I've been inside quite a bit the last few weeks but have forced myself out of the house now and then, and it's been well worth it. My favourite trip was just across London to the suburb of Acton.
If you know London, you might find the idea of going to Acton a little surprising.... and so did I, at first. I was actually heading for a bookbinders to re-cover this disintegrating 1870s volume of the "Illustrated London News"
Then T noticed that very near the bindery, at Acton Town, was Gunnersbury Park.
Gunnersbury has never been on my radar. It consists of a pair of large mansions standing in grounds of about 200 acres, right next to a main route into London. Although its surroundings are now heavily built up, it was once a country retreat for Princess Amelia, daughter of King George II. When suburbs began encroaching, its owner, one of the immensely rich de Rothschild family, sold the park and its two mansions for a very low price to the local council.
As is often the way with local councils, they didn't have the money to look after it that well. They let the houses and ancillary buildings deteriorate, although they kept up the park, which was famed for its cedar trees. Sadly, they also neglected the once-famous gardens, the stables, orangery, numerous follies, lakes and a Japanese garden.
To cut a long story short, a dedicated group has secured a National Heritage Lottery Fund grant and one of the park's mansions is now being restored, together with some of the follies and garden buildings. The mansion will once more be a museum, and will also be used for weddings, events and children's projects. Work isn't finished, but some parts are already looking good. Here's one of the lakes, complete with temple from 1760.
A lovely children's centre is taking shape in some woodland. (I'd have loved this boat, one of several bits of child sized imaginative play equipment.)
This is the "big mansion" - looks to be coming along well.
The newly restored early 19th century Gothic gatehouse caught my eye. I don't like the colour but I suppose it's authentic.
But although this is all very nice, I fell in love with the park itself, and particularly the unrestored follies. Follies are basically buildings with no purpose (or a different purpose from what they seem to have) and their main role is to look interesting.
So, for instance, one folly is intended to be part of a ruined castle gatehouse. Not a real gatehouse that got ruined, but a ruin right from the start. (Question, how do you restore something that was built as a ruin?) Look closely, and you'll see carved lintel supports above the door, but there never were any lintels.
I think the stable below (complete with chimney) is supposed to seem as if it's built onto the roofless ruins of a Gothic church aisle. Or at least, the big stone lump in the foreground is part of an arch, and so is the clump of ivy to the right.
The stables are also ruined, although they were not intended to be. In fact, this coat of arms shows how grand they were; they're beautiful buildings in the classical style. At present the temporary roof covering is stopping the rain getting in. I hope they too will be restored in time. Perfect for a teashop and gift shop.
As for this ruin - a folly of a ruined ticket office, perhaps? Nothing so glamorous. It is a ruined ladies washroom, obviously abandoned for decades. Despite that, it's beautifully situated amidst huge trees and what I think was once the Japanese garden.
The biggest challenge remains the Small Mansion, potentially a most attractive place built in Regency Gothick style. It faces huge lawns but in its present dilapidated state, it looks a bit creepy. Its main entrance is on the north side, shaded by huge trees, and those lamps burned a weird flickering orange.
Beyond the fake castle walls below is a well tended community garden
It grows flowers, fruit and vegetables.
I picked this colourful miniature pepper up from where it had dropped.
The garden also shows sign of some projects aiming to display archaic ways of life. Possibly someone is running courses on, for instance building your own wattle and daub Ancient Briton hut, complete with pigsty? The roofing consists of boughs from some of the magnificent cedars that have been a feature of the park since the 18th century.
Here's an ancient oven.
And.... a World War 2 air raid shelter!
Yes, it's strange indeed in the far corners of Gunnersbury Park.
I was astonished at how large and lovely the park itself was. At this time of year the colours are so varied, with flashes of intense colour.
The planting is very interesting, with lots of different types of tree. Here's a secret grove of silver birches....
This bench, carved with leaves, stands by a grove with many sweet chestnuts.
These are not the familiar horse-chestnuts or "conkers" - do they have conkers in other countries than Britain? If you have the patience, you can gather the little sweet-chestnuts up and boil or roast them. I love the look of them, so bright and new in their hedgehog-like jackets.
Can you spot the fine cedar tree spreading on the right side of the picture below? The cedars will look wonderful in winter, when their evergreen shapes stand out against the frost. I plan to go back one frosty winter day. It'll take ages for the binders to do the book, so maybe then.
If you want to read a bit more about Gunnersbury park and gardens, take a look here.
Finally, have some cake. Not the world's best photo and the cake's already been started, so it doesn't look as immaculate as "Bake Off" - but I loved the cut-out paper decorations.
We were attending a Macmillan Coffee Morning which took place outdoors last week.
After helping organise the picnic for the Jo Cox Great Get Together last summer I like events like this. K and I have just been invited to a get-together from the Jo Cox Foundation to about what to do next year. and I'm looking forward to it.