A year full of heritage

Steph and I have been members of the National Trust since 2011. Following our first visit to one of the Trust’s properties in February that year (to Hanbury Hall, just 7 miles from home), we have tried each year to get out and about as often as we can. After 5 years membership, we were offered a special senior citizen joint membership: such great value for money; so many interesting houses, landscapes, and gardens to visit, and enjoy a cup of coffee (and an occasional flapjack) in one of the NT cafes.

These visits give purpose to our excursions. We’ve now explored 97 National Trust properties in England and Northern Ireland (as well as as few maintained by the National Trust for Scotland). And we have enjoyed many country walks as well around parkland and through gardens.

Click on the various links to open stories I have posted during the year, or an album of photos.

We are fortunate that close to us (we’re just south of Birmingham in northeast Worcestershire) there are half a dozen properties that take 30 minutes or less to reach. The closest is Hanbury Hall, and we often visit there to enjoy a walk around the park – four times this year – or take one of the many paths to the canal, up to Hanbury church, and back into the park. I particularly enjoy seeing how the parterre changes through the seasons. It is a very fine example.

The parterre at Hanbury in August

The other houses close to home are Charlecote Park ( in July), Croome (August), Packwood House (August), Baddesley Clinton (October), and Coughton Court (April and November).

Coughton Court in April

Our National Trust year began in February with a return visit to Newark Park, 58 miles south in Gloucestershire, to see the carpets of snowdrops, for which the garden is famous. We first visited the house in August 2015.

A week later we traveled 20 miles southwest from home to the birthplace of one of England’s greatest composers, Sir Edward Elgar. It was a sparkling day. We even managed a picnic! After visiting the house, The Firs, and the visitor center, we took the circular walk from the site that lasted about 1 hour. I found watching a short video about Elgar’s life to the accompaniment of Nimrod quite emotional.

Then a week later, we decided on a walk in the Wyre Forest, about 17 miles west from Bromsgrove, to find Knowles Mill, a derelict flour mill in the heart of the forest.

April saw us take in three properties (besides Coughton Court): Dudmaston (which we first visited in 2013); Kinwarton Dovecote; and Southwell Workhouse (a fascinating visit).

In May, I had to obtain an international driving permit, and the closest post office was in the center of Birmingham. That was just the excuse we needed to book a tour of the Back-to-Backs on the corner of Inge and Hurst Streets. What an eye-opener, and one NT property that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Closer to home, in fact less than 4 miles from home, is Rosedene, a Chartist cottage that was one of a number erected in the area of Dodford in the 19th century. It’s open infrequently, so looking to the weather forecast we booked to view the property on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the NT guides were unable to unlock the front door, so we never got to see inside, just peer through the windows.

We had returned to Upton House in Warwickshire at the beginning of the month to enjoy the walk along the escarpment overlooking the site of the 1642 Battle of Edgehill, and then around the garden. We had first visited in July 2012.

We were away in the USA during June and July, and just made some local visits in August. We were preparing for a week of NT and English Heritage (EH) visits in Cornwall during the second week of September.

What a busy week! We stopped at Barrington Court in Somerset on the way south, and Knightshayes in Devon on the way home a week later. You can read about those visits here.

Barrington Court

Knightshayes

We visited four more houses in Cornwall: Lanhydrock, Cotehele, St Michael’s Mount, and Trerice, and I wrote about those visits here.

Then there were the coastal visits, to The Lizard, Cape Cornwall, and Levant Mine (check out the stories here).

While on the north coast (visiting Tintagel Castle – see below), we stopped by Tintagel Old Post Office.

Cornwall has some fine gardens, and we visited these: Glendurgan, Godolphin, Trelissick, and Trengwaintonread about them here.

October was a quiet month. I can’t remember if we took a walk at Hanbury, but we did enjoy a long one along the Heart of England Way at Baddesley Clinton.

November saw us in the northeast, with a return visit to Seaton Delaval Hall (that we first visited in August 2013), and also to Penshaw Monument that is such an imposing sight over the Durham-Tyneside landscape.

In mid-November it was 70th birthday, and Steph and I spent a long weekend in Liverpool. One of the highlights was a visit to the Beatles Childhood Homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney – rather emotional.

We completed our National Trust year by enjoying Christmas at Coughton Court on 30 November.


We have been members of English Heritage (EH) since 2015. Our daughters gifted us membership at Christmas 2014. Witley Court in Worcestershire is the nearest property to home, and we have been visiting there since the 1980s when we first moved to Bromsgrove. But not during 2108. Here’s a story from September 2017.

In April we were in the northeast and enjoyed a visit to Warkworth Castle near Alnwick on the Northumberland coast (map) with grandsons Elvis and Felix. Since it was close to St George’s Day, there was a tournament entertainment for the children.

Warkworth Castle

While in the northeast, we visited Rievaulx Abbey, somewhere I had first visited as a student in the summer of 1968, and then again in the mid-1980s on holiday with the family on the Yorkshire coast.

Towards the South Transept and the east end of the church from the southeast.

During our trip to Cornwall in September, we got to visit Chysauster Ancient Village, Pendennis Castle, Restormel Castle, and Tintagel Castle, which I have written about here.

The steps leading up to the castle gate.

Then in November, on the way home from Newcastle, we stopped off at Mount Grace Priory, that is owned by the National Trust but managed by English Heritage.

It was a bright and calm November morning, lots of color in the trees, and we were enchanted by the peace of this wonderful site. On our trips to Newcastle we have passed the entrance to the Priory many times, but never had found the time (or the weather) to stop off. It was well worth the wait.


This has been our heritage 2018. We have barely scratched the surface of NT and EH properties. We look forward to spreading our wings further afield in 2019.

Daffodils and doves . . . but no fireworks

Yesterday (18 April) was, in many parts of the UK, the warmest day since the end of August 2017. After the lingering cold and grey weather we have had to endure in recent weeks, the prospect of a bright, sunny day certainly was encouraging. And, not being ones to squander an opportunity to be out and about when possible, we made the short trip to Coughton Court, a National Trust property on the outskirts of Alcester in Warwickshire, just 12 miles from home.

Coughton Court is one of our ‘local’ National Trust visits, and we’ve been there on several occasions mostly to walk through the bluebell wood and gardens. It has been in the same Throckmorton family for over 600 years, and the family still has apartments there.

We were too early to see a carpet of bluebells in the ancient wood to the east of the house. But we were not totally disappointed and some had already begun to bloom.

The Daffodil Society is holding its 2018 show at Coughton this weekend that we would have liked to attend, but have other plans made. So our visit yesterday was to view the extensive planting of daffodils in the grounds of Coughton Court. We were concerned that they would be past their best, but because of the dreary weather (and access issues at Coughton due to waterlogged car-parking) just hadn’t been able to schedule our visit before now.

Yes, some daffodil varieties were past their best, but there were still plenty more to lift our spirits.

In the orchard, there was a carpet of purple and white fritillaries under the apple trees (just about to come into flower) mixed with primroses and grape hyacinths.

Afterwards, we headed a further two miles southeast to view Kinwarton Dovecote¹ that stands alone in the middle of a field. Built in the 14th century (probably during the reign of King Edward III), the circular dovecote has more than 500 nesting niches, from which young pigeons or squabs would be taken for their meat.

It has walls that are about three feet thick, and it rises at least 20 feet to the top of the nesting ledges. A ‘potence’ or pivoted ladder (in need of repair) provided access to the highest niches. What an impressive structure that has stood proudly in the Warwickshire landscape for six centuries. What stories it could tell.

But what about the reference I made in the title of this blog post to ‘fireworks’. Well, the Throckmorton family of Coughton Court were implicated in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to overthrow recently crowned King James I (and VI of Scotland) by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The plot, on 5 November, is celebrated each year by fireworks displays nationwide.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

¹ We have visited other dovecotes owned by the National Trust and you can read about them here.

In search of bluebells

Last weekend, our younger daughter Philippa and her family came down from Newcastle for the Bank Holiday. A few days ahead, she asked us if we knew of or had visited any bluebell woods close to home. Apparently, Elvis, her elder boy (who will be six at the end of September) had told her that bluebells were his favourite flower and wanted to see some growing in the wild. Maybe his teacher had been talking about them recently.

L to R: Felix, Philippa, me, Steph, Elvis, and Andi

Steph and I have been members of the National Trust for several years now, and we’ve had hours and days of enjoyment. Regular readers of my blog will know that I usually write something after a visit to one of their properties, the most recent being a visit about three weeks ago to Berrington Hall in Herefordshire.

There are three NT properties quite close to our Bromsgrove home: Hanbury Hall (our ‘regular’), Croome Park (a little further south, near Worcester), and Coughton Court, just 10 miles away in Warwickshire, east beyond Redditch. And each has its bluebell wood. But the one at Coughton is just a little special, composed almost in its entirety of the native English species, Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Very little if any of your invasive Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) here.

The bluebell is such an iconic woodland species. Just imagine that blue carpet spreading under the wood’s leafy canopy. And at Coughton, the bluebells are mixed in places with cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) and red campion (Silene dioica).

The native bluebell’s future is threatened in many places because of the spread of the Spanish bluebell that is widely grown in gardens. When garden waste is dumped irresponsibly then bulbs can be discarded as well. It hybridises readily with the native species, and once that has happened, stands of native bluebells are irrevocably changed.

We arrived at Coughton just on 11:00 (opening time) and the car parks were already filling up. I think everyone had the same idea: a walk through the bluebell wood, around the gardens, or the various walks around the estate. We made our first visit to Coughton Court in 2013, and then again in June last year when I was recovering from my accident.

Our walk took us around the bluebell wood, along the River Arrow (lots of ramsoms here, Allium ursinum), around the bog garden that is just beginning to come to life (the Gunnera will be spectacular later on in the season, although it and other plants had taken a slight hit from a frost overnight), and finally round the walled garden.

And for little boys, there were plenty of opportunities for fun besides looking at—but not picking—bluebells.

In front of the entrance to the hall the gardeners had planted a beautiful display of tulip beds, and along the newly-raked gravel paths around the lawn, the trees stood like soldiers at attention, having received a recent ‘haircut’ in readiness for summer visitors.