Saturday 28 September 2019

Saunton Sands, Devon

The ambience of this stylish Art Deco hotel with glorious far reaching views along the coast, and delicious food, provided us with a memorable stay.

Saunton Sands is as a surfing beach but beneath the waves is a reef containing a diversity of coral and marine life seen nowhere else in Britain.
There are 3½ miles of shoreline to explore, but a quick climb over these spiky Marram grass covered dunes takes us to a special biosphere area known as Braunton Burrows. This is the largest sand dune system in the UK which covers fifty-five square miles. 

It hosts an extraordinarily diverse plant community, with over 400 recorded species of vascular plants.
This in turn provides a great habitat for a large variety of associated invertebrate species. Its uniqueness and biodiversity is recognised in its designation as both a National Nature Reserve and as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Opened in 1933, this Art Deco hotel was built by Sir John Christie who also built and owned the Glyndebourne Opera House in East SussexSince the opening, it has operated continuously as a hotel, apart from a brief interlude during the Second World War, when it was requisitioned to house the Duke of York's Military School.
In the late 1920s a young local boy called Percy Brend watched the hotel being built together with Florence, his girlfriend, who eventually became his wife. Whilst they were courting he promised her that one day he would buy the hotel for her.
In 1977, almost 45 years later, Percy fulfilled that dream, and to this day, the hotel remains in their family's ownership.

Saturday 21 September 2019

"Little Switzerland"

The twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth are situated along the heritage coast of Exmoor National Park in North Devon. Lynton sits at the top of a cliff above the village of Lynmouth which itself nestles down at the harbour. There is a very steep high road that links the two villages together. I recall driving up it with my parents as a child, and as we chugged upwards my fathers concern that his car might not make it to the village. It was quite a common feature back then to come across cars abandoned along roads with such a steep incline.
Whilst thinking about those childhood memories I was then rather taken aback to see this little old Austin seven parked in Lynton, which had seemingly, and successfully, recently climbed the hill.

Following a visit in 1799 these two villages acquired the title 'Little Switzerland' from England's Poet Laureate Robert Southey. He said "I am assured by one who is familiar with Switzerland, that they resemble Swiss villages. Having visited Switzerland on numerous occasions myself, this description does rather stretch the imagination!!! However, that does not negate at all from the fact that both are lovely villages to visit.
Arts & Crafts designed Town Hall at Lynton
Although we drove up to Lynton from the harbourside in Lynmouth we had no intention of walking or driving back down. Instead we took a ride there and back on the famous Clifftop railway.
The historic Victorian cliff railway was built in 1888, and rises 500ft on 862ft of steep track with a gradient of 57%. It is the UK's only fully water powered railway and also the highest, steepest, water powered railway in the world!
The two rail cars are connected by hauling cables which operate on a simple balancing principle. 
Water from the West Lyn River fills the 700 gallon tank of the top 'docked' passenger car, and then water from the lower car is discharged until the heavier top car descends and pulls the lower car up the incline.
The speed is controlled by each driver using a Deadman's Handle, a breaking system engineered and first patented for this particular railway. 
It's a quick turn around for us on reaching the bottom of the cliff,
we have a date with with a rather stylish 1930s building further along the Devon coast. 

Sunday 15 September 2019

Minehead, Somerset.

An Edwardian gentleman's home that is now an hotel arrived by email. It really appealed to us, so although I was unsure as to what Minehead itself would be like, the offer was accepted. I knew that there was a holiday camp in the area which admittedly coloured my imagination with thoughts of fruit machines, candy-floss, hotdogs, and funfairs. However, I was completely wrong. Minehead offers traditional seaside holidays, but it is also on the edge of Exmoor with its beautiful moorlands, spectacular scenery, and freely roaming ponies. 
The principal station for the West Somerset Steam Railway is in Minehead which today still retains the longest steam rail system remaining in this country. In 1925 the Maharaja of Jodhpur visited Minehead following an invitation from the Luttrell family of
Dunster Castle.  Although they hosted several matches for him on their polo lawns, they hadn't realised that he would turn up with his entire 'crack' polo team together with 62 polo ponies. These all arrived on a train that had to be specially adapted in order to accommodate them.

"Hey! What's going on down there"?
Along the main sea front, Old Minehead has lots of charm, with its quaint cottages and harbour.
The South West Coastal Path starts at Minehead harbour, and these pavement shells are there to guide you on your travels. The path is 630 miles long, being the longest National Trail in this country, and if you walk it, you will eventually end up in Poole, Dorset.
The cottages all nestle up against the heavily wooded steep cliffs.
This one amused us, as it appears to need a ladder to gain access to the garden!
There are several little pathways leading up and across the cliffs which have some very large, but interesting Edwardian properties that are scattered amongst the trees.
Before climbing back up the cliffs for our evening meal, the tented complex seen across the bay reveals the holiday camp, which actually appears to be quite an interesting structure.

Thursday 12 September 2019

Ashdown House

is often referred to as "the house built for the love of a woman who never lived to see it." 
Sir William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven, built this Dutch style property during the second half of the 17th century. It sits alone on the Berkshire Downs and gives the appearance of a rather elegant dolls house. However, it wasn't actually built to be a home, but a rather splendid country Hunting Lodge. It was designed by soldier/architect, Captain William Winde, who was born in 1640 to English parents resident in Holland at the time. 
Lord Craven via wiki 
Unauthenticated history speaks of Lord Craven's great admiration for Elizabeth, the Queen of Bohemia, and that he built this remote hunting lodge as a retreat for her. 
Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia via wiki
But who was Elizabeth? ........
She was the daughter of James l of England, and sister of Charles l, who was married to Frederick, the Elector Palatine. They had 13 children, but their reign as King and Queen of Bohemia lasted for just one winter during 1619 - 1620. Frederick was defeated at the battle of White Mountain then he and the family were exiled to the Hague by the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand ll. Henceforth Elizabeth became known as the Winter Queen. 
Her youngest daughter Sophia married the future Elector of Hanover in 1658 and their son became King George l of England.
Electress Sophia painted as an American Indian by her sister Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate - a talented portrait painter  wiki
Electress Sophia's son - King George l wiki
Lord Craven first met Elizabeth in the Hague when he was a young soldier. It was then that he fell in love and devoted his service to her. Following the death of Elizabeth's husband, Frederick, of a 'pestilential fever', Craven provided Elizabeth with financial support. He paid her the pension that she was supposed to receive from the English crown.
Following the Restoration in 1660 Elizabeth returned home from the Hague and Craven put his London house in Drury Lane at her disposal.
Lord Craven was very concerned about the plague in London and wanted to build Elizabeth a mini palace in the country away from all of the germs. Knowing her love of hunting, he chose Ashdown, but sadly this is not a happy ever after love story. Just before the hunting lodge was completed in 1662 Elizabeth died of pneumonia. Lord Craven never married, but went on to live for a further 35 years, reaching the grand age of 89. When Elizabeth died she bequeathed Lord Craven all of her papers, hunting trophies and a large collection of remarkable family portraits. All of her collection of portraits originally adorned Lord Craven's seat at Combe Abbey and then his property at Hampstead Marshall.  
Years after the death of Lord Craven, 23 of Elizabeth's portraits were received from the estate in lieu of taxes, and it is these paintings that now hang on the walls of Ashdown House. The property is now in the care of The National Trust, 
but has been tenanted on a long term basis so only the long cantilevered staircase, where all of the portraits hang, is open to the public. 
Princess Elizabeth, Princess Royal and Princess Palatine, Abbess of Hervorden (Hertford)
Of the 23 portraits that once belonged to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia my favourite is this one, which shows her third child, and first born daughter, whom she also named Elizabeth.
On the landings are carved wooden heads resembling favoured family stags which actually incorporate the real antlers of the particular stag. During the mid 17th century taxidermy was crude and still in its infancy, and had not become established as a practice. 
When the flight of stairs have been climbed there is a steep spiral wooden stairway to negotiate that passes through an attractive glass cupola before heading out on to the rooftop. 
The roof was used like a small grandstand to provide non-hunting guests with a 360° view of all the hunting and racing activities.  
On either side of the lodge at the rear are two identical buildings - the one that can be seen housed the kitchens where all of the food was prepared for the guests, and the other building housed a large stable for the horses.