Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day 12: the Fourth with Friends

Day 12: July 4th

Friday morning I took some personal time, slept in luxuriously late, sorted thru my stuff, deciding what to send home rather than pack in my bag. Since I knew I'd be having dinner up north near Camden town, I decided to take a turn in the Camden Market, advertised on the web as the most artisan-centered of all the London Markets. Ha! It is a seedy, dirty tourist trap full of Goths and street people and generic international namaste crap -- t-shirts, and fake Celtic,and various bangles and beads, and cheap imported clothing. Every once in a while I happened on a genuine crafts person, like Penny Burdette http://www.pennyburdett.co.uk/pages/MenuFrameset/MenuFrameset.html
Who designs her own knitwear. But after an hour or so I was tired and depressed by both the schlock and the density of the crowds so tubed back home for a bit of a break.

Treated myself to a taxi back up to Camden to join Gabe and Karen for a long hilarious dinner wi Jean and Cecil. ( b/c of work on the tube, the trip to Camden requires at least three line changes, each of which involves significant walking and climbing). Told the waiter that the two additions to our party would be a very tall thin elderly man and a very small dramatically dressed woman. Jean did not disappoint. Showed up in a floor-length black burnt-out velvet striped gown, trimmed with bright turquoise sequins and embroidery, a matching iridescent choaker collar, and a large black feathered hat. (Pic on my FB profile), and of course the usual irrepressible glamour of her enthusiasm.

Ah..how to collect such evanescence...you know: the usual high hilarity, old stories embellished, new stories (a lively discussion of why everyone loved Duncan, should we feel sorry for Vanessa, who made her own choices. Didn't realize duncan had bunked on top floor of house on Victoria Sq. That Cecil shared wi Leonard after the war); comparing courses, favorite "new" novels; why do we all like A. S. Byatt; is it possible to enjoy reading Fowles' The Magus as an adult? Jean asked for poems abt our relationship to history, which produced quite a list and a delightful series of recitations; news abt friends, gossip, plans for conference next year.

About 11:00 I asked how late the tube ran, by 11:30 I realized that this party was not going to break up in time and ordered a taxi. I think we finally disentangled ourselves about midnight.

Hadn't quite realized how much I'd missed being with real friends... Couldn't get to sleep until 2:00 AM -- think it was as much exhilaration as the lovely port and shared chocolate mousse. Traveling is fun, but nothing beats traveling wi friends.

Day 11: Arrival in London

Day 11:  London (Thursday, July 3)

Thursday I splurged on my own taxi to Heathrow allowing me more than an hour's extra sleep and an escape from the flurry of everyone else trying to get organized. I returned my dongle turd that never worked and caught the hotel shuttle direct to Aston's. Was able to check in immediately to my favorite basement room, a quiet little cubby looking up to the garden, with a big window and a fan to keep the air moving. It's quiet and doesn't get much sun, a benefit when the temp is supposed to reach 80 -- not hot for us, but can be a problem in a city wi no cross ventilation or ceiling fans and little air-conditioning. So many rooms and shops are carved out of old buildings with little ventilation at all.

After I got unpacked (love all my packing bags as they allow me to stay organized even in this tiny space where the only way to open my bag is to put it on the bed), I walked over to the tube station, topped up my Oyster card, and made my way down to Trafalgar Sq. and the National Gallery where I had a nice lunch before going to the Making Colour exhibit. 

The bright June day had crowds of people sitting around enjoying the sun, the bag pipers were playing the theme from Star Wars, a giant Blue rooster sits on one of the Plinths making a weirdly surreal comment on the British Empire, going up the stairs to the gallery I hear a plaintive American child whine, "not another museum."

The color show was informative and absorbed me totally for over two hours: blue, green, yellow, red, purple, gold and silver. A wonderful selection of books in the shop; I took down titles to order on amazon but did buy a small catalogue written by the exhibit organizers. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/making-colour

Did make it over to the National Portrait Gallery where Frankie Spaulding has organized an exhibit on Woolf and Co., which unfortunately opens two days after I leave. I did buy the catalogue for that -- so excited to read it.http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/virginiawoolf/home.php

On Monday while the whole city us disrupted for the Tour de France, I will take a big shopping bag down to the s. Kensington Mailboxes and send a bunch of stuff home so it will be possible to lift my suitcase coming home.

Day 10: Windsor

Day 10 Windsor (Wednesday , July 2)

Wednesday morning we locked up Ednovean house and boarded a mini- bus for Windsor. The house was an amazing find: ultra modern and high end at the level of a movie set, floors of soft light oak -- the original of which my upstairs linoleum is a copy -- special night lighting at floor level; every switch a dimmer, and views amazing enough to stop conversation as people's attention would be caught by the shimmer of light on water, wood pigeons courting in the tress, rabbits flushed in the fields by the horses.

It was a long, nearly five- hour drive to our hotel outside Windsor, Oakley Court. Once we got there, the hotel and its situation on manicured greens sloping down to the Thames were so enchanting and inviting that many of us decided to stay there instead of driving into Windsor. The original house is crenelated pseudo gothic,complete with a brace of carved griffins on either side of the entrance and some of the most elaborate plaster ornamentation I've ever seen.tons of solicitous staff, catering to yr every need. The house has been used in dozens of movies, perhaps most notably in Rocky Horror picture show, and I think an episode of rosemary and thyme where an ad hoc film crew is trying to film their own Dracula.
So I settled in wi a Pimms, took a stroll wi Dana down the nature trail that wound by the river, and then sat down to an elegant dinner of sirloin and ox cheek served wi parsnips and leeks over some kind of foam. Tiny portions but flavors so rich it was quite satisfying.

Day 9: St. Michael's Mount

Day 9: St. Michel's Mount  (Tuesday, July 1)

Got up and took a cab over to St. Michael's Mount, the island castle that is connected to the mainland by a causeway only crossable at low tide. We took the boat over and got there just in time to catch the village tour, led by a local who was full of stories. Didn't try to climb all the way to the top; apparently it is terrifically steep and rocky. Whole island is cobblestones, quite treacherous walking, especially the causeway where all the grouting has been washed away. Don't know if I've been traveling too long, but I felt it was quite ho- hum. Unfortunately it is approaching high season and so the gardens are closed to the public. I find these stately homes pretty boring.

Came back and ate a cheese and crackers lunch and then went down hard for a long nap. Got up and started organizing packing for the trip back to London where I can resume my preferred diet of museums.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 8: Exploring the Lizard

(Monday, June 30)

Day 7: Woolf's Footsteps in Cornwall

Days 7 Exploring Cornwall— Following Woolf’s Footsteps
(Sunday, June 29)

Lying in bed with my feet propped up on several pillows, a scotch by my side, watching Misommer Murders and trying to absorb, process, recover from two days of exploring Cornwall: days spent hurdling up and down country lanes so narrow the smaller of two approaching cars has to back up until there is an indentation deep enough in one side of the hedgerow that the two cars can carefully inch past each other, trying not to lock side view mirrors in the process. In Cornwall, the hedgerows are often stone walls, overgrown now with great masses of Queen Anne's lace, foxglove, and ferns.

The roads are curves and dips so packed and stacked I had to resort to Dramamine to keep from getting car sick. But then we'd break out of the low roads onto hill tops with spectacular panoramas over the green checkered landscaped, peppered with the solitary towers of tin mines and the occasional dolman or iron age stone fort.

Yesterday (Sunday) I rented a car and driver to take me and a couple of other volunteers hunting for places Woolf walked to or visited in her many trips to Cornwall. (we loved the name, Nippy Cab)

 Our driver, Barry, quickly got into the hunting spirit. We left Ednovean house (near Marizion), went thru Penzance and took the B3311 north towards St. Ives in search first of  Castle Dinas and Tren Comb — two frequent destinations for Leslie Stephen’s long Sunday walks when Virginia was a child.  Once we got up into the hills, there were tremendous views over the whole expanse of West Cornwall.  

St. Michael's Mount off in the distance

Our first destination was Castle-an-Dinas, which Woolf mentions visiting in her 1905 account of a trip to Cornwall with Vanessa, Adrain, and Thoby (PA 295).  I’d googled mapped it, but wasn’t prepared to find that access was cut off due to the site having been turned into a quarry — the same fate as met Virginia’s country house, Asham, in East Sussex.

We drove around and were able to get only glimpses of the castle ruins.

(A google search through images produces some wonderful arial views of the entire roman fort: http://www.historic-cornwall.org.uk/a2m/iron_age/hillfort/castle_an_dinas/castle_an_dinas.htm)

Apparently there is a footpath which we never located.  We did, however, like Virginia, find some friendly local farmers.
Went to Castle Garden Plantation, where we bought some local produce, met the prize bull Pretty Boy, and enjoyed the spectacular view over the hills, rendered oddly surrealistic by the huge wind turbines which preside over the landscape like alien watchers from some H.G. Wells science fiction novel.

Then we were off for Trencrom, a frequent destination for Sunday walks with Leslie Stephens, fairly near Castle-an-Dinas, like it more oo less midway between St. Ives and Penzance. (the Stephen children also called it "Trick Robbin" MOB 115 or 123)

After seeing a couple of signs pointing towards Trencomb we began to circle in by asking local people for more precise directions.  One woman helpfully told us it was "just down the hill there, past the green house on the left; you'll see a bit of a parking place and a trail. " Following her directions, we did indeed find a small parking lot and a gate leading up a trail-- though we were a tad confused at the lack of signs.  Knowing enough about country rules to lock the gate securely behind us, we ventured up a path strewn with an inordinate amount of sheep fewmets leading towards an intriguing rampart of old stones.

 Entering the semicircular rampart, we saw several mysteriously geometrical triangular stones, set in a roughly triangular configuration.  I'd just had time to snap a couple of pictures and we'd begun to speculate on local Wiccan practices when there was a flurry of whistling and shouting...  from the sheep farmer in whose field we were inadvertently tresspassing.
The man was grumpy, and not inclined to believe that we had actually closed the gate behind us, but seemed eventually to realize it had been an honest mistake on our part.  He escorted us out with all due speed, not at all willing to answer my question about the geometrical arrangements: "Don't know nuthin about it."   I will admit that the site was so weird that I had a very vivid dream that night about being kidnapped by villagers..


After several more miles of driving up and down vale (no other green houses sighted) we pulled over by another field, topped by an interesting pile of stones.  This time we found a friendly farmer who informed us the pile was indeed Trencomb, and that we were welcome to cut across his field to get to the stile that led up the hill.

While Dana ran ahead, Nancy and I walked at a more sedate pace.  Unfortunately, we lost sight of Dana and couldn't find the stile.  But as we walked to the highest point of the field we were greeted by an utterly spectacular view of the Godrevy lighthouse and the vast stretch of beach at Hayle.   It was so breath-taking, I said "Ah, now I understand," referring to understanding why this was a favorite walk of the Alpinist Leslie Stephen.  Dana, working her way up thru a corridor of rock several hundred yards away, says she heard me perfectly and took it as an omen to go all the way to the top.
Here's a close-up of the lighthouse

Re-perambulating the field, we found the stile, hidden in a patch of blackberry vines.  

The steps were nearly 18 inches high  -- too much of a pull for my titanium knees and weak quads, so we had to be content with looking upwards towards the top, where you can clearly see the "Loggan" (balanced) rock Woolf refers to in "A Sketch of the Past"  (The most famous Logan Rock in Cornwall is down on the Lizard Peninsula and can be seen from the Minack Theater http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logan_Rock )




Day 6: St. Ives

Day 6 St Ives (Saturday, June 28)

Wound our way from Ednovean house to St Ives, through warrens of streets lined with little stone or stucco villas, so small they had flower baskets rather than gardens. Suddenly saw St Ives spread below us and realized we were curling past the Malakov and thus only a few Blocks from Talland House, but no amount of cranning and craining has produced a view of the building from any location in St. Ives; the proliferating villas around and below have quite covered it up.

Nonetheless, the day in St. Ives has been quite magical. The minute we got out of the bus at the Bernard Leach Pottery, the sun came out, the breeze picked up, and fluffy white clouds started sailing merrily across the sky. One of our party is a Ceramics historian so we were treated to a wonderful brief intro to Leach and later to the mechanics of the anagama kiln. I enjoyed seeing the pots and kiln, but kept wishing Patti and Mike were hooked into my brain, seeing everything and whispering explanations to me. Found out later when I checked FB that it is Mike's birthday. First of several karmic coincidences.

Next the driver dropped us off at the Tate St.Ives museum. The tide was out, leaving a huge expanse of golden sand, and the water was that lovely turquoise that you only see in St. Ives. All the ladies were enchanted. We went up the the restaurant on the top of the museum for lunch -- panoramic views over the jumble of town roofs and out to the lighthouse. The main exhibit at the Museum was right up my alley: St. Ives and modernism. Small but informative.. Particularly enjoyed the leach pottery in light of re-reading Byatt's The Children's Book recently.

Instead of returning to Barbara Hepworth museum, I made my way down into the steep windey streets of St Ives and, frankly, had a lot of fun shopping, interspersed with sea views. The weather was brilliant, literally -- glorious sunshine, golden beaches, water like stained glass, dogs on parade, boats pulled up, children wi buckets, Brits boasting expanses of parboiled skin, cool breezes. Found a place wi gluten free scones and had a cream tea. Went to the local "craft Fayre" at the Parrish hall and had fun chatting with people. Had a nice encounter with a silversmith who does funky silly animals. A fun day.

Day 5: Lanhydrock House and arrival in Cornwall

UK 2014 -- Day 5: Friday, June 27 (Lanhydrock House and arrival in Cornwall)

Coming into Cornwall today, driving through a tempestuous succession of weather events ("rainbow weather" one of the volunteers called it: Bright sun followed by dark clouds, catastrophic showers, then blue sky again) I felt a flush of the anticipation Woolf often notes in her letters or diary. A heightened awareness of changing flora, the signs of clay pits and tin smelters marking the land, a breathless waiting for the first glimpse of the sea across the rolling green hills, which are surreally modernized by the weird presence of giant white wind turbines, so huge they cast everything into some kind of post-modern, near-future science fiction movie, as if they are alien beings quietly guarding the fields.

We drove in thru Hayle, a town near St Ives recorded by Woolf as a destination for weekend walks. The "Hayleston Bog" where they searched for ferns has been partially drained, but a good deal has been saved in a nature preserve. We drove thru Penzance, where we stopped for more groceries at a Tesco, and then wound our way thru the small streets of Marizon,,, catching closer glimpses of St. michael's Mount, towering high above the estuary sands.

arrived at Ednovean House to find its situation and design even more breath- taking than the on-line photos. The super modern, glass-fronted house overlooks the whole bay, which offers a panorama of changing lights and shadows, both clouds and sky and the water shifting colors constantly.

The house is all white and glass, a complete opposite to where we were staying in Devon. there is a huge central kitchen stocked with every necessity-- an entire cupboard full of wine glasses, a wine fridge, two ovens and a microwave and a cook top which is nothing but a giant sheet of glass and buttons. We had to find an operating manual to turn it on. All white and glass, not a single handle anywhere. there is a blond ash wood or light oak table long enough to seat about twenty (a good six feet longer than sue and Neil's) looking out over the bay, encased on three sides with glass doors.

On the way here we stopped at Lanhydrock house, a kind of British Biltmore house, slightly smaller, but reeking of the same conspicuous consumption, horns and hunting trophies everywhere including Eland again and some rugs make of of colobus monkey skins, encased in gothic revival wood panels and Revival William Morris wallpaper. Trooped with dozens of other tourists up and down stairs into servants quarters, ladies' lounging rooms, children's nurseries etc. punctuated by thunder and torrential rain alternating with bright sun in about half hour intervals.

Next morning. Woke to sun and bird song and gull cries, horses grazing in the field below the gardens, beyond the pine and palm trees, the Mount topped by its castle monastery surrounded by water that is currently a serene dark blue, broken by small breaks of waves on hidden rocks. The tide is in, so the causeway is mostly submerged. We are going to St. Ives today, to see the Bernard Leach Pottery and various museums. On Sunday I may hire a car to go see some particular places.

Exeter: Day 4

Day 4 Exeter (Thursday, June 26, 2014)

Ah. Back from a dreary day in Exeter and brewing a nice cup of wild orange tea to take the chill out of my bones. Our weather karma ran out wi a vengeance and it poured and poured, really pretty much all day. Abt 60 degrees, so pretty miserable. We started off with the cathedral, which is admittedly pretty impressive: the vault is the longest gothic stone ceiling in the world, that lovely fan gothic that looks like symmetrically arched tree branches, crowned with gilded roses. there all kinds of charming medieval carvings and gargoyles -- animals and other small tokens of individual imagination embellishing the received formulae with personal joy or wit. Wish I'd spent more time exploring the details, but once the bottom dropped out of the skies, I stayed where I was.

We had a lovely morning interlude with Jean's old professor, Bill, who took the group of us who didn't want to trek down to the quay to learn about the weaving and woolen trade, over to his funky run-down club for morning coffee/ tea. He is one of those wicked raconteurs whose eyes never stop twinkling with wicked stories, and when the sky fell down on the hydrangeas, beating them like carpets, we stayed on and exchanged stories until Mary came in to lay the tables for lunch.

We ventured out, taking nearly immediate refuge in the nearest Marks and Spencer's where I purchased a quite nice periwinkle lavender raincoat -- silly me to have believed those on-line forecasts for 10 days of sunshine. (I did get a 16-step set of instructions for resetting my wireless device and reprogramming all the security codes, so perhaps I will be able to solve my tech problems. However, the instructions are intimidating, and I might prefer better weather and less tech...)
Bill's Club

We had a lovely lunch in a natural food place where I got coronation chicken (oh bliss!) in a jacket potato. The rest of the day I made good choices for me, exploring the quirky local museum, --which had a hilarious exhibit of a recently declassified Victorian collection of multi-cultural sex toys, an entire room displaying an 18thC enthusiast's collection of Echinodermata, samples of all kinds of clothing and tools, a big screen movie of what Devon looked like from the Triassic to the present, a stuffed Eland (the animal in my profile picture which really is as big as I remember) -- instead of going on a walking tour of the city. Those who went for the tour got utterly drenched standing in the rain listening to the guide, a prospect I wanted to avoid. No point in getting a raging cold. Also skipped evensong and took a couple of others who wanted to get back to our warm, dry, country den home in a taxi. I just had this image of being soaking wet, huddled in a cold church. And as you all know, neither music nor churches are my thing.

So Exeter not a thrill for me. might have liked it more in sunlight, but I need some kind of literary or artistic association or at least immense natural beauty to engage my attention/ affection.

We leave for Cornwall tomorrow morning. Apparently weather prospects are not good, but rugged Cornwall is awesome in any weather, and drenched with literary allusions.

Hestercombe: Day 3

UK14--Day 3: Wednesday, June   HESTERCOMBE

I especially asked for this outing to one of the most fully restored of Gertrude Jekyll's gardens.

The thing that is striking me most forcefully right now is the astonishing determination, dedication, and creativity of the people we've been meeting-- each caught up in some life task of building, preserving, restoring, maintaining some special corner of life that they've claimed responsibility for. The swannery at Abbotsbury where the swans are so carefully tended; the immense labor of devotion involved in renovating and maintaining Fursdon House.

I felt the same kind of  admiration for Claire, the head gardener at Hestercombe, who I suspect of being The Patrick McMillan of that institution.  

That house and garden have been meticulously preserved in all its various temporal phases: there's a whole 17thC landscape sequence I didn't try to hike through because I was focused on the Edwardian garden built by Gertrude Jeykl and Edward Luytens.  

Map of Hestercombe Garden.  The Edwardian garden is at the bottom: the X with two Rills on either side plus a pergola at the bottom.  Immediately above it in front of the house is the Victorian Terrace (29). To the right of that (26) is the Orangery, and to the right of that (25) is the Dutch Garden.  These are the only parts planned by Lyutens and Jeykll.  Above stretches the Georgian Landscape garden.

The whole thing is quite spectacular.  To start with, the stonework has these beautiful circular and spiral patterns, incorporating mill wheels and a lovely design of concentric circles simply made by nesting terra cotta Pots and filling them up with mortar.

 The gardens are rather like Sissinghurst in that there's this intricate, geometrical hardscape filled to the bursting with floral excess.  The little chinks in the stairs are filled with tiny maiden-hair ferns and delicate vinous daisies, grey stems and flowers flushed soft pink at the edges. 

 There's a typical Jeykl "grey wall" in the background, planted with all kinds of silver and lavender flowers, including spiked, shiny sea holly and thistle which sometimes seem like wild aluminum sculptures punctuating the soft masses of old roses, heavy and drooping in all shades of blush imaginable.

I think my favorite parts might have been the rills, which run down each side of the main garden.  They are flat, rectangular gardens with a stone-paved waterway running down the center. 

At one end there is a large semi-circular grotto from which the stream emerges; planted with water loving plants like giant kamferie irises, it opens at regular intervals into small circles (currently planted with calla lilies) and then drops to a lotus pool with a wide panorama over the whole Somerset countryside.
At the top of the great square is a mediterranean garden, all soft greys and silver.
And at the bottom is a great long pergola

Perennial Border at Hestercombe

After Hestercombe, we came back to Fursdon House (via a grocery store) and had a fascinating house tour. 

 The first house was built here in 1295; the "new wings" were added in 1815.  The family has lived here continuously for 23 generations!  I can only dimly imagine the restoration work that has gone into this place.  It's divided into suites; I'm in this spacious bedroom with a king sized bed and abt 12 ft ceilings, am currently writing in the window-seat of the sitting room looking up at a stack of mossy, lichen encrusted stone walls and stairs, topped on one side with various sizes of daisies, sprouting at wild angles from behind the slightly tilted head of a young woman attractively spotted with more lichen, and on the other side with a small massed symphony of mixed pink flowers: yummy dark puce purple roses and something lacy and spiky that comes in shades from white to rose to a dark fuchsia.  

At the bottom of the wall is a small cluster of fluorescently magenta cyclamens and a big patch of those purple striped ...mallows, geraniums? Something abt crows feet? only twice the size of what grows at home.

Temps are dropping now into the sixties, rather a relief after a very hot day at Lyme Regis. I'm trying to pace myself to take more quiet time to relish.  As you can tell from the above, as always I am just slayed by the colors.  I haven't even started on the greens!

Lyme Regis: Day 2 Tuesday, June

Day 2  (Tuesday, June 24)
Lyme Regis and Abbotsbury

Lyme Reis is a small tumble of a beach town, smaller than St. Ives and lacking the stretches of beach. 

 To the west there's a view of golden headlands (the soil is a ruddy yellowish red)  

and to the east is a view of the long cobb stretching out into the bay, a central location for both Jane Austen's Persuasion and John Fowles French Lieutenant's Woman. 

Our guide -- a graduate student of Steve Ellis's at Birmingham who had written her MA thesis on FLW -- took us on a long difficult climb through the town, along the course of the tiny Lyme river

pointing out all the places that weren't where various things happened in Jane Austen's life.  We did stop by the post office to visit the mail slot where she almost surely posted her letter to Fanny describing the town.

By the time she led us out onto the quay, where it was roasting hot with no shade, many of us were no longer up for what looked like a half-mile hike out to the cobb, itself quite a long cobblestone ordeal.  When I started feeling my skin prickling in preparation for a sunburn (thank goodness I was at least wearing a hat) I bailed and went to find those who had already been overdone by the long climb.  We had a lovely, civilized lunch, sitting in a breezy bay window, overlooking the street below.  I finally got some British money and went to do a little shopping for fossil ammonites, a major feature of what they call the "Jurassic Coast."

We met back in the center of town at about 1:00 and set off for the swannery at Abbottsbury, near Chessil Beach.
Chessil Beach is the long golden strand below

The swannery at Abbotsbury is like a small version of the Botanical Garden. (And like the Garden was almost completely washed out by floods this winter) Everything is done with such care. They grow tons of eel grass which is woven into various structures and also sold to local thatchers. The swans are carefully managed: we met a pair of tenders who were setting up hurdles to limit the territory of a particularly aggressive male and heard how they watch for cygnets and inexperienced parents who don't bond properly and foster the cygnets with more experienced pairs.

Lagoon of eel grass with thatched cottage in background; eel grass is used for thatch.

Swans nesting on Chessil Beach

Next we went to the small town of Abbotsbury which has an immense Tithe House, once part of a large abbey complex but now turned into a children's attraction, complete with petting zoo and a jumping castle inside the tithe barn.