Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

The Present Past: Kingston Lacy

Please note this post is full of images. Kingston Lacy was built by Ralph Banks, beginning in 1663, and remained in the family until 1981 when it was given to The National Trust. It started out as a red brick hall and was remodelled in the 1800s. It houses many Egyptian artefacts, the result of the travels of the re-modeller.

Kingston Lacy is one of, if not the best, historic house I have ever visited. In relative terms it is small – it’s a massive mansion but mini when compared to the likes of Highclere Castle. And as I hope my photographs will show, it is simply spectacular. It’s luxury in the extreme, there are acres upon acres of land – split into parts so that it feels bigger than most – and there is enough for an entire day out and then some. But perhaps the best thing about Kingston Lacy is the fact you’re able to see so much of it. Unlike many, most, historic buildings wherein there are many floors and rooms but you are only allowed in a few of them (Knighthayes, I’m looking at you with your four floors and your ‘oh sorry, you can only see half of two of them’) you get to explore the vast majority of the house. You get to go on all floors. You get to use the grand staircases where other houses relegate you to the back entrances. And, significantly, you are allowed to take photographs.

When you drive up to Kingston Lacy the car park is a little to the side. This means you get to walk up to the house, take photographs from the front, and enter through the main doors. The entrance hall walls are packed, similarly to the rest of the house as you’ll see, and it’s a good indication of the marvel waiting for you further in. Stag heads abound, which may not be particularly nice but are at least relics of an older time rather than the present, and there’s the rather splendid clock that I liked so much I concentrated on it instead of waiting around to see if I’d be able to get a shot of the hall itself (pretty impossible unless you’re happy to have a crowd in your pictures). The hall has a chequered floor and is on two levels.

First up is the Audit room, the name of which took me ages to discover because it seems not many people like it enough to photograph it… and I’m writing this a year late. There’s a reason for the lack of photography; it’s a nice room but nowhere near the scale of the rest.

Into the library and here comes the luxury. I’m under no impression all the paintings in this house were here originally – they may have been but it’s not unlike Trusts to chop and change furnishings – but it’s no matter because the effect is jaw-dropping. The library is your typical wall-to-wall bookshelf affair, which is a much appreciated typical and one I’m sure you appreciate, too. The room, despite being rather large, is very homely and warm.

Next is the drawing room, just as beautiful. There is a lot more light here as you might imagine and it looks straight out of an Austen adaptation. The fact that that could well be the case considering the number of films and TV shows that require historical houses just adds to its appeal. And if we needed any more evidence that pink used to be more of a neutral colour, take a look at the walls. Obviously I couldn’t sit down on the sofa but how I wished to and how certain I am that most everyone else felt the same way.

The Spanish Room is where things take a step up, as if they needed to. More paintings, more sparkle, it’s a combination of Georgian beauty and the ‘exotic’. I haven’t a clue if this room was used to eat in, but the table and chairs look nice regardless. The dining room has an organ. Yes, an organ in the dining room; it’s pretty epic here, isn’t it? (I haven’t a photo of it – there were too many people – but you can easily find one online.)

Up the stairs. The white marble stairs that are lovely themselves but are housed in an elegant hallway. You can view the ceiling here but I recommend waiting until you’re higher up and have less chance of twisting your neck out of joint.

The saloon opts for brighter, lighter colours. The ceiling is high; I believe it reaches the top of the house. There is much to savour here; the paintings as always, the perfect bureaus that you’ve always wanted but would cost the earth.

The state bedroom is fairly small in comparison, as you can see, but no chances were being taken in the bed department. Clearly no crowd of visitors was involved in the thought process behind the decision.

There are other bedrooms and bathrooms. One bedroom in particular is quite a sight – you’ll find all the vanilla ice cream you’ve ever wanted in it.

Up another flight of stairs and you find yourself in the attic. This fact in itself is awesome as few attics are open to the public, but even better is the tent effect that’s going on. Building dens seems to have been as popular back in the day as it is now but how many people can say they were able to keep their dens in place indefinitely? Not me, that’s for sure! I suppose it’s possible such decoration was considered easier than constantly grabbing blankets from the laundry.

Downstairs, the domain of the servants, are some models of houses and a general exhibition on Kingston Lacy.

The laundry is located in a long barn outside. The rooms have been set up as they would have been and at three long rooms you can imagine how much there was to do. But look at those stairs – there’s very little room for anyone!

The gardens are vast; too vast to explore completely in one day, but as long as you’ve not spent too long in the house you’ll see a fair amount. There’s the lawn that takes you down to one of the Cleopatra’s Needles taken from Egypt. There’s a path that takes you all the way from the far end of the lawn to the kitchen gardens (and a few pigs). The traveller who reaches them will find ice cream and snacks awaiting their arrival – the time it takes to get there makes ‘traveller’ a most suitable descriptor. On this path you’ll also find a Japanese garden and a small place that’s been left to grow wild.

The restaurant’s housed in the stables. It’s not particularly good – cramped, few items on the menu – but it’s the only downside. And now for a slightly slanted photo:

It’s really no wonder, when you take in everything I’ve said above, that Kingston Lacy is a favourite amongst history lovers. It’s no wonder my parents kept on about it throughout my childhood. I’m not sure how popular it is in international recommendations, it’s hardly Highclere/Dowton Abbey or Buckingham Palace and no queens ever lived there. But I would recommend it in a heartbeat. If you go, check which days allow free roaming – some days you can only see the house via guided tour and for a place like this that wouldn’t be fun.

The rest of my photos (and afterwards a question for you). I’m aware this is messy!

Forgetting that I said I visited last year, where did you go this summer? (Or, for those in the southern hemisphere, where are you hoping to go?)

The Present Past: Whittington Castle

This post is full of images. Whittington Castle changed hands through battle many times in the Medieval period; its place near the border being highly sought after by both English and Welsh alike. Perhaps the most notable of keepers, the Fitwaryns, legend has it, kept the Holy Grail hidden there.

There isn’t all that much to say about Whittington Castle in its present state. Whilst the site is full of history, few walls remain; suffice to say a lot of my visit comprised of guesswork and the sorts of dreams history-minded tourists are predisposed to have, fancying ourselves sitting at windows and at table and what have you. Suffice to say it has taken me this long to write about the place because part of me believes an image of arms held out and ‘this is it’ written below it would sum up the situation quite well.

Whittington Castle as it now stands is situated by a main road, the bridge and entrance facing the road almost as though it were just another residence. The gatehouse is actually Victorian, one of those faux-historical Victorian constructions, and the only part that remains intact (even if the very fact of its Victorianhood makes such a fact less awe-inspiring). Other than the gatehouse there is a barn-like building, newer, that houses the shop (here I must thank the assistant who ran after me when I left my camera there), a tearoom, a couple of crumbling towers, and patches of stonework. You get a sense of where rooms were, but by and large you have to use your imagination, especially as what’s left presents a false impression – the castle would have been larger than it appears.

Modernity, presumably the trust that looks after the castle, has placed a bridge across the moat and a small gazebo overlooking a field/garden. Given that it is free to visit and that the walls have crumbled, you can approach the castle from a few places, namely the car park and the bridge. If approaching from the left, you can get a sense of where the left side of the stone buildings would have been. (Somehow viewing the castle from the left makes it seem bigger – I was a little silly and didn’t think to take a photograph from this angle but there are plenty online.)

I believe the room at the top of the gatehouse is used for parties of some sort but the castle as a whole is taken over once a year by a re-enactment society, Historia Normannis, that focuses on the many battles that took place. I wasn’t there at that time but I imagine such an event would make the castle seem greater than it now does. As with many historical sites, ghost stories abound. There are many, it seems, which surely fits the situation.

Where it is hard to assume which rooms were which there is positive side to visiting for visiting’s sake – the landscape. It is by a road and you will never escape that, but the moat is lovely, the field a nice place for a walk, and it is incredibly quiet on account of Whittington being so small.

Can I recommend it? Tough question. Is it worth a trip for the average tourist, especially someone with little time in England? No, it is not; you would likely feel you’d wasted your time. Is it worth a trip if you are really into Medieval history? Yes, though you would want to make it part of a day because it really only takes a few minutes to view everything unless you are intent on walking through every part. It’s difficult – this place is full of history but that history has long gone.

The rest of my photos. I’m aware this is messy!

Where are you planning to visit this year (or, if you live in the southern hemisphere, where did you go this summer)?

The Present Past: A La Ronde

Please note this post is full of images and as such not very ‘neat’. A La Ronde was built in the 18th century by two unmarried female cousins and was to be inherited only by unmarried kinswoman. It was sold at auction and opened for visitors in 1935.

A La Ronde was built by a couple of cousins for a specific purpose. Its name being obvious, there is more than meets the eye to this circular building – it was built such that in the days before artificial light, the sisters could follow the sun round the house, using as much time as possible to work on their embroidery.

A La Ronde is not a big house, at least in the grand scheme of things (it’s certainly bigger than anywhere I have lived!) and whilst it sports an excellent view, the grounds are fairly small and is really just one field – so whilst I’d recommend you visit, I’d also recommend you don’t plan to make a day of it.

Once you’ve passed through the shop you enter the house through the main doors which, if you’ve visited even just a few historical buildings, you’ll realise makes a welcome change. The hallway is fairly grand yet simple – a beautiful mahogany staircase (that you can’t ascend but will later descend) and your first glimpse of the interior design. Given the nature of the house, the semi-linear directions you are supposed to take (as opposed to walking around freely) make a lot of sense.

For lack of any other suitable place to say so, I will say now that you get to see a rather lot of the house. Certainly the fact that it’s not so old and it’s relative lack of importance overall (the sisters are not famous and this is of course no castle) likely help, as there are will be less visitors and fewer items to be damaged, but given your overall welcome, I expect passion and the desire to show others had a role to play, too. I counted four closed doors, there are probably a few more, but not anywhere near the amount that makes tourists grumble. More on the closed sections later.

So, through the entrance and to the left into the drawing room. It’s tiny, as most of the rooms are, but hosts a pretty fireplace and a rather large tapestry woven by the sisters that the enthusiastic room guides will inevitably tell you about supposing the building is not jam packed. I didn’t take a photograph of this room, partly for the size (the furniture makes it awkward) but mostly because the room guide was stood in the centre and whilst I’ve no doubt she would have moved she’d spent a good few minutes telling us about the room and making a request would’ve made me feel rude. However as this is the least interesting room for photographs anyway, in my opinion, I was not too worried.

On into the library, the smallest cubbyhole you’re likely to see in a historical house. The poor composition of my photograph hopefully infers the size.

Into the music room and a sighting of the most gigantic radiator I’d ever seen. It’s a wonderful contraption that I’ve no doubt would’ve been appreciated in the larger houses I’ve been to. So large is it, in fact, that I didn’t realise it was a heating system until the guide told us.

The music room is the place you’re introduced to the house hobby – shell collecting. This house is absolutely chock-full of seashells. Whole cabinets of seashells, hallways full of them. It’s a nice collection as it’s the cousins’ own rather than anything imported from elsewhere.

Of course there are the instruments. An antique clavichord (it may have been a harpsichord) stands weakly against a wall and quite rightly you must not touch it. The small Grand, on the other hand, you may play, in fact it’s positively requested that you do. The room guides spoke of the many wonderful afternoons spent listening to expert players and the joy, if not artistic creativity, of children playing chopsticks.

From here you go up the stairs, carefully, as they are small and spiral. With your eye for all things literary you’re going to spot the old Dickens collection. Don’t listen to your partner when they tell you to hurry up – it’s worth a few moments.

A bedroom. A gorgeous, very Victorian, sunny room. The views are fantastic, the windows created so that you can appreciate them to the full (both the view and the windows themselves). The room guide had us smell an old-fashioned soap that made me feel strange when I noted it’s one I’ve used myself. It’s not a nice smell but I didn’t realise it was so old! A dumb waiter stands in the corner; you can see the bottom of it downstairs.

The next room hasn’t been furnished as it’s been set aside for children to play dress up and pose for photos. I declined the dress shown to me but did take a photograph. There is one more room to see on this floor, it’s used as a sort of second-hand book shop, and the rest are private. Here is the note I spoke of discussing earlier – at the end of the hall, beside the stairs (next to which is a well-reasoned caution as the landing is tiny) is a private office with a photograph of the interior on the door. It’s an excellent idea that I can’t but hope the staff will extend to the rest of the private rooms. You may not be able to go into those rooms and they might be furnished as 21st century offices, but a photograph goes a long way to making it less of a pity.

Just before you head down the stairs you can look up the closed-off second flight to see the grotto on the second floor. Whilst you can’t enter it, you can see enough to realise what it is and it might just take your breath away. Obviously a small attic/sun room space, the walls have been decorated with shells, no gap left unfilled. When you return downstairs you can view the room from another angle due to a double-floor hallway, and there are also objects and photographs to give you a better look. The grotto is undergoing restoration but whether or not it’ll be opened to the public is another question. I would hazard to guess it won’t happen simply because the room is so small. Yes they could put some protective layer over the walls but that would make an already small floor pretty impossible to walk on, and it’s likely the constant flow of visitors would cause the room to deteriorate. A La Ronde is thus a place I would loved to see covered on a television documentary.

As said before, you get to descend the stairs. This is when you enter the second hallway, as it were – a round room from which other rooms lead into. In the living room, which is actually too rooms opened into one, the frieze (along the top of the wall and along the mantelpiece of the fireplace in the photograph to the left) is made entirely of feathers. As far as I remember I believe these feathers were collected from the ground rather than from any hunted bird, though I could be wrong. Artistic, too, are the works in the frames, too small to capture here – pictures made of tiny shells. It is a beautiful room, full of light when I was there. You’ll find photographs of the hallway and frieze below.

The dining room is small and pretty and then there are a few basic rooms with more shells and examples of the uniquely shaped windows. You end your visit via the basement/lower floor (given the hill) wherein you can eat in the tea room or simply pass through and see the last cabinet of shells.

There are few flowers to see in the grounds and, as previously stated, no garden of the sort you might expect to see elsewhere. The view is worth a good several minutes, and there is a small obelisk to see and a short walk around the grounds to be had if you so wish.

You’ll find more photographs of the view in the collection below, but for now here is one in which you can just make out the Exe Estuary in the background.

Nice building? Check. Beautiful surroundings? Check. And as the members of staff at any one historical place can make the difference between your wanting to return and wanting to never come back I will say that they’re passionate and will talk to you for a good while. They definitely add to the experience.

Visit A La Ronde in the round before you circle back along the road to somewhere else.

The rest of my photos (and afterwards a question for you). I’m aware this is messy!

Setting aside for a moment the fact we have artificial light now, what do you think of the idea of following the sun round the house?

The Present Past: Ludgershall Castle

Ludgershall Castle

Ludgershall Castle is thought to have been built in the 1100s. It was both a residence (royal as well as civilian) and a hunting lodge. It stands today on land surrounded by dwellings and the earthworks of an Iron Age fort.

I agree, the name is a mouthful. We pronounced it ‘luggershawl’ and hoped for the best. Ludgershall Castle is one of those buildings where little remains but there was little to begin with so you can visit it without much sadness at what has been lost – what you see isn’t far off from what you’d have got in the past. As a small residence and later hunting lodge, there was no need for fortification, and even though the mote (quite likely as dry then as it is now) and bridge suggests grandeur, it was likely more for effect.

Ludgershall Castle

What stands today are the remains of the almost miniature keep and the first few layers of the walls of the rest of the castle. The bridge is obvious and intact enough to see where the joists would have been, but really the attraction is the location – due to the mote and the landscape in general it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a photographer involved in the construction as the hill makes for the perfect view. But then the view was likely the point and a possible reason there wasn’t substantial fortification.

You can walk amongst the walls and admission is free. The earthworks appear to be on private land but they are so hilly you get a good view from the outside, and they’re overgrown enough that you’d likely gain little but insect bites anyway.

Ludgershall Castle

The Great Hall is the first room from the (modern) entrance gate – the castle is on public land, basically in a field – and then there is the chapel and various bedrooms and kitchens. One assumes there were a few floors to the buildings.

Indeed it is so small a castle that when my boyfriend said “this is Prince Edward’s chamber”, I didn’t believe him. Edward’s chamber is barely the size of half a tennis court, and even if he was a baby at the time, it is a very small room for a royal. The drawings by English Heritage suggest that there were indeed a couple of floors. Either that or the builder had a longing for rural life a la Marie Antoinette and her shepherdess roles.

Ludgershall Castle

The keep looks bigger than it is. The remains are enough to show that it was barely big enough for a staircase, and it’s more likely it was used for storage or just as a vantage point. It’s infinitely preferable to walk through it and admire it from the outside.

There isn’t much to see at Ludgershall but that makes it a relaxing option for a day out, full of picnic possibility. It was the perfect choice for this castle lover and her tired-of-castles-now boyfriend. And the views were amazing.

Ludgershall Castle

Just be careful of the insects flying about and hiding in the grass. Maybe that’s why there was little fortification and a dry mote. Water’s got nothing on a swarm of insects.

The rest of my photos. If you want to see them full size, right click and open them in a new window/tab.

The Present Past: Rochester Castle

Rochester castle was the home of archbishops. Built in the 1000s, the keep in the 1100s, it stands today in rather good condition.

Rochester Castle is a keep surrounded by the standard fort walls. The grounds are open to the public and the location, on a hill, provides a fair view of the city. Situated at the end of the present-day High Street it is in the perfect position for anyone wanting to continue their day with shopping or further sight-seeing, and it commands pride of place along with the cathedral.

Describing a tour of the castle is rather easy because the path takes you round and round the same area. Or at least it’s the same area now that the dividing walls are gone. You don’t always go quite the way round, as some hallways are blocked off (unlike other castles, this doesn’t feel a loss), and a great deal of your time is spent on the stairs. These stairs deserve a special mention as they are rather wide for a medieval building. It doesn’t seem so crazy to think that some forward-thinker designed them. In addition it’s worth pointing out that English Heritage have added handrails to both sides of the wall – anyone who usually has trouble with old steps may find this visit particularly worthwhile.

To get to the keep you use the outer stairs built by modernity. You enter into the ticket office/shop, which is one of the two surviving complete rooms. It’s a good room for showing you what the castle might have looked like.

You go through the glass doors (modern again, strangely enough) and walk onto a platform that is representative of where the ground floor would have been. This moment might just prove to be in the realms of epic – you can see almost the entirety of the room-space in the castle from here. The food store below you, the Great Hall above you, the roof.

You walk around and then up the first section of one of the sets of stairs (the management have designated a single tower for the climbing). Into the chapel, a sectioned room that has a canvas covering at the top. There are the usual information boards as well as a mini reconstruction of the castle.

Across the hallway landing, up the stairs to the next level. You can walk along the hallway at the level of the Great Hall and a parallel mural gallery. You walk all the way round and up the stairs again where you get a view of the same rooms from higher up. There is a wonderful view of the cathedral on one side. Again you ascend the stairs to get a slightly different perspective. When you reach the top you are able to walk the battlements and view a couple of the towers. The view of the landscape is exquisite.

All the way back down. Be careful of the other visitors, for all the space on the stairs spirals aren’t brilliant for our 21st century bodies.

Down the stairs to the bottom you can view the food store from another platform. If you want you can walk down into the cesspit, too. I didn’t take a photograph of it. You’re welcome.

It may just have been my imagination but the cesspit smelt interesting – then again it’s basically a cave with a small entrance. My mum, who accompanied me, wondered why we had to use a platform instead of being able to walk on the ground. I’m more than happy not to have the opportunity to walk where people’s waste was, a gap of several centuries or not.

And that is the castle. There is another, ruined, tower and a sort of gatehouse that appears in private use, but that is it. Rochester Castle is incredibly impressive, but if looked at on a room-by-room basis, there isn’t much there.

Rochester makes for an awesome experience, and if you’re on a history high, Upnor Castle is just 10 minutes up the road. You can also visit the afore-mentioned cathedral which has an amazing crypt.

I loved Rochester, it is one of the most well-preserved castles I’ve visited thus far, despite the lack of the old dividing walls, and it is a lot easier to walk around than others.

As for the town itself it bares mentioning, given the literary focus of this site. Rochester was a favoured place of Charles Dickens. I didn’t actually know this at first, it was only upon realising there was a theme to the shop names that I pulled out my phone to research. Dickens loved Rochester so much that there’s a memorial plaque for him in the cathedral.

Rochester is the place to go if you’ve seen medieval castles and felt underwhelmed by what’s left. Whether I just happened to go on the ‘wrong’ day or whether it’s the norm, the only people around were Brits. So I’ll say this: international tourists, it would be a mistake not to factor this one into your plans.

The rest of my photos. If you want to see them full size, right click and open them in a new window/tab.


Older Entries Newer Entries