A ‘heavenly’ icon of the North

Viewed by thousands of motorists every day as they head into Newcastle upon Tyne or further north on the A1, the iconic Angel of the North spreads its (her?) welcoming wings on the southern outskirts of Gateshead. It was commissioned by Gateshead Council, and erected in February 1998.

Designed by British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley¹(who also created Another Place of 100 iron figures on the beach at Crosby near Liverpool), the Angel of the North stands over 20 m tall, and has a wingspan of 54 m. Overall, the Angel’s statistics are something to behold.

The construction details are also rather interesting.But why choose an angel as such an emblem for the North? Here’s what Antony Gormley said.

Driving north at 60-70 mph you only get a brief glimpse of the Angel off to the right, or a receding image in the rear-view mirror. So having seen the Penshaw Monument (just 8½ miles east) last Sunday, and with improving afternoon sunshine, we decided to grab the opportunity to view the Angel up close and personal. And we were not disappointed. It/She is a wonderful piece of sculpture of which Gateshead (and the Northeast) should be justifiably proud. So, if you’re headed towards the Northeast, don’t just drive by as we had for years, but leave the A1 at the A167 junction for Gateshead (map) and see for yourselves why this sculpture has become such a ‘heavenly’ icon. It’s well signposted.


¹ Antony Gormley website: http://www.antonygormley.com/

 

‘Acropolis’ of the North

Sitting atop 136 m Penshaw Hill, dominating the surrounding landscape and visible for miles, Penshaw Monument is quite an icon in the northeast of England, on the southwest outskirts of Sunderland (map).

Although not quite on the scale of the illustrious original overlooking Athens, the Penshaw Monument in not the less impressive for all that. It’s actually a half-size replica of the Temple of Hephaestus, not the Acropolis.

There are, according to my grandsons, 159 steps from the road where we parked the car up to the Monument.

It was built in 1844 and dedicated to John George ‘Radical Jack’ Lambton, Ist Earl of Durham (1792-1840). Lambton was the first governor of the Province of Canada, author of an important 1838 report to seek direction on how best the British Empire should manage its colonies around the globe.

The design of the monument is Doric tetrastyle. It is 20 m high, 30 m long, and 16 m wide. The columns measure 2 m at their base. Inside one of the columns is a spiral staircase to the roof that is (since 2011) once again open to the public. I had a chat with a National Trust volunteer who told me there had been just one fatality, in 1926, when a 15-year old boy fell to his death.

When we visited last Sunday it was overcast and blowing a gale (the remnants of Hurricane Oscar that recently devastated the east coast of the USA). But the views were still impressive, and on a clearer and brighter day, would be something special. There is an unbroken landscape to the east and the North Sea. To the south, Penshaw Monument overlooks Herrington Country Park, the site of the former Herrington Colliery, (owned by the Earls of Durham) which closed in 1985.

We must return in better weather, and as it’s just a mile or so from the A19 (the main route we take when visiting Newcastle upon Tyne), we’ll be able to drop by on a whim.


Penshaw Monument stands less than five miles by road (half that distance as the crow flies) from Washington Old Hall, the ancestral home of George Washington (POTUS #1), which we visited four years ago.

Governed by the rule of St Benedict

Nestling under the Cleveland Hills in North Yorkshire, about half way between Thirsk and Middlesbrough along the A19 (map), Mount Grace Priory has stood proudly overlooking this beautiful landscape for over 600 years. It is owned by the National Trust, but managed by English Heritage.

Founded in 1398 by Thomas Holland, 1st Duke of Surrey, Mount Grace is a walled Carthusian priory or Charterhouse, of which there were several throughout England. It’s regarded as the best preserved. The priory was finally closed down in 1539 at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII.

Built from a beautiful yellow stone that glowed in the early winter sun last Sunday when we visited, Mount Grace was a community to fewer than 20 monks, living more or less as hermits each in his own cell (6). Actually, these cells must have been the 15th century equivalent of a ‘des-res’. These surrounded a large cloister (5), were two storey buildings, with piped in water, outside latrine, and a garden that each monk attended. By the entrance door there is a large niche through which food and other necessities were passed to each monk. One of the cells (8) has been reconstructed.

As we entered the cloister the air was filled with the eerie sound of pheasants calling among the trees on the surrounding hillside.

The priory was dedicated to the Assumption of the most Blessed Virgin in Mount Grace, and an small but impressive ruined church (4) lies at the center of the priory compound.

More photos of the priory ruins, and a little more history can be viewed in this album.

The site was acquired in the mid-17th century by Thomas Lascelles, and then in the 1740s to the Mauleverer family. The priory guest house became the heart of the manor house we see today. But its current aspect was the work of a wealthy industrialist at the end of the 19th century, Sir Lowthian Bell.

Just a few rooms are open to the public. A carpet designed by William Morris is on loan to Mount Grace, and is laid in one of the ground floor rooms.

The coat of arms of the Bell family is displayed above the fireplace in another room on the ground floor.

The west facade of the manor house is covered in Virginia creeper, glowing red in its full autumn glory, overlooking a small, but carefully laid out terraced garden, leading to several pools that were used by the monks to raise fish. It was nice to see plant name labels throughout the garden.

Mount Grace Priory, house, and gardens were a true delight. We’ve often passed the entrance on our way north to visit our younger daughter Philippa and her family in Newcastle. But this time we were determined, weather-permitting, to stop off and explore the site. And that’s how we spent a very enjoyable three hours last Sunday morning, before hitting the road again, heading south to home in north Worcestershire.

Summer has returned . . . for one day only

Yesterday, I was reminded of that great radio broadcaster, Alistair Cooke (1908-2004) who presented Letter from America, a weekly 15-minute broadcast on the BBC from March 1946 to February 2004.

2,869 episodes! In each, Cooke presented a topical issue in the USA, tying together different strands of observation and anecdote and often ending on a humorous or poignant note.

Growing up, my family would listen faithfully to Letter from America, and that habit stayed with me as I moved on to university, and even while I was working overseas. Cooke had an excellent broadcasting voice, and always had something worthwhile and erudite to impart.

Originally from the UK, he moved to the USA in the 1930s and became a US citizen in 1941.

So why did Cooke drop into my mind yesterday, 10 October? It was one of those bright and sunny days, warm even, that we come to hope for in October, but rarely expect or experience. It was certainly a typical ‘Indian summer’ day, around 22-24°C, not a cloud in the sky.

When I was at university in the late 1960s, I remember listening to one particular Letter from America (I’m unable to track down the broadcast or transcript, although many are available online) in which Cooke waxed lyrical about Fall in New England, and went on to discuss the origin of the term ‘Indian summer‘. He described the unseasonably warm and dry days with clear, sunny skies that can occur around this time of year, often accompanied by misty mornings. It’s from this phenomenon, Cooke suggested, that the term was derived. The early colonists were aware that Native Americans would take advantage of this weather to hunt, and often attack their settlements under the cover of these misty mornings.

Yesterday’s weather pulled a memory of that broadcast, stored away for about 50 years, from the recesses of my mind.

Steph and I took full advantage to walk a stretch of the Heart of England Way, starting at the National Trust’s Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire (just under 20 miles east of Bromsgrove, and about 30 minutes from home by car). I even had to retrieve my summer shorts from the drawer where I had put them away for the winter.

Described as An easy walk along country lanes and field paths, taking in Baddesley Clinton, Rowington Church and the Heart of England Way, it’s listed at under 3 miles in length, although according to my pedometer it was more like 3.8 miles.

We arrived at Baddesley Clinton just before 10:30 and, not having seen much traffic heading to the property, were rather surprised to encounter a very full car park. The place was heaving! We decided to take our walk before lunch, and then visit the gardens afterwards.

The weather was glorious, the rolling Warwickshire landscape stretching to the horizon, leaves changing color on trees all around, and also full of berries. I’ve never seen so many holly berries.

We set off through the churchyard of St Michael’s Church (1), and along the gravel road to turn right (2) on to Haywood Lane, and then, after about a mile, right on to Rowington Green.

A little distance along Rowington Green, the walk leaves the road and crosses fields (3) — along the Heart of England Way — to Rowington (4). We took a short break in the churchyard of the 12th century Church of St Lawrence (or St Laurence).

From Rowington, the walk heads north, along a public bridleway (5), and ending back at St Michael’s. I guess the walk took a couple of hours; we never rush.

 

Baddesley Clinton is a moated house, first built in the 1400s. One of the original owners was Nicholas Brome, Lord of the Manor of Baddesley Clinton, and is buried in St Michael’s Church. The house passed to the Ferrer family who occupied it for the next 500 years.

We didn’t visit the house yesterday, but decided to take a look at the garden – and we were not disappointed. There was a magnificent display of dahlias in one of the borders inside the walled garden.

Thank goodness we did take advantage of the exceptional weather. Today’s weather could hardly be more different. It’s windy, overcast, and all morning it has been spitting with rain. It’s a little cooler than yesterday, but going to go downhill as we progress into tomorrow and the weekend. That’s because Storm Callum is due to sweep in from the Atlantic overnight tonight, bringing a lot of rain. Climate change? What climate change? I wonder how long it will take for the remnants of Hurricane Michael to reach us?

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (5): Magnificent mansions

Cornwall is home to several National Trust jewels. We visited these four:

  • St Michael’s Mount, on an island in Mount’s Bay off Marazion in the south of the county
  • Lanhydrock, close to the A30 near Bodmin
  • Cotehele House and Quay, overlooking the River Tamar, north of Plymouth
  • Trerice, close to Newquay on the north coast

Knowing how popular St Michael’s Mount can be (even slightly out of season, as we were), Steph and I decided to head to Marazion early on the day of our visit, so we could easily find a parking place. I guess we must have been there before 9:30 am, and knew we’d have to take the boat over to the island as the tide was still ebbing then and the causeway was still covered.

Parking was no problem. However, when we returned from our visit to the island just before 2 pm, visitors were streaming across the open causeway in the hundreds, and it seemed as if every parking place was already taken in the several car parks along the sea front.

Just before 10 the first passenger boat of the day pulled up alongside the jetty, and about eight persons clambered aboard. Since the sea was calm, there being no waiting queue of visitors, and it being the first boat, the boatman suggested going right round the island instead of just across directly to the harbor on the island. What a treat, as we had many different views of the island and buildings that would not have seen on a normal crossing.

St Michael’s Mount (the Cornish equivalent of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, although not quite so grand perhaps) was originally home to a 12th century priory, and there is evidence of human occupation over several thousand years. It has a rich history.  It became the home of the St Aubyn family in the late 17th century, and the family continues to occupy the Victorian wing. in the 19th century there was a village and thriving community of several hundred residents living below the castle.

A visit to St Michael’s Mount includes not only a tour of the house, and its magnificent views over Mount’s Bay, but the gardens below the castle that have been built into and cling to the cliff face. We were told by our boatman that the four resident gardeners are also qualified abseilers! It’s quite a steep climb up to the castle, but well worth the effort.

By the time the causeway had opened and hundreds of visitors were pouring across, access to the house was becoming difficult. We had made the tour earlier, and even then passing the narrow entrance caused significant tailbacks.

Nevertheless, no visit to Cornwall would be complete without a visit to St Michael’s Mount. Its inaccessibility for half of the day just adds to its attraction. Check out more photos of the interiors and gardens here.


Lanhydrock, just a mile or so off the A30 near Bodmin) is special for two reasons: so many of the rooms (>50) are open to the public, and the Long Gallery in the north wing) and its magnificent 17th century plastered ceiling survived the 1881 fire that gutted most of the rest of house. The house is U-shaped; an east wing was demolished in the 18th century. It has been the family home of the Robartes for four centuries.

The weather for our visit was overcast with a little drizzle. As we wanted to visit Restormel Castle in nearby Lostwithiel later in the day, we decided to forego a walk around the park, just viewing the gardens and parterre close to the house.

You can take a virtual tour of the house and gardens here. There’s no doubt that Lanhydrock is one of the National Trust’s ‘premier’ properties full of exquisite objects that passed to the Trust when it acquired ownership in 1953. Definitely one of the properties that should be on everyone’s National Trust bucket list.


The first question I asked one of the volunteers when we arrived at Cotehele House was how to pronounce ‘Cotehele’. It’s ‘cot-eel’ apparently.

And it’s also one of the National Trust gems, having so many exquisite tapestries on display. The house dates from the late 15th century but then had 16th century Tudor additions, and is built I guess from local granite, a lovely soft grey color. It was the home of the Edgcumbe family. Passing through a small courtyard, you enter the Great Hall, on to the chapel, and up to the treasures of the first floor and above.

Cotehele has terraced gardens beside the house, and others slightly further away. The Valley Garden follows a steep-sided valley from the terraces to the River Tamar, and Cotehele Quay and Mill.

Have a look at more Cotehele treasures here.


Trerice is an Elizabethan, 16th century manor situated a few miles inland from Newquay on Cornwall’s north coast. We visited this delightful house on our last day in Cornwall, on the way back to our holiday home after a visit to Tintagel Castle.

The Arundell family inherited Trerice more than 700 years ago. It passed to the Aclands in the late 17th century. In the 20th century, the Elton family took on a lease from the National Trust and carried out some major refurbishments, including replacing the roof.

There is some particularly smart plasterwork in several rooms, as well as impressive oil paintings.

Outside there is an attractive knot garden, and other horticultural attractions like a 1km mowhay.

An archaeological dig was underway behind the house on the day of our visit.

More photographs of this dig and exterior/interior views of the house are available in this album.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (2): Coast to coast

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (3): Stepping back in time

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (4): An impressive horticultural legacy


For those interested in photography, I use a Nikon D5000 DSLR, with a Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 GII ED VR lens.

Flash photography is not permitted inside National Trust properties, so that means shooting with the slowest speed I can get away with, since all my photos are hand held. Often I’m shooting as slow as 1/15, and 3200 ASA. All the interiors at these four properties were photographed in this way. It’s remarkable how the colors of the tapestries at Cotehele, for example, are revealed. I’m getting quite the dab hand at holding my breath as I’m about to press the shutter.

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (4): An impressive horticultural legacy

Gardens. How many were designed and planted decades, even centuries ago, that can only now be fully appreciated? They were never seen in all their glory by their visionary originators. What a horticultural legacy they bequeathed to later generations.

The National Trust manages four important gardens in Cornwall which we were delighted to visit during our recent break there. Of course, many of the houses which the NT owns have their own gardens. But the four we visited are ‘marketed’ as gardens in their own right:

  • Glendurgan Garden, on the east coast, just south of Falmouth
  • Trelissick, at the head of Carrick Roads near Truro
  • Godolphin, an important medieval garden east of Penzance
  • Trengwainton Garden, northwest of Penzance.

All lie south of 50.2°N, and so there are many exotic species like tree ferns and bamboos that thrive under these conditions. And although these gardens would have been in their prime earlier in the year, with rhododendrons, camellias, and magnolias in flower, we saw enough during our exploration of these gardens to appreciate how they might look in another season.


Glendurgan Garden was the first on our list. Having enjoyed a walk at Lizard Point earlier on this bright, sunny day, we looked forward to a pleasant stroll around the garden.

The garden was planted in the 1820s and 1830s by Alfred Fox, and occupies a steep-sided valley down to the fishing village of Durgan, below Glendurgan House, home of the Fox family (not open to the public).

We followed the red trail down to Durgan village, and came back up the brown trail on the left, taking in a viewing platform overlooking the maze (that was planted in 1833).

Check out more photos here.


It was a mizzly sort of day when we stopped by Trelissick on our way back to our holiday cottage after visiting another NT property northwest of Plymouth, Cotehele House. So we were never going to fully appreciate one of the triumphs of Trelissick: the panorama from the terrace in front of the house down to the shores of the River Fal estuary.

Trelissick was the family home of the Copeland family, owners of the Spode China factory in Stoke on Trent (I used to pass nearby everyday on my way to grammar school in Trent Vale in the 1960s). Just a few rooms on the ground floor are currently open to the public. It was passed to the National Trust in 1955.

From the terrace, we made our way south through the garden, taking in the views (such as they were) from the tennis lawn (8) and the parkland (9) that did provide nice views back to the house. From Jack’s summer house (at the tip of the garden) we worked our way back up on the eastern side, crossing over the bridge into Carcaddon (11), then back towards the house across the main lawn (4).

Take a look at the rest of the photos here.


Godolphin has a particular claim to fame. In its various gardens, the King’s Garden (5) and Side Garden (14), it seems little has changed since at least the 16th century, maybe earlier.

The Godolphins derived their wealth from some of the most important mines in Cornwall, the remains of which can still be seen dotted around the estate.

The main entrance of Godolphin House (9)

The Undercroft (8)

On the day of our visit just the King’s Room was open to the public. The National Trust has a holiday let here at Godolphin, and mostly the house is off-limits to the general public apart from certain days per year.

The Side Garden (14) from the Dry Ponds (16)

One of the two Dry Ponds (16)

More photos of the garden can be viewed here.

We also enjoyed the 1.5 mile walk to the top of Godolphin Hill, from where there is a 360° panorama to be enjoyed.

Looking towards Land’s End from the top of Godolphin Hill.


Northwest of Penzance, Trengwainton Garden offers magnificent views over Mount’s Bay, towards St Michael’s Mount in the east and Land’s End in the west.

Only the garden, full of exotic shrubs (particularly bamboos and tree ferns) is open to the public, although there is access to the terrace (R) below the house from where the panorama can be enjoyed.

Once again we were too late for many of the shrubs that flowered earlier in the year, but nevertheless our stroll through these leafy glades was rewarded by the view from the terrace.

There is also an impressive walled garden, divided into several ‘rooms’ growing vegetables and ornamentals. On the day of our visit there was an exhibition of scarecrows made by local schoolchildren to celebrate the centenary of women getting the vote in the UK.

More photos are included in this album.


We enjoyed this horticultural tour of Cornwall, and of course the gardens at the various houses we also visited: St Michael’s Mount, Lanhydrock, Cotehele House, and Trerice. We decided not to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan (which must also be included in Cornwall’s horticultural heritage) having more than enough on our itinerary of National Trust and English Heritage sites to add another.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (2): Coast to coast

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (3): Stepping back in time

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (5): Magnificent mansions

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (3): Stepping back in time

Almost 2000 years.

English Heritage preserves several important sites in Cornwall, and during our week long break there, we got to visit four that span about 2000 years of British history, from the Roman occupation of these islands, through the Dark Ages, the 12th century under the Normans, and from the Tudors until the Second World War:

  • Chysauster Ancient Village, on the Land’s End Peninsula
  • Tintagel Castle, on Cornwall’s north coast
  • Restormel Castle, near Bodmin
  • Pendennis Castle, overlooking Carrick Roads near Falmouth

Chysauster Ancient Village (pronounced ‘chy-soyster’, with ‘ch’ as in church)
Sylvester’s House. That’s what Chysauster means; ‘chy’ is Cornish for house or home. But whether Sylvester ever lived there and who he was I guess we’ll never know. Because the remains of this Iron Age village date from Romano-British times, some 1800-2000 years ago.

The Romans never really penetrated into Cornwall, apparently. Thus Chysauster, with its unique courtyard houses (found only in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles), is a very important site in the nation’s history. Courtyard houses are found in several locations, but the village at Chysauster is one of the best preserved.

As I walked on to the site I had this feeling that the village had once been a thriving community. I could imagine children playing among the houses, smoke rising from each roof. A busy place.

We spent about an hour walking from one building to the next, fascinated by the layout of each house with its rooms off the central courtyard, and even a backdoor.

Take a look at more photos here. This is the link to English Heritage.


Tintagel Castle
Did King Arthur live here? Did he even exist? Whatever the truth of the myth, Tintagel Castle will forever be linked with his name. It’s certainly an iconic site jutting out into the North Atlantic, battered constantly by winds and storms. It was quite windy on the day of our visit, but thankfully dry.

Tintagel Castle from the Upper Mainland Courtyard (4)

Click here to download a phased plan of the castle, which shows its occupation over almost a thousand years.

Geoffrey of Monmouth has a lot to answer for, because much of what we ‘know’ of our history prior to the 12th century is a mixture of fact and fiction that he wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain.

Among the many myths that he conjured up is the tale of King Arthur and his links with Tintagel Castle where, claimed Geoffrey, Arthur was conceived.

Tintagel Castle was once home to a thriving community of more than 300 persons. But since much of its history derives from the so-called Dark Ages (the period between the exodus of the Romans in the 5th century AD and the arrival of the Normans in the 11th). Tintagel Castle island is dotted with the remains of many houses.

We arrived at Tintagel just before 09:30. I wanted to be sure of a parking place knowing that it can become very busy. The castle opened at 10:00, so we took a slow walk down to the entrance, about half a mile, and quite steep in places. We opted for the Land Rover ride (at £2 each) back up to the car park after our visit.

The cafe was just opening, so we enjoyed a quick coffee before registering for our visit, and getting some wise advice about how to tackle the site. There are lots (and I mean lots) of steps at Tintagel, some very steep indeed. The person on the ticket counter advised us to enter the site through the upper entrance (just before 1), and straight into the mainland courtyards (3 and 4) that overlook the main entrance and island courtyard and Great Hall (6).

There is a set of extremely steep steps down the cliff to then cross a bridge and climb into the main ruins. The walk up to the upper entrance and courtyards was certainly gentler than had we visited the main island first then returned to view the courtyards (and climb that set of stairs) as we saw many other visitors doing later one. And by visiting the courtyards first, we had a panorama over the island ruins to get our bearings.

What goes down must go up . . .

The island courtyard and Great Hall (6)

Check out the full album of photographs. It takes about an hour and a half to walk round the ruins and appreciate everything that Tintagel has to offer. The views over the cliffs, north and south down the coast are typical Cornwall, and you’re left wondering how a community managed to survive for so long in this rather desolate spot.


Restormel Castle
Moving forward to the 12th century, Restormel is a Norman castle alongside the River Fowey in Lostwithiel. Its circular shell keep is unusual (the round tower at Windsor Castle is also a shell keep), built on a mound surrounded by a dry (and quite deep) ditch. The ruins are remarkably well preserved, and in addition to wandering through the various rooms at ground level, English Heritage has provided access to the battlements, from which there is a good panoramic view over the surrounding countryside.

You can read a detailed history of Restormel here.


Pendennis Castle
Guarding the approaches to Falmouth, Pendennis Castle has proudly stood on a peninsula overlooking Carrick Roads since the time of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century. And it remained an important fortress right up to the Second World War when guns were installed to combat any threat from German naval vessels.

Across the estuary is another Tudor fortress, St Mawes Castle, a mirror image of Pendennis. During Tudor times, the guns from each could reach half way across the estuary, this protecting Falmouth and its harbor from both sides.

In July 2016 we visited Calshot Castle, that guards the approaches to The Solent near Southampton, and is another of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses.

Pendennis has a fine collection of cannons inside and also on the battlements, as well as the Second World War guns at Half Moon Battery.

Looking southwest to the mouth of the Helford River

At Half Moon Battery

The castle is not just the round tower. There are extensive 18th century barracks and parade grounds enclosed within major earthworks, ramparts constructed during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Earthworks leading to the main entrance (and below as well)

The barracks (on the right) and guardhouse on the left, from the roof of the Tudor round tower.

Check out more photos here.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (2): Coast to coast

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (4): An impressive horticultural legacy

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (5): Magnificent mansions