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Audley End House

23 Apr

The weather’s been grey recently but yesterday morning the sun was shining so I decided to go to Audley End House – an English Heritage property near Saffron Walden. I was nearly thwarted by tube disruption and then staff at Liverpool Street telling me you can’t get there on the Stansted Express (you can; you just change at Harlow Town and it’s a lot quicker than the stopping train they told me to get!)

A rabbit in the sunIt’s a walk of just over a mile from the station to Audley End House but most of it is along country lanes (with rabbits off to the side) so it’s a pleasant enough walk and I arrived to see the house looking splendid in the sun.

I spent the firsst hour or so just exploring the grounds; there’s a mix of formal garden, open space with lakes and a huge kitchen garden which has been restored and is being run as it would have been in Victorian times. There used to be a huge variety of apples available in the UK but in the recent past most of these have pretty much vanished – if you go to many shops you’ll be lucky if you see even half a dozen different varieties but at Audley End they have dozens of them. It’s much too early to see the apples growing but the trees are all in blossom and look very pretty. My completely unscientific sampling suggests that pear blossom is always white but apple blossoms are mostly pink and white. I can’t find any evidence for this but the colours are very pretty.

Near the vegetable garden are the stables – they’re now mostly used for exhibits but there were 2 horses there yesterday eating their hay energetically!

Before I got to the house I noticed a large number of plants for sale. The plants were similar to those you could buy in any garden centre but the really interesting thing was the pots – they were hairy! The Hairy Pot Plant Company uses coir to make pots which can simply be planted directly into the ground. The pot is fibrous so roots grow through the gaps and eventually the pot just bio-degrades. It’s a brilliant idea – you can buy directly from the web site and there’s also a list of stockists.

The house is absolutely spectacular but what you actually see is a tiny fraction of what was once there – lack of money to maintain the house meant that about three quarters of the building was demolished several centuries ago but it’s still an enormous building. The English Heritage website has lots of information about it (including several virtual room tours to whet your appetite). The guided tour takes a good hour and if all the guides are as good as the one we had then you will learn an amazing amount about the place.

This is the second time I’ve been to Audley End (I’m a member of English Heritage). Here are the photos from my 2008 visit and the photos from 2012.

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Places I’ve been

17 Apr

Tripadvisor allows you to tag places you’ve visited – the map below will show the places I’ve been over the past 20 years or so and I” try and keep it up to date (but I’m well aware that although I started writing about my trip to Cairo I never got round to finishing it – maybe later!

Coventry

8 Feb

I love living in London but it’s also good to explore other places so whenever the railway companies have cheap deals I often take advantage. London Midland currently have a deal where you can get a ticket to take you across their entire (enormous!) network for a day for just £15.

I have been to Coventry but it was many years ago and I didn’t really look round so I felt that it would be a good place to start. The station is pretty grim and you emerge into an unattractive part of town (although a lot of work is going on to make it look smarter). There is a blue line painted on the pavement which you can follow to get you into the city centre and, once there, it’s easy to find the cathedral.

The cathedral is pretty special. It was bombed in November 1940 and pretty much destroyed. Sadly, work had been done not many years previously and steel girders had been used to reinforce the timber beams. When the incendiary bombs set fire to the timbers the heat caused the steel girders to twist and that helped to destroy the cathedral.

A decision was made almost immediately to build a new cathedral rather than try to repair the damage – it was felt that repairing it would hide the fact that it had been destroyed whereas building a new cathedral alongside the ruins would allow them to act as a memorial. I think this works and it reminds me of St Luke’s church in Liverpool. This is known locally as “the bombed out church” and also stands as a kind of war memorial.

I suppose it takes a while to organise building something on the scale of a cathedral so it wasn’t until 1956 that the building started and it was completed in 1962. I read that the intention was to keep the building fairly simple so that its contents would stand out and I think this has worked. It also reminds me of the Catholic cathedral in Liverpool which was built in the 1960s so I suppose that’s not surprising.

Just across the road from the cathedral is The Herbert gallery. When I visited there was a large exhibition of work by George Shaw who paints rather interesting pictures using Humbrol enamel. I’m not sure how long it’s there but I really enjoyed it (and it was free which makes it even better!)

If you’re interested in motor transport then the transport museum is an absolute must. It’s only a short walk from the cathedral and you could easily spend half a day going round – there’s a huge amount to see and do.

The weather was bitterly cold while I was there and a train derailment at Bletchley the day before meant that my journey took longer than I expected but I was pleased I went. It costs £7 to get into the cathedral but the ticket is valid for a year so if I find myself in the area I’d call back in.