The majesty of Kedleston Hall

Kedleston Hall. An impressive Palladian mansion in the Derbyshire countryside, just a few miles to the west of Derby city centre. Kedleston has been the seat of the Curzon family for generations, almost 1,000 years! The Curzons accompanied William the Conqueror on his 1066 jaunt to England, and stayed on, accruing vast estates in the process. What’s interesting from a personal point of view is that my grandmother’s family (BULL) come from the village of Hollington (and neighbouring villages) only a few miles further west from Kedleston. I guess over the centuries their lives must have been influenced, one way or the other, by the Curzons.

The present builing was designed by Robert Adam, relatively unknown at the time he received the commission from Sir Nathaniel Curzon. Kedleston Hall remains one of the best examples of Adams’ designs still standing.

Standing in about 800 acres of parkland, Kedleston is approached along a winding road, that crosses a bridge over a weir in the man-made lake.

It was never intended, apparently as a family home, but as a venue for Lord Curzon to show off all his accumulated art.

01-20130708001 Kedleston Hall

The east wing (on the left in the photo above) did house the family quarters, while the servants lived and worked in the west wing. The Grand Salon in the central structure was meant for entertaining and displaying the works of art. The entrance today is through the ground floor on the north, and entering the main hall on the first floor the size and height of the entrance hall are very impressive with marble columns either side. There are rooms leading off on both sides, and it’s possible to make a circular tour of the rooms, passing through a music room, a sitting room, a library, the dining room, and a state bedroom, among others.

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Alongside the hall is the small All Saints Church, no longer used for worship, but the mortal remains of many of the Curzon family are buried there. Under floor near the main altar are two figures of the Fifth Lord Curzon of Kedleston and his wife, dated 1275.

While this house does not have impressive gardens through which to wander, the large parkland does offer the visitor an ample opportunity for some pleasant exercise in the Derbyshire countryside.

And on the ground floor is an interesting museum of Indian artifacts – weapons, jewellery, ornaments, silverware, and costumes – from the time of George Nathaniel Curzon who was Viceroy of India from 1899-1905.

Capes, coves . . . and endless beaches – the beauty of Oregon

From Cape Lookout, looking north to Cape Mears

From Cape Lookout, looking north to Oceanside, and Cape Mears beyond

We hadn’t planned on a beach vacation in Oregon this year, but Steph and I had mulled over the idea of a road trip from San Francisco to Seattle, and returning to the Twin Cities from there by train. Just a whim of mine.

For the past three years we’ve tried to make a ‘side trip’ away from St Paul when we travel to the USA to visit Hannah and family. In 2011, it was ‘canyon country‘; last year it was the Minnesota Riviera. Then Hannah told us about a beach house on the Oregon coast that was available for rent, and that was it: vacation agreed, and planned. Well, not quite. In addition to the week at the beach, Steph and I traveled south to Crater Lake in Oregon, and then on into northern California to see the majestic coastal redwoods, following US101 most of the way. This is the route we took.

So on 8 June we boarded our 3½ hour Delta flight from MSP to Portland, and then it was a 110 mile drive (a little under two hours) to the coast. Our beach house was just outside and to the north of the coastal community of Oceanside (just south of Cape Mears), and about nine miles west of the nearest large town Tillamook, the cheese capital of Oregon. That in itself was an interesting trip, passing through the Coastal Range, a rather winding road, and suddenly emerging into this coastal plain that is Tillamook.

It didn’t take long to determine this was a dairy farming center; just a quick sniff and the presence of lots and lots of cows could be detected in the air.

I’d originally booked a standard saloon rental with Budget, but agreed an upgrade to an SUV – a Chevy Captiva. Nice vehicle, spanking new, only nine miles on the clock. But after a major system failure a couple of days later (a known Chevrolet problem for a number of years – just Google ‘Chevrolet’ and ‘Reduced engine power’) Budget replaced it with a Ford Escape, and had it delivered to Oceanside from Portland.

Our beach house had a fabulous view out over the Pacific Ocean. And while we thought this was pretty spectacular, it wasn’t necessary to travel far to see some more pretty impressive landscapes. US101 hugs much of the Oregon coast, snaking around jagged headlands, soaring above others before plunging to stretches of beach that seem to stretch into the distance forever. In places this road seems no wider than a country lane, occasionally becomes a divided highway, or at least two lanes for the uphill traffic. Sandwiched between the cliff edge and the mountains, surrounded by trees, with the occasional glimpse of the coast far below, or at the many viewpoints, this has to be one of the most spectacular road trips on the west coast.

The wind blows constantly, the waves roll in incessantly, and the eye is drawn to the horizon – next stop Japan or the Philippines (where we lived for 19 years). While it was mostly bright and sunny during our stay in Oregon, there were times when the sea mists rolled in, giving the landscapes a rather mysterious ambience. We didn’t see any whales, although the coast off Cape Mears is a well-known whale watching spot at certain times of the year. But there were plenty of seabirds, and some sea lions.

Fulfilling our apostolic duties in the USA

Steph and I flew to the US at the beginning of June to spend some time with Hannah and Michael, and grandchildren Callum (almost three) and Zoë (one in early May). We enjoyed three wonderful weeks over there, marred only by the fact that we all came down with nasty coughs and colds (courtesy of day care virus diversity from Callum and Zoë) which certainly took the edge off our holiday.

We all traveled to Oregon to spend a week at the beach – at Oceanside, some 100 miles or so west of Portland. It was great playing with Callum and Zoë, and they seemed to have enjoyed the beach and ocean, and having Grandma and Granddad’s attention almost constantly for the week we were in Oregon. During our visits to St Paul, Callum and Zoë are at day care every day from early morning until late afternoon, Monday to Friday, so we only get to see them at breakfast and dinner, and over the weekend.

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It was fantastic to see how they had developed since we were last in the USA in June 2012. Zoë was only a few weeks old then. Now she’s walking, trying some first words: ‘Mama’, ‘Dada’, ‘Hi’, really developing a great personality. But she can be very stubborn. In this short video you can see one of the games we played.

Callum is no longer a toddler, so-to-speak. His language has come on leaps and bounds, and it was fascinating to see him reasoning things for himself.

All in all, a great three weeks.

400 years of decline in the heart of the Cotswolds . . .

The entrance to Chastleton House

The entrance to Chastleton House

It seems that Chastleton House – a Jacobean mansion built between 1607 and 1612 in north Oxfordshire in the heart of the Cotswolds near Moreton-in-Marsh – was destined for decline. The same Jones family lived at Chastleton House for almost the entire period, until it was sold and became a National Trust property in the early 1990s.

Although the house itself has a rather grand façade, it has rather modest grounds, and is located in the centre of Chastleton village. The journey from Bromsgrove took us south around the historic town of Evesham, and a steep climb up the Cotswold escarpment near Broadway. On a glorious day like yesterday the views of the Cotswold landscapes were wonderful.

What makes this National Trust property different from most others is that there has been essentially no attempt to restore the house to its former glory (as with Calke Abbey in Derbyshire). Instead the Trust has made essential repairs to prevent further deterioration of the property’s fabric, but what’s on show is what was there when the house was vacated. And quite a number of rooms, such as the Great Chamber, with its magnificent plastered ceiling and fireplace, appear today much like they did several centuries ago.

And because the Trust is preserving not restoring, many more rooms are open to the public, who can access the house on timed visits. This means that the number of visitors in the house at any one time is limited which enhances the visitor experience.

Over four floors from the magnificent entrance hall, the dining room (with a fine display of Staffordshire salt ware from the 17th century), up the East Stairs to the Great Chamber, a library, and some of the bedrooms, and finally to the top floor to the Long Gallery that stretches the entire width of the house, and faces east. Apparently the family used the Long Gallery for exercise on days when it was impossible to go outside.

The gardens are not large, and must have been much finer in the past. The topiary bushes deteriorated many decades ago when it was no longer possible to maintain them. The village of Chastleton lies just beyond the garden walls, and the lack of several ‘expected’ facilities in the house (such as a laundry) is apparently down to these having been provided by villagers living close-by.

There were fewer visitors to Chastleton House yesterday than I expected, and it was lovely to experience the tranquility of its surroundings. Definitely well worth a visit, and one of the Trust properties that I have enjoyed most.

The coastal giants of northern California

No description, no photograph, no video can prepare you for a face-to-face encounter with the tallest trees on the planet. Towering as much as 300 feet or more overhead, and living often in excess of 1,500 years, the coastal redwoods of northern California are a sight to behold. Awe-inspiring! Sequoia sempervirens is truly a marvel of the natural world.

Steph and I recently vacationed on the Oregon coast for a week, and then took four days to travel south to Crater Lake and through the redwoods national park of northern California before flying back to the Twin Cities from Sacramento. We’d visited Crater Lake just the day before the redwoods, and although it’s ‘unfair’ to make a comparison between Crater Lake (‘spectacular’) and the redwoods (‘awesome’), if I had to choose which one moved me more, I would have to plump for the redwoods.

My original plan was to overnight in Brookings (just north of the Oregon-California state line), visit the various national and state redwood parks, return to Brookings for a second night, and then head south to Sacramento. What was I thinking about? In any case, once I was in the USA, I did a little more online research and discovered that access to some of the tallest trees in the Redwood National Park had been closed to vehicles, and that some of the more spectacular sights were to be found further south in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Avenue of the Giants. So I was easily able to change our hotel reservations, spending the first night, as planned in Brookings, and the second at Garberville, some 205 miles south, and about halfway to Sacramento. It was a good decision.

If you ever get chance to see the redwoods, a good place to start is the information center in Crescent City, along US101 (the Redwood Highway), on the south side of the town.

The staff in the information center couldn’t have been more helpful and pleasant. They gave us several brochures, and advised on the best sights and routes. While vehicle access to the Tall Trees Grove (much further south) was now restricted, they encouraged us to visit an ancient stand of redwoods in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, just a few miles away to the northeast. In fact we’d passed the northern access road to this park as we entered Crescent City. And in particular they recommended we visit Stout Memorial Grove, reached on a dirt, but easily passable track (especially if you have an SUV as we did). Stout Memorial Grove, only 40-some acres in extent, has some fine old redwoods. Had the long-term fate of the redwoods not been recognized early last century, the forests would have been logged out and destroyed. The early settlers in this part of California had no vision for the future, and must have seen the redwoods as an inexhaustible resource. How wrong they were.

Moving on south, we took the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway as a diversion from US101, through Elk Prairie (where we actually saw some elk), and on to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, dedicated by former President Richard M Nixon to former First Lady and wife of President Lyndon B Johnson.

US101 is not called the Redwood Highway for nothing. As you drive along, you move into and out of various stands of these magnificent trees (as you saw in the video above). But just south of Scotia, there is an opportunity to leave US101 for a while at Exit 674, and take CA254 for the 31-mile scenic drive Avenue of the Giants (a clip of which is shown at the beginning of the video). The two-lane highway meanders through the trees that ‘took no prisoners’ when it came to determining the road’s route. Driving slowly along the ‘Avenue’ was just a memorable trip, a delight. And here are some of the memorable sights of that awe-inspiring day.

Then we rejoined US101 and rolled into Garberville, which lies just south of the south entrance to the Avenue of the Giants, for our penultimate night on this once-in-a-lifetime OR-CA road trip.