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.

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.

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

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

Steph and I began planning a short, one week break in Cornwall way back in the Spring. As followers of my blog will know by now, we are avid members of the National Trust and English Heritage, and throughout the year we try to make as many visits as the weather and other commitments permit. In Cornwall, we wanted to explore as many NT and EH properties as we could fit into the six days, and the two days of travel. Eighteen was our tally!

We chose a small studio cottage, suitable for a couple, just north of Helston on the south coast, a round trip of more than 500 miles (including the side trips to a couple of National Trust properties on the way there and back – see map). Dovecote Cottage was located at the end of a 2 mile drive down a narrow lane (with passing places), next to a former farmhouse. It was very peaceful, and comfortable.

Dovecote Cottage

Our home (in Bromsgrove, in northeast Worcestershire) is less than 5 miles from the M5 motorway, the main arterial to the southwest. The M5 and roads south into Cornwall like the A30 can be notoriously busy during the summer, and delays of many hours are not uncommon as lines of motorists (many towing caravans) snake their way to the coast and sunshine. On the way south we had a traffic-free journey, but on our return on the following Saturday we had to make one detour to avoid a jam at road works near Tiverton (on our way to Knightshayes), and we also hit a long queue of traffic attempting to navigate the bridge over the River Avon, backing up about 10 miles although constantly moving.

During the six days touring Cornwall we clocked up another 500 miles, for a total of 1086 miles for the whole holiday.


Heading south, and just 12 miles east of the M5 near Taunton, we visited Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house built between 1538 and the 1550s. It was the first house acquired by the National Trust (in 1907) and became the residence of Col. Abram Arthur Lyle (of the sugar refining company Tate & Lyle) who refurbished the property, installing his collection of historic woodwork, and converting the next door 17th century stable block, Strode House, into a residence. Check details of Barrington Court on the National Trust website.

The south face of Barrington Court (on the right) and Strode House on the left. The connecting corridor between the two can be clearly seen.

Barrington Court is unfurnished, but that also permits better appreciation perhaps of the fine woodwork. The long gallery on the top floor is particularly impressive.

In several of the bathrooms, reclaimed Delft tiles surround baths and wash basins.

During the 1920s refurbishment Lyle had asked Gertude Jekyll to design a series of formal gardens surrounding the house. In the eventuality not all were constructed, but what there are now are beautiful accompaniments to an elegant house.

A full album of photographs of Barrington Court can be opened here.


A week later, and we were headed north to take in Knightshayes, an imposing Gothic Revival mansion standing on a hillside overlooking Tiverton in Devon.

Knightshayes is a late Victorian house (built between 1869 and 1874), designed by William Burges, whose design excesses never made it completely into the interior of the house (although the National Trust has refurbished one room following his designs). The gardens were designed by Edward Kemp.

It was the home of the Heathcoat-Amory family for more than 100 years, and was handed over to the national Trust in 1972. The last occupants, Sir John Heathcoat-Amory and Lady Joyce carried out extensive work on the gardens in the 1950s and 1960s; both were awarded Gold Medals by the Royal Horticultural Society. Lady Joyce (née Wethered) was a world class golfer with many titles to her name.

The interiors at Knightshayes are impressive indeed.

The woodwork and decoration on the ceilings in many rooms is quite stunning.

A few photographs displayed here cannot do justice to Knightshayes, so please take a look at a more complete (and annotated) album of photographs here.

Knightshayes also has one of the largest walled gardens we have ever seen, and on the day of our visit there was a ‘heritage tomato event’.

One of the paintings on display at Knightshayes was recently featured in BBC Four’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces. A small painting, not much more than 12 x 15 inches perhaps has been attributed to Rembrandt. Using the tool beloved of all art historians, a torch, we could highlight and see the detail in this beautiful small painting.

Rembrandt as a young man – self portrait attributed to the artist

But is it a Rembrandt? Perhaps.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

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

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

‘High hills surround the valley, encircling it like a crown’ (Walter Daniel, 1167)

After the Normans conquered England in 1066, they quickly achieved hegemony over much of the country. By 1086 the ‘Great Survey’, the Domesday Book, had been completed for much of England and parts of Wales.

At the same time, different religious orders began to spread their influence and established communities around the country. In a peaceful and secluded valley beside the River Rye in the heart of the North York Moors near Helmsley, a Cistercian community founded Rievaulx Abbey in 1132, their first monastery in the north of England. A second magnificent Cistercian monastery, Fountains Abbey, lies about 27 miles west of Rievaulx.

Originally a cluster of wooden buildings, the abbey expanded over the next four centuries until Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries (after 1536). The abbey was abandoned and became the ruin we see today, still standing proudly in the landscape where it was founded. Not much can have changed in the intervening centuries. Rievaulx still exudes a profound sense of peace and tranquility.

It’s not my intention here to provide a detailed history of Rievaulx Abbey. English Heritage owns and manages the site, and a detailed history of Rievaulx’s founding and growth can be found on its website.

I first visited Rievaulx in the summer of 1968 at the end of my first year at university, when I went on a youth hosteling holiday on the North York Moors. Fifty years ago! I can hardly believe it.

Then, in July 1988, when Hannah and Philippa were ten and six, we made a family visit while on holiday near the coast north of Scarborough. In 2013 we visited the National Trust’s Rievaulx Terrace that overlooks the abbey ruins (see below).

A week ago we took the opportunity of a visit to our younger daughter Philippa and her family in Newcastle upon Tyne—and the improving weather—to visit Rievaulx once again. It’s actually only a few miles off the usual A19 route we take when traveling to Newcastle these days.

It was a glorious sunny day. In fact, we enjoyed the first sensations of summer (the weather has since deteriorated, and it feels more like autumn as I write this blog post). The drive north from home (in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire) took a little under four hours, including a 35 minute coffee and comfort break at the Woodall Services on the M1 south of Sheffield. On arrival at Rievaulx, we enjoyed a quick picnic lunch, then headed off to explore the ruined abbey and museum for about an hour and a half.

Rievaulx Abbey ground-plan (courtesy of English Heritage). Click on the image to open a PDF file of this plan, another one and a map of the valley where the abbey stands.

One’s first impression of Rievaulx are the ruins of the church, with tiers of pointed gothic windows on each side. There are some rounded and earlier Norman arches around the site. The eastern end of the church (enclosing the Sanctuary and Choir) was for use only by the monks. The western end, the nave (now completely demolished except for the bases of the main columns), was used by the lay brothers.

The Cloister and its Arcade must have been magnificent in the abbey’s heyday. Just one small fragment of the Arcade has survived, in the northwest corner of the Cloister. Immediately east of the Cloister are the remains of the Chapter House where monks came for their daily meetings. Several abbots are buried there, but the body of William, the first abbot was moved to its own shrine in the 13th century

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To the south of the Cloister is large building housing the Refectory, and kitchen. The Day Room is located to the east of the Refectory, and this is where the monks worked on various activities, from mending clothes to copying manuscripts. South of the Day Room are the Tanning Vats where leather was prepared.

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Further east is the Infirmary Cloister and a staircase to what became the Abbot’s House. Above the doorway is an original in situ figurative sculpture of The Annunciation.

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There is a small museum displaying some interesting artifacts that have been uncovered on the site, as well as sections of sculptures that once adorned the various buildings of the abbey.

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During its 400 years Rievaulx Abbey suffered several changes in fortune. There were raids from across the Scottish border, and the Black Death hit during the 14th century. The abbey was finally suppressed in December 1538, and the monks were cast out although they received a pension. The abbey was sold to Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland although the most precious items were reserved for the crown. Thereafter the abbey buildings fell into ruin as we see today.

But there has long been a fascination with Rievaulx Abbey, and in the mid-eighteenth century, Thomas Duncombe II constructed Rievaulx Terrace high on the hillside above the abbey ruins where his guests could be entertained and walk. There are some spectacular views of the abbey from there, as we experienced in 2013.

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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.

Royalty and religion (and oak trees) in Shropshire

Charles II in exile, 1653

3 September 1651. Just over 33 months since his father, Charles I, had his head removed from his shoulders on a scaffold outside Whitehall in London, the young Charles II (not yet crowned king) was on the run. A fugitive. His plans to defeat the Parliamentarians under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell had come to nothing. Superior forces of Cromwell’s New Model Army had defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester, bringing an end to the Civil War.

Charles had to escape, but how to return to France and safety? His escape route took him north through Worcestershire (close to where I live, some 13 miles north of Worcester), and through Staffordshire and Shropshire to reach Boscobel House. The Boscobel estate straddles the Staffordshire-Shropshire county boundary (map).

In 1651, Boscobel House was a hunting lodge in the forest. Charles found refuge there, not only hiding in a priest hole overnight, but also among the canopy of a large oak tree (the famous Royal Oak) close by, as Parliamentarian forces searched high and low for him. He was also hidden at nearby Moseley Old Hall (about 10 miles due east of Boscobel, now in the hands of the National Trust, and which we visited in April 2014).

Boscobel House and the nearby White Ladies Priory (which was a converted residence when Charles sought refuge there in 1651) now belong to English Heritage. Yesterday, we made the 45 mile trip north to visit these two sites, and another English Heritage property, the ruins of Lilleshall Abbey, just over seven miles northwest from Boscobel.

Boscobel House and The Royal Oak
The house has Tudor, 17th century and Victorian extensions. The farmyard buildings are Victorian. It was owned by the Giffard family who lived at White Ladies Priory. The lonely Royal Oak that stands in a field a short distance from the house is a descendant of the original tree in which Charles hid.

(1) Hunting Lodge; (2) Garden; (3) Cowhouse; (4) Stables; (5) Dairy display; (6) Smithy; (7) Family room; (8) White Ladies Priory – about 1 mile, 20 minutes walk; (9) Royal Oak – approx 5 minutes walk.

White Ladies Priory

Lilleshall Abbey