Thursday, September 28, 2017

Memorial Garden for Princess Diana

Kensington Gardens

Hello! You may be wondering where I have been and I hope you will forgive me for a very long hiatus. The reason for my absence is some happy family news: a new granddaughter (I now have two!) and a daughter who just got engaged. It's been a busy and wonderful summer. Now that it's fall  I am back at my blog and thought the first post should be about Kensington Gardens. It seemed like a good time to write about my visit last May in light of all the films and articles about Princess Diana on the 20th-anniversary of her death.

Kensington Palace is where Diana lived from the time of her marriage to Prince Charles until her death in 1997. And those gates are where all the flowers were laid -- more than a million bouquets -- in the days following her death. It just so happened that the day we visited was extraordinarily beautiful, one of those gorgeous English days with the bluest sky and huge fluffy white clouds. Prior to this our weather had been gray and chilly. We were delighted to be out and about looking at gardens on such a stunning day.

Kensington Gardens is adjacent to Kensington Park which is where we started our walk. Everyone in London seemed to be out that day enjoying the lovely weather. The statue in the distance is of Queen Victoria who also lived at Kensington Palace. We walked through these beautiful grounds and felt invigorated by the gorgeous sky and green parkland.

The historic sunken garden at Kensington Gardens is deservedly famous. The beds of flowers glimpsed through eye-catching arches cut out of the hedges are a treat to see. It's truly such a serene and inspiring place. And this year a white garden was planted in honor of Princess Diana. It closes at the end of this month and I am so happy to have made it to London in time to see this beautiful and moving tribute to Diana.

The gardeners planted white flowers and foliage including roses, scented narcissi and a carpet of forget-me-nots around the existing sunken garden.

They recalled that she was particularly fond of the sunken garden and would often come by to chat with them and admire the changing floral displays.

The white flowers really stood out in this beautiful setting and reminded me of the beauty and elegance of Princess Diana.

Looking through one of the hedged arches lining the perimeter

I enjoyed reading the articles and watching the documentaries about Princess Diana that came out last month. I also watched the film "The Queen" starring Helen Mirren which was about Diana's death and the response or lack of response by the Royal Family. I learned that she was complicated and flawed, filled with insecurity and anxiety, but that's what made her so relatable and real. She was the "people's princess" and is credited with modernizing the monarchy. One thing that was undeniable: she had star power. She was beautiful, photogenic and glamorous. I admired the way she used her celebrity to champion causes that benefited the marginalized, such as people suffering from aids in the early years. I'll never forget the photo of her holding hands with an aids patient and not wearing gloves. I think she would have loved the white garden planted in her honor at Kensington Palace. A garden by its very nature is ephemeral and the fact that it won't last forever made the seeing of it all the more special. Of all the memorials to Diana this may have been the most meaningful.

I would love to know if you got a chance to see this lovely tribute to Princess Diana!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Haworth and the Bronte Parsonage

The Moors above Haworth

Happy June! I hope you have been enjoying this beautiful month. I've been sorting through photos and souvenirs from my trip to England in May and have finally settled down to write a blog post about Haworth. Visiting Haworth where the Bronte Parsonage Museum is located has been a dream of mine for years. I have been reading the novels by the Bronte sisters since I was in my twenties and their lives became as interesting to me as their books. I wanted to see where they lived and wrote. There was such a romantic and tragic sensibility to it all: the parsonage with its adjoining graveyard where they lived, the wild and beautiful moors where they walked each day, and their creative and talented lives cut so tragically short. Finally my husband and I traveled up to Yorkshire in May and it was everything I'd hoped for and more. I learned so much while we were there.

The Parsonage

Walking through these doors was a moving experience. This is the home of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, authors of some of the most beloved books in the English language. In 1820 their father Patrick Bronte was appointed Curate of Haworth Church and came to live here with his wife Maria and six children. Within eighteen months his wife died and her sister Elizabeth moved into the Parsonage to help with the running of the household. In 1825 the two eldest children Maria and Elizabeth also died after contracting tuberculosis while away at school. 

The Dining Room

This room is very special. It is where Charlotte, Emily and Anne did most of their writing. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were written here. The sisters would walk around the table every evening until about eleven o'clock, reading and discussing their writing plans and projects. After the deaths of Emily and Anne, Charlotte continued the nightly ritual and walked in solitude, unable to sleep before doing so.

Mr. Bronte's Study

Patrick Bronte carried out most of his parish business from this room. The magnifying glass on his desk is a reminder of his failing eyesight that happened in his later years. It was in this room that Charlotte first told him that she was a published author. When he traveled to Manchester for an eye operation, Charlotte went with him. It was when she was nursing him in Manchester that she began to write Jane Eyre

The Kitchen

I loved the kitchen scenes in "To Walk Invisible," the recent television dramatization of the lives of the Brontes, especially those with Emily taking out her frustration on the bread dough! As children the Brontes would gather around the kitchen fire to listen to their servant Tabby's dark tales of the Yorkshire moors. The sisters all helped out with the household chores as they got older and when their Aunt Branwell passed away in 1842, Emily took over as housekeeper, helping in the kitchen and baking bread.

Patrick Bronte's Bedroom

When Branwell's alcohol and opium addiction got to the point of serious damage to himself, Patrick insisted that Branwell share this room so he could watch over his son. It was in this room that Branwell died at age 31.

The Haworth Church where Patrick Bronte preached every Sunday

Interior of the church

Charlotte and Emily are buried in a family vault to the right of the altar marked by this brass plaque

The moors just outside of the Parsonage

Another view

Haworth's steep Main Street with a view of the moors

Penistone Hill Country Park, close to Haworth 

The stone walls that are woven throughout the moors were assembled by hand with no mortar and have lasted for centuries.

If you are a fan of the Bronte sisters I highly recommend a visit to Haworth and the Bronte Parsonage. It will give you such a strong sense of the influences on their writing. Although there's never a bad time to visit as there is always such great programming at the Parsonage, now is an especially good time as they are currently celebrating the bicentenary year of Branwell Bronte, the troubled brother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne. There is a very interesting exhibition about him curated by the poet Simon Armitage called "Mansions in the Sky." It's an exploration of Branwell's personality through his writings, drawings, and possessions. I also enjoyed seeing the recreation of Branwell's art studio -- he was an aspiring artist -- within the Parsonage. Another fabulous exhibition that we saw was the costumes from the television production "To Walk Invisible." They are beautiful and looked very authentic displayed in the historic setting of the Parsonage.

During the next three years the Bronte Parsonage will also be celebrating the bicentenary anniversaries of both Emily and Anne. This should be a great time to visit. The town of Haworth has remained much the same as it looked when the family lived there and it is easy to imagine the sisters walking through town to shop or out roaming the moors. I can't think of a more evocative landscape for understanding a writer than this remote little village in Yorkshire and its beautiful surrounding countryside.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Adventures in Yorkshire

We just got back from a wonderful trip to London and Yorkshire. After a week in London our plan was to visit Haworth where the Bronte sisters lived. The question was: where should we stay? I had been told that York was a wonderful destination and only about an hour from Haworth. Once I began reading up on York I discovered so many interesting things. For example, did you know that York was once the capital of England? And that it is the home to the biggest Gothic cathedral in all of Northern Europe, the York Minster? I learned so much on this trip. But, back to the issue of where to stay. I did a little research and discovered what looked to be a lovely country house hotel just outside the city of York called Middlethorpe Hall. It is a Queen Anne country house that was built by Thomas Barlow in the early 18th-century and lived in by his descendants for many years. One of its most famous residents was the letter-writer and traveler Lady Mary Worley Montagu who rented it in 1713. Eventually the house fell into disrepair and was carefully restored in 1980 and turned into a beautiful hotel. I knew it was on a large piece of land but nowhere did I learn about its gorgeous gardens. Here is what we discovered at Middlethorpe Hall on our very first day. And by the way, don't you think the house itself has a sort of a Jane Eyre look about it? To me it looked like the Thornfield Hall of my imagination. Mr. Rochester or Mrs. Fairfax could have easily opened up that front door!

We entered the foyer and were very happy with what we saw. This is a very authentic and old-fashioned country-house hotel. Inviting and comfortable, it made us feel if we had traveled back in time. Our room was lovely and I wish I had pictures. But to give you a feeling of the authenticity of the building, our bedroom floor was on a slant and creaked like a thunderclap every time we walked on it. Late at night on the way to the bathroom it was easy to imagine ghosts. I loved the ambiance here and it was a great beginning to our Bronte journey. We checked in and quickly unpacked as we wanted to explore.

 There were some very beautiful public rooms

 I could imagine having tea here later

 But our first stop was the terrace at the back of the house where we were told we could get a cocktail

We walked out the back door and sat at one of these little table and had a glass of wine. We noticed that there seemed to be a garden at the end of the terrace. And so we took a walk.

We were greeted by this beautiful tree and noticed a pathway leading to a garden

We followed the path

The borders were lush and beautiful

And there it was -- a series of garden rooms filled with herbaceous borders, fruit trees, pathways, enclosures, long vistas, doorways, hedging, brick walls, and espaliered trees. There was also an 18th-century dovecote. This garden was enchanting and we were the only ones in it! 

There was beautiful hedging and inviting benches

Enticing vistas

Dramatic entrances


Garden doors

With views of more enticing gardens

Espaliered trees

The tulips were gorgeous

As were the alliums

There were arbors

And brick walls

We were happy to have made it in time to see the wisteria

The geometric shapes and symmetry were very inspiring

We followed along until we reached this park-like expanse which led us to the big lawn at the back of the house

Where we discovered the "ha-ha," a concealed ditch which allows views across the south lawn

At this point it was time to change for dinner at the hotel. The wood-paneled dining room was elegant and the food was delicious. We had three wonderful nights at Middlethorpe Hall. Maybe because of its proximity to Bronte Country, staying at Middlethorpe Hall felt a bit like living inside a Victorian novel. The combination of history, beauty, and atmosphere made it the perfect place to stay on our journey to visit the Brontes.

Next up: Haworth and the Bronte Parsonage