Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day 5 - Aylsham, Blickling Estate and Cromer Pier

Saturday 31st March 2012

Breakfast at 8:30 again today and similarly delightful in both food and company.  This leisurely morning routine is something one could get used to. Hubby again tucks into the full English with hash brown and today I ask for a child sized version. Scrambled eggs a delicious (small) pork sausage and tasty bacon. This comes with tomato and some pan browned baby mushrooms.  Of course I preface these delights with some fresh raspberries and blueberries which are on the table to help yourself. There is certainly no shortage of delicious temptations on the breakfast table.
After breakfast Hubby showers as I catch up on some reviews and have a brief look at Upstairs Downstairs though as a bit of background noise rather than giving it my full attention.  Seeing this classic program is handy as it is very expensive to buy the series. I don’t recall ever having actually seen it before and its good to have an idea whether you actually want to see it before forking out the $$
As hubby gets near to ready I realise that I have committed a major major bungle yesterday.  Somehow I got it into my head that the local historical society would be open this morning for a few hours and so figured we’d adapt ourselves to the weather. Oops.  Oops in a big big way. Actually it’s the second major oops because we also forgot to duck back to St Michael Coslany (church) when we picked up the hire car. Sigh. But never mind, we’re having a wonderful time. No place for regrets!
It’s fairly late before we pack up or put on our rain/windproof gear. Overnight the temperature has dropped and there are some threatening clouds about. Not enough to prevent our walk and head off for a wander about the town.  Just around the corner is a thoroughfare called Fox’s Loke. I’m sure I’ve come across that on census records so I figure we should start with a wander down there. Another turn down an enchanting lane and we find ourselves down past the church and on Blickling Road. Another pedestrian thoroughfare takes us up past the school which is a charming old flint building built in 1848 and evidence of extensions completed in 1875 and 2002.  I am struck by the fact that the 1875 extension is absolutely identical in it’s construction and workmanship to the original section. Were it not for the date proclaiming the birth of the expansion you simply couldn’t tell from the street.
It’s only a short walk up the lane, and few quiet hello’s with passer’s by, before we’re passing the gate of a property the owners, in an apparent fit of town pride, have named Paradise House” and into the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels church.  Is it just me or is St Michael and All Angels an especially lovely church with an especially lovely churchyard?  There seems to be a number of people here on church business and I feel a bit shy wandering in with my camera in my hand and camera case around my neck.  The light is poor and the façade imposing.  I experiment with shots from a variety of angles trying to do justice to what is, I feel, clearly the heartbeat of Aylsham.  The clock that chimes throughout day and night is situated in the church tower. It is numbered in shining guilt which sparkles as the sun breaks through the clouds, giving an appearance of loving care over an extended period.
The churchyard is well maintained and well ornamented with daffodils.  In my search for an appropriate angle to capture the church I head down towards the recently restored Lychgate steps and meanwhile my heart skips a beat as in the midst of a casual encirclement of bright daffodils there is a carpet of deep purple.  Gasp. Crocuses!! YES!! Oh awesome! I prowl around looking for the best way to capture these little purple glories. Ah now that’s a good angle.. oh.. hang on. I’m sure that lady in the distance who cheerfully greeted me earlier, would rather I didn’t photograph her from the rear as she bends to tend the grave!  I think she’ll be busy for a while yet.  Side on.. that’s not so bad!
Hubby calls me across to the war memorial.  I pause in contemplation briefly.  How many of the men named here lie in unknown graves in France or Belgium.  There are no names listed that ring a bell with me.  An encirclement of poppy wreaths speak of the ongoing pain that savage war inflicted on so many communities. May the dead rest in peace.
Again it is hubby who draws my attention to the Local history museum. “isn’t this the place you wanted to visit?”.  “indeed it is.”  I walk over and peer in the windows to an enticing panel of information about the workhouse.  I would like to get a closer look at that.. sigh.
We head up and around well tended paths to view the opposite face of the church. It feels like north, but I guess this must be the south face. The light is better on this side.  It really is a lovely church.  There is a steady trickly of people walking up to the church and opening the imposing wooden door and going in side, closing the door behind themselves.  I’d love to go in, but neither of us can bring ourselves to disturb what appears to be a parish meeting of some sort going on inside. 
Nearby to where I need to stand to capture the whole of the south face in my photograph is another of the handy information panels that are placed around the town. Evidence of both civic pride and the sincere desire of Aylsham for people to come and visit.  Reading this sign I learn that the oldest parts of St Michael and All Angels was built in the 13th century and that originally the market and town meetings would have been held in the churchyard, but this was forbidden by the Statute of Winchester in 1285. The town began to take its present shape from that time. A market place was created next to the churchyard and over the years shops and stalls became permanent buildings around the edges.
We continue to loiter around the church and wander over to see the grave of the famous landscape gardener - Humphrey Repton. He’s in quite a privileged position his elaborate headstone is right up against the walls of the church in a fenced garden with roses promising summer glories.
Unable to persuade hubby to be the one to poke his head into the church and ask if it’s OK to go in for a look ;o) we decide to step out of the churchyard and into the market square where The Market Place restaurant is located.  I had listed this as a potential lunch spot and we peruse the posted menu, but I’m inclined to opt for something less substantial today afterall.
The time is now set for opening at Blickling Hall and we start to head off in the right direction for walking there but we get as far as the Blickling Road but note the lack of pavement and no lack of motor traffic as well as the threatening weather and decide we might head back and get the car.  Good decision. It’s quite a substantial distance for a walk when time is very valuable. 
We pull up in the pay and display carpark. Hubby tends to the parking and I head in to the visitor centre to pay for our entry. A sign outside announces free tours of the house at 11 am and 11:30. Excellent. It’s now 11:15 so that is good timing.  I pay with my non-chip card (so far quite a lot of places are happy to accept this) and step aside. As I wait for hubby to come in I overhear the fellow who served me tell someone that all the house tours are full, but that the house opens at 12pm. I’m disappointed but oh well. We can kill the intervening time by wandering the gardens. I’m not expecting too much of the gardens given the season really so we take our time on the way down.  We’re quite close to the Hall when I realize I should be taking a photo. Hmm. It’s enormous. I walk right back and find you need to be virtually at the gate to be able to get the whole complex into the shot.  I wait for a large group that was following us to move out of frame. No hurry. As we wait we watch a couple of jackdaws hopping about on the lawn.
There’s a lovely landscape aspect looking away from the house. The light is dreadful and the visibility a little veiled by the weather but I try a shot anyhow. … look honestly you just need to visit and see it yourself.
In the end I prefer the less formal shot with people and hubby in it.
Did you notice the enormous hedge in the photo? It’s massive and we contemplate the enormous labour that must go into keeping it in trim. Bad enough now with mechanized tools, but imagine being responsible for that in the old days!
As we approach the neatly clipped entrance that passes under the hedge I notice the leaves… oh.. might this be a yew hedge? “Take a photo” says hubby. “What of exactly?” says I.
Inside the hedge is a creepy cavern that just screams for kids to have a lair in the dimness.  It is this that hubby wants to record. It’s very dark. We put our camera through it’s paces and switch to moonlight mode. Happily there’s a handing railing to rest it on and keep it still.
Some people are exiting and I politely disturb their passage and ask if they can tell me what sort of hedge this is. The friendly lady I asked is very happy to talk to me about it. (Everyone’s been so nice :o))  It is a yew hedge and this one is 500 years old! It has red berries and is deadly poison as my informant learned to her cost when the children’s rabbit ate some and dropped dead! I know it from murder mysteries where some vile killer is often prone to clipping the ubiquitous yew hedge to gain the resources for a brew of an evil killing concoction. I am tickled pink to see a yew hedge :o) and such a venerable one at that!
Hubby’s at me again. Take a photo… “what exactly? Leaves?” says I as I capture a close up in anticipation.
“No, the hedge” “??... oh, the whole thing?.. that will be hard to get in one shot wouldn’t it?”  Turns out, the answer to that question is “no, not really” but the resulting image doesn’t give you scale so here’s me trying to not be too hideously unphotogenic… which, I find, is always a struggle! Incidentally, someone later today comments when we contemplate a painting with a hairstyle not dissimilar to Princess Anne's (her namesake actually, Anne of Denmark as it happens) that she.. the Princess Royal is very attractive in real life, just doesn't photograph well..  ahem.. back to topic..
Our first stop is the second hand bookshop where I pick up a handy pocket bird ID book for £1.80. Just the ticket. The lady serving is happy to chat when she hears my accent. She’s just got back from a visit to Tassie. Her hubby was raised there but left 60 years ago and had always wanted to go back for a visit.  We have a pleasant few minutes conversation and for the first time I find need of actually looking and trying to distinguish between the various denominations of coinage.  Gosh my eyes are getting bad! Then the pocket guide is slipped into the said pocket and off we go.
There’s still a little while until the house opens. We head in the entrance to the café and toy with the idea of having a cream tea and browse a trestle of books.. sooo cheap.. but we resist on both fronts and hunt around for an entrance to the gardens. In the formal area around the house there are a few seasonal specials. We climb a flight of stairs and wander along the double border admiring long displays of hyacinths whose fragrance drifts in the air teasing as a breeze blows it my way now and again.  The bank of blue is followed by a bank of white and then a third bank of pink.

As we reach the end of the hyacinths looking ahead an area of parkland presents a lovely scene

We round a bank of beautifully trained wisteria which is budding plentifully and come upon a bank of red shoots well advanced in their spring emergence.  Oh my…they are all peonies.. with another bank of wisteria on the other end.  What a glory that will be in a few weeks time! I’ve got to show that to mum… snap..
Hubby requests a photo looking across the formal gardens to the Hall.
Behind us the aspect from the house looks toward a temple in the distance, but neither of us are inclined to wander down that far today.
We wander off through what turns out to be a wild service area which has it’s own rough charm through being a warts and all kind of experience. Finding the prospects for continued exploration fairly sparse in that direction we head back towards the house.  A family is out on the green playing with the crochet set provided and beyond them the wind blows across the lake where white swans glide.
Venerable old trees drape long gnarled branches to the ground.  These witnesses to history are generously underplanted with daffodils and primroses. Through the veil of branches the Hall presents a timeless face.
We walk across to towards the lake with a mind to try to photograph the swans. They are so much bigger than Australia’s black swans.  The swans, however, have a different idea altogether and they move steadily away as we approach.
Turning the corner of the hall we come to a garden of magnolias and daffodils which surrounds a fountain. Here the daffodils are all sorts of fancy varieties.  This area is protected from the wind by a stand of dense shrubbery, but the daffodils bob their heads.  I think of daughter 1 as I squat down in macro zoom and take pot luck on capturing some individual stands and blooms. Macro zoom will always remind me of D1 :o) She loves it so...

 Time we went indoors.  We pass through a door and out into the courtyard in front of the Hall. We walk across the moat and admire the elaborate ornamentation as we near the entry to the great hall.  I loiter considering photo angles. Not at all un-phased by entering my first great house in the UK.

I am sure the wonder is written plain across my face as we step gingerly into the entry hall.  We promptly greeted by one of the many attendants.. I’m sure they have a proper title… but I can’t think what it is just now.  He asks if we have been there before and when answered in the negative explains the route to take and how the system works and adds an enthusiastic encouragement to talk to the people stationed in each room. “it helps keep us awake!”.  Photographs are OK but ask before using flash. The staircase is elaborately carved and it seems every available area of wall space is bedecked with images of austere personages, not least of all Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth 1 and over to the side a small and glowing and incredibly famous portrait of Henry VIII.  In the centre is a huge shining stained glass window. No, I am not at all unphased, but I guess that is the whole point of such a space. 
I consider photographing the staircase carving but the light is dim and I decide no.  The attendant comes over and starts to talk to me about the staircase. It was relocated during alterations and extensions to the house. Originally a single staircase the original (left hand side) was copied to make the grand double staircase before me which has only recently been opened to the public after it was strengthened.  The newer, but still venerable, side of the staircase is slightly narrower, and made of a softer wood (pine) whereas the original was oak.  Originally pale, or white in colour the Victorians preferred darker tones and the staircase was stained to the colour it is today.  We contemplate what the original finish must have been. I can’t imagine the intricate labour that would be required to change the colour of a painted or stained finish on such detailed carving.  I move across to admire the portrait of Henry VIII.  Moonlight setting is again employed for (I hope) a not too blurry picture of the imposing aspect to the upper reaches of the Hall and this incredible gem of a portrait.

Our first room is dominated by an elaborately painted ceiling. This ceiling was covered for a long period. The trust knew it was there but not what condition most of it was in. Then a disaster. Water damaged the ceiling and the scales tipped in favour of revealing this paintwork. The room is elegant and though large, also rather cosy.

On the far wall is a portrait of the lady who was responsible for the lovely gardens. I forget her name off the top of my head, but she lived thirty years as a widow in the Hall in the latter part of the 19th century.

Another shining gem is a portrait of Anne Boleyn. Only small but the artwork depicting the intricate patterning of her gown and the glowing colours are extraordinary.

I think this may well be my favourite room in Blickling Hall.
Moving on, the next room is filled with ancient tapestries. A constant battle to keep insect or mould attack at bay they are inspected annually. Clearly they have been well cared for as they are in excellent condition considering their age. Apparently they get dirtier on the bottom than the top!

Into the dining room, it’s too early in the season for the table to set for a banquet. But that’s OK.  Portraits of QE1 and the portrait of Queen Ann that I mentioned earlier are hung in this room. Hubby is very taken with the dining chairs and this is his next request for a photograph.

I am very sorry I didn’t photograph it but there was also a portrait of the last of the family to own Blickling Hall. He was responsible for the legislation that enabled estates such as this to be gifted to the national trust in their entirety instead of death duties. Clearly he could see the writing on the wall. What foresight. As it turned out, one of his own estates, Blickling Estate, was the first such gift to the nation. He was appointed ambassador to the US and died there in 1940. Many people consider his death un-necessary as his beliefs at the time lead him to refuse medical treatment. I am very happy that we decided to visit Blickling Hall given that is has a venerable history both ancient and more recently.
Off to the “downstairs” part of the house now. There’s not all that much to say about these spaces. There are information boards recording the words of some people who worked in the house and that provides a nice touch.  There are some glorious pieces of kit that I’m sure my daughters would just love! A wooden sink???!! I haven't seen that before.

..and this stove is nothing shabby!!
Most people commenting around me as I move through seem very very glad not to have had to work with the equipment and conditions.  I on the other hand figure that while mod cons are nice, staff here had the best that was available at the time and I for one wouldn’t mind working at this kitchen sinlooking out as it does to the daffodils and magnolias and the birds that frequent them. Sure beats the hovels many other people had to live and work in!
This is what you did before the days of blue tac!  These prints were collectable at the time and many great houses had a print room like this where the prints were applied to the walls like wallpaper!
The gorgeous fireplaces are a fabulous feature of the house. Hundreds of years old, the silver colour is burnished steel and is cleaned annually. A thin coat of wax keeps them in good order between cleaning.  These fireplaces would not be out of place in a modern home.
And check out these old personal weighing scales in the bathroom! How cool is that! The bathroom as a whole is nothing shabby either!

 This is the master bedroom and you can tell the minute you enter. The room is big and light and airy and the fittings are grand and impressive. Believe it or not the bed cover and drapes and the matching curtains that are out of frame are hundreds of years old. They were found packed up in the attic.  In the time since, the backing fabric rotted away and so the crewel work was cut out an appliquéd to new backing.  The light panel in the centre and on the bed is the replacement. The darker material on the side is the original. It is remarkable how timeless some of the decor is.

This painting below which hangs in the master bedroom is of Blackfriars bridge London under construction. 
 The ensuite bathroom to the master includes an ornate mirror and side decorations that would be hideous in anywhere less grand. Can you notice the candle sconces in them?  I wonder who dusts them and how often. They aren't the least bit dusty and with such intricate detail it would be a challenge to remove a serious build up of dust... another beautiful fireplace too. Each fireplace is of a consistent style but different from the ones in other rooms.  They have been so beautifully maintained you could be forgiven for thinking they were brand new.
 We pass through another room with hand painted chinese wallpaper and a general oriental theme. I am at a loss as to which I didn't take a single photo! Not so long ago a great section of damp and mould attacked the paper and it all had to be removed painstakingly revealing that the sky is in fact painted on the wall along with the little trees at the top! The skill and patience of the restoration team is duly noted!
Below we have Sarah the Duchess of Marlborough. What she's doing here I didn't ask, but presumably some family connection. Her attire is a bit titillating to say the least. Dressed like that one would think she'd have to be a bit careful how she moved!
 We arrive in a very large room with imposing original fireplace and ceiling. The stalactites are actually made of pine so not as heavy as they look. They then coated them in plaster to match the rest of the ceiling. At the time the house was built they were quite obsessed with symmetry even to the extent of putting a cupboard with door down the opposite end of the room to mimic the one we came through.  Notice the stalactite shown is positioned precisely in the middle of the fireplace and the same precision is evident in the hanging of the two portraits on either side.
 What looks like the library but was originally built for indoor exercise is an interesting space. The man of the moment inherited a huge collection of books. There's about 10,000 of them. I ask about the regime of inspection and maintenance on such a vast volume of books and indeed it is extensive.  Every week someone comes and takes books and goes over them dusting them and inspecting them for damaging critters, condition of binding and so forth. How the UK maintains so much of its heritage is a source of wonder. It must cost an enormous amount.
 The ceiling of the exercise room is also very noteworthy. As the ladies or whoever strode up and down the original idea was to contemplate the lessons and messages embedded in the plasterwork of the ceiling. There are mirrors and also a decoder book there for you to understand it.  This meaning built into the roof is another of the unique features of Blickling Hall. Behind the position the above photograph was taken from is a chair that was used by... hmm.. James the II (?) at the opening of Irish Parliament. Very narrow. I imagine the apparently uncomfortable design would have made it very hard to slouch.
Next, I believe we come to the Peter the Great room. A HUGE hanging given by Catherine the great.  Seems a fairly inconvenient gift if you have to build a room to hang the monstrous great thing.
We walk through into a room decorated with the royal robes (?) hangings (?) in royal colour and embossed with the coats of arms of GR and I think Queen Anne also.  There are accompanying stories to go with them and the room has some very nice guilt features including patterning on the ceiling.  In this room, as in may others, we have a lovely chat with the attendant. These friendly interactions provide a great deal of our enjoyment in the visit. In this case we discuss Norfolk and pronunciation of place names and in the course of things I learn that the motto of Norfolk  natives is "du different". At hearing this some other visitors turn around and agree! It turns out that Hobart is pronounced Hubbard.. and yep the bloke that Hobart, Tasmania is named for was pronounced Hubbard, so we've all got that rather wrong now haven't we. haha.
I learn also that at one time the estate had a workforce of 400.  When so much intensive labour was no longer required, not just at Blickling but in all sorts of industries, people like my forebears were obliged to just bugger off and find somewhere else to live if they wanted to be able to eat. Well, it worked alright for them in the end.
There's one more thing about Blickling Hall. There are bulls and bull's heads everywhere. This is a play on the name. Boleyn. It was pronounced "bull-in". There's hundreds of this potent symbol around the estate.
We take our leave of Blickling Hall. We've taken about two hours or a bit more in the house itself and about 40 mins in the garden. I would imagine in summer you would want to double the garden time!
We are sorely tempted to head over to Felbrigg Hall, which the trust folk here think must be the flint mansion I saw the other day... or failing that the museum at Cromer.. but in the end we figure tonight will go much better if we have a rest instead. So we duck into the local shop and pick up a light lunch. Nothing worth writing about unfortunately. Lunch done with we have a brief kip.
We rise and at looking at the time are appalled to see we need to rush to get away at the time we need to. We're in the car just after the scheduled departure time, instruct tomtom and sit back and relax. Tomtom is a godsend! Not having to navigate I can look out the window and there is a partridge large as life walking about in the field. I think this solves the mystery of the edible birds on our first day. This is what they must have been. Same breast pattern.
We don't have a house number for the  Gunton Arms. There's only about two or perhaps three streets in Thorpe Market, so naturally we manage to get a bit lost! We drive up and down and then head out of town the other way. Dig out the phone try to ring. No answer. Time is a tickin' away and it's getting stressful. It was always going to be a finely tuned evening.  Then just as we've started to conclude that this direction isn't going to give us a result, a sign. It's another 400 metres. We waltz in about 10 minutes later than we'd planned.
We are seated at a table close to the fire. Our orders are taken. I opt for the rump steak which is served with roast golden potatoes and bearnaise sauce and is cooked over the open fire as we watch. A side of spring bubble and squeak to seal the deal.  Hubby opts for crab linguine. Our food takes a long time to come. My steak is cooked perfectly and is tender and flavoursome and is beautifully complimented by the sauce. The potatoes are soft and delectable inside. Hubby's crab pasta has quite a chilli kick to it. He's fine with it, but it would have been a problem for me. There was no mention of chilli in the dish described on the menu which is irritating when it happens.  The bubble and squeak is tasty too. In the end we don't have time for dessert and we make a quick get away.
I have at least had the sense to check the parking arrangements for the show and am therefore able to give tomtom some specific instructions. The next part of the evening goes like clockwork and we have a pleasant, fairly quick, if cold, walk down to the pier. We're about 10 minutes late, but I cannot pass up the opportunity to take a photo of the pier in the evening light.
The wind is bitter and waves are foaming. As we walk out onto the pier I'm thinking to myself that this whole pier tradition is rather on the eccentric side.  However as we get out over the water and look back to the town I really "get it".  This is totally awesome! Cromer pier appeared to be well maintained and an inviting sort of spot.  We walk into a large and pleasant bar area and receive a friendly greeting from the girl behind the bar. She's very nice and gets our tickets before walking us through to the staff on the door. There are a couple of convenient seats that we can have until the interval to save us disrupting the show trying to get into the ones we'd booked.  They're just fine. Indeed we decide to just stay put where  we are throughout.
Speaking of seats the seats in the pavillion theatre are REALLY comfortable. Excellent design. They don't look like a new design. Newly upolstered, but perhaps refurbished (?) We're impressed.
The show is fun. It's "The Little Belter" and the star of the show - Elouise can indeed sing very loudly which is the source of the name of the show. We have a fun evening as much due to the venue as the show to be honest, and the feeling that we were experiencing something special in a cultural sense but that was always going to be the way of it. We enjoyed some numbers better than others and of course who doesn't enjoy watching beautiful and talented young women sing and dance in sequinned gowns?  An extra bonus - one of the two support singers/dancers had a seriously good pair of legs!
Evening completed at about 9:30 we wander back over the pier and up the hill to our car. We are safety tucked up in bed by 10 pm.  I am very glad that I booked and paid for the tickets in advance before we left home.  There would have been no problem getting tix on the night, but I suspect that had we been doing that, we probably would have just stayed at the Gunton Arms for the evening and ate too much and gone home. As it happened though, we had the tix and so we braved the cold, the parking and the lateness and went ahead and did it.Right decision. It's been a great day.

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