Category Archives: Stately Home

Full Bloom at Dunham Massey

It’s the weekend, spring is here and the sun is out. Lady Hughes and myself had taken a few days off over Easter with no great plans, so we decided to take it easy and go for a stroll around Dunham Massey.

Knowing the flowers would be out I figured this would be a good chance to practice my macro (close-up) photography on subjects that weren’t going to run away while I worked out what I was doing – though they do have a tendency to waft about in the breeze just as you’re about to take a shot, no matter how much I shouted at them.

Dunham Massey is stately home (and deer park) in Cheshire, not far from Altrincham, and only 15 minutes drive from our house so we know it well. As it was a sunny weekend, it was very busy with lines of people queuing up for ice creams and every inch of manicured lawn full of families playing football, throwing frisbees and trying to fly kites. We decided to head for the relative calm of the gardens.

Now my knowledge of horticulture if virtually non-existent, so apologies for the lack of information, but there were lots of flowers and they were very beautiful – if you want to know more, get a book.

Without getting too technical, macro photography can be a bit tricky. As your subject is usually on the small scale, your margin of error is pretty small too. I’ve found picking the appropriate depth of field particularly challenging, but I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it now and I’m much happier with these shots – what do you think?

As I started to get more comfortable with the technicalities, I thought I’d try and move on from flowers and get some shots of the insects. You need to be quicker with these so they were a bit more of a test – I’ve found it’s very hard to get a bee to pose for you.

 

Chris

Back to the Globe

Last Christmas, as a gift, Lady Hughes gave me two tickets to see A Winter’s Tale at the Globe Theatre in London.

The Globe is the recreation of the Elizabethan Theatre that stood on the same site when Shakespeare was alive. We did the tour last year and I’d said that I’d love to see a show there. It was a wonderful, thoughtful gift – so after much thought I offered to take her with me. It was the least I could do I suppose.

Clare actually presented the gift to me in the form of a globe paperweight, she then asked me to guess where we were going. I guessed wrong, and I sensed she was a bit disappointed when I shouted out ‘round the world trip’ – but hey, this is good also.

As it’s the winter season they don’t use the open air theatre, instead they have new indoor theatre, the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. This is still a recreation of an Elizabethan Theatre but its inside.

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(Picture courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe)

One problem we had was whether Clare would be well enough to travel as she was involved in an accident at work a week or two before, and had been poisoned. Just the day before we were supposed to go, she called the theatre to see whether it was possible to resell the tickets if we couldn’t go. In the end she felt that as long as we took it easy, she’d give it a go, so we jumped the train and headed off to ‘that London’ – as we call it in the North.

The theatre itself is wonderful. It’s small so you’re very close to the action and the whole thing is lit by candles. They’ve managed to do some deal with health & safety so there isn’t even the usual ‘exit’ signs to spoil the period mood.

The performance was excellent, lively, dramatic and surprisingly funny. The creative use of the limited staging and props kept it interesting, my only gripe was the cramped seating, but that’s the price of authenticity I suppose.

We stayed at the Hamilton by Hilton in Waterloo so everything was walking distance – which was nice.

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The next morning we wandered over the Thames to Somerset House for a quick look before sticking our heads in the National Gallery which was somewhere else I’d wanted to visit after we went to the National Portrait Gallery a while back.

We couldn’t do too much as Clare was still recovering so we kept it light and were quickly jumping the train back home.

Overall, if you like the theatre and/or Shakespeare, I’d heartily recommend the Globe, it’s a different experience to other, more traditional theatres (which is a bit ironic if you think about it) but it’s still a lot of fun.

 Chris

 

Salford Hall Hotel and Warwick Castle

I don’t like birthdays.

My birthdays, that is, I have no problem with anyone else’s. It’s not the aging aspect that I object to, I feel the depressing inevitability of that on a daily basis believe me. I don’t need a day each year to remind me of that particular biological process. It’s the anticipation and celebration of my ‘special’ day that I find vaguely wearing – I know, I’m a barrel of laughs.

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Don’t get me wrong, I have friends and family and they’re all lovely, but I find the best way to cope with my birthday is to get away for a day or two. My wonderful wife Clare knows this, so this year she treated me to a night away at a beautiful hotel and a visit to Warwick Castle, somewhere I’d always wanted to visit – hey, I like castles, all right!

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Our hotel was the Salford Hall Hotel, confusingly nowhere near Salford but situated just south of Birmingham and about thirty minutes away from Warwick.

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The hotel was hundreds of years old and reputedly haunted, but as our room, the Catherine Howard Room no less, was in the converted stable block I doubted we’d be troubled by anything other than a ghostly pony or two. Clare had paid a £10 supplement for a four-poster room, which we thought would be an old wood-panelled bedroom with loads of character. In reality it was a fairly modern hotel room, with a four-posted bed sat in the middle of it. I don’t suppose we can really complain but it wasn’t quite the rustic ambiance we were hoping for.

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The weather was great so we had afternoon tea in the garden, soaking up the sun. Afternoon tea seems very gentile, but after you’ve put away a plate of sandwiches, two scones with thick cream and jam, a plate of cakes, two glasses of bubbly and a pot of tea, you almost need a forklift to get you back on your feet.

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Later on, we ate in the hotel restaurant. The food was very good but the beige décor looked like it hadn’t changed since the hall had been converted into a hotel back in 1989, and I don’t think the background music CD had either, but hey, I grew up in the eighties and quite liked the trip back in time, the food was great and we were having a good time so we weren’t complaining. We finished the evening off in the hotel bar.

The next day we had a hearty breakfast  and set off for Warwick Castle.

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Warwick Castle is a great Castle with lots of fascinating history involving several key figures from English history, such as Richard III, but I won’t go into all that right now. I love the history and the opportunity for a bit of photography, but to be honest I’m less interested in the ‘showbiz’ elements such as various out-of-work actors in period costume pretending to be medieval time-travellers. In fairness, we spoke to a couple who explained that they were contracted as actual peasants and loved the work, so good luck to them. The gangs of school parties running round seemed to love them.

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I can see why places like this have to try and make the day as entertaining as possible, especially when they charge so much for admission (approx. £25 per person) but there’s a fine line they have to balance before they start to diminish the reality with the glitter, rather than enhance it. On the whole I think Warwick Castle has got it right, but they’re very close.

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On the whole a great couple of days – made me forget it was my birthday – which is fine by me.

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Chris

Down the Thames to Greenwich

Group adventure this week, as Lady Hughes and myself travelled down to London with our good friends Mark and Heather Hillyard, Andy Morrison and Jacqueline Bateman.

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Meeting at Stockport Station, we boarded the 8:04 to Euston and watched as the English countryside raced past, while we drank tea and planned the day’s activities.

Once in London we navigated our way through the card swipe barriers, which seemed to cause Jacquie problems every time, and jumped the tube down to Embankment, and the river.

Mark and Heather had the best knowledge of the city so we let them take the lead, following their suggestion to visit Greenwich, which I’d always wanted to go to, so no complaints there. Mark’s other suggestion was that we take a river taxi as we’d get a much better view of the city from there – lead on!

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The large catamaran river taxi was comfortable and frequent and proved to be one of the highlights of the day as it gave us a great perspective on various landmarks, such as the Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Canary Wharf and more.

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Once at Greenwich we made our way up the hill to the Royal Observatory. At the top, the views over London were panoramic and the observatory itself looked fascinating, though we skipped the paid bits and stuck to the free stuff so we could cover more ground – I know, cheapskates.

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Walking back down the hill we entered the Maritime Museum and asked what was worth seeing in under an hour, it was suggested, in such limited time, that we visit the Nelson exhibition – so that’s what we did.

The most impressive artefact, for me, was the coat Nelson wore when he was killed. It clearly shows the bullet hole above his shoulder and I found it a fascinating connection to the battle and the man – no photography allowed I’m afraid.

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A few more pictures, we gathered the troops and made our way to the Old Royal Naval College.

It soon became apparent that we had entered a very large film production as there were trucks, cables and lights everywhere. Someone told Mark that it was ‘Now You See Me 2’ with Daniel Radcliffe, but we didn’t see him. In fact we didn’t even see any actual filming. Just lots of equipment and bored looking security telling you to stay away from it.

Apparently, Greenwich is one of the most used locations in the UK, with parts of ‘Thor 2’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 4’, ‘Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes 2’ shot there – it seems it’s especially good for sequels.

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The Painted Hall is often described as the most beautiful dining hall in the world and you can see why as the walls and ceiling are covered in 18th Century decorations that are absolutely stunning. It was here that I discovered that my camera battery had died and the spare I’d brought was also dead. Yes, in the most beautiful dining room in the world I had to resort to my phone to try and capture it all, which you can probably tell from the quality of the pictures – bugger!

Popped into the gorgeous Chapel quickly, before leaving the college and starting the search for somewhere to eat.

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It’s a weird psychology which compels people to peer into restaurant windows and move on because they’re too busy, but see a restaurant with no-one in and move on again because it’s too empty. Eventually we settled for Pizza Express, which was a lifesaver as we turning into a bunch of toddlers, tired, hungry and cranky.

Refuelled, we wandered into Greenwich Market, where I met a photographer who had photographed the man who had photographed Che Guevara, including the iconic portrait that was on every student’s wall in the seventies – interesting character, but no, I didn’t buy a photo.

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Back on the river taxi we agreed to get off early and walk round the Tower of London as a final treat before catching the tube and train home. Halfway round I heard a familiar voice. Walking past us, in his civvies, was Beefeater Billy. Billy is one of the actual beefeater from the Tower of London and we met him last year when we visited. I’d become a bit of a fan after watching some YouTube clips of his tour, which are hysterical. If you’ve never seen them, check out my Tower of London blog from last year.

Billy took a selfie with me and the tower in the background, which he tweeted later – I’m going to expect him every time I visit London now.

In Euston station we found our train was delayed and most people jumped on the next one, but we wanted a specific stop some waited twenty minutes for ours. When we got on, we found the train virtually empty so the Manager let us sit in first class, where we had a carriage to ourselves.

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At one point in the journey, I ran up and down the carriage – just because I could.

This was a trip full of sights and sounds, good friends and pleasant surprises – what every adventure should be like surely?

Chris

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Speke Hall

Today we took a trip out to Liverpool to visit Speke Hall, a beautiful Elizabethan House located right next to Liverpool Airport and the River Mersey.

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Making the most of our National Trust membership, Lady Hughes suggested we try somewhere we’d never been before, so off we went down the M62.

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Like Little Moreton Hall and Wythenshawe Hall near us, Speke Hall is easily identified as Elizabethan with it’s distinctive black and white architecture and wonky engineering. With little knowledge of foundations and the effects of subsidence there’s barely a right angle or straight line in them – still it all adds to their charm.

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The house is not as large as some stately homes but still beautiful and a fascinating glimpse to times gone by – God, I’m starting to sound like a tour guide!

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Great opportunity for some photography, though the rooms were very dark and flash is forbidden as the shock of bright light can be enough to bring down the roof or cause old bed linen to spontaneously combust, so time to embrace the shadows and practise my low-light technique.

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After touring the hall and gardens we walked down to the Mersey and caught a few shots of the sun streaming down onto Stanlow Oil Refinery and the odd Ryanair Jet taking off, not exactly beautiful, but atmospheric – perhaps?

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Sitting in the cafe enjoying a quick cream tea before we set off home, we enjoyed a spot of people-watching. I always wonder how strange a National Trust cafe like this, would seem to the original owners. What was once a stable-block, now seats young families and gangs of pensioners tucking into coffee, apple juice and pizza. I do sometimes wonder if this is my slow descent into old age enjoying a trip to a stately home. Sitting there, observing the mass ranks of the retired in there pastel shades and elegant knitwear it has occurred to me that my life possibly needs a bit more rock and roll in it – but hey! I’m there for the photography.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Next week, I’m going to take-up knife-fighting – honest.

Chris

Easter Photography at Biddulph Grange and Little Moreton Hall

Sunny Easter Bank Holiday Monday at two of Cheshire’s beautiful stately homes – perfect opportunity for a bit of photography.

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The problem with sunny bank holidays is that you, the world and his wife, all want to get out and go somewhere special. The result is that the motorway system grinds to a halt and most places are overwhelmed with a flood of people in scenes not dissimilar to the battle of Helm’s Deep.

So, with this in mind we set our sights on two locations within easy reach to avoid the jams on the M6 – Biddulph Grange Gardens, which we’d never been to before, followed by a quick hop over to Little Moreton Hall, which we had been to before, before straight back home for tea and medals (as my old pal Al Wright used to say).

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Biddulph Grange is a stunning stately home still in private hands but the gardens are owned by the National Trust. I am curious what the arrangement is as you can’t go round the house but are free to wander the grounds. There are plenty of exotic plants on show, but as I’m no gardener I’m afraid I can’t really go into details. Needless to say, they are beautiful, and they are exotic – apparently.

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I was especially impressed by the geometric hedges and egyptian temple.

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We were blessed with great weather and everything looked perfect, the only problem was trying to capture it in a photograph. Virtually every scene of horticultural perfection and architectural magnificence was spoiled by a procession of toddlers, pushchairs and pensioners all wandering through it in brightly coloured clothing, in case you hadn’t noticed them – I know, I’m anti-social, and they have as much right to be there as I do, but you weren’t lining up a shot for ages only for a family of five to shuffle into it and set up a picnic!

But, hey, it’s Bank Holiday Monday isn’t it, so we made the best of it and just kept moving – onto Little Moreton Hall.

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Little Moreton Hall is an Elizabethan Mansion over 500 years old. It’s not as huge as some National Trust houses nearby but it’s got bags of character and is genuinely fascinating with a history that includes the Reformation and the English Civil War.

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Constant additions and dodgy foundations mean the upper levels are so twisted and deformed it can feel like a visit to a funhouse but it all adds to the charm.

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It was still busy here, but it didn’t feel quite so oppressive, so we succumbed to a cream tea on the lawn – rock and roll!

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I looked around as I scoffed my scone, jam and clotted cream (you could actually hear me getting fatter) and noticed that the only people without small children were all pensioners – is this a sign I wonder?

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Next week we have decided to go scuba diving to get back our adventure credentials, so watch this space.

Chris