I've been inside quite a bit the last few weeks trying to complete a writing project, but every now and then I've forced myself out of the house, 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 bit surprising.... and so did I, at first. I was actually heading for a bookbinders to put new covers on 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 one of the main routes 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 on condition it was used for the public.
As is often the way with local councils, they didn't have the money or interest to look after it 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 and many other features, like stables, orangery, numerous follies, lakes and a Japanese garden.
To cut a long story short, I discovered that a dedicated group has now secured a huge National Heritage Lottery Fund grant and are restoring one of the park's mansions, together with some of associated follies and charming garden buildings. It will be used for all kinds of events, including a museum, public involvement, weddings and events and children's projects. Work isn't finished, but some parts are already looking very 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. It'll house the museum and be used for weddings. They're also restoring some of the grand interior rooms.
The newly restored early 19th century gothic gatehouse caught my eye. When it's finished I can imagine a bride and groom posing there, surrounded by a rose garden.
But actually, although this is all very nice, I fell in love with the park itself, and particularly the unrestored follies, which are quite amazing. Basically follies are buildings with no purpose (or a different purpose from what they seem to have) and their main role is to just look interesting.
So, for instance, there is quite a large folly that's 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?)
If you look closely you can see the pretty carved lintel supports above the door.
The "ruins" below are attached to the stables. It's hard to see in my photo, but the intention is to make the stable (complete with chimney) look as if it's built onto the roofless ruins of a Gothic church aisle. The big lump of stone in the foreground is part of an arch, and so is the clump of ivy to the right.
Beyond this wall, the stables themselves are also ruined, although they were not intended to be. In fact, this coat of arms shows how grand they were. At present they have temporary roof covering to stop the rain getting in. They're beautiful buildings done in the classical style - nothing was too good for the Rothschilds!
Here's another ruin. I wondered what this was - a folly of a ruined ticket office, perhaps? Nothing so glamorous. It is a ruined ladies washroom, obviously not used for thirty years or so. Despite that, it's beautifully situated amidst huge trees and a bit of what might once have been the Japanese garden.
Below is the front door of the Small Mansion, which as you can see is also not restored, although it is potentially a most attractive place with a lovely wrought iron terrace leading onto huge lawns and most of the facade to the south. In its present dilapidated state, it looks a bit creepy. The main entrance is on the north side, shaded by huge trees, and those lamps burned a weird flickering orange.
Anyway to get back to the fake ruined castle.... these arcaded windows are a bit more of it.
Behind that wall is actually a well tended community garden, growing flowers, fruit and
I picked this colourful miniature pepper up from where it had dropped.
As well as plants, the garden contains some interesting projects that are obviously meant 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. I think the blue plastic sheet has been left on it by accident. It's beautifully made.
And.... a World War 2 air raid shelter!
Yes, it's strange indeed in the far corners of Gunnersbury Park.
The parkland is really wonderful. You can walk for miles and 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 various leaves, stands by a grove that includes 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 took the picture because I loved the cut-out paper decorations. Don't you love the windmills and the animals? Next time I bake a cake I will make my own decorations, too, and be as whimsical as I feel.
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've become a bit of a fan of 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.