Monday 30 April 2018

Church, Chapel, Garden

While at Wimpole last week, enjoying the flowers in the Walled Garden and the animals of Home Farm, I thought I might as well visit a couple of other attractions in the vicinity. I missed out touring the Hall this time and didn't undertake a long walk in the grounds either but I did pop into the little church that stands alongside the Hall.

It's an odd and architecturally unsatisfying little building and incidentally not part of the National Trust's property but just a normal village church, albeit one that has no village! You see, when the grounds of the Hall were landscaped in the mid-eighteenth century the old village was destroyed and the church partly demolished. All that remained were a couple of farms and the houses at New Wimpole which were built to re-house those who'd been displaced - and those are closer to Orwell church.

The present church is therefore more than adequate for its parishioners' needs. It is perhaps surprising that the church was re-built at all, especially as the Hall itself had its own, much grander, chapel within the main building by this time. The attitude towards the village church may be gauged from the fact that just the west end has been faced with stone - the side facing the house. Also if you want to see the original east window you'll have to go to Erddig in Wales, another property belonging to the family. The reason why the church was reconstructed can be glimpsed through the arch to the left of the above photograph.

For here is what remains of the original village church. It's usually known as the Chichely Chapel and is the final resting place for generations of previous occupants of the Hall. As you can see it is stuffed with marble memorials.

Here lies Sir Thomas Chicheley who departed this world as long ago as 1616.

And here Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke 1757-1834. To look at their tombs you might think that they were dashing and daring military men but in fact both were politicians, though Chicheley seems to have been a particularly inactive one, spending much of his time on the continent.

The Chapel has one very remarkable window which is a rare survival from medieval times and depicts the coats of arms of many of the most influential families in the area, all of whom had links to the Ufford family who lived at Wimpole Hall in those days.

Among all this grand and pompous statuary there's just one small cherub that always appeals to me. He looks as though he's fed up with being indoors and would love to go out and play. Come on, lets go outside and have another quick look at the gardens..

This area was laid out in the seventeenth century, before the landscaping undertaken by Capabilty Brown, Humphrey Repton and others. According to an old picture of the Hall and its grounds these formal gardens were once much more extensive, but this is all that remains - much to the relief of the volunteers deployed to cutting the edges of the lawns and trimming the little hedges!

I must admit that I like these gardens best when some informality creeps in, either from birdlife or the activities of the gardeners.

Visitors too make unplanned additions to the scene.

And here's that blackbird again, photobombing in delightful style!

And with that we'll say farewell to Wimpole for the time being. If you want to see inside the Hall I did a post about it back in 2011 - as long ago as that, John? Maybe we are due for another visit some time.

Take care.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Searching For Bluebells

And finding them!

It's one of the great sights of England - a woodland carpeted with bluebells - but one that requires good timing to experience at its best.

Of course, woodlands are a wonderful place to be even without the little blue flowers, particularly at this time of year when the young leaves are appearing but the sunlight can still shine through to illuminate the woodland floor.

Even at the height of the season and even in woods that are famous for their bluebells they may not be present throughout the wood and you may have to walk a bit to find them. On a day like we had on Thursday when a brisk breeze was blowing the rich scent of the flowers wafted through and gave away their whereabouts.

The area that my brother and I chose to explore was just to the west of Stevenage, centred on the village of St Paul's Walden which is a surprisingly lovely bit of landscape in any season. At present, with blossom in the hedgerows and oak trees coming into leaf, it's the epitome of southern English countryside.

And then there are the drifts of bluebells smouldering sweetly between the distant trees like wisps of purple smoke.

We followed a devious route linking several woods and also passing through meadows, alongside fields and down country lanes. There were a lot of horses grazing in the pastures but they were unusually camera-shy.  

We started in Hitch Wood, then alongside Hearnsfield Wood and Foxholes Wood. From there we followed a path between Chalkley's Wood and Walk Wood before turning to follow the beautiful though short path through Reynold's Wood.

Great Tits, Blue Tits and Robins were singing everywhere and I also heard a Blackcap warbling beautifully from a dense hedgerow. Over the fields Buzzards and Red Kites drifted on the wind.

We both spent a lot of time taking photos of it all. That's my brother, Les, getting artistic. You have been spared the view of my hindquarters as I stooped for a close-up!

There are some pleasant, though difficult to photograph, views in this gently rolling country, especially across the valley of the infant River Mimram.

This brief but beautiful display appears every year but some people never see it, preferring to watch TV or spend their money in the shops. How sad is that?

Soon we were back in the vicinity of St Paul's Walden with its church appearing amongst the treetops. The Queen Mother spent her childhood there and maybe as a young girl wandered these woods and perhaps picked an occasional posy of flowers. 

Take care.

Thursday 26 April 2018

Four Legs Good

On the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire the two-legged occupants haven't always fared that well over the centuries. Those who were poor found themselves ousted from their village as the owners of the Hall extended the parkland around their vast mansion. And the people in the big house themselves, after a few generations of each family, generally produced someone who spent or gambled their way into destitution and had to sell up. Now it's looked after by the National Trust and you have to pay just to look around.

Meanwhile, down on the farm, things continue much as before. You can find four-legged inhabitants here that you''ll no longer find in other places. Lets meet some of the rare breed animals of Home Farm.

Oxford Sandy And Black Pigs

Oxford Sandy And Blacks are also known as the Plum Pudding Pig (I wonder why!) and are thought to be one of the older breeds of pig in Britain. If you've never seen one then I'm not at all surprised as they've been brought back from the edge of extinction by just a few dedicated breeders. They are particularly cute when they are piglets:

Portland Sheep

The great attraction at Wimpole Hall at this time of year are the young lambs and the outside chance of seeing an actual birth. Portland sheep are one of several sheep breeds to be seen on the farm, They are an old breed that have remained separate from other breeds by the virtue of coming from an island, (an almost-island anyway), the Isle of Portland. 

At one time they were essential to Portland's economy though they gradually grew fewer in number until their very existence was threatened and they disappeared completely from their home territory. There is now a herd on Portland once again, being looked after by the inmates of Portland Prison.

White Park Cattle

Yet another ancient breed, and this one may have been around more than two thousand years. They are descended, it's thought, from the wild white cattle which once roamed these islands. White Park Cattle should feel very at home here as they were originally kept in parks around medieval manors, but over the centuries it became less fashionable to keep cattle in parks and the breed began to die out. The White Park is the emblem of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. 

Tamworth Pig

We've met Tamworths on this blog before, but such handsome beasts can surely be seen again. They hail, surprisingly enough, from Tamworth in Staffordshire and are thought to be descended from pigs brought from Ireland. They are closer genetically to wild boar than other domesticated breeds.

Whitefaced Woodland Sheep

The Whitefaced Woodland is a breed from the South Pennines and is one of the biggest breeds of mountain sheep. They are an extremely attractive-looking breed. They are also known as Penistone Sheep from the Yorkshire town where they were sold at the market.

Bagot Goats

It is recorded that as long ago as 1389 Sir John Bagot of Blithefield Hall in Staffordshire kept a herd of black and white goats which in time became known by his name. They are an extremely self-reliant breed and lived a semi-feral existence though confined to the park, all the management that was needed was an occasional cull to control their numbers. The billy goats can develop very impressive horns.

Norfolk Horn Sheep

On an earlier post about different breeds of farm animals someone commented that they didn't know there were so many types of sheep. In fact there are over 60 breeds in the UK so we've still got a few more to go! The Norfolk Horn for example. These sheep once thrived and prospered in the dry, sandy Brecklands of Norfolk, but dwindled down to just one flock in 1919, but their numbers were built up by just one devoted breeder. 

Middle White Pigs

Aw, come on, you can't resist such a pretty face, can you? This beautiful Miss Piggy is a Middle White. They were first bred in Yorkshire in the nineteenth century by cross-breeding (you're not going to believe this) a Large White with a Small White - they don't go in for fancy names up in Yorkshire! They are an extremely placid and friendly breed. Go on, you know you want another picture....

What a sexy smile!

Take care.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Within These Walls

Yesterday I presented you with A Bunch Of Tulips without telling you where I'd been to pick them - metaphorically photographically picked them of course; I'd have found myself in trouble if I'd actually factually picked them. To find so many flowers you have to go somewhere special, somewhere like this....

or like this....

or perhaps even this.....

The irony is that this garden was never meant to be walked around and admired even though thousands of people must do it every year these days. We are at the National Trust's Wimpole Hall, which is just a half-hour-or-so's bicycle ride from my back door, and we're in the walled garden which was originally intended to produce food for the table of the great house and cut-flowers for arrangements to beautify its many rooms.

The walls, which are about twelve feet (3.65 metres) high are to shelter the garden from the cold winds and create a micro-climate that's ideal for gardening. Yesterday, when it was so blustery that I had to fight with the bike's handlebars just to stay on the road, was an ideal day to test its efficacy and I'm pleased to say it passed the test.

Today the garden is kept in shape by a couple of gardeners and a large army of volunteers, their gardening gloves making an unlikely and unintended display in the large glasshouse...

Almost as colourful as the flowers!

The walls of the garden do not only provide protection for the flowers, vegetables, windswept cyclists and volunteer gardeners; they also protect and support the espaliered fruit trees.

Those are cherries growing in the photo above. That may well be a "hot wall", that is a wall with flues within it to carry heat from a furnace to speed the growing and ripening of the fruit.

....and I think these were pears.

What else to show you?

Just outside the walls, but still to some extent sheltered by them, were these tiny miniature tulips growing in amongst the cowslips.

And just in case you think it's all tulips here.....

Take care.