.

I last wore the skirt, which was an irresistible retail buy in Spring, when we visited Powis Castle. There's another link with Powis Castle in my green cotton and broderie anglaise peasant top, which is what I wore on our previous visit in June 2019. It was snapped up from New Look in the 2018 summer sales. 

My bangles, necklace and brooch were all charity shopped at one time or another, while the orange belt was picked up on the high street many years ago. The red sandals were yet another sales bargain.

The latter echo the colour of the poppies in the wildflower borders almost exactly!

Apart from these there were magenta corncockles, bright blue cornflowers and yellow corn marigolds rearing their lovely heads among the high grasses while, lining the shady paths were several pinkish white lacecap Hydrangeas.

Sunday was cloudy and overcast until late afternoon. In fact, as luck would have it, the sun had just made an appearance when we were about to take outfit photos. In our sun-drenched garden, it wasn't easy to find a suitable spot.

My dress with its Autumnal millefiori pattern is from the Danish Only label and was a charity shop find last August on a particularly fruitful day.  For my accessories, I picked up the bright, cornflower blue from its pattern, adding the odd splash of orange as well. The necklace, belt, bangles, ring and shoes were all thrifted, while the Lea Stein lookalike cat brooch with its orange eyes and ears, was a gift from my lovely blogging friend, Kezzie.

With both a string of hot days and our street's flea market coming up, there was nothing for it but  to tackle that to-do list. 

Therefore, Sunday was spent in a frenzy of ironing wrinkled cotton Summer frocks and unearthing my boxes of surplus clothing from the depths of our hell-hole of a built-in cupboard.

To be continued, at some point.

P.S. Thankfully, it has cooled down considerably by now ...