14 February 2019. Valentine’s Day. Bright and sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky. Just a gentle breeze. What a better day for a nice long walk in the Worcestershire countryside.
So Steph and I headed off to Hanbury Hall, just over 6 miles from home, the closest National Trust property¹ where we often enjoy the garden and parkland. This short video shows the last couple of miles of the trip, through Stoke Prior, past Hanbury Woods before turning right on to School Rd just outside Hanbury.
We completed the circular walk that we had part enjoyed last August, taking in the extra mile or so that we had omitted then.
This is the route we took, clockwise from the car park, and ending at the shop and plant sales.
In all, this walk was just over 3.6 miles and took us almost 1½ hours. From the car park, we headed round the south side of the hall and through the parterre, northwest across the fields (sown with soybeans, we think) before joining the Worcester and Birmingham Canal towpath at the Hanbury Park lock, then following the towpath north to the next lock at Astwood Lane.
Here we turned east along Astwood Lane, heading towards Hanbury Church of St Mary the Virgin, before once again turning south on to National Trust land and back into the park and along an old oak avenue.
Along the way we enjoyed the stark magnificence of Hanbury’s parterre and its box hedges and cones, banks of snowdrops and emerging and soon-to-flower daffodils.
Along the canal there was hardly a breath if wind, so the reflections in the water were particularly strong.
We came across two badger carcasses, roadkill perhaps or maybe victims of TB? Near the church a fox came out of the undergrowth and trotted along the lane ahead of us. We think it had been inspecting one of the dead badgers, an easy meal in the middle of winter.
In a field attached to Webb House Farm we saw a flock of perhaps a hundred fieldfares (the largest of the thrushes that visits these shores in winter); and rabbits skipping along in the warm sunshine. Everywhere there were flocks of heavily pregnant ewes.
A full album of photos from our walk can be viewed here.
It was certainly a beautiful day to be outside. And remarkably, it was almost a year to the day that we visited The Firs (the birthplace of composer Sir Edward Elgar) near Worcester, and had enjoyed equally fine and warm weather.
¹ Actually, Rosedene is closer by two miles, but is open only on a few weekends each year.
Friday 23 February. A bright, sunny day, and not too much of a breeze. Although the day dawned with a covering of frost everywhere, it was not as cold as I feared. Still, there was a need to wrap up warm.
It looks like things will be rather different next week when the Beast from the East hits the UK. Beast from the East? That’s what the weather system from deepest Siberia has been labeled, and due to hit the UK early in the week, with Arctic sub-zero temperatures, and possibly significant snow fall. There’s a more or less stationary high pressure system over Scandinavia to the northeast of the UK, blocking ‘warmer’ weather systems driving in from the Atlantic, and at the same time drawing in all that cold Siberian air on a strengthening easterly air flow.
So, with much more inclement weather forecast, Steph and I decided that we’d better take advantage of yesterday’s decent weather and head out for a walk, and visit yet another National Trust property: Knowles Mill, a derelict 18th century flour mill alongside Dowles Brook in the heart of the Wyre Forest on the outskirts of Bewdley, about 18 miles west from Bromsgrove.
Knowles Mill along Dowles Brook in the Wyre Forest, with the mill cottage (privately-owned and undergoing renovation) behind.
There are no National Trust signs to Knowles Mill. It’s located within the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve, and parking (with space for up to a dozen cars) can be found at the end of the very narrow Dry Mill Lane. We arrived around 10:20, and took one of the remaining spaces. Best to get there early although by the time we departed, just after noon, many of the cars had already left. As with all my blog posts, just click on the images to open a larger version.
We decided to follow the Dowles Brook Trail (marked red on the map below), although there is a public bridleway on the other side of the brook, and a bridge over it at Knowles Mill.
This route initially follows the Wyre Forest Butterfly Trail along the bed of the disused Tenbury and Bewdley Railway that was opened in 1864, and closed in July 1961. Then there’s a steep walk down into the valley, with the path emerging behind the mill and cottage.
So what was a mill doing beside Dowles Brook, how long had it been there, and what was its history?
The millstones and gearing mechanisms inside the mill are still in quite good shape.
On the west side of the mill the skeleton of the water wheel can be seen, and beside that the drained mill pond (although with some standing water today).
I couldn’t help wondering how life at the mill must have changed once construction of the railway began in 1860. The peace and tranquility of the site must have been shattered as the gangs of navvies moved in to build the massive embankments across all the small valleys that cut through the hillside above Dowles Brook.
After visiting the mill, we headed upstream, passing Cooper’s Mill (just a cottage now) before crossing over Dowles Brook and returning to the car park along the disused railway. At the car park we enjoyed a hot cup of coffee (we’d brought a flask with us) before setting off home in time for a later than usual lunch.
The walk, just on three miles, had no challenging sections to speak of, and combined the best of both worlds: local history and the enjoyment of beautiful woodland landscapes.
Elgar was born in June 1857 in a small cottage, The Firs, in the village of Lower Broadheath, a stone’s throw west of Worcester, and 20 miles southwest from our home in Bromsgrove. The cottage (formerly the Elgar Birthplace Museum) came into the care of the National Trust in 2016 following an agreement with the Elgar Foundation. Closed for a year for some refurbishment, and the addition of a tea-room at the existing Visitor Centre among other improvements, The Firs re-opened in September 2017.
As the weather forecast for Friday (yesterday) had looked promising from earlier in the week, Steph and I made plans for a day out. But where to go? Looking through the 2018 handbook I came across The Firs (which had not featured in the 2017 handbook for obvious reasons). And with the added attraction of a two-mile circular walk in Elgar country in the vicinity, this was just what the doctor ordered!
Our visit to The Firs was beyond my expectations and unbelievably moving, even bringing me to the point of tears as I watched the 15-20 minute film about Elgar in the Visitor Centre. Throughout our visit, but especially in ‘Elgar’s Study’, I really had the feeling of being in the presence of greatness, and I can’t recall ever having had that reaction before.
Elgar’s parents William and Anne had seven children, although two died young.
William was a piano tuner, and held a warrant from Queen Adelaide (wife of William IV).
Although Elgar moved away to Worcester with his family at the age of two, he retained a life-long attachment to The Firs. At the bottom of the cottage garden (see map) there is a lovely life-size sculpture of Elgar sitting on a bench (by Jemma Pearson) gazing through a gap in the hedge towards the Malvern Hills that he loved so much. It was commissioned by the Elgar Foundation in 2007 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Elgar’s birth.
Elgar’s daughter, Carice (born in 1890) was the inspiration, in 1935, to acquire The Firs as a memorial to her father.
Entrance to the house is by timed tickets. There’s obviously not a great deal of space inside to accommodate too many visitors at a time.
Inside the entrance porch was a small room with an iron range for heating water and cooking. Today, the National Trust has decorated the room with contemporary though not original-to-the-house items, including a piano tuner’s set of instruments.
On the ground floor, the Parlour (dedicated to Carice Elgar) has a lovely piano, possibly played by Elgar.
At the top of the stairs is a room the full width of the cottage (perhaps earlier divided into two rooms) where Elgar was born. Two other rooms and this one have displays of various musical instruments, his sporting and scientific interests, and other personal belongings such as watches.
Elgar was apparently a keen cyclist, and on one wall of the Visitor Centre there’s a mural of an exuberant cycling Elgar. We were told, although this may well only be anecdotal, that Elgar once cycled from Malvern to Wolverhampton to watch his favorite football team Wolverhampton Wanderers play. A round trip of 100 miles!
Alice and Edward Elgar in 1890
Inside the Visitor Centre, an exhibition illustrates highlights from Elgar’s life and career. He married Caroline Alice Roberts in 1889. Her parents disapproved of Elgar—a ‘jobbing musician’—and did not attend their wedding in the Brompton Oratory in London. I hadn’t realized until yesterday that Elgar was a Catholic.
Alice (who died in 1920) was his inspiration, and early on in their relationship recognized his genius. And that leads to the second point I didn’t know. Elgar received no formal musical training. It wasn’t until 1899, with the first performance of the Enigma Variations, that his growing reputation as a composer was sealed.
In ‘Elgar’s study’ there are original scores of some of his most famous works, as well as the desk at which he worked.
Alice used to prepare the paper on which Elgar composed. Apparently, specially printed paper with the staves was not available, and had to be drawn by hand using the five-pointed pen you can see in a couple of the photos above.
‘Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the free‘. Famous words by Arthur C Benson put to music in Elgar’s 1901 Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, sung here by contralto Clara Butt.
A page from the original score of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’
Who hasn’t heard Land of Hope and Glory? It’s the theme accompanying high school and university graduations around the world. Our two daughters graduated from Manila International School in the Philippines in the 1990s, and it was used then.
Another large room in the Visitor Centre, the Carice Room, is used for concerts, and where we watched the film about Elgar. There was also a lovely exhibition yesterday of watercolors by Worcestershire artist David Birtwhistle.
After a spot of lunch—we even sat outside at one of the many picnic tables—we set off on our walk, which took just over an hour. The walk begins on a public bridleway just behind The Firs, and then crosses three fields sown with oilseed rape and winter barley. By the time we reached terra firma again at Bell Lane, it felt as though we were carrying half of Worcestershire on our muddy boots.
And at this point I must come back to Vaughan Williams for a moment, because as we were walking across the barley field, and looking back towards Worcester Cathedral to the east, a skylark rose into the air in front of us, singing lustily throughout its ascent and as it glided slowly back to earth.
What a wonderful sight and sound, reminding me instantly of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending premiered in 1920, although originally written for violin and piano in 1914.
The staff and volunteers at The Firs were outstanding, and their friendliness and readiness to engage with us added to the enjoyment of our visit. As I said at the outset, we didn’t have any particular expectations when deciding to visit Elgar’s birthplace. I came away deeply affected by what I saw, heard, and learned, and I’m sure that the emotion will stay with me for many days to come. And, coincidentally, as I am finishing writing this post, while listening to Classic FM, Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 has just been featured.
While reading this post, why not listen to celebrated contralto Clara Butt sing, in this 1911 recording, one of Elgar’s most famous compositions, Land of Hope and Glory (written in 1902, with words by AC Benson).
Bounded on the north by the West Midlands and Staffordshire, to the northwest by Shropshire, Herefordshire to the west, Gloucestershire to the south, and Shakespeare’s county, Warwickshire to the east, Worcestershire is a mainly rural county in the English Midlands. It has an area of 672 square miles, and is 38th out of 48 counties in size. Click on the map below to explore further. The estimated population (in 2016) was a little under 600,000. Ethnically it’s mostly white British (>91%).
Setting up home
Worcestershire is my home, but I’m not a native. I was born and raised in Cheshire and Staffordshire, some 70 miles to the north. My wife hails from Essex, east of London. We chose Worcestershire—Bromsgrove in the northeast of the county to be specific (shown by the blue star on the map above)—more by chance than design. Let me explain.
In March 1981, Steph, Hannah (almost three), and I returned to the UK after living more than eight years in Peru and Costa Rica. I’d just been appointed to a lectureship at The University of Birmingham, in the Department of Plant Biology, School of Biological Sciences. Until we found somewhere to live permanently, Steph and Hannah stayed with her parents in Southend-on-Sea, while I settled into lecturing life at Birmingham. And launch ourselves into the housing market.
Before we left Peru, we had asked Steph’s parents to contact on our behalf as many estate agents (realtors) as they could identify from locations in a wide arc from the west of Birmingham, south into Worcestershire, and southeast towards the Solihull area. We already had decided that we didn’t want to live in Birmingham itself.
Arriving back in the UK we encountered a very large pile of house specs waiting for us at Steph’s parents, and began to work our way through these, rejecting immediately any that did not meet our expected needs. We quickly whittled around 500 down to a handful of fewer than fifty or so.
It must have been the Wednesday of my first week at the university in April, a slack period with no lectures or practical classes scheduled. So I decided to take the afternoon off and go house viewing. But in which direction to strike out?
Bromsgrove is just 13 miles south of the university, connected by the A38, a route that crosses the city right by the university in Edgbaston. We had selected a couple of properties in Bromsgrove that seemed promising, and the drive there was likely to be the easiest of any of the other locations on our list. So I made appointments that same afternoon to view these two properties. And the first house I saw was the one we actually ended up buying. It just ticked all the boxes. Later that evening I phoned Steph to tell her what I’d been up to, and that she should schedule to come up to Birmingham on the train as soon as possible to take a look for herself. Within a week we’d made an offer for the house, and started to sort out a mortgage—at 16¾% interest in the first year or so!
Our younger daughter, Philippa, was born in Bromsgrove in 1982. New house, new baby!
In July 1991, I accepted a position at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, and we stayed there until April 2010, almost 19 years. All the while we kept our home in Bromsgrove, fully furnished, but unoccupied, and available for us to return to whenever we came home on annual leave, and to take up residence once again on retirement.
Worcestershire is a lovely county, dotted with picturesque villages, rolling hills in the north and west, magnificent river valleys slicing through the landscape, and fertile agricultural land to the southeast. We’ve never regretted making the choice to move here. Being located in the middle of England, it’s not too far from anywhere. Our younger daughter lives in Newcastle upon Tyne in the northeast, a smidgen under 250 miles away. And during their lifetime, visiting Steph’s parents in Essex, just 160 miles away, was an (mostly) easy trip. Over the past seven years of retirement, we are enjoying getting out and about to explore not only our ‘home’ county, but also places within a 80-100 mile radius for day trips.
Administration, political life, and towns
Worcestershire has few urban areas. The City of Worcester lies in the center of the county, just 16 miles south of Bromsgrove. It’s the seat of the county council, and also of the Diocese of Worcester and its magnificent cathedral.
There are six local government authorities: 1. Worcester; 2. Malvern Hills; 3. Wyre Forest; 4. Bromsgrove; 5. Redditch; and 6. Wychavon.
There are seven parliamentary constituencies, all held by Conservative politicians. That says a lot about the county. The Member of Parliament for the Bromsgrove constituency is Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, a member of the Cabinet, and once considered as a high flyer and Tory Party leadership contender. His star has waned somewhat.
Redditch, nine miles to the east, was home from the 18th century to a needle-making industry, and Droitwich Spa, founded on extensive salt and brine deposits, lies about six miles south. In the far south of the county, market town Evesham serves the agricultural community in the fertile Vale of Evesham.
Geographically, Worcestershire has some important features. England’s longest river, the Severn, enters the county northwest of Kidderminster (south of Bridgnorth), and flows for some 45 miles south before reaching the Severn Estuary in Gloucestershire and beyond. The River Avon (Shakespeare’s Avon) meanders east to west across the southern part of the county, round Evesham and to the north of Bredon Hill, before joining the Severn at Tewksbury in Gloucestershire.
In the north of the county, to the north and west of Bromsgrove, the Lickey Hills (between Bromsgrove and Birmingham) and Clent Hills rise to 978 and 1037 feet, respectively. On a clear day, the view from the top of Clent can be spectacular, as far as the Black Mountains of South Wales.
The view south towards the Malvern Hills (on the right), the Severn Estuary, and the Cotswolds (on the left).
Looking further west towards Abberley Hill, beyond Great Witley.
Straddling the county border between Worcestershire and Herefordshire, the Malvern Hills are an easily recognisable north-south spine, rising to over 1300 feet, and offering an unsurpassed panorama over the Severn Valley to the east, and the Cotswolds further southeast.
The Malverns (R) looking south to Bredon Hill (center) and the Cotswolds, and the Vale of Evesham, from just south of Great Witley.
This is a view, to the west, of the northern section of the Malverns and the Severn Valley from the Panorama Tower (designed by James Wyatt in 1801) at Croome.
In the south of the county, Bredon Hill (at 981 feet) is a Jurassic limestone outlier of the Cotswolds, affording views north and east over the Vale of Evesham, and south to the steep north-facing escarpment of the Cotswolds proper.
This is the view from Broadway Hill, looking north over the Vale of Evesham, with Bredon Hill on the left.
Horticulturally, the Vale of Evesham is one of the most important areas in the country, famous for its extensive orchards of apples, pears, and plums, vegetables (especially asparagus), and hop gardens, among others. Worcestershire is also ‘home’ to The Archers, an every day story of country folk, based on villages close to Bromsgrove.
In the northwest of the county, and spreading into Shropshire, the Wyre Forest is an important semi-natural woodland, and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It covers an area of about 10 square miles.
Summer visitors to Worcestershire must be very high indeed, but perhaps for just an hour at most as they cross the county. That’s because the M5 motorway is a 32 mile corridor ferrying holidaymakers south to the West Country or north to Lancashire, the Lake District, and Scotland.
Worcestershire has two other motorways. A section of the M42 (the southern orbital around Birmingham) passes north of Bromsgrove, and joins the M5 there. The M50, in the southwest of the county, branches off the M5 and takes traffic west into Herefordshire and south to South Wales.
Worcestershire has two particular transport claims to fame. Running north-south, just over a mile east of Bromsgrove town center, the main-line railway (connecting Birmingham with Bristol and the southwest) traverses the Lickey Incline (currently being electrified as far as Bromsgrove), the steepest sustained main-line incline in Great Britain, for a little over two miles, at 2.65%.
The Incline was first surveyed, but then abandoned, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1832 as a route for the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway.
Just a little further east, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, completed in 1815, connects the River Severn at Worcester with Canal Basin in the heart of Birmingham, a distance of 29 miles. The 30 lock Tardebigge Flight, close to Bromsgrove, is the longest flight of locks in the UK. I have written about both the Lickey Incline and the canal here.
Tardebigge Top Lock
Part of the Tardebigge Flight
The view from Tardebigge church (above Tardebigge Top Lock) over Bromsgrove to the Malverns (in the southwest on the left) and to Clee Hill (due west, in Shropshire) in the distance.
Another canal, the 46 mile long Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal (completed in 1771) branches from the River Severn at Stourport on Severn, crosses the northwest part of the county through Kidderminster, eventually joining the Trent and Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire. This was a vital link for 18th century industry.
Famous sons and daughters of Worcestershire
Earlier I mentioned Sir Edward Elgar. He is perhaps the most famous son of Worcestershire. He was appointed the first professor of Music at The University of Birmingham in 1905. The Elgar Concert Hall at the university, opened in 2012, is named after him. It is one of the venues in The Bramall that sits alongside the university’s Great Hall, an extension of the Aston Webb building, completing the red-brick semi-circle vision of Sir Joseph Chamberlain, which has been at the heart of the University since 1909.
In addition to his Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Elgar is also renowned for his Enigma Variations, composed in 1898/99 (0f which the evocative Nimrod must be the most loved). But I think his tour de force must be his Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 played in this video by Jacqueline du Pré, one of the 20th century’s most talented musicians.
Classical scholar and poet Alfred Edward Housman was born in Fockbury, just outside Bromsgrove in 1859. His most famous cycle of poems is A Shropshire Lad, first published in 1896. His statue stands proudly over the High Street in Bromsgrove.
Conservative politician and Prime Minister at the time of the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, Stanley Baldwin was born in Bewdley in 1857. Roland Hill, credited with the concept of a modern postal service, and the postage stamp, was born in Kidderminster in 1795. William Morris, later Lord Nuffield, and motor magnate and philanthropist, was born in Worcester in 1877.
Heritage Historically, Worcestershire has much to offer. Two major—and pivotal—battles were fought in the county. In August 1265, the forces of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester were defeated at the Battle of Evesham by the army of King Henry III led by his son Edward, later Edward I. Almost 400 years later, in the final battle of the English Civil Wars, the forces of King Charles II (who wasn’t restored to the crown until 1660) were defeated at Worcester in 1651 by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian New Model Army.
Today, the Monarch’s Way is a long distance footpath (>600 miles) that traces the route of Charles II’s escape after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Earlier this year we visited Boscobel House in Shropshire (the furthest north Charles fled) where he hid in an oak tree.
The Monarch’s Way crosses the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in places, and passes through Pepper Wood, just west of Bromsgrove.
Standing proudly above the River Severn in the center of Worcester, the cathedral is the final resting place of King John (of Magna Carta fame).
The tomb of King John in Worcester Cathedral.
The cathedral was built between 1084 and 1504, combining different architectural styles from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic. There are many other abbeys and religious buildings throughout the county, most destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century.
There are two outstanding medieval threshing barns standing in the south of the county, near Bredon, and at Littleton near Evesham, as well as good examples of dovecotes at Hawford and Wichenford (both owned by the National Trust).
The medieval barn at Bredon.
The roof of Littleton barn.
Hawford dovecote on the left, and Wichenford on the right.
One of the oldest public schools (i.e. private school) in the country, Bromsgrove School, was founded as a chantry school in 1476, and re-founded in 1553. It takes pupils from all over the world, but despite occupying a large chunk of real estate in the town, seems to have very little connection with the community (even though it’s quite often featured in the local weekly newspapers).
The National Trust also owns two large estates in Worcestershire at Hanbury Hall (just seven miles southwest of Bromsgrove), and Croome Court, southeast of Worcester. Both are impressive 18th century houses. Greyfriars is a medieval merchant’s house and walled garden in the center of Worcester.
Hanbury Hall, built in 1701.
Croome Court, home of the 6th Earl of Coventry, and the first park designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.
Looking south along Friar Street in Worcester. Greyfriars is the double gabled building on the left.
At Great Whitley, some 16 miles west of Bromsgrove, stand the ruins of Witley Court, owned by English Heritage, destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 1937. It has become a favorite place for us to visit, since the early 1980s when we moved to the county.
We have yet to visit the only other English Heritage property in Worcestershire, Leigh Court Barn.
The heritage, standard gauge Severn Valley Railway, formed in 1965, runs 16 miles from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth, beside the River Severn, with intermediate stops at several picturesque stations. It’s a delightful way to spend the day, with the opportunity for a good walk around Bridgnorth before returning to Kidderminster.
Worcestershire has such a lot to offer, and to some extent we have just scratched the surface. We look forward to many more years of getting to know this corner of England we call home.
Land of hope and glory? Much of Worcestershire is glorious. Hope? Well, while this Conservative government remains in power, and facing Brexit, there’s little optimism for hope, especially with all Worcestershire MPs being members of the Conservative Party.
¹ In February 2012, I attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace and received an OBE from HRH The Prince of Wales. In this post-investiture photo in front of the gates at Buckingham Palace, I’m wearing the OBE medal, which is made by Worcestershire Medal Service based in Bromsgrove.
With Steph on 29 February 2012 outside Buckingham Palace after the OBE investiture.
And, it seems, that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in one of his earliest commissions helped to realize the vision of the 6th Earl of Coventry to create Croome Court and Park, a neo-Palladian mansion in deepest Worcestershire, less than 10 miles southeast of Worcester, and 20 miles from our home in Bromsgrove in the north of the county.
The 6th Earl of Coventry
Work started on Croome in 1751 and over more than a decade work continued to replace an earlier building on the site. But even as late as the 1790s changes were being made to the park.
While Brown was involved in the design of the hall itself, and of course his signature landscape design, many of the interiors of the hall were designed by equally famous neoclassical architect and interior designer Robert Adam who, with his rival James Wyatt, also designed many of the features – temples and the like – that are dotted about the park, and even follies some distance from the park itself, such as Dunstall Castle to the south and Pirton Tower to the north. The 1¾ mile lake, the Croome River, took 12 years alone to dig out by hand.
From the park there are good views of the Malvern Hills due west, and Bredon Hill, an outlier of the Cotswolds, further southeast. These aristocrats certainly knew just where to build a fancy residence!
From the Visitor Centre (1 on the map, and once the sick quarters of nearby WWII airfield, RAF Defford), the footpath through a bluebell wood to Croome Park brings you out onto a hillside beside the Church of St Mary Magdalene (5), and impressive views out over the park and house.
And from that vantage point, there are long walks available in all directions throughout the park and beyond and lots of features to explore as shown in the map below and the subsequent photos.
5. Church of St Mary Magdalene An earlier church once stood here, but it was replaced by Capability Brown with this rather plain one, but with some impressive tombs inside.
7. Ice House Many country houses have an ice house – the National Trust has carefully restored this one.
29. Evergreen Shrubbery
27. Temple Greenhouse Designed by Robert Adam, there are fine views across the park to the main house itself. Glass windows have now been added.
26. Druid This statue was designed by James Wyatt, and after very careful scrutiny, we did discover the hidden date stamp – 1793!
25. Dry Arch Bridge The carriage drive built by Brown passes over the top, and here is also a detail of one of the facing stones.
22. The Grotto and Sabrina You can see the statue of Sabrina reclining on the left hand side of the Grotto, which is itself constructed from tufa.
23. Worcester Gates
28. Statue of Pan
21. Island Pavilion This is an elegant pavilion, which has undergone extensive restoration particularly to remove decades if not centuries of graffiti from the inside walls. The plaque on the rear wall shows a wedding scene.
15. Croome Court This building is both plain and elegant. From the rear, north side, it does appear very attractive at. But the South Portico, with reclining sphinxes either side of the elegant steps up to the door, is something else instead. Although the exterior design is attributed to Capability Brown, Robert Adam was responsible for some of the interiors, particularly the long gallery. The plaster work throughout has been extensively restored as part of the National Trust’s more than £5 million scheme. Only the ground floor and part of the cellars is currently open to visitors. We first visited Croome in March 2011. Three years later one of the rather dilapidated side wings has now had its roof and windows replaced and is on track for a complete restoration. Some other buildings at Croome were converted years ago into private apartments.
When we visited Croome in 2015, the house was encased in scaffolding and swathed in polythene, now removed. We have toured the house just once, in 2011. Work continues with the refurbishment inside, but because Croome was rather busy two days ago, we just enjoyed our walk around the park. I think a visit nearer Christmas might be appropriate to see how the house has changed over the past six years or so.
13. Rotunda This building lies about 150 m to the east of the south portico where the land rises away from the main park and Croome River. It has an impressive ceiling and other moldings.
16. Chinese Bridge (and Croome River) It’s hard to imagine the number of laborers it took to dig this ‘river’ if it took 12 years. There are footpaths all round the lake, where you can mix with the local livestock, and various water birds: coots, mallard, great-crested grebe, and Canada and grey lag geese (on the most recent visit).
17. Park Seat This sited on a high point looking north over the park towards the house. You can imagine what it must have been like in its heyday – a stroll or ride through the park, perhaps a picnic at the Park Seat. Elegance!
18. Carriage Splash
This is the view along the Croome River from the Carriage Splash.
9. London Arch
This is an impressive entrance to Croome on the east of the property, but now provides access, via a private road, to apartments that have been developed in some of the outbuildings of the house.
Croome Court has seen some changes during its history. George III visited, as did Queen Victoria and George V. It’s reported to have housed the Dutch royal family in exile during WWII. The Coventry family sold the house in 1948. It subsequently became a Catholic school, and even owned by the Hare Krishna sect. Today, while the garden and park are owned by the National Trust, the house itself is owned by the Croome Heritage Trust and leased to the National Trust.
So if you want to enjoy some culture and the opportunity for a brisk and bracing walk, Croome Court and Park is the place to visit. The photos in this post were all taken along the Park Seat Walk (in yellow on the map below, around 3½ miles).
Beyond the park, and towards the west and the Malvern Hills, stands the Panorama Tower (B on the map).
Celebrate Croome for its inherent, natural beauty.
Celebrate Capability Brown, who could realise the vision of his patron, and made an impact on English landscapes like no other before or since.
And celebrate the 6th Earl of Coventry, who had a vision, and the financial resources to do something about it.