28 June 2011

Arley Arboretum

Near Bewdley in Worcestershire, Arley Arboretum was planned around 1800 by Earl Mountnorris. The estate was bought in 1852 by Robert Woodward, and remained in the family until 1959, when purchased by Roger Turner, industrialist and philanthropist. Turner extensively restored both the arboretum and the walled gardens at its centre.

The collection of specimen trees, which surrounds the walled gardens (in which is a rank of pleached limes, above), is considered one of the finest in the land. At about 100 feet, the Crimean pine (Pinus nigra pallasiana), nicknamed "Organ Pipes" (top), is one of the tallest in the British Isles.

The tallest tree in the arboretum, at about 105 feet, is a Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), planted in 1860 (above). That of greatest spread is likely a layered example of a common beech (Fagus sylvatica) which covers a quarter of an acre (below). There are real rarities too, including Wollemi pines (Wollemia nobilis), thought extinct but rediscovered in Australia in 1994.

18 June 2011

Pen y Gwely

North of Pen y Gwely Reservoir, near Llethrydau, stands this hangar-like structure. It has concrete ramps at each end, and once had full-height sliding doors, but the landscape is far too hilly for even light aircraft.

That landscape is extremely varied, consisting of forest, moorland, river valleys, and once-harrowed ground now given over to pasture for sheep.

08 June 2011

The Other Queen Bess

Bess of Hardwick, ancestor of the Dukes of Devonshire, was the second richest woman in the land, after Elizabeth I. As Countess of Shrewsbury (resulting from her fourth marriage, to George Talbot, the sixth Earl), she displayed vitality, vision and innovation of a high order.

Bess was born in the early 1520s, at what is now called Old Hardwick Hall. She was estranged from the Earl in 1584, and left Chatsworth House to return home. Between 1587 and 1596 she embarked on a massive rebuilding programme. Old Hardwick Hall rises over six storeys, the most striking features its spacious staircases, large windows, and brilliant plasterwork (that in the Forestry Room was so realistic that birds apparently nested).

Shrewsbury died in 1590 and Bess's finances improved dramatically. She immediately began the building of the 'New' Hall (below), the English Renaissance work of Robert Smythson (Longleat, Wollaton Hall), and famous as "Hardwick Hall, more window than wall." In the sixteenth century glass was an expensive luxury, and upon its hilltop between Chesterfield and Mansfield the Hall showed off its opulence to great effect.

Kirby Muxloe Castle

The fifteenth-century castle at Kirby Muxloe, in Leicestershire, although never finished, is a superb example of the early use of brick (over 100,000 of them). It was begun in 1480 by William, Lord Hastings, walls, towers and moat accentuating its rectangular form. The work was interrupted after just three years when Hastings, second cousin to and loyal follower of Edward IV, opposed Richard III's seizure of power and was, in consequence, executed.

The Hastings family, descendants of whom still lay claim to the throne despite living in Australia, continued building until 1484, when Lady Hastings abandoned the task. The castle was acquired by Sir Robert Banaster in 1630, but little work was undertaken, and the buildings slid into ruin. The gatehouse and the west tower provide a good indication of just how grand the castle would have been.