Dyffryn Dahlias

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!

Sunday Strolls (4)

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?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime

Two shots from Edinburgh this August. The firework finale of the Military Tattoo late one night and Princes Street the following evening caught between the bustle of early evening and late night as the festival crowds and tattoo audience were all in their seats. Not quite dark but the clouds made it feel more night than day!

Sunday Strolls (2)

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!

Sunday Strolls (1)

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!

Glasgow School of Art

Library windows School of Art

I’m reposting a photo I included in a ‘Travelogue’ post a few weeks ago, after a trip to Glasgow.

Today I’ve been following the devastating news of the fire that seems to have destroyed much of this iconic building, important not just to Scotland and the UK, but also to the world of architecture and design.

The whole building was very much unspolit, with the original features that Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed and crafted. The library in particular, which seems to have been in the worst affected part of the building, was a treasure of design and held an irreplaceable archive of material.

Over the last few hours, as the extent of the devastation unfolded, I’ve been retracing the steps we took on our recent tour of the building, recalling the furniture, light fittings, room numbers, brass door plates and gazing from the windows that are now twisted and broken by the flames. So much of the interior was made of wood!

Part of the beauty of this building is that it is not simply a museum to the memory of Mackintosh, but still functions as a living, working school of art. To make matters worse many students were in the last hours of preparing their final exhibitions – so much hard work lost! So fortunate that everyone is safe!

Already organisations are starting to talk of restoration, but they will never restore the true beauty of Mackintosh’s original work. Such a loss to the beautiful city of Glasgow.

Travelogue 1 – Glasgow

Every so often I like to break away from the humdrum of everyday retirement and explore a bit more of the world beyond Norfolk. As much as I love Norfolk it can be rather insular…… but that’s a subject for another blog one day….

As I’m hoping to move house soon I’m not planning any long trips in the near future, but keeping my wanderlust content by exploring more of my own country. This time my destination was Glasgow. I’m a relative newcomer to the delights of Scotland, having married a Welshman our trips tended to gravitate in a westerly direction.

Glasgow has been a long time coming….. as lovers of all things by the designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh best friend and I have had this trip in our sights for about five years now. My impending departure brought some urgency to the plan and spurred us on to book a three day trip at the beginning of the Easter holidays – whilst I have escaped from the restrictions of the school timetable friend is still very much tied. Local schools breaking up a week earlier than other parts of the country seemed an ideal opportunity to avoid the main holiday rush too. So, a month ago we got together one Friday evening to plan our trip. The bottle of wine may not have been such a good idea – having dealt with the intricacies of the train journey we hadn’t even got as far as looking at hotels by the time her husband arrived to carry her home….. I left that for her to investigate the next morning!

The plan finally came together last Wednesday morning. We left Norwich to arrive in London in time for the 12.40pm from Euston to Glasgow Central. The original intention had been to travel up by Caledonian Sleeper but we didn’t fancy the idea of arriving in Glasgow at 7 am with a day of sightseeing ahead of us so we saved that pleasure for the return journey. Instead we boarded a routine Virgin west coast train – crowded, hot, noisy ….. cue another blog on the UK rail network?

So – after waiting so long to visit did Glasgow live up to expectations? It most certainly did – and more. I’m not sure what I expected really….. the stereotypical image of a tough Glaswegian perhaps? We’d both been warned that we were unlikely to understand anything that was said to us…. that certainly wasn’t true. In fact people everywhere were exceptionally friendly…… from the hotel staff to the lady who stopped us in the street to ask if we were lost, and continued to describe something of the locality for us.

Glasgow is a beautiful city – unexpectedly, incredibly beautiful. Being used to towns and cities with quaint medieval centres I found Glasgow robust, strident, from the dour St Mungo’s Cathedral, looking out onto the Necropolis, to the sparkling Clyde Auditorium. But it also struck me as a city that has struggled for its existence. The city bus tour, which we took on the second day, revealed stark contrasts between the affluent west side and the poorer east, with the newly regenerated riverside sandwiched between. It’s a hard-working city, built by great industrial entrepreneurs who were proud to mark their lasting influence with the grand memorials of the Necropolis, but it’s a city that knows how to play hard too…. we made sure we didn’t have to walk far from the restaurant to the station on a Friday night in Glasgow!

The highlight for us has to be Glasgow School of Art, but the influence of its designers is evident everywhere you look, in the stained glass windows lighting the houses of the west end and in the glass roof of Central Station. Afternoon tea at the Willow Tearooms was also top of our list. The tea itself wasn’t exceptional, although the renowned meringues were very good, but the recreated surroundings of Miss Cranston’s original surpassed any tearoom I’ve eaten in anywhere – and I’ve had a few afternoon teas in my time!

We needed at least a week to taste Glasgow fully but, unfortunately we only had two days. Tired, and completely Mackintoshed out, we boarded the Caledonian Sleeper for the overnight journey back to London.