Friday, 30 April 2010

Magnolias at Mottisfont

On a fine April afternoon, two weeks ago, we visited Mottisfont House in Hampshire for a walk around the house and gardens.

The estate of Mottisfont lies in the peaceful valley of the River Test, in the countryside just north of Romsey. The River Test drains the chalk hills in the north of the Hampshire Basin and it runs down through its watermeadows to meet the sea at Southampton.

In 1201, a Priory was founded at Mottisfont. This thrived and became an Augustan Abbey, until the Dissolution of the Monastries by Henry VIII. In Tudor times, Mottisfont became the property of William, Lord Sandys, who converted the Abbey into his family home. The estate then stayed in the same family for four hundred years.

In 1706, the 5th Baronet, Sir Richard Mills, had extensive building work undertaken on the house. The current eighteenth century house dates from this time, but the exterior of the house hides many architectural secrets. It is a facade, built like the layers of a Russian doll, onto the original surviving structures of the medieval Abbey and the Tudor buildings that came after it.

We entered the park and crossed a footbridge over the fast flowing River Test. Walking through the trees, we saw the first view of Mottisfont House across green lawns.

The last of the daffodils in the garden.

Weeping willows and fine old limes, oaks and beeches were beginning to break bud along the riverside pathways.

A decorative wrought iron grating in the wall of a cellar beneath the house.

Pleached limes.

In 1934, Mottisfont was sold to Mr Gilbert and Mrs Maude Russell. The gardens were subsequently landscaped and the lime avenue and walled gardens of magnolias were planted. The stunning pure white magnolias were coming into flower on the day of our visit.

Magnolias trained against the wall of the house.

A view of the lime avenue from a rear window in the house.

A "spy hole" in the wall shows that behind the eighteenth century facade of this grand drawing room, the structure of the original Abbey still stands.

The knot garden, seen from a first floor room at the front of the house. This is not an original Elizabethan knot garden. It was commissioned by the Russells in the mid twentieth century.

Another glimpse of Mottisfont`s monastic past, behind the walls of a grand dining room.

From the verandah outside the first floor room on the East Wing, the footings of the original Mottisfont Abbey can be seen in the grass.

Throughout the house there is now a fine collection of twentieth century art on display. This room contains paintings by Lowry, Vanessa Bell and many other renowned artists. In the heyday of the Russells, Mottisfont House house parties became meeting places for artists of the time.

In 1957, Maude Russell gave Mottisfont House and the estate to the National Trust. She continued to live in the house until 1972.

From East Wing towards West Wing.

The walled walk to the west of the house.

Along this walk and around to the right, stands the magnificent red bricked stable yard. A cafe and a shop are now housed where the finest carriage horses once lived in spacious stables.

We enjoyed this interesting house and the awakening landscaped gardens, but the highlight, for me, was the sight of so many dazzling white magnolia trees bursting into flower against the blue skies of spring.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Getting into Hot Water - "Doing our bit" for the 10:10 Campaign

Here is one of the reasons why I went off-line for a while after Easter. Our ancient boiler was breathing its last, after over twenty years of service. It had been resuscitated several times but the time had come to send it on its way. Especially when the heating engineers confirmed how much energy it wasted and that it was big enough to heat a school!

As we hope to stay in this house for as many years as possible, we also decided to install solar panels at the same time, so the heating engineers were here for a week and we spent our Easter break with organised chaos all around us. Every time I thought I had found a vacant room and tried to get on with something, a workman would appear to do something to a radiator. They were a great team; friendly and professional, but it felt like a bit of an invasion and we were glad when the work was done.

The south facing roof where tiles were removed in readiness to install the solar panels.

By the end of the first day, this new and energy efficient boiler was installed, along with new pumps and all the piping needed to reach the water cylinder upstairs in the loft.

Getting the solar hot water cylinder into the loft wasn`t easy. Everyone held their breath as it was almost too tall for the pitch of the roof. There are not many centimetres between the top of the cylinder and the nearest rafters.

The solar panels should have arrived on the second day. They should have been sent from the Midlands to a depot in Lymington, a town on the New Forest coast not far from us. Somehow, they made a detour to Leamington Spa in Warwickshire!

The tile-less roof was covered with tarpaulin and thankfully, we had no rain that night.

At last the solar panels arrived. The sun came out while the panels were being fitted, so the engineers had to cover the panels as they quickly become too hot to handle.

Pipes from the panels to the cylinder.

A new set of dials and measurements to get used to. The solar system was made in Germany ( although the cylinder was manufactured in Blackpool, England). When my son arrived and went to inspect the attic and the new equipment, he felt as though he was in a U boat. Someone has been watching too many WW II films!

The solar panels in place and in action. We now have masses of wonderful hot water. We switch on the pump for a while in the evening and first thing in the morning, but the gas boiler will, hopefully, only be needed for water on rare occasions.

This is something we have wanted to do for years. Now we will wait and see how much energy has been saved by both the new boiler and the solar hot water. It was a busy, noisy way to spend our Easter holiday but , so far, worth doing!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

An April walk around the lake at Moors Valley

A warm Saturday afternoon in April. We met our son and his family at Moors Valley Country Park, for a walk around the Lake.

In 1984, eighty two acres of Kings Farm, in the valley of the little Moors River that drains sandy heath and woodland, was purchased by East Dorset County Council. Several years later, it was opened to the public as a Country Park as a place for environmental education and somewhere that families could come to enjoy the children`s play areas, an adventure trail through the conifer woods, a lake and a small steam railway. Recently, a Tree Top Trail and an adventurous "Go Ape" activity among the pine trees, has been added.

Yesterday, we left the crowds behind and walked between the lake and the little river.

A family throws food to black headed gulls on the lake.

A fine sculpture of a dragonfly. The lake is a nature reserve where dragonflies and damsel flies breed and can be seen on summer days.

The lakeside grass was scattered with bullrush seed.

Bat boxes and nesting boxes for birds encourage wildlife to the riverside.

Below - A coot preening on the edge of the lake.

That feels better!

The Moors River winds along beside watermeadows.

Alder catkins and leaves breaking bud.

Early bluebells

Masses of celandines in flower at the base of a streamside oak tree.

Comfrey ......

and Honesty in flower.

Across the lake, families gathered to picnic and play. A few minutes of walking brought tranquility . Few people seemed to venture away from the crowds.

Sedge in damp water meadows beside the river.

A bridle path leading into woods and surrounding farmland.

Moss on an old bridge wall.

Coppiced goat willow.....

....and bright stems of dogwood at the water`s edge.

Low water levels in the lake reflect the low rainfall in this region during recent weeks.

Around the next corner, with its whistle blowing, came the little red engine of the Moors Valley Railway. A ride on the railway was a perfect way to end our walk, especially for our young Granddaughter. Tickets were bought at the miniature station, based on the stations of the days of steam, and we climbed aboard into small carriages, where passengers sit astride a narrow bench and ride in the open air past the signal box, through tunnels and over bridges.

The railway is run by steam enthusiasts , young and old, who have built and maintained the engines and carriages over many years. Their pleasure is infectious and it is impossible not to suspend reality and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of a steam engine ride. Especially if you are old enough to remember steam train rides on the main line railways of Britain in the 1950s, as my husband and I both can!

At the end of our journey, the Railway Cat, aloof in her cardboard box, was there to watch us climb out of the little train and gather our things for the lakeside walk back to reality.