Let’s call the whole thing off . . .

Thus end verses in the 1937 song penned by George and Ira Gershwin. And that’s what I was humming to myself after a recent visit to the National Trust’s Castle Ward, on the shore of Strangford Lough in Co. Down, Northern Ireland (map). It was built in the 1760s for Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor. However, the Ward family (originally from Cheshire) owned the estate since the 16th century, and an Old Castle (from about 1590) still stands north of the house.

The 1st Viscount and his good lady, Lady Ann Bligh, had very different tastes. It’s a wonder they went on to create a dynasty. But they did, having four sons and four daughters.

Bernard and Ann didn’t see eye to eye on all things architectural. As you drive up to Castle Ward (from the west) you see a typical Neo-Classical 18th century mansion, epitomised by its symmetry. Walk round to the east side, with its views over Strangford Lough, and you are faced with something quite different: 18th century Gothic. What an unexpected surprise, and a dramatic contrast. Certainly an interesting combination.

Neo-Classical and Georgian Gothic side by side, back to front

The view of Strangford Lough from the Gothic, east-facing side of Castle Ward

But the Bangor husband and wife differences were not restricted to the house’s exterior. It is almost perfectly divided down the center, Neo-Classical decor on one side, Gothic on the other. Quite extraordinary!

Ward’s son Nicholas succeeded as the 2nd Viscount, but having been declared insane, he died in 1827, unmarried and childless. The title passed to his nephew Edward. The current Viscount Bangor, the 8th, lives in London with his wife, Royal biographer Sarah Bradford, but they have an apartment at Castle Ward for their use. Castle Ward passed to the National Trust after 1950 when the 6th Viscount died, and the estate was accepted in lieu of death duties.

Entering through a Victorian porch on the south end, there is a staircase on the right leading to bedrooms on the first floor.

Just off this entrance is Lady Ann’s boudoir, with its flamboyant ceiling based apparently on that in Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Passing through Boudoir into the Drawing Room, one encounters a room full of the Ward treasures, paintings, objets d’art, and furniture.

Further on, a study has paintings of the various Viscounts. The 5th Viscount (d. 1911) I think it was, had been a keen sailor, and desired to be buried at sea. It’s said that immediately after the funeral the Dowager Viscountess had his body consigned to Strangford Lough from the end of the family jetty. At least this is what National Trust volunteer guide George told us. You can see George in the photos above describing a beautiful tea chest.

On the west side of the house (the Neo-Classical side), there is a grand entrance hall, and off that a fine dining room.

From the Library, there is a ‘secret’ door to passages and a stairwell that would have been used by the servants to come and go without being seen.

Several bedrooms are open on the first floor. The Viscountess’s bedroom has original 18th century wallpaper, and there’s a wonderfully decorated screen in front of the fire.

The estate is extensive at Castle Ward, with walks down to the Old Castle, the farmyard, and along Lough (estate map).

Close to the house and stable yard is a Victorian sunken garden and a rockery.

We also discovered that Castle Ward is one of the locations for ‘Game of Thrones’. And I suspect that many of the tourists we saw that day had come to Castle Ward for that purpose rather than taking in the beauty of the house itself.

On our way to Castle Ward, we stopped at Rowallane Garden (map) and had a very enjoyable wander through its natural and formal parts over almost 90 minutes. It’s certainly a haven of tranquility. And we discovered that Rowallane Garden is the headquarters of the National Trust in Northern Ireland. Rowallane Garden was laid out by the Rev. John Moore in the 1860s, and developed further by his nephew, Hugh Armytage Moore after 1903.

Deceptively sumptuous in Co. Armagh . . . women and children first

Walter MacGeough Bond

Built by Walter MacGeough Bond in the 1820s along the banks of the River Blackwater in Co. Armagh, The Argory was the fourth National Trust property we visited during our recent tour of Northern Ireland.

The estate was in the family since the 1740s. The family name was originally just MacGeough, but Bond (the maiden name of the grandmother of Walter) was added by Royal Licence in 1824. Walter was the fourth child of Joshua McGeough of Drumshill. Because of particular restrictions in his father’s will, Walter did not inherit Drumsill House (now a hotel), so invested in expanding his estate at The Argory. It remained the family home until 1979, and its interiors have remained unchanged since 1900.

The main entrance on the west front

The east front entrance, used increasingly as there was better coach access

The hallway from the west entrance catches one’s attention immediately. There is a spiral cantilever staircase, one of the finest examples I think I have ever seen. A large stove dominates the floor space; electricity was a late introduction to The Argory.

Off the hall is the dining room, and a very fashionable drawing room off to the other side, with several pieces of outstanding furniture, including Italian marble top tables.

Upstairs, the landing is dominated by an organ.

In one of the bedrooms, a story about the second owner Ralph (Walter’s second son), also known as Captain Shelton, is captured in a painting (a copy of the ca. 1892 original by Thomas Hemy) of the sinking of HMS Birkenhead, a troopship that foundered off the coast of South Africa in February 1852. You can see it on the wall to the left of the bed.

Captain Shelton was on board – and survived. He is depicted as the officer on the right hand side carrying two small children. On the other side of the deck the troops line up in a disciplined way, allowing the women and children into the life boats, the first instance of ‘women and children first’ enshrined in what became known as ‘the Birkenhead Drill‘. Only 193 (out of almost 650 persons on board) were saved.

The Argory is a beautiful house, quite understated on the outside, but a feast for the eyes awaits within. We enjoyed our visit, having combined it with a visit to Springhill House earlier that same day. National Trust volunteer Rosheen was an excellent guide.


Linked by an Irish harp table . . .

We landed in Dublin just after noon, taking the M50 tunnel to cross the city northwards to Northern Ireland.

We were headed to Ardboe and the west shore of Lough Neagh, where we had booked a seven night stay at a guesthouse there. Our route north took us past three of the National Trust properties that were on our list for our week-long holiday. We initially intended just to visit Derrymore House, a few miles west of Newry in Co. Armagh, then head off to Ardboe. But we found that we could also spend a couple of hours at Ardress House. And, as it turned out, there was a loose link between the two properties.

Derrymore House is only open on five afternoons a year. The National Trust rents it out as a private residence, and only one room, the so-called ‘Treaty Room’ is open to the public on these days, although there is year round access to the grounds.

Derrymore House is an eighteenth century thatched cottage, ‘in a landscape demesne’, built on land inherited from his father by Isaac Corry, born in Newry in 1755, who became MP for that city in 1776 in the Irish House of Commons. At that time, Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and Ireland were separate kingdoms until the Act of Union was signed in 1800, coming into effect on 1 January 1801. Corry was Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer and government spokesman for the Act of Union.

Cottages of this type were often built just for show, to enhance a landscape, to be used for recreation. It seems, however, that Derrymore was used as a residence on a continual basis. In fact, when Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, Corry introduced an unpopular window tax, and his coach was stoned by residents near Newry on the road to Dublin, he had a by-pass road built to avoid such confrontations.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the 1800 Act of Union was drafted in the ‘Treaty Room’.

There is a black and white photo among the National Trust’s information showing a fine Irish harp table, made by James Flood in 1799, which is purported to have some connections with the 1800 Act of Union¹. No longer at Derrymore, it now can be seen at Ardress House, less than 30 miles north, and which we visited that same afternoon.

Although photography is not normally permitted inside the house, I was given special permission (for which I am most grateful) to photograph this beautiful piece of Irish craftsmanship. It’s a feast for the eyes, with marquetry of the highest quality, showing the rose, thistle, and shamrock of England, Scotland, and Ireland, respectively (what about the poor Welsh?) inlaid in the table top. The support for the table is in the form of a shamrock, and an Irish harp is also part of that support.

Ardress House was a 17th century farmhouse, nestling in 40 acres of farmland, in the apple orchards of C. Armagh that was remodelled and embellished in 1760 by Dublin chief architect Charles Ensor. His family originally came from Coventry (some 35 miles from where I live in Worcestershire), and he married the heiress of Ardress, Sarah Clarke.

It’s quite easy to see the differences between the two phases of building: lower ceilings and smaller rooms in the 17th centry farmhouse parts; higher ceiling, Neo-Classical design in those from the 18th century.

But Ardress does have another interesting feature: a perfect traditional farmyard. Just like the ones I remember from my childhood when visiting my grandparents in rural Derbyshire.

Such was the start to our Northern Ireland National Trust adventure. The omens were good the following days!

¹ There is no evidence it was ever used to sign the Act of Union. However, King George V signed the new constitution of Northern Ireland on this table in Belfast in 1921. For many years, it was ‘lost’ in storage in England, before being returned to Ardress House in 2006.

No longer on my travel bucket list . . . another igneous encounter

I’ve been very fortunate (and privileged) to have visited many places of interest all over the world: Machu Picchu in Peru; the temples of Tikal and Angkor Wat in Guatemala and Cambodia, respectively; some of the world’s iconic cities like New York, Sydney, and Hong Kong, to name just three; and many of the wonderful parks and monuments throughout the USA, such as the Grand Canyon, Devil’s Tower, or Crater Lake. I’ve written about these, and many others, in this blog.

But there is one place, much closer to home, that I wanted to see as long as I can remember. And that place is the Giant’s Causeway, on the north coast of Antrim in Northern Ireland. Last week I was finally able to tick the Giant’s Causeway on my travel bucket list.

Steph and I have just returned from a week-long road trip to Northern Ireland, mainly to visit most of the properties owned by the National Trust over there. We actually got to visit nine houses, one garden, and the Giant’s Causeway.

It took a little under two hours to drive north from our guesthouse in Ardboe, beside Lough Neagh, to the Visitor Centre – mainly because we decided to take back roads to avoid the expected early morning congestion around Coleraine, and also because we missed one turn and found ourselves heading east instead of north, delaying about 15 minutes as a consequence.

It must have been around 10:30 or so when we parked, and already the site was busy. The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and attracts visitors—by the coach-load—from all over the world, most of whom (not being National Trust members) must handsomely boost the National Trust’s finances. I was surprised to note how many Chinese visitors we met at the Causeway.

The National Trust has built a fine Visitor Centre, with its gift shop and cafeteria, and many exhibits describing the geology and history of the site.

I was surprised how much limestone and chalk can be seen on the north Antrim coast, having been protected, as it were, by an overlay of volcanic rocks. Interesting geology!

It’s the volcanic history that we see at the Giant’s Causeway, an outcrop of beautiful pentagonal and hexagonal basalt columns, stretching from the shore northwards into the incoming tide.

You have to walk just under a mile from the Visitor Centre down the cliff face to reach the Causeway itself. Fortunately, the National Trust does provide a regular shuttle bus service back up, free to members. We were happy to take the bus after wandering over the Causeway for well over an hour.

But the Causeway is not the only landscape attraction. The spectacular cliff backdrop to the landscape just adds that extra grandeur and mystery. Old Irish myths spring to mind! We also took a walk on Runkerry Head (on the left of the map below) so that we could view the Causeway from a distance through a gap in the next headland east (between Portnaboe and Port Ganny). In the far distance the crags of The Amphitheatre just add to the drama.

Looking east from Runkerry Head towards The Amphitheatre (in the far distance) and the Giant’s Causeway that can be seen through the gap in the next headland. The road down the cliff passes through that gap.

With some clever angles and hiding behind various basalt columns I was able to take most photos without any tourists showing, despite there being several hundred or more there at the time. I was also a little surprised at how small an area the Giant’s Causeway covered, but I guess that as the tide was in (or coming in) more would be exposed at low tide. I’m quite happy with my photos, but I have seen several more spectacular photos of the Causeway taken at dawn or sunset.

The Giant’s Causeway is certainly an impressive landscape. If you do plan a visit, do check the weather forecasts carefully. Although mainly overcast, we did have some sunny weather. Half an hour after we left, heading further east and south on the Antrim coast, the heavens opened, and visitors to another National Trust site, the Rope Bridge (where we stopped for a picnic only) were probably soaked to the skin, with the weather turning in the bat of an eyelid. Further south, the chalk is exposed at a number of points including here at Garron Point (map).

A National Trust trip around Northern Ireland

Well, if I count the visit to Plas Newydd on the southern shore of Anglesey, on the way to Holyhead to catch the ferry over to Ireland, Steph and I visited twelve National Trust properties in eight days.

We have wanted to visit Northern Ireland for many years, but until now never really had the opportunity, or we felt that the security situation didn’t make for a comfortable visit. All that has changed. Now retired, we have time on our hands. ‘The Troubles‘ are a thing of the past (fortunately), and the Peace Process in Northern Ireland has transformed the opportunities for that part of the United Kingdom.

Being members of the National Trust, and knowing that there were some splendid houses to see over in Northern Ireland, as well as some Trust-owned landscapes such as the spectacular Giant’s Causeway on the north Antrim coast, this was just the incentive we needed to decide, once and for all, to cross over to the island of Ireland again. We have visited south of the border several times. I first went to Co. Clare in 1968, and Steph and I had holidays there traveling around in 1992 and 1996.

Planning the trip – finding somewhere to stay
For a number of recent holidays, I have used booking.com to search for hotels when I was planning our road trips across the USA. So I used this company this time round when looking for an overnight stay in Holyhead, convenient for the ferry to Ireland early the next morning.

In Northern Ireland we were looking for somewhere central from where it would be a relatively easy drive each day to any part because the National Trust properties we wanted to visit were scattered all over (as shown in the map above). After reading various online reviews (are they always reliable?), and looking for value for money, we chose The Drummeny Guest House in Ardboe, Co. Tyrone (Mid-Ulster council district), on the west shore of Lough Neagh.

Me and Tina Quinn on the morning of our departure from The Drumenny Guest House

What a find! Our hosts, Tina and Damien Quinn, were the best. What a friendly welcome, and hospitality like you would never believe. The reviews on booking.com were all very positive. Were they accurate? Absolutely! In fact, our experience was even better than previous reviewers had described. Such a breakfast (full Irish), and lots of other extras that Tina provided. In fact, staying with Tina and Damien it felt as though we were staying with family, and a week at The Drumenny was better than we ever anticipated. So, if you ever contemplate a Northern Ireland holiday, there’s only one place to head for: The Drumenny Guest House in Ardboe. You won’t be disappointed.

Less than a mile away there’s a good restaurant, The Tilley Lamp, that serves good, simple food, and lots of it. Very convenient.

Day 1: 8 Sep — home to Holyhead, via Plas Newydd (168 miles; map)
Our Northern Ireland trip started just after 09:15, and because of major road works (and almost certain traffic congestion) we decided to travel northwest from Bromsgrove via Kidderminster and Bridgnorth, before joining the A5 south of Shrewsbury. We then continued on the A5 through Snowdonia, and over the Menai Strait to Plas Newydd House and Gardens, just a few miles west of Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.

Home to the Marquesses of Anglesey (descendants of the 1st, who as the Earl of Uxbridge, served alongside the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and had his leg blown off by a cannonball), Plas Newydd stands on the shore of the Menai Strait that separates Anglesey from mainland Wales.

Day 2: 9 Sep — Dublin to Ardboe, calling at Derrymore House near Newry, and Ardress House (120 miles), Co. Armagh
Our Stena Line Superfast X ferry arrived to Dublin Port on time, just after noon, and we quickly headed north on the M1, crossing into Northern Ireland just south of Newry in Co. Armagh.

Derrymore House lies a few miles west of the A1, and is open for just five afternoons a year. That was a piece of luck that we happened to pass by on one of those days. It’s a late 18th century thatched cottage. The ‘Treaty Room’ is the only room open to the public, and the 1800 Act of Union uniting the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland is supposed to have been drafted there.

Further north, and the route to Ardboe, we also visited Ardress House, built in the 17th century, and embellished in the 18th. It has a traditional farmyard.

We arrived to our guesthouse around 18:00, and enjoyed a meal out that evening at The Tilley Lamp. The best pork chops I’ve ever tasted.

Day 3: 10 Sep — Ardboe Cross, Co. Tyrone, Springhill House, Co. Londonderry and The Argory, Co. Armagh (53 miles)
Sunday morning. We decided to briefly explore the Lough Neagh shore near Arboe, and see one of Ireland’s national monuments, the Ardboe Cross.

Springhill House is a typical 17th ‘Plantation‘ house, showing the history of ten generations of the Lenox-Conyngham family.

The Argory is just 20 miles south of Springhill, and was built in the 1820s and was the home of the MacGeough Bond family, and has remained unchanged since 1900. It has magnificent interiors, particularly the cantilevered staircase.

Day 4: 11 Sep — Florence Court and Crom Castle, Co. Fermanagh (169 miles)
Florence Court is the furthest west of all of the National Trust’s properties, a few miles southwest of Enniskillen in Co. Fermangh. It was the home of the Earls of Enniskillen, and was built in the 18th century. There are beautiful views of the nearby mountains from the front of the house. Inside, where photography is not permitted, the walls and ceilings have some of the finest stucco plaster work I have seen. In 1955 there was a disastrous fire and it’s credit to the National Trust how well they accomplished the refurbishment. Remarkably many of the precious items in the house were saved.

On our route back to Ardboe, we diverted to make a quick visit to the ruins of Crom Castle, on the banks of Upper Lough Erne. There was time for a walk to the ruins from the Visitor Centre before it closed for the day, and approaching showers drenched us. There were some lovely views over the lough to Creighton Tower.

We also saw how convoluted the border is between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Sorting that out during the Brexit negotiations will be a challenge, nightmare even, and so unnecessary. It is an invisible border, and hopefully obstacles will not be put in place by this incompetent Conservative government that will undermine the economic and social progress that Northern Ireland has made in recent years. This story on the BBC website (20 September) has a video of the very road we took back to Ardboe between the counties of Fermanagh (Northern Ireland) and Monaghan (Republic).

Day 5: 12 Sep — Giant’s Causeway and the Antrim coast, Co. Antrim (162 miles)
The Giant’s Causeway has long been on my Bucket List of attractions to visit. And we weren’t disappointed. We had carefully monitored the weather forecasts and chose what we hoped would be the best day of the week. In general it was. The drive north from Ardboe took just under 2 hours. We passed through the small town of Bellaghy, Co. Londonderry, burial site of Nobel Literature Laureate Seamus Heaney. I wish we had stopped.

Although it was not yet 10:30 when we reached the Visitors’ Centre at the Giant’s Causeway, it was already very busy, and just got busier over the three hours we stayed there. There were visitors from all over the world – particularly from China.

It’s a walk of more than a mile down the cliff to the actual Causeway, so we took a leisurely stroll there. But we did take advanatge of the free bus ride (as National Trust members) to go back up the cliff road.

We then headed east along the north Antrim coast, and stopped for a picnic at the Rope Bridge car park where a torrential downpour spoiled the view and prompted us to move on rather than have a wander around. Then we headed down the east coast on a road that hugs the bottom of cliffs along the seashore, before reaching Larne and then heading west around the top of Lough Neagh and home to The Drumenny.

Day 6: 13 Sep — Mount Stewart, Co. Down (127 miles)
On the northeast shore of Strangford Lough, just south of Newtownards, the Mount Stewart estate was purchased in the mid-18th century, and became the home of the Marquesses of Londonderry when the current house was built at the beginning of the 19th century. It has a beautiful formal garden, mostly the work of Lady Edith, wife of the 7th Marquess.

Day 7: 14 Sep — Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh, Donegal (Republic of Ireland), and the Sperrin Mountains in Co. Londonderry and Co. Tyrone (200 miles)
On Day 7, we headed west once again to visit Castle Coole, situated just outside Enniskillen. We were not able to visit there when we had travelled west on Day 4, as the property had been closed for a special BBC Proms in the Park event.

Castle Coole was built by the 1st Earl Belmore between 1789 and 1797. It’s mostly the design of famous English architect James Wyatt, who also designed much of the interior and even the furniture. Photography is not permitted inside, and I’m unable to show you some of the splendours of this house, particularly the Saloon, which must rank as one of the finest examples of its kind among any of the stately homes in this country. The current Earl Belmore resides in a cottage on the estate.

Leaving Castle Coole, we headed west into the Republic, turning north at Donegal and crossing back into Northern Ireland at Strabane. We decided to cross the Sperrin Mountains, and had the weather been better (much of the journey north of Donegal was in torrential rain), I could have taken some nice photos. But we did have one surprise. Having taken one wrong turn too many when road signs petered out, we stumbled across a Bronze Age site of stone circles and cairns, at Beaghmore. It had stopped raining, everywhere was sparkling in the evening sun, and we enjoyed a half hour walk around the site.

Given the sunshine and showers, conditions just right for the appearance of rainbows. We saw ten throughout the day, some double.

Day 8: 15 Sep — Rowallane Garden and Castle Ward, Co. Down (136 miles)
Just south of Saintfield alongside the A7, Rowallane Garden is a haven of tranquility, about 50 acres, created in the mid-19th century by the Revd. John Moore and his nephew Hugh Armytage Moore. It’s also the headquarters of the National Trust in Northern Ireland.

Then we headed the further 16 miles southeast to Castle Ward on the tip of Strangford Lough. It’s an extraordinary building: Neo-Classical Gothic! The two architectural styles are reflected on the front and rear of the building, and mirrored inside, because, it is said, the 1st Viscount Bangor and his wife could not agree.

The Ward family, originally from Cheshire, settled here in the late 16th century, and there is an old castle on the estate – used in the hit HBO TV series Game of Thrones.

Steph (L) and Clare at Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens

Day 9: 16 Sep — Arboe, Co. Tyrone to Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow (224 miles)
We travelled south into the Republic, taking a winding route through Co. Monaghan, Cavan, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Kildare and Wicklow to spend the night with old IRRI friends Paul and Clare O’Nolan. Paul had been the IT Manager at IRRI; Clare was my scuba dive buddy (video) for several years. On the evening of our arrival, Clare took us on a tour of the Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens close to where they live on the edge of the Wicklow Mountains.

Day 10: 17 Sep — Rathdrum to Dublin, Holyhead to home (235 miles)
We left the O’Nolans just before noon, and headed north around the M50 to Dublin Port for our 15:10 Stena Superfast X ferry to Holyhead. We disembarked at exactly 19:00, and the drive home to Bromsgrove took four hours. Fortunately the roads were quite quiet and we made reasonably good progress until we were less than 20 miles from home when we were slowed down by major roadworks on the M5 motorway.

Ten days away, 1594 miles covered, twelve National Trust properties visited, seven enormous Irish breakfasts enjoyed. Northern Ireland was everything we hoped for: beautiful landscapes and friendly people. We had delayed our visit there for too long. And the National Trust was our excuse, if one was needed, to make the effort to visit.

All in all, ten days well spent! Here are the detailed posts for the properties:



Peeling away the veneers of history

Witley Court. Just a few miles west of Droitwich in north Worcestershire. A shell of a ruin, having been destroyed by fire in 1937. It had been the home of the Earls of Dudley.

The grand entrance to Witley Court, with the Church of St Michael and All Angels to the right

Witley Court, fountain and gardens from the south. The golden dome of the Baroque Church of St Michael and All Angels can be seen to the rear on the left

I’m not sure who actually owns Witley Court today; it’s managed by English Heritage. And being just 30 minutes by car from home, we consider it as one of our ‘local’ heritage destinations. We’ve been visiting Witley Court since the 1980s. Then it was freely open to the public. There was no paid access as there is now. Alongside the ruin stands the proud Baroque Church of St Michael and All Angels, not actually part of the English Heritage management of the site, and still in use as a parish church to this day. It must boast one of the most illustrious interiors of any church in the country.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, and it being a fine bright day yesterday, we decided to make another visit, have a walk through the grounds, see the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain fired up (every hour on the hour from 11 am onwards, for about 15 minutes), have a picnic lunch, and still have an afternoon to spend at home. I didn’t feel like making a long journey as we will be off to Northern Ireland a week hence, exploring that Province and all the National Trust treasures it has to offer.

And wandering around the grounds, I took time to carefully read the various information signs that I hadn’t bothered with in the past. And I learnt several new things about Witley Court.

There’s been a house on the site for several hundred years, being transformed from a relatively modest 17th century Jacobean mansion, to the magnificent, somewhat ostentatious Victorian mansion, the ruins of which are still standing.

One of the glories of Witley Court today is the East Parterre. Planted with a variety of plants, the lavender was past its best, and perhaps the overall was not as vibrant as when we saw it in 2016, almost exactly one year ago.

After the 1937 fire, most of what was not damaged was stripped from the house. The grand conservatory on the west side of the house was not damaged in the fire, but was nevertheless stripped. Today it’s planted with lavender, and gazing through the empty windows towards the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain, one can imagine what the house must have been like in its heyday.

Probably the most admired feature at Witley Court is the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain, that was completely refurbished in 2003 (at quite a staggering cost, more than £1 million). But it was worthwhile. It’s magnificent! It was undergoing further renovation in August last year when we visited, but was re-opened in April this year.

There are also woodland walks, taking around 30-40 minutes, the ubiquitous shop, and a tea room is open at the church (but not managed by English Heritage). Entrance to the church is, by the way, free.

To appreciate more fully what the Witley Court estate and ruin looks like, I came across this aerial video on YouTube, taken by drone.