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.

‘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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