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Published: June 24th 2014
It is now three weeks since we returned from holiday and Suzy Sundance is finally sitting in the sun with a new windscreen fitted. Her chipped glass replaced by a brand spanking new clean bright one. £75 lighter but at least she looks better now. She still needs cleaning. She still is full of grey water which we have had little chance to throw out and a chemical loo that has probably filled with enough methane gas to power a whole city. We should have cleaned her out but instead chose to spend a few hours at Newstead Abbey just a few miles down the road from us. There is always tomorrow or the day after for jobs like that.
Now owned by Nottinghamshire Council but originally the home of Lord Byron it is a gothic stately pile worth a visit. We had planned Plan A which was a trip to Renishaw Hall Gardens but they don't open on a Tuesday so hastily Plan B got put into operation and we headed in the direction of our neighbouring county of Nottinghamshire and Newstead Abbey. Not far away it was a nice diversion .
The cost of entry was £6
for a car. The more in your car the cheaper the day out becomes. The house itself is only open at the weekends and has an additional cost for entry but the park itself is open every day from dawn to dusk . We had abbey'd and stately homed ourselves out whilst on holiday so felt we were quite happy just doing the garden. Particularly as the sun was shining and it was a lovely June day. We are in the height of an English Summer. England have bombed triumphantly out of the World Cup, our Cricket team seem set to lose the test and it is Wimbledon and strawberries and cream fortnight.
The drive to the abbey is a long and winding road and we managed to miss the ticket man. His little hut was hidden at the side of the road and we drove past without even noticing it. In our mirror we noticed him running out of his hut gesticulating and we had to reverse back to pay him our entrance fee. After paying him we drove to the car park parked up and walked to the Abbey.
The Abbey was founded as a monastic
house in the late 12th century and we believe although we didnt see inside that to this day the house retains much of its medieval character. The most famous survival is the iconic West Front of the church that dates from the late 13th century and is now a scheduled ancient monument. This is a mighty impressive sight although it does need some renovation . The views from the house are over a very large lake and a part of the estate which is private and we couldnt get into. Turned into what looked like private homes it must be a lovely place to live.
Heralded by many as the greatest romantic poet of his time, Lord Byron lived at Newstead Abbey at various times from the autumn of 1808 to the autumn of 1814. He travelled all over Europe as did many of his generation. He spent seven years in Italy and joined the Greek War of Independence where he fought for the Ottoman Empire . The Greeks revere him as a national hero understandably so. He died one year later at age 36 from a fever contracted while in Greece. Another waste of a life of a
very young man.
Byron was often described as the most flamboyant and notorious of the major Romantics, living his life to the point of self destruction. Autocratic excesses included him running up huge debts and he reputedly had love affairs with both sexes, scandalous liaison with his half-sister, and self-imposed exile.
We started our tour of the garden by finding the cafe. Well we always do don' t we! Quite small it had a selection of drinks and snacks on sale. We chose Toasted Tea cakes smothered in butter with an espresso and a banana milk shake which we ate in a tiny courtyard listening to the sound of peacocks . . We were virtually the only visitors and the grounds are so extensive we saw few other visitors. It is easy to lose yourself here although perhaps this was because it was a midweek visit rather than a weekend one. I imagine at the weekend it might be a very different place . There are plenty of places for picnics and perhaps next time we might bring one along.
Our walk took us around the great lake known as the Garden
Lake. This was created by Thomas Wildman in about 1820 The lake is bordered by a variety of large specimen trees and full of yellow water lily although they were sadly not out on our visit although there were other acquatic plantings. The iris had gone over too. There were many ducks and swans on the lake and a large number of brightly coloured dragonflies which reminded me of France and our last holiday in Suzy .A cascade overflows from the Garden Lake into the bed of the stream below. Above it is a folly . We climbed inside and came out behind the flow of water standing inside watching the water falling like a cascade in front of us. .
Our favourite part of the garden was the Japanese Garden which we found out was laid out for Ethel Webb in 1899. The Webbs owned the house after Byron and spent a good deal and time and money producing the garden we see today. It seems that their money bought a Japanese horticulturist to this country for the purpose. Work on its creation continued until 1914, when the Great War began and much garden work came
to a halt. . This garden is intended to reproduce in miniature the main features of a Japanese landscape. Small stone bridges cross tiny streams and stepping stones lead to little islands. The sound of running water was everywhere . Stone paths wind past the remains of a thatched teahouse and a draw-well which was originally fitted with double buckets. The stone lanterns were imported from Japan by Miss Webb, together with much of the original planting. This included shrubs and dwarf trees such as maple, quince and conifers and some very beautiful crimson and plum coloured acers. . A tiny rill ran across the path and became a bigger pond which was full of pink water lily.
From the Japanese garden we walked through dense and dark trees to come out by a wall with a gateway in it. A secret garden hidden behind a high wall. The planting inside was mainly wisteria climbing the walls which must have looked very pretty last month and roses. The big pink and white blousy flowers smelt delicious. Their heady scent filled the garden. We had it to ourselves. A second small wall garden held a herb garden full of formal
box hedges full of lavender, sage and borage.
From this garden we walked to the Great Garden which is described as a formal garden of terraced walks descending to a rectangular pond and enclosed by stone walls. It is rather plain and in a Dutch influenced style favoured during the reign of William and Mary. We sat for the while watching the gardeners who were busy cutting the grass. One walking round the pond with his mower and the other had the harder job of cutting the grass on the banks around the pond . What a lovely way to spend a day doing not much at all whilst the workers worked. .
If there was any disappointment it was that the rhodedendrums had gone over and that there were no long borders full of perennials which usually look stunning at this time of year.
We left and drove to Teversal for lunch. Just down the road from the campsite we stayed at when we were homeless is the Caernarfon Arms. Named after Lord Caernarfon of Tutenkahmun fame it is a country pub serving food at lunchtime. We were shocked how many people were out eating in the middle of the week but found a table in the bar area. Lunch was a lovely lamb roast with roast potatoes, carrots , peas and yorkshire puddings in rich gravy. A lovely way to wrap up a day out. .
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