My last couple of weeks has been a mix of emotions. We attended a funeral, which as well as being sad, was also uplifting. The person who had passed away, too young, was very much into ecology and nature, and very fond of his native county, Rutland. Rutland's the smallest county in England, and one of its sights is the church where the funeral service was held - Normanton Old Church (below).
If the church looks as if it's half submerged; well, it is. It used to be the private chapel of the Earls of Ancaster, but in the 1970s, the Rutland Water reservoir was constructed, and the church was de-consecrated and slated for demolition. After a public outcry it was adapted to stand in the water and is now a popular special occasion venue in the most beautiful and peaceful surroundings.
Funerals are always a bit emotional so we decided not to rush back to London but spend the night halfway between Normanton and London. Before the trip, I looked at the map, and, just off the A1, about halfway there, I discovered this place, which I had never heard of in my life.
If it reminds you a bit of photos of Hampton Court Palace, that is hardly surprising. The site's now called Buckden Towers, but it was for centuries the palace of the Bishops of Lincoln (even though it is in Huntingdonshire.) Above is the gatehouse, dating in part to 1480 - about 35 years before Hampton Court was built.
There are all kinds of buildings on the site, which has a chequered history, but it is now owned and well looked after by a Roman Catholic organisation called The Claretians, which maintains four self catering apartments for those who wish to come on a retreat or have a peaceful and simple break from the world. It is not a hotel - you have to make your own bed and look after yourself - but it was ideal for us.
We stayed in St. David's apartment. Look at the thickness of those walls.
And this was the view along the battlements as you turned around from the door of the apartment.
The site adjoins a most fascinating parish church, and, just out of the picture to the right is a knot garden created in honour of Katherine of Aragon, one of King Henry VIII's unfortunate wives. She was apparently imprisoned in Buckden Palace for a while. (Other past visitors, by the way, include Henry III, Edward I, Richard III, King James and the Prince Regent, not to mention the diarist Samuel Pepys who must have been there on the King's business, I suppose. I don't think I've stayed anywhere that has had so many royal folk staying before.)
We took a stroll round the grounds. One of the most interesting buildings we saw is the chapel of St. Clare. It looks as if it could be very old, as the floor level was obviously much lower than it is now.
The interior is simple and dark, lit only by jewel like colours from the modern glass. We spent a long time sitting there and the chunky art glass was fascinating to look at closely.
The grounds are also full of surprises, but since we had not been invited to look around them, we just admired them from a distance, particularly noticing two huge old trees, an oak and a London plane, which date from the 17th century. I believe there is more to see there and if we stay again we will ask if we can explore.
Then we meandered back to London via the National Trust's Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, which dates back to the Domesday Book and was left to the National Trust by Rudyard Kipling's daughter, who spent the royalties she had inherited on repairing and maintaining it.
Sadly, we arrived too late to do anything but have a cup of tea and a browse in the bookstore, full of donated second hand books. The tearoom, shop, plant sales and bookstore are inside the stables, which are shown below. Personally, I think you'd be forgiven for thinking that's the house, it is so grand.
When the hall shut at 5.30 we remained, lying on the grass outside in the sun. Shortly after that, we were visited by what at first struck me as a very spooky cat. It drifted up like a wraith, and sat near us, and proved to be very friendly. But I have never seen such a skinny animal, and there was something distinctly odd about its fur, as I think you'll agree. I was concerned about it, to be honest - but then a member of staff came out of the gateway and called it in for supper, and off it hurried!
So I asked her to tell me about the cat. She said he was a male cat who had adopted Wimpole Hall stables twenty years ago, when already full grown, so now they estimated his age at about 22. They'd known the house he originally come from, and took him back three times, but he obviously preferred the stables, so in the end he was allowed to stay.
Turned out this venerable old gent had been taken to the vet just the previous week, because his fur had become very matted (which is why he didn't have much.) After a shave, though, the vet checked him over and said he was in good shape, despite his appearance.
I suppose some do become skinny as they get older, and certainly he is entitled to wander around rather than running. And perhaps keeping a whole lot of long fur neat and clean is a chore when you reach his age....
Then, last Monday, we had some time when passing Osterley, another National Trust estate, very near Heathrow Airport,but not bothered much by planes. There, we visited another stables teashop. Those National Trust teashops are pretty good! In Osterley they serve vegetables and fruits from their home farm, including some unusual old varieties. I wish I'd photographed my salad but it contained, among other things, beautiful and delicious red pea pods.
This (below) was a part of the stables not used for a cafe, but instead was where they kept the 18th century fire appliances. You might be able to make out one of the wheels. I hope they have some more up to date firefighting equipment too!
If you want to see what it looks like and how it works, I believe this one in Colonial WIlliamsburg isn't that much different...
I also hobbled around some of the interesting garden which has a variety of different and equally lovely areas. Not sure what this building below was originally for, but presently it contains large specimen plants.
They include these striking and very large fuschia blooms, which I loved! They're called Fuschia fulgens "Rubra Grandiflora"
And I always love cedars, which are often to be found in the grounds of big old houses. Osterley had some fine specimens. You can get an idea of their size by looking at the person in the picture below. A little hard to spot, but...
...here she is.
Maybe you notice I said I "hobbled." On Monday I had to face it that my ankle had swollen up and was painful and tender when I walked.
Last year, when the same thing happened I went to a physio who said I had small tears in the ligament, or was it the muscle? Anyhow, I did some exercises she gave me and it got better. But over the last two months I've been increasing my exercise routine, and perhaps has triggered it off again. So as of yesterday, I've decided to stay inside for a few days, and follow my doctor's advice to keep it elevated, ice it, and use ibuprofen gel. I can't say it's had much effect yet.
So that's it, that's been what I've been up to. And anyone with advice on how to fix an ankle like mine, please advise, because even though I am taking it very easy, it doesn't seem to be improving much, and I'm feeling a little anxious about it.