If life in Brighton becomes too hectic, then a few days in Steyning are guaranteed to put things back in perspective. Or so I found this week when the fine weather brought more people to Brighton than I’d anticipated and my ‘quiet’ time became distinctly unquiet, although I did enjoy some fine walks along Brighton beach and along Palace Pier.
One of the prettiest Sussex towns, the Saxon town of Steyning (its history dates back to the 8th century) has more or less everything – a meandering high street, historic buildings, good shops (including an Independent Bookshop) and magnificent countryside all around, the South Downs to be precise.
Steyning had been a trading powerhouse in the early middle ages as a river port for the downland wool trade, but the silting up of the River Adur left it up the creek, so to speak. The Black Death hit the village hard and the competition from other ports added to its economic woes, but the loss to the medieval folk of Steyning is our gain today.
The bypass has also been of benefit in this respect because, unlike many other small towns and villages in Sussex, the High Street has been spared the constant heavy traffic that makes a toll on the roads and creates noise and pollution.
Steyning is pretty well preserved, with many Tudor style half-timbered houses alongside some smart Georgian townhouses.
The preponderance of wood is especially noticeable, from the many old wooden doors to wooden fencing dividing the pavement from the road. Below are a few of the doorways that took my camera’s eye.
There is only one high-street grocery chain in the town and the many independent retailers offer an eclectic range of foodstuffs ranging from organic to exotic: the range of coffee shops/restaurants is truly amazing, many seeming to have a bakery shop as an add-on. Outstanding is the Independent Booksellers in which we whiled away a couple of hours, emerging later with bags full of wonderful books, some bought as Christmas presents. It was the sort of shop where one comes across books one just knows will suit someone, the sort one doesn’t find in the big bookstores anymore. As a consequence of the mix of old-fashioned and modern small shops, shopping in Steyning is easy paced and very enjoyable.
Steyning holds an Arts Festival every year, there is a Museum in Church Street, and in St Andrew’s Norman church in the nearby village of Bramber, where there is also an evocative ruined castle, there are some interesting carvings.
The South Downs Way passes just to the south of Steyning and climbs through the magnificent countryside around the Steyning Bowl, making this a perfect area for walking and cycling. Wonderful country pubs abound in this area.
It has now become my favourite place outside Brighton.
On the green in the middle of the town stands a memorial to the last little chimney sweep to die here, and just a few miles away a lovely old pub is the site of the last hanging to take place. I’m in Newport, the main town on the Isle of Wight, sometimes referred to as the capital.
The Island is well known as a favourite holiday resort for walkers, cyclists and families with young children, but Newport itself is often dismissed as merely a shopping area. Yet Newport was the hub of the Island’s rail network until the Beeching cuts of 1996 closed its railway along with many more on the island. This was a cut too far as the roads can barely cope with the increased traffic that was the result of such drastic pruning.
The only remaining train line runs from the ferry terminal at Ryde to the resort town of Shanklin with stops at Sandown, Brading and Smallbrook (for the Steam Railway), and the hub of the transport network is now the bus station in Newport where routes from across the Island terminate.
A quick visit to the town and you could be forgiven for thinking it is a town of chain stores from the ubiquitous M & S to H & M and Primark, but this historic town centres on two elegant squares surrounded by Georgian and Victorian architecture, and the town’s quay from which goods from all over the world were shipped along the Medina River from the port at Cowes, is just a short walk away.
Swans float serenely on the river ignoring the canoes and kayaks, the sailing boats and the odd small yacht or two that are on the water, and on the terrace of the Quay Arts Centre people relax with coffee and cakes, tea and crumpets or lunch. Inside the Arts Centre is a constantly changing art exhibition, dance classes, open mic occasions and an upmarket shop selling exquisitely crafted goods in silk, silver, ceramic, pottery and paper.
There was an extensive Roman settlement on the island and there remain two Roman villas, one of which is open to the public and whose remains provide a fascinating insight into country life in 3rd century Britain. Discovered in 1926 when foundations were being dug for a garage, subsequent excavations revealed the remains of a late Roman farmhouse built around 280 AD with a superb bath suite, underfloor heating and remnants of mosaic floors. You can peep into a Roman kitchen and see a slave preparing a Roman feast and there is a hands-on activity room where you can make a mosaic, repair a broken pot or weave a blanket. Outside, the plants Romans would have used are grown in the beautiful herb garden.
Newport is probably more famous for the nearby castle of Carisbrooke in the village of the same name, but although there have been fortifications on the Carisbrooke site since Roman times, what one sees today dates largely from the 12th to the 15th century.
Carisbrooke Castle is most famous as the place where Charles I was held prior to his removal to London and his execution by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians. The castle is said to be haunted by the King’s young daughter, Princess Elizabeth, who died during her incarceration in the Castle.
The donkeys of Carisbrook Castle are very popular with children of all ages. In previous centuries, water for the castle’s occupants was drawn from the 150 foot deep well by two donkeys powering a draw-wheel, walking approximately 270 metres to raise one bucket of water. When the castle lost its defensive role this practice stopped.
When the castle was restored in the 19th century, the equipment was renewed and the donkeys have been raising the water for the benefit of watching visitors ever since then. English Heritage is keen to say that the donkeys enjoy the exercise and are never over-worked.
Nearby Parkhurst Forest is home to two prisons which together make up the largest prison in the UK: it was once among the few top-security prisons in the United Kingdom. Their names, Parkhurst and Albany, were once synonymous with the major criminals who were housed there, it being presumed that any escapee would have a problem getting off the Island (as indeed it proved on the few occasions when a breakout occurred).
The famous Pop Festival shows no signs of losing popularity despite competition from other towns and cities across the country. Seaclose Park on the east bank of the River Medina has been the location for the revived Isle of Wight Music Festival since 2002 and it is one of the key events in Newport’s events calendar!
So if Newport, Isle of Wight is on your itinerary, please wander around its streets and alleyways, look at the façades of the houses and try and guess in what century it was erected. Find the row of old Alms Houses and if time permits, take a walk along the banks of the Medina River and try and visualise the days when sailing ships sailed up here from Cowes carrying a cargo of rice from Carolina. And when it comes to time to eat, whether your taste runs to Mac & Cheese, Burgers, or Fine Dining, Newport can supply you with the best, with the Golden Arches for fast food and Hewitts and Michelin-starred Thompsons for truly superb food.
Re-blogged because I have now accessed some images from Historic Royal Palaces which help flesh out the text.
To London last week with the British Guild of Travel Writers for our Annual Summer Outing which this year included a visit to the Banqueting House in Whitehall, a tour on a Big London Bus and a Cruise on the River Thames with City Cruises, the boat that allows you to get off at any stop along the route. The open-top bus tour and the river cruise took place in blazing sunshine and although London sights are familiar, the landmarks and historic sites never fail to thrill.
The Banqueting House is the last surviving part of the Palace of Whitehall*. It was once the greatest palace of its time in Europe, almost totally destroyed by fire in 1698, but I knew nothing of its history until this visit.
The Banqueting House was created for King James I in 1622 by architect Inigo Jones. Inspired by the classical architecture of ancient Rome it was revolutionary at that time, standing it is said, head and shoulders above the ragbag of buildings that composed Whitehall Palace. At the time of which we are speaking, a banquet was composed of little snacks and desserts, eaten after the main course when diners were waiting for the entertainment to begin, and was consumed in a separate little house or room, highly decorated and situated a short walk away from the main dining hall in order to aid digestion. The Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace was the biggest and grandest of them all.
It was during the reign of King Charles l that the magnificent ceiling paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (which today can be viewed from comfortable leather cushions laid on the floor) were installed. Under these ceilings over 400 years ago, royalty and courtiers, ambassadors and aristocrats took part in some of the most exuberant and decadent masques every performed; today it is more likely to be celebrities and fashionistas who parade beneath the sumptuous ceilings as The Banqueting House has proved a popular ‘Events’ venue.
* Whitehall Place was for many years the property of the powerful Archbishops of York, who needed to be close to the monarch. The first was built in 1241 and was originally known as York Place, passing through time to Cardinal Wolsey who extended it greatly. As we know, he was deprived of his properties by Henry VIII who took it over in 1530 when it became Whitehall Palace. Two great fires saw the destruction of Whitehall Palace, the first in 1691 and the second in 1698 when it was almost totally destroyed.
What follows are images of London taken from the top of the Big Red Bus.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London
Looking Across to the South Bank
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
The Shard can be seen from almost everywhere
The following are pictures taken from City Cruises boat which carried us from Westminster Pier down to the Tower of London and beyond, passing some very innovative architecture whose positioning evoked some heated argument amongst us, as well as the always sombre Traitors’ Gate leading into the Tower and almost certain death.
Tower Bridge with HMS Belfast
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
Dr Samual Johnson said, “…..when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Even after the long gap in time, I agree with him, every word.
It’s called a Regatta, but that’s an understatement if ever there was one, for this yachtfest is Cowes Week, the time of year when the inhabitants of the English town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight, rent out their houses, kennel the dogs and cats, and disappear. The ‘yachties’ are about to descend on the Island for what the glossy magazines call ‘the week of the year in the sailing calendar.’
Although the town will never again play host to the reigning monarchs of four countries as they did in 1909 when King Edward VII of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the Tsar of Russia and the King of Spain visited with their yachts, there is consolation in the whiff of serious money that comes with today’s royally rich. Oil barons and City whizz kids crowd the pavements of the narrow streets and swig vintage champagne from bottles as they stagger from one party to the next. Old salts and wannabe ‘yachties’ dressed with impeccable regatta cred. stroll the narrow streets with polished brass telescopes under their arms, as the bemused local population looks on in wonderment.
During the Regatta, over 800 boats and around 9,000 crew members will descend on this small town in the south of England. Cowes is not just for international yachtsmen, however. Non-sailors also flock to the island to enjoy the atmosphere, to sit on the beach and gaze at the coloured spinnakers that dance on the waters, to join the pleasure boats that sail around the competitors, and to gawp at the great, glossy yachts of the world’s billionaires, anchored offshore. Nor is boating on the stretch of water that separates the Island from mainland England, the Solent, confined to just these few highlighted days in the year: the number of sailing clubs tucked away in every harbour and cove has led to the south coast being dubbed Marinaland.
For the visitors who decide to join in the spirit of Cowes Week, dressing to look the part is easy. Stalls line the pedestrianised streets during the eight days of the Regatta and are on hand to sell overpriced tee-shirts, navy sweaters sporting capstans and anchors, and peaked caps festooned with enough braid to satisfy a Ruritanian General. Blue and white are still the colours of choice, but wannabe sailors should beware of the striped matelot look much favoured by minor celebs.
The genuine articles are available in the somewhat old-fashioned local shops that make no effort to look stylish or enticing, favouring instead a turn of the century faux ‘ships chandlers on the quayside’ look as befits Queen Victoria’s island.
But Cowes Week is about more than dressing up. It is an exhilarating mix of world-class sailing, jazz, rock n’roll, and brass bands, clowns, unicyclists, and street theatre. For the people who want to take a break from watching the more than 200 races during the Regatta, there is constant entertainment in the Yacht Haven where there are food stalls, a huge beer tent, and music from live bands that play day and night.
‘The diamond in the Solent’ is how this 23×13-mile island has been described, not only because of its shape but because of its safe, sandy beaches, great pubs and restaurants and a range of resorts to beat anything Continental Europe has to offer. And with an excellent transport system, everything is within easy reach.
The beauty of the Island as a venue for sailing events is that there is so much to see and do away from the coast. There are a wealth of activities on offer and whether by car, bike, public transport or on foot over the miles of bridle paths and downland walks, the island is easy to explore. With ultra-fast catamarans and jet-propelled boats making the crossing to the mainland in 10 and 25 minutes respectively, if the need for a faster pace should arise, day trips can easily be made to places like Portsmouth, Brighton and the great cathedral cities of Winchester and Salisbury.
Away from the main yachting town, messing about in boats is best indulged on the six-mile stretch of sands at Ryde or the glorious crescent of golden beach between Sandown and Shanklin. In the classic villages of Bembridge and Seaview you will still see and hear the sights and sounds of long-forgotten English summers as children play cricket, tennis and deck quoits, for this is an island where families with children feel comfortable, where the swimming is safe and the beaches are clean. It boasts not one, but two, dinosaur museums (it’s not called Dinosaur Island for nothing and fossil hunts are a regular occurrence), Blackgang Chine claims to be the oldest theme park in the country, and there is a wonderful zoo at Sandown where rare tigers are bred and the cubs are a great hit with children.
The Island from the Sea at Sunset
The Isle of Wight has now firmly established its reputation as the venue for the premier pop Festival which takes place in June. It was the venue in 1970 for the first major pop festival in Europe when, for a few days, 600,000 young people with bells around their necks and flowers in their hair lived the dream of the dawning of Aquarius. They had dance-ins and love-ins to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, The Doors and just about every other rock and folk musician who could get to the Island. It is said that this was the final break with the influence of Queen Victoria who spent a large part of her life on the Island at her Osborne House home, from 1851 until she died in 1901.
Modernity is found in the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, fitness centres, surfing, canoeing and body-boarding at many beach venues. For the adventurous, there are hang-gliding schools, bungee jumping and flights in small ‘planes around the island. Half the island is a designated area of outstanding natural beauty and its 80 miles of trails and 60 miles of coastal paths are perfectly laid out for walkers. There are forests, downlands, medieval villages, valleys and shady creeks, and enough museums, Roman villas, castles and manor houses to keep culture vultures happy for weeks.
But if you come for the sailing and to mix with the ‘yachties’, if you want to be considered one of the sailing fraternity you should be wearing a team shirt – preferably one of last year’s. So, if you are thinking of coming back for the celebrations in 2019, make sure that you get hold of one of this year’s shirts.
And if you manage it right this week, if you manage to look the part, to walk the walk and talk the talk, you might get invited to one of the yacht clubs to watch the fireworks on the last night. But if not, you can watch them from the beach with the rest of the happy holidaymakers, join in the last night celebrations which may go on until the wee small hours or just sit it out in one of the great eateries on the Island. For despite its social cachet, this yearly celebration of England’s sea-faring heritage is for everyone.
Lendy Cowes Week 2018: August 4th – 11th. Official website: www.lendycowesweek.co.uk/
The recent death of gardener and plant collector, Beth Chatto OBE, and her mention on Monty Don’s gardening programme on Friday reminded me of the retrospective to her work at the Garden Museum at Lambeth in London (formerly the Museum of Garden History) which I visited a few years ago. I was actually visiting the Tate at the time, just across the river from the Garden Museum, but on the spur of the moment decided to pop in to see what it had to offer.
This national resource for plants and garden history is situated on the South Bank of the Thames and sits right next door to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London residence, Lambeth Palace and, as mentioned, is just across the river from Tate Britain.
It owes its existence to John and Rosemary Nicholson who, in 1976, discovered the neglected and forgotten tomb of the John Tradescants (1570-1638), father and son gardeners to Charles I and the first gardeners and plant hunters in British history. They introduced many of the flowers, shrubs and trees we grow today.
Copyright Garden Museum
Copyright- Garden Museum
The centrepiece of the tranquil Sackler Garden designed to reflect Tradescant’s life and spirit is John Tradescant’s magnificent tomb, erected in 1662 and sculpted with images of the gardeners’ travels and collecting. Before the founding of the Garden Museum in 1977, the church was earmarked for demolition and this masterpiece of funeral art had lain neglected for many decades, the sculpted images unrecognisable beneath the soot that covered it.
On its rescue from demolition over 40 years ago, the church was deconsecrated and subsequently converted into the world’s first museum dedicated to gardens and gardening. The neglected graveyard which adjoined the church is now part of the museum and contains not only the tomb of the Tradescants but the tomb of one whose name most schoolboys will recognise, Captain William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, himself a native of Lambeth.
The garden has as its centrepiece, a 17th-century style knot garden designed by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury of Hatfield House in the traditional geometric style enclosed in a square. Knot gardens had been popular in Britain since the Tudor period, usually formed of woody herbs clipped in geometric designs but in this case dwarf box (Buxus sempervirens) was used rather than herbs.
Exhibitions of various kinds take place in The Garden Museum, but a Permanent Exhibition runs throughout the year. Among the permanent exhibits is one that charts the development of gardening from pre-historic times to modern day. The on-site library has a fine collection containing information from the Landscape Movement from Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton in the 18th century, to the 19th-century innovations that changed gardening thanks to travel (heated glasshouses and the lawnmower to name just two) and the gardens influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement pioneered by William Morris.
We tend to forget sometimes how much we owe to the adventurous plant hunters who brought back to these shores the azaleas, jasmine, rhododendrons, clematis, camellias, magnolias and lilies, but here the plant hunters are given due credit for their determination and zeal in seeking these out. Planters like the John Tradescants, Ernest Wilson, William Dampier, Frank Kingdon Ward, Joseph Banks, David Douglas, George Forrest and Francis Masson are names only the dedicated gardeners are familiar with but they are responsible for much of what we love about English gardens today.
Unlike most museums, the Garden Museum is a quiet, tranquil place, the restaurant/cafeteria a delightfully cool and pleasant place in which to have some light refreshments. Take time after a visit to sit contemplatively in the garden for a few moments listening to the birds, or the drone of the bees, as they burrow into the vivid blue agapanthus and the sweet smelling lavender. The hustle and bustle of London seem far away.
I am planning a return visit sometime in late summer as I understand the gardens have had a makeover and there is an added attraction in that they have now opened the on-site medieval tower from which there is an amazing vista over Lambeth Palace and the River Thames.
This magical place is located right in the heart of the capital, just a ten-minute walk from the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Tate Britain, and Waterloo and Victoria stations.
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Nearest Underground: Lambeth North or Westminster.
I thought I’d time my walk today for lunchtime and, as I thought, I had the place to myself. Being Sunday, I presume most people are eating out or at home tucking into ‘le rosbif’ or even pasta or pizza.
So this is Sandown, Isle of Wight, on a beautiful sunny day in April, looking down from the Cliff Path that runs between this town and the next town, Shanklin, then down a steep path on to the beach. I walked through to the Cliff Path from the main road, it looks quite woody and yes, it is, with hidden niches, wild flowers, primroses and bluebells sheltering under gnarled old trees, and the inevitable folly.
By now, the beach will be full of walkers, the ice-cream kiosks will be doing a roaring trade, and the Pier will be packed with children on the bouncy castle and various other amusements.
The tables that were empty at lunch-time will be occupied with people drinking teas and coffees, snacking on home-made cakes, and perhaps sitting back reading the Sunday papers.
Culver Cliff, the massive white chalk cliff that curves around the edge of Sandown, hiding Whitecliff Bay and Bembridge, catches the light when the sun shines, and out on the horizon are cruise liners and cargo ships bound inward for Southampton, or outward for foreign parts.
Some have been here with me before, but the beaches around the island never fail to please me, and walking on the sands, or on the revetment that runs under the cliff, or even on the pavement where convenient benches make stopping to take in the view even more of a pleasure, makes this my favourite walk – always.
A walk along the seafront at Sandown, Isle of Wight, with my friend Steve from London, a brilliant photographer who has brought his camera with him, produced some great images that I’d like to share with you. Sandown shares with Shanklin, the next town, a marvellous crescent of golden beach, perfect for safe swimming – one of the reasons why both towns attract families with young children.
Sandown also has the Dinosaur Museum, this being Dinosaur Island, and Shanklin has a wonderful Chine that leads from the centre of the old town, down through ferny green walks, to the beach and the sea.
But Sandown has something more frivolous – beach huts that make one smile, because the custom here is to give them all peculiar, funny names, a play on the word ‘hut’ more than ‘funny’, clever, quirky, and guaranteed to make one smile.
Steve took these photos for me. I hope you like them too. You may have to click on the images to enlarge the name plaques.
So there you have it, Sandown Esplanade beneath the Cliff Path and along the beach on a delightful walk that leads to Shanklin (well lit during the evening as well) with cafes, life-guards, invigorating breezes and views of giant ships leaving Portsmouth and Southampton for foreign ports, as you walk along.
And for the last photo, well, it speaks for itself.
I admire the many photographs of gardens and flowers other people post on their sites and walking around my minute plot this afternoon I thought I’d do something similar. I think it’s a sort of displacement activity as I haven’t been in a writing mood for some time now, nor have I remembered to take my camera when I’ve gone out walking. If I did I could post something on Jo’s Monday Walk which I’ve been meaning to do for some time.
So here goes. First up is something I’m thrilled about, a blossom laden branch of my damson tree, one of my favourite fruits but one that is very hard to come by these days. The amount of blossom still on the tree after the March winds makes me think I may be blessed with a decent crop of fruit this summer. It’s only in its third year in my garden so, fingers crossed ….
Next up is a planter of tulips just struggling into the light and behind them is an azalea which is almost finished now. It was tempted out by a burst of almost summer weather a few weeks ago when it, along with my early lavender, gave pleasure to some bees who appeared to be in a drunk/druggy state as they careered into each other and tumbled from blossom to blossom.
Not far from this is this rampant yellow flowering bush/shrub whose name I have forgotten. I know it started life last year as a small cutting and like Topsy, it just growed and growed, now I shall have to take the secateurs to it as my garden is really small. But for now, its cheerful yellow colour brightens up my day.
I liked this last one while I was taking it, but looking at it now it appears a bit sad. Definitely, an end of something, winter I hope, with the urn lying on its side, the background of dull containers without their jewel-like summer flowers, the lone crocus and the forget-me-nots struggling for a place. It’s even a bit blurred as I have a back problem and cannot position myself to get the best photographs, so am apt to aim the camera haphazardly when I can’t do ground shots.
Anyway, a glimpse of some flowers in my garden, in lieu of a travel piece.
My photograph this week pretty basically depicts the challenge word, Mirror, and shows just a reflection. It is, however, one of my favourite photographs from a fondly remembered day spent recently in lovely St. Albans in the UK, formerly the ancient Roman city of Verulanium.
The picture was taken in the grounds of a hotel in the town where I was attending a wedding. I’d escaped for a few moments to wander through the 20-acres of beautfully landscaped gardens and as I came upon the quiet waters of this lovely lake the symmetry of the trees reflections had me reaching for my camera.