Monday, 25 April 2011

Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey
What did you do over the Easter weekend? I was delighted to have my son and daughter-in-law down for a couple of nights. They arrived a bit earlier on Saturday, having been driven from rock climbing in Wales and the Peak District by the rain. Thoughtfully they brought the rain with them to Nottingham. Thankfully Sunday was warm and dry, so the only decision to make was where to go.

I'd had Newstead Abbey on my list of places to visit for over a year, so we decided to go there. Newstead Abbey was once the home of Lord Byron, one of the romantic poets. (Lived: 1788 - 1824). The history of the Abbey, and the life of Byron are both of supreme interest, but they can wait for another day. The Abbey is about a twenty minute drive from Nottingham, and is owned by Nottingham City Council, when it was gifted to its predecessor the Nottingham Corporation in 1931 by Sir Julien Cahn. In view of what follows, it should be remembered that the house and lands were presented to the people of Nottinghamshire to enjoy. In all, the house, gardens and park covers about 300 acres.

Arriving at the entrance gate to pay our fee, we were met by a member of staff who couldn't have been funnier, or more helpful. We paid just to get into the grounds, as we thought there wouldn't be enough time to see the house as well. The drive to the car park must have been approaching a mile and a half, and I was glad that I had left visiting the place until someone with a car was with me. We started with a lovely picnic overlooking one of the lakes, and by the side of the Abbey. Feeling well satisfied, we went to explore the gardens. Talking to a staff member at the gate to the garden area, it transpired that we couldn't have visited the house anyway, as there were only booked tours, and these were full.

I have somehow missed the decisions recently taken by Nottingham City Council about Newstead Abbey. The Council decided in their budget setting for 2011 to make cuts to its services at Newstead Abbey. From the 1st April this year, the house will only be open to the public on certain Sunday afternoons, Bank Holidays and for guided tours. The grounds will be open throughout the year. It seems a great shame that the legacy of Lord Byron, which is enclosed within the Abbey will be lost to the general public. Will Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Castle be next?

I didn't know this when we were walking through the gardens. The first port of call was the Japanese Gardens. Having seen a number of these in other parts of the country, and always enjoyed the sense of peace and serenity that they bring, I was looking forward to this visit. However, I have to say that I was slightly disappointed. While everything was there that goes to make up a Japanese garden; lots of water features, stone bridges, statutes, pagoda's, trees and plants, it was a bit untidy. I felt that it needed a bit of TLC. Having seen immaculate ones in the past, I guess I was making unfair comparisons. My view may not have been helped by having to listen to scores of noisy children running about the place - peace and serenity it was not. John, what do you expect on a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday? I know, I know. I sound like a miserable git don't I? I don't mean to be, as inspite of perceived imperfections, I really did enjoy the walk through the garden.

We then walked through the Rock Garden, and into the large walled Rose Garden. Though of course too early in the year for roses, and too early to see it all at its best, this area was everything that a stately walled garden should be. There were fan-tailed trees along the wall, as well as other tallish trees and shrubs. The centre area will no doubt be magnificent when the roses are in full bloom (unless the Council decide to save a few more pounds by ignoring them).

There was also a modern touch that I found delightful. I'm into my works of public art, and it was good to see four (I think that number's right) sculptures of gardeners, with implements and in different poses, all made out of chicken wire. They were life size, and I think added to the loveliness of this walled garden. On the way back to the car park, there was one more visit that was a must to do. My son and I agree totally on this, though my daughter-in-law may not feel quite so strongly about it.

It was the Courtyard Cafe. Time for a coffee/tea and Cadbury's creme egg. A Peacock had been sitting on the upper branches of a nearby Yew tree for the whole of our walk, and it was now making its unique calling sound. Aren't they beautiful birds? As near perfect as West Bridgford is, I've yet to see a Peacock there.

I sat back in my chair and thought how lovely this is. Good coffee, great setting in warm sunshine and being with excellent family members. The day doesn't get much better, but unfortunately it was time to make our way home. One last look at the outside of the magnificent building that is Newstead Abbey, and we were off.

I can't finish this blog without reference to one more 'incident' over the Easter Weekend.

My daughter-in-law is from Poland, and last evening she asked me if I knew of the Polish custom (name given but forgotten - is it Smigus-Dyngus 'wet Monday'?). I did not pursue the answer.

I got up this morning, Easter Monday, and went into the kitchen, only to be met by my daughter-in-law throwing about half an egg cup of water at me. Apparently on Easter Monday, up to midday, people throw water at each other. Having researched it today, I definitely got off very lightly. Originally, the custom was simply conducted by young men who would sneak into the bedroom of their beloved (with her parent's permission) and throw buckets of water over her while she was in bed. It also included being lightly hit with something like a birch stick.

Now it seems that the custom is to throw water over everybody and anybody. You can find loads of examples on You Tube. Looking through You Tube this morning, we came across a clip that took 'Wet Monday' to a different level. In a town square, two fire engines appeared and raced round and round the square shooting water from their fire hoses at everyone within reach. That's why I say I got off lightly.

So, daughter-in-law beware, I now know the custom, and will be ready for next Easter Monday, if we are anywhere near each other.

Whatever you've done this Easter weekend, I hope that you enjoyed it. I certainly did.

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