Summer past, Summer to come….
I’m just back from spending a couple of days in Barry, near Cardiff, with my son. While I was there I discovered a real gem – Dyffryn Gardens, which was once the home of Welsh coal-owners the Cory family but has recently been taken on a 50 year lease by the National Trust. The gardens were developed by John Cory with the help of Thomas Mawson, the landscape architect, and have been restored in recent years. John Cory’s third son, Reginald, who was a leading figure in the Royal Horticultural Society and a keen plant-hunter, was responsible for the dahlia trials held there between 1913 and 1914. Over 7000 species were planted for the trials and many have been replanted this year to mark the centenary, adding to the wonderful autumn colours of the gardens. As well as the six glorious beds at the front of the house, each with its own colour theme, others varieties are planted in the garden ‘rooms’ which make up much of the formal grounds. On a lovely, warm, autumn morning the beds were a magnet for photographers and I couldn’t avoid a couple wandering into my own camera lens!
Because of the work involved in maintaining the gardens volunteers were cutting down and digging up the beds ready for winter planting while I was there, even though they looked magnificent and many of the plants were still in bud. However, as they were selling the blooms in the estate shop I was able to come away with a large bunch of assorted dahlias and a pot of unknown colour and variety which I look forward to discovering next year!
I hope to post more from my visit there soon, but felt the amazing display of dahlias deserved one of their own!
I have some catching up to do! I’ve been away for a week or so and Sunday strolls in Pembrokeshire have been on hold but this exploration of Lamphey Palace was just before I left. Not so far to venture this time as the village of Lamphey is only about 10 minutes away and I pass through it frequently on my way into Pembroke.
Yet another ruined edifice left by the prominent Norman noblemen in this area the palace originated in the 13th century and was enlarged twice until the mid- 14th century, lastly by Henry de Gower, Bishop of St. David’s. The palace became the countryside retreat for the high-ranking clergy and bishops of St. David’s Cathedral, approximately 30 miles away. As with so many ecclesiastical buildings it eventually surrendered to Henry VIII in 1546. After being held by the earls of Essex for 100 years it fell into the hands of Cromwell and was occupied by his Roundheads where it was used to provide Pembroke with supplies.
Today it is almost hidden along a narrow driveway leading to the neighbouring Lamphey Court Hotel. The lane slopes down towards a pair of abandoned stone gateposts in an outside wall and it’s quite a surprise to find the tall palms growing just inside! Cared for by Cadw (the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage) it was manned by a lone receptionist on the afternoon I visited and other than one couple and two family groups I had the place virtually to myself. It was never crowded as each party arrived and left separately and in between I was alone – plenty of time to roam undisturbed with my camera and clock up 70+ shots!
The building is still an impressive one, with walls, chimneys, doorways and staircases well-preserved. In its day it also boasted an orchard and fishpond as well as the Great Hall, western hall, gatehouse and beautiful Yew tree growing against the outer wall. I can’t imagine that the grounds are ever overrun with visitors – but there are enough hidden doorways and arches to hide most of those who venture inside. Many of the upper rooms and staircases are accessible and there is a wealth of detail to be found for those who like to explore. It was easy to find ledges to perch on and enjoy the peace and serenity of a late September afternoon. Although the sunlight was hazy it was warm and the trees were beginning to glow with a hint of autumn colours.
After an initial walk round I sat outside with a coffee, provided by the lone receptionist from a machine behind the counter, and read up from the information leaflet before taking another look around. Later, as the sun started to fade, the hollow window arches took on a gloomier feel and it seemed time to leave, but I think I might go back when the trees are bare and there’s a frost on the ground – or perhaps even some snow?
This week’s stroll was a hidden corner of Pembrokeshire, buried deep along country roads and single track lanes. I was convinced that I had visited Upton Castle before but none of it was in the least bit familiar so it was a real afternoon of unexpected discoveries. Another Pembrokeshire castle with Norman origins but with little left to see now amongst the later 17th and 18th century developments. The castle is privately owned and not run by any of the usual organisations that own ancient monuments and buildings. As a result the feeling is of entering somewhere that is private, somewhere where it is a privilege to be allowed inside to explore.
The medieval chapel however is a real gem of tranquillity, with an abundance of 12th and 13th century stone effigies of knights and their ladies. The one I’ve chosen here shows some of the fine details and what looks like a tiny hand by the lady’s pillow. I’ve only noticed this whilst looking through the shots I took and, after taking another look at Upton’s website there’s also a tiny foot….. a baby perhaps? I wish I’d taken more notice while I was there….. this could mean a return visit I suspect, before they close down in October for the winter!
The gardens are full of delights…… a wonderful sunken, walled rose garden reached by steps down through a stone arch, where the perfume from the roses comes up to meet you……… a sheltered stone gazebo where you can gaze out at eye level into the roses. An old stone workshop with overgrown windows which look onto the rose garden and leads through to the kitchen garden which is really more orchard. At the end the path leads out into the meadow with an abandoned shepherd’s hut and then into the woodland beyond. I loved the chair carved out of the dead tree trunk, although probably not the most comfortable of seats! The path divides to take you over a bridge and deeper into the woodland, but I took the other direction through the arboretum with its specimen trees.
Unfortunately there was no tea room to take a rest and enjoy the surroundings even more, so after an hour or so I had to move on!
One thing about living in this part of Wales is that you can find a castle around nearly every turn in the road! This Sunday’s stroll is around Carew Castle, although now more the ruins of a fortified manor house than a defensive castle. The site dates back to the Iron Age but the building is Norman in origin, as are many of the ancient buildings here in an area that has been called ‘Little England Beyond Wales’. Not so many of the unpronounceable string of Welsh consonants, but place names such as Red Roses, Stepaside, Wooden, Ludchurch and so on…. each with their own Welsh language equivalent of course!
Anyway, back to Carew…… a tranquil spot built on a branch of the estuary that snakes inland from Milford Haven and overlooking the mill pond, the building was heavily damaged during the English Civil War, being held by Royalists in a predominantly Parliamentarian area. The mill itself is open to the public and the only tidal mill in Wales. The circular walk takes you across the causeway (popular for crab fishing on this particular afternoon), round the outskirts of the castle grounds and over the narrow, medieval bridge crossing the River Carew passing a very fine 11thC Celtic cross on the way. It’s a good flat walk so one I can do easily with plenty of places to stop and catch the castle from different angles!
As I languish in rural Pembrokeshire I’ve decided I should get out and about and explore the area while I have the chance. The September weather is wonderful; long warm sunny days, mostly in the low 20s, and clear blue skies are showing the county at its best. Whilst I busy myself with the house and garden during the week, in the hope that a prospective purchaser might walk through the door eventually, Sunday can be a bit of a low point so I’m dedicating Sundays to exploring local places of beauty, starting with the local gardens that are open to the public before they all close down in the autumn! As always my camera comes too!
The first Sunday stroll was a familiar one, to Colby Woodland Gardens, a National Trust property that reaches down to the coast. I didn’t venture that far but the walks vary from the formal walled garden to the oriental garden, meadows along the stream and the woodland paths that lead down to the sea or up onto the valley sides. And, of course, the required tearoom for an afternoon cream tea!