On Monday I hopped on a train to Birmingham, then changed to one for Kidderminster. (I just love these English names, don’t you? Mousehole is my favorite, but I’m assured that it is a lovely place to visit despite the name.) At Kidderminster, I took a taxi to The Elms Hotel in Abberley, where I was met by the lovely Heather King and her fabulous, quadralingual dog, Roxy. Heather is an amazingly talented author of Regency stories (and, as Vandalia Black, of rather darker paranormal ones). Heather and I are online friends and have been part of two Regency anthologies, Beaux Ballrooms, and Battles and Sweet Summer Kisses. It was truly awesome to meet her in person, as well as Roxy and the ponies, Merlin and Dub-Dub, and Sootie, the black cat whose offspring were too high-in-the-instep to become acquainted with a Yankee. Heather served me Toad-in-the-Hole, which turned out to be a sort of English comfort food: sausages baked in a sort of pancake batter and served with hot gravy. Besides being very tasty, it served to warm us up inside and outside, after a day spent mucking about the ruins of Witley Court in the pouring rain. (It rains in England. Deal with it.)
Witley Court was once one of the great houses of the Midlands, but a devastating fire in 1937 left it in ruins. While one cannot but regret the loss of such a beautiful home, the exposure of the “bare bones” has proved to be valuable to historians interested in learning about historical building practices.
Thomas Foley (whose grandson became the 1st Baron Foley) built the house in 1665 on the site of a manor house. Additions were made by John Nash in the 19th century, and the house was sold to the Dudley family (later to be given an earldom) in 1837.
Tramping about the ruins of the house turned out to be much more appealing than one might have expected, even in the pouring rain! The gardens are lovely, particularly the fountain (see video here), and the parish church on the property—which is not a ruin—is magnificent.
On Tuesday Heather, Roxy, and I visited Berrington Hall, a splendid country home in Leominster (pronounced Lemster, or so they tell me). It was designed in the late 18th century by Henry Holland, whose talent, although not eclipsing that of my favorite, Robert Adam, puts him solidly in second place, in my estimation.
In addition to the rich furnishings and décor, there was an exhibit of Georgian fashion throughout the house, which included—believe it or not—costumes from the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. Yes, I was close enough to touch the costumes worn by Darcy and Lizzie during the final proposal scene, as well as many others. Truly an awesome experience!
The vast grounds include a walled garden with some vintage apple trees, a ha-ha, a lake, and some lovely paths. Heather and I enjoyed a delicious picnic before exploring further some of those paths. And not a drop of rain!
On Wednesday I took a train to Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire (where, incidentally, the estate of my hero in The Third MacPherson Sister is located) to visit Waddesdon Manor.
Waddesdon Manor was built in neo-renaissance style in the late 19th century as a sort of French château by the Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild of the Austrian banking family. The baron fell in love with his second cousin, Evelina, and married her, only to lose her in childbirth eighteen months later. The baron never married again, but became a compulsive collector instead. The furnishings are considered to be among the richest of any stately manor anywhere.
Unfortunately, I was only able to tour the house due to time considerations, but I plan to visit again to get a good look at the extensive grounds and other buildings, such as the Aviary and the Dairy.
Although cloudy, it didn’t rain until I had returned to London, where I got promptly soaked making a last round of Piccadilly Street and Fortnum & Mason. But hey, it rains in England. That’s why it’s so beautiful!
Adieu to England
It was with a tear in my eye as Squidgeworth and I said goodbye to England on Thursday. For now. We had a marvelous time and were fortunate to be able to visit many wonderful places, but there are still lots more on our bucket list. I’ve already booked our flight and flat for next year’s trip in August.
So much to see, so little time!
Next week: Squidgeworth and I have some travel tips for you!