Monday 26 September 2016

"To The Manor Reborn"

May be you saw the Avebury Manor restoration programme on the BBC presented by Penelope Keith and Paul Martin - the title in this post is a reference to Penelope Keith's appearance in the 1970s sitcome "To the Manor Born".
Avebury Manor began life as a small medieval Benedictine priory sited within the famous Neolithic stone circle, but was converted into a manor house during the middle of the c16th. 
When the National Trust acquired the house it was in a bad state of neglect and very few of the original contents remained in situ. The NT curators had been wondering how to tackle the interiors when they were approached by the BBC who came up with the idea of doing a restoration programme.
I didn't watch the programme and had ambivalent feelings about the idea of recreating the interiors. However, it did involved the expertise of many skilled craftspeople including furniture makers, artists, together with carpet and fabric designers The traditional Chinese wallpaper was inspired by surviving antique examples, and handpainted by Chinese craftspeople from Fromental in Jiangsu province. Having now visited the manor I realise that it does cater to all ages and gives a very relaxed family outing. There are no off limits, you can sit on the chairs, open the draws, read the books, or try on the tudor clothes - only the handpainted wallpaper is out of bounds - mainly the interior has been given an authentic appearance but there are some witty touches too. 

If you look carefully at the Chinese wallpaper a reference to Avebury itself can be found showing the manor, the stones, and in the center Sir Adam Williamson who inherited the manor in 1789. He was a well travelled man taking part in the capture of both Louisberg and Quebec from the French. He went to Jamaica where he became the Governor General.
I could happily have taken this seat home - it would sit comfortably in either a traditional or a contemporary setting
The 1930s Art Deco style shown in this room reflects the period when the house was owned by Alexander Keiller. His private income came from his family's former business, the Keillers of Dundee marmalade and confectionary company

The kitchen reflects the early c20th - Britain was on the brink of war, the Suffragette movement was in full swing and the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage   
The Tudor Parlour with its newly handmade replica oak furniture represents the wealth of the owners at that time, William and Mary Dunch. From modest beginnings William became an important and influential man who was close to Queen Elizabeth I
Late afternoon sunbeams played through the large stone mullion windows
The final room represents Queen Anne's Chamber - the replica bed is a copy of the State Bed which can be seen in Dyrham Park. 
It is not known whether or not Queen Anne actually stayed at Avebury - the only evidence is heresay by a servant saying that "our Queen Anne dined here"
Poor Queen Anne was plagued by ill health throughout her life, and from her thirties she grew increasingly lame and obese. She had 18 children from 17 pregnancies in 17 years (1684-1700). Despite all of these pregnancies when she died at the age of 49 years in 1714 she had no surviving children and was the last monarch of the House of Stuart.
Arriving home, flocks of migrating birds flying in 'V' formation passed overhead at the start of their long journey south to new feeding grounds,
and the sun slipped away for another day

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Avebury Manor Gardens

We are now well into the month of September and the manor gardens are still a mass of summer colour - autumn appears to be nowhere in sight

Cleome - Spider flower
Some of the garden walls have an attractive thatch coping

Centaurea cyanus - cornflowers
Swiss Chard  along with
Artichokes and Fennel jostle for attention amongst the flowers in the herbacious borders
Zingy shocking pink Zinnias mingle with their more restrained neighbours
There was a selling sculpture exhibition in the gardens
I liked this giant ceramic seedpod - if it had been a peapod then it would definitely have come home with me for my collection
The garden keeps on revealing hidden delights with each new path or archway encountered

The Kitchen Garden
here we found real treasure - freshly picked damsons, now I can make 

Saturday 17 September 2016

Silbury Hill & Avebury Stone Circle

Early morning and sunbeams brighten up a corner of the garden with promises of a glorious mid-September day to come
A lady spider has been up even longer than us busily spinning her web

Shrouded in mist Silbury Hill is Europe's largest man-made prehistoric mound constructed between 2400 and 2300 BC. The purpose of the mound or the meaning it held for the late Neolithic people who built it is not known. The monument seen today was not conceived and built in a single campaign, but grew larger over several generations. Composed mainly of chalk and clay excavated from the surrounding area, the mound stands 40 metres (131ft) high and covers 5 acres (2ha) - a similar size to the smaller Egyptian pyramids. Over time, the project became more ambitious, with huge quantities of chalk dug from the surrounding ditches to build the mound. The years between 2600 and 2000BC was a period of great change, when new forms of pottery, new burial rites and the first metalworking arrived in Britain. This period saw intense building activity in the Avebury area, when hundreds of people came together to construct a variety of monuments including a henge, stone circles and avenues at Avebury. The story of Silbury Hill does not end in prehistory as the Romans chose to build a road and a small town around the foot of the mound.
As the crow flies, Avebury is less than a mile from Silbury Hill - the whole area being a World Heritage Site. Avebury stone circle is the largest in the world, around its perimeter runs a deep ditch which is then surrounded by a high bank. It is possible to walk a complete circuit around the stones by following the pathway running along the top of the bank.
The surrounding bank was formed when Neothilic man removed chalk from the ditches.  Ditch excavations carried out in the early c20th discovered that they had used deer antlers as rakes and picks
The first farmers made their mark on the Avebury landscape almost 6000 years ago. Since then, a pretty village has grown up at the heart of the monument. This is the only place in the world where you'll find a pub and a chapel inside a stone circle. Sadly many of the stones were despoiled and used for building houses by the locals across the centuries - they did not have the knowledge or understanding of the historical heritage that was sitting on their doorsteps

A large piece of stone has been hacked away here  

The stones were not shaped by their Neolithic builders but were chosen for their natural form. The shapes fell into two categories: male and female. The tall rectangular shaped stones are thought to represent the male while the diamond shaped stones represent the female presence. Fertility was a property widely considered to be connected with these rings of stone
Halfway around the walk on top of part of the high bank grows a group of majestic ancient trees

These wonderful trees have their branches strewn with all kinds of paraphernalia, the roots are tied with ribbons and messages left by visitors, Pagans, Wiccans, and those declaring their undying love for one another. From time to time it is necessary to purged the trees of all these tokens which takes up valuable resources and time, but is important for the trees continued survival so that future generations may also see and admire them.
Personally I don't understand this compulsion that some have to leave their footprint behind - I am reminded too of the 'love locks' that decorate some of the historic bridges over the Seine in Paris which are causing structural damage and problems for the Parisian authorities. 
Next time Avebury Manor Garden 

Sunday 11 September 2016

Passiflora caerulea

Given that they come from South America and have an exotic appearance it is perhaps surprising that passion flowers can grow happily outdoors here. They thrive if planted in a sunny sheltered spot especially in the southern half of the country Once the flowers are over they produce a fruit which is unlikely to ripen into something edible unless there is a long hot summer or the vine is planted in a glass house.
How the flower came to be named is an interesting story which some of you may already know.
In the late c15th early c16th Spanish missionaries to South America adopted the flower as a teaching tool to explain the story of the Passion of Christ to the indigenous people.
The three stigmas in the center represent the nails that held Christ to the cross - one of mine has snapped which I didn't notice when I took the photo. The five anthers represent the five wounds, the five white petals and five sepals around the edge together represent the ten faithful apostles, but exclude Judas, the betrayer, and Peter who denied Christ. The pretty filaments which can number in excess of a hundred are said to represent the crown of thorns, and their colour blue - heaven. The tendrils (not shown on my photo) are the whips used in the flagellation.

Rich in vitamins A & C I am partial to some passion fruit in my yogurt
It makes a tasty cheesecake, or a delicious meringue and cream roulade. There are many recipes using the fruit including jam and a curd which is made using a similar method to lemon curd

Tuesday 6 September 2016

A Birthday Walk....

took us to the Slad Valley - made famous by Laurie Lee in his books "As I Walked out one Midsummer Morming" the sequel to his "Cider with Rosie".
Views of the Woolpack pub - his favourite haunt, his home, and the church where he now lies kept popping into view as we walked high above the valley.
The gardens and hillsides were heavily laden with flowers and fruit, and Quince trees rested their laden branches along the tops of Cotswold stone walls.

 Eventually I came across exactly what I was hoping to find - lots of juicy ripe Elderberries sparkling like jewels in the sunlight - the birds have already started devouring them but there were plenty for us all to share - their destination some homemade ice cream
The ground beneath the Hazelnut tree was thick with open shells and unripe nuts - it must have been a busy squirrel, but why did he throw them down before the're ripe? We debated are they hazel, cob, or filbert nuts? the quesion was unresolved.
turning on to the footpath that leads to Laurie's Wood we noticed that the wild Crab-apple branches were struggling with their heavy burden
Wentered Laurie's wood and
stumbled across a secret place where the wee folk appear to live
back home a beautiful bouquet was waiting from the little family in Paris♡ and once the ice cream was made
we ate a slice of homemade Tarte aux Pignons (Pinenut Tart) served with the Elderberry ice cream