A recent visit to Chastleton House

charleston House

Whilst in the Cotswolds we visited Chastleton House a beautiful Jacobean country house and garden built between 1607 and 1612 by the son of a prosperous wool merchant. It was owned by the same increasingly impoverished family until 1991 and it has remained essentially unchanged for over 400 years.

Charleston Hall

The house is quite beautiful in its calm and comfortable acquaintance with the landscape, not ostentatious or grandiose, but settled as if intending to stay until the ravages of time return the stone to the earth. Unlike so many National Trust properties, Chastleton is authentic, leaving you with a sense of reality of the lives of the characters who lived there. Everything seems normal here, everyday people from the past who had just slipped out leaving their clutter and dust behind them.

chair & lamp

chinese cabinet

I’m glad the Trust decided to leave the house intact, they just sorted out any structural damage but thought better of shipping in fancy artifacts. Everything here is collected by the previous owners over 400 years and what wasn’t sold in times of poverty has stayed, junk and all.

cage

There are items I would love, like this amazing bird-cage surrounded in an array of plants!

scooter

Or this red scooter resting on the peeling paint in the hallway next to a collection of rope and bric-a-brac.

rusty door

If you love peeling paint this is the place for you!

kitchen Charsleton

The kitchen is basic, not grand like many of our historic houses, but functional.

sink

Even the sink has been left as it was found when the Trust took over. It’s easy to imagine people living here and how hard life must have been, no frills, just hard toil to keep the place going. It’s amazing it survived with such neglect, all items of value gone, just the ragged remains of your ancestors to comfort you through the cold winter nights. This place could so easily have been the house of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, be it in the wrong county!

window shadows

What really struck me was the quality of the light, the gently mellow shadows cast upon the Cotswold stone. Worn and aged, but somehow all the better for it.

cards& roses

A card game, although set-up looked in keeping with the room.

bottles

So many gems to capture your imagination, like a film set.

brolly & hall

Everything in this house has the simplicity of the everyday.

seats

The courtyard.

celler door

Entering the storerooms below the house just off the courtyard.

window:door

Cold and dark with an earth floor, the air damp, what went on in here I wonder? Time to leave this wonderful house. We stayed for some time soaking in the atmosphere, somehow you don’t want to leave. Although plain in its interior this house held more fascination than many of the great estates I have visited before, I could live here, with its charm, cobwebs and dust, just like a modern day Miss Haversham!

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The honey tones of the Cotswolds and an eccentric Museum

wren house2After being distracted because unpredictable things happen in life, and some you can’t avoid, we decided a break was in order. So we decided to take a trip to the Cotswolds for a rest and to escape the demands of everyday life. The beauty of living in Britain is the ease with which we can easily slip from one style of architecture and landscape to another in a relatively short distance. The colour of buildings very much dictates the county one is in and the whether hills or dale each one has its identity. We were looking for softness and a gentile escape and as a visitor we found it.

wren house 2

I’m sure if you have ever trolled the internet for a Bed & Breakfast you will have found it a nightmare! Each possibility is considered with trepidation and fear of getting it wrong! Afterall this is not a cheap option in the UK, therefore it has to be right. But we got it right, or should I say Alistair Sawday, the oracle of wonderful places to stay did! This is our second venture into Alistairs world of exquisite place to lay your head and we were not disappointed. Wren House is in Donnington just outside of Stow-on-the-Wold and is a little piece of tranquil heaven. As soon as you arrive a calm falls upon you and it’s time to relax. There was nothing to complain about here, everything was perfect, the house, the decor, the wonderful bed and gardens to die for, and the breakfast…..I could go on! Kiloran, our lovely hostess, has just the right amount of helpfulness, but respects your privacy, but is also interesting to chat to, and if you love dogs there are two beautiful friendly labradors, Gigha and Ailsa to welcome you.

box hedge

After breakfast on our first morning we decided to go to Oxford to visit the Pitt Rivers museum. Oxford is known mainly for its architecture, and rightly so, for this City has an essence like no other I have visited in Britain. Perhaps it’s because it is dominated by the abundance of academic buildings – Colleges, all intermingled with the business of everyday life. Black gowns flowing from the students walking or cycling through the streets, all eager to get to where they need to be. It’s easy to see how one could be captivated by such a place in all its gentle grandeur. We have been to Oxford before to see the magnificent display of snakes head frittilarys (flowers) at Magdalin College but this time we wanted to see the Pitt Rivers Museum. It has interested me for some time because it is like no other Museum I have been to. Sometimes Museums can be a bit boring but this one is a gem crammed full of curiosities.

pitt R skeleton

First of all you are struck by the design and structure of the building, the vast pillars of steel and wood offering the visitor different levels to view the oddities contained within. On the second level the skeletons of prehistoric beasts hang as if in flight from the roof of the building. The sheer size of some of these mammals is breath-taking and there are so many I have never seen or heard of before!  If all museums had this much imagination they would always be full!

pitt rivers

We spent sometime looking around the area you can see above, the earth sciences section, un-aware that there was so much more a few steps down at the back of this picture. Upon entering the semi darkness which is in contrast to the bright space above, the enormity of the lower part of the building came as a complete surprise. It is crammed with fascinating anthropological curiosities on three levels, the second two looking down to ground level. By now we were tired and did not spend as much time as we would have liked exploring each cabinet. My camera struggled with the light and its not advisable to use flash in such places, but my phone coped well, so pictures from this part of the museum are on my Instagram pages.

I could never do the Pitt Rivers Museum justice, but if you ever have the opportunity to go I would recommend it, it is truly an experience not to be missed. After our long day in the City we headed of towards the park and ride bus but were taken by a restaurant called Nosebag, recommended by a lovely lady stood close by as we were looking at the menu. The meal was excellent, vegetarian lasagne and aubergine tagine, both with lots of interesting salad. Full and tired we set off home for a good nights sleep ready for another day of adventures.

Our next day we decided on a more leisurely day and headed for the Village of Chippen Camden and took a walk around the church there. The gates were the most interesting and very grand, although the church also was large for a small town, though I suspect it has always been wealthy.

gates church

It was a pleasant walk, although the wind was keeping the warmth of the sun in check but we still walked around the grave yard and found a gravestone which I loved. The simplicity of design is beautiful and although old, seems so contemporary with the owl carved at the top on an off centre curve.

grave stone

We drove through the countryside and saw fields full of poppies and rapeseed and as the sun came down the light was enchanting, like a scene from The Darling Buds of May!

pansy field

So many beautiful scenes around every corner!

field

The evening was drawing in and it was time to go for a meal at one of the Inns Kiloran had recommended but not before Andy caught me windswept amongst the nettles whilst trying to catch the evening light, please forgive the hair!

me field

There’s so much to tell you, but for now it’s time for a cup of tea and a cuddle with Alfred……oh yes, and the man in my life!

http://www.wrenhouse.net

http://www.sawdays.co.uk

http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/

Enjoying the sun but not getting much work done!

alf snoozing

With the beautiful weather we have been having this last week I have been spending more time outdoors and neglecting my work. Alfred and I have been for many walks and the garden has been demanding my time. Far to nice to stay indoors! Spring is racing along, bringing with it a host of beautiful flowers. My flower-beds are filling up with Fritillaries, tulips, primroses and cowslips.

frit&whitesingle frit

Our walks in the woods have been delightful and my favourite spot for primroses is at it’s best and Alfred loves to explore! Some of the clumps are enormous, far bigger than those in my garden. I even came across a pink one growing wild.

primrosespink primrose

alf primroses 2alf primroses

The evening sun was still offering some warmth for a peacock butterfly enjoying the last of the rays on a rock. Cowslips have an amazing orange centre, smaller and more delicate flowers than the primrose. How do they all stand upright on so slender a stem? Nature in it’s simplicity offers such an abundance of pleasures for us to enjoy. Tread quietly through the woods and keep a keen eye out for it’s treasures, and watch underfoot for the dog violets, celandines and speedwell, to pretty to go unnoticed.

cowslippeacock butterfly

I have experimented with gluten-free bread for a while now and maybe it was the sunshine giving my hands magical powers because this week I got it right! There have been some disasters but this was lovely, the best I’ve made so far. It doesn’t keep so well so next time I will slice it and freeze it, then use when I need it. It’s particularly good toasted with homemade Damson Gin Jam….and lots of butter of course!

bread

Also this week my fabric from http://merchantandmills.com/ has arrived and I am in heaven! Glorious wonderful fabric, exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to get sewing, I will post when I make my first creation for summer. Beautifully packaged!

fabric parcel

Alfred has also been enjoying the sun this week. Lounging in the window soaking up the rays, it’s his favourite place in the house, apart from the fire of course! He always seems to know when I’m going to take his picture and often moves or shyes away. He’s looking smart with his new haircut, his coat is like a moles back and he gets all excited after his spring cut and bath!

Alf shyalf cl

This is my first sketch of Alfred with his short hair, he’s like a different dog but not as smelly now!

sketch alf

Time to get on with that sewing, the fabric is calling me, and if your reading this Pete ‘Happy Birthday’ x

A pleasant day, coffee and Cake!

leighton mossI’m so lucky to live just down the road from RSPB Leighton Moss, it is a place of constant pleasure and surprises. But this morning was a special visit because both our daughters came with us for coffee and cake! You guessed it, Mothers Day! So at 9.30am of we went, hoping to miss the crowds! It was a pleasant walk with signs of spring around every corner. When we arrived, surprise, surprise, it was quiet! Just a few men eating bacon sandwiches and an absence of women? It was early and the scones were just going in the oven, the atmosphere was jolly and expectant. So we ordered from the wonderful selection of cakes, gluten-free brownie and ginger and date crumble with coffees all round, oh, and a toasted tea cake – delicious!  It wasn’t long before people were arriving with the smell of scones in the air and being greeted by the welcoming staff. We got the seat by the window where an array of birds land on the feeder outside, blue tits, chaffinch, bull finches, robins, great tits, coal tits and nut hatches. There is a constant feeding frenzy, and sometimes a woodpecker arrives! So after much chatter we went on our way back home across the fields passing the lambs. Nature doing it’s best to break through the cold winters earth to give us the beauty of spring. It’s still early, but everything is there waiting to burst into flower. The buds on the trees and bushes, the delicate blooms hiding in the undergrowth waiting for the slightest warmth from the sun to push their heads up and shine in all their glory!

crocus

The crocus is one of my favourite spring flowers, such brilliant centres of orange or yellow. The day was fairly dull and not ideal for photography, so here’s one I took earlier in the week.

the row pond

Even dull days can make a picture more interesting sometimes. We walked past Bank Well, a local pond, and checked for frog spawn but couldn’t see any around the edges. It always seems a little dark and grim in the dip where the pond is even when there is sunshine, but none the less beautiful for being so. Some places have an eerie atmosphere or even feel a little uncomfortable, as if you’re intruding on the wildlife that inhabits it. Perhaps one should whisper and tread lightly through such places, after all, we’re just visiting the home of the creatures who live there……

tree shadows

Later in the day we took our dogs for a walk and caught a glimpse of sunshine, you had to be quick! But hey, daffodils and lovely tree shadows. How wonderful a plain road can look with the addition of a few shadows. We all wait for spring in anticipation of the summer to come and when it arrives it lifts the spirit and lightens one’s step. It’s easy to sound ‘corny’ about the arrival of spring but why not? It is something you shouldn’t ignore because it shows us nature is doing what it’s supposed to and gives us hope. So enjoy.

rabbit field2

This is our regular dog route, just a half hour from the front door, through the woods and across this lumpy bit of land which intrigues me because of the numerous meadow ant hills. There are often cattle or sheep grazing here, only ever a handful which makes it feel very old-fashioned, like being in a Thomas Hardy novel. The changing of the seasons in just this tiny bit of land is so varied and witnessing all it has to offer is fascinating. Soon there will be orchids, cowslips, wild garlic and dog violets littering the hillocks and paths.

sorrel2

Sorrel, catching the last of the evening sunshine. The seed heads are amazing even when shriveled and dry.

daffodils

Back home to enjoy my Mothers Day flowers, some beautiful narcissus from the Scilly Isle. The scent is so strong it has filled the house!

book:alf

The evening is cold now and it’s time to light the fire and maybe sketch those pesky sleepy dogs, but it seems Alfred has decided to take a sneaky peek at some ‘high brow’ literature instead of enjoying some warmth by the fire!

A good day for a walk and some photography.

The day started cloudy and overcast with the potential for rain. But it was a pleasant surprise when the sun came out and we were blessed with a beautiful day!  To start my day I had a walk to the Wolfhouse Cafe to enjoy a coffee with a couple of friends, but no dogs today, they stayed at home stretched out on a cushion in the sunshine.  Alfred always gets the best spot!

sofa arch&alf

Archie is difficult to photograph because he is so dark, his eyes disappear. Guess who’s sofa this is?

alf cushionalf cushion2

Alfred is looking old these days, but is so cute. Unfortunately he has lost a few teeth and he dribbles, so he always has a soggy damp mouth and the hair has gone a bit brown – lovely when he gives you a kiss! For the rest of the day I took the opportunity to photograph one of my dolls whilst the light was good. I made her as an experiment using glass eyes instead of painted eyes. She does look a little startled but I think she has character. She is jointed and moves a little like a puppet. Her head also moves and she has a solid sculpted body and painted on shoes. Her dress is vintage liberty with hand dyed silk ribbon with embroidery. Her bloomers are hand dyed muslin to match her dress. Her hair is a wig which I made from mohair and she feels lovely when you hold her, she’s sort of surreal.

doll&teddy full

Just in case your checking out the books it’s Fifty Sheds of Grey! Very funny! The bear is not mine, she’s made by Needful friends, one of my favourite bear makers.

doll& bear doll glass eyes She has no name yet, I have to live with my creations for a while before they become someone. Sometimes I don’t give them a name because the people who buy them see their personality and choose their own name. It alway’s intrigues me the names people choose according to what they see in my dolls, often something I don’t see, but that’s what makes it so interesting. A personality can emerge from a piece of clay and become its own self, it fascinates me!

Wet – damp – miserable day!

2 dogs

Sunday today, and it’s wet and cold! Sometimes on a winter’s day in England the temperature may not be that cold but the damp really makes you feel like it gets into your bones. Today was one of those days. Alfred and Archie, our two wirehaired Dachshunds, had no intentions of venturing outside as they hate the rain, so the view out of the window was the next best thing! Didn’t really achieve much today, but I did make some gluten free scones and in the afternoon decided to go to a friend’s house and share them – what are rainy days for if not to enjoy some company and eat!

scones scones tub

After several disasters, this is my best recipe for gluten-free scones, you can’t tell they have no wheat flour in them, or so everyone tells me! Served with some home-made apple and cardamom jam and a fresh pot of Earl Grey tea – who cares about the weather!

janets chair
Janet’s cat Woody.

Good chat, plenty of tea and a beautiful house occupied by our friends cats…..and them of course!

Poppy sitting comfortably, her eyes matching the cushion perfectly.

A wet day can pass much quicker in the company of friends, but it was time to go home and see our dogs as Woody and Poppy would not have enjoyed their company. The evening was drawing in and it was time to light our fire and settle for the evening, not a bad day after all.  Certainly Alfred and Archie seem happy!

dogs fire
It’s a dogs life!