Monday Meditation – A Stroll Around Hodnet Hall Gardens

On the recommendation of 29400512_Unknowna new friend, we recently visited the beautiful gardens at Hodnet Hall, a sprawling, centuries-old estate in Shropshire. It has so many trails, gardens, lakes, magnificent trees, waterfalls – there is always something else to discover around the corner.

It is such a tranquil place, we went on a fine though at times overcast August Sunday and often felt like we were the only people there. It is not a flashy place at all, no amusements, almost no signage (you are handed a map of the trails on arrival), no ice cream vans, no litter, no overhyped overtired children, no gift shop. Instead, young children were happily roaming about, enjoying the freedom and fresh air, often accompanied by grandparents, sometimes extended families; there were young couples, elderly couples and those who were obviously regular visitors to historic houses and/or serious walkers. But as you can see in the photos, we were barely aware of anyone else, such is the design of the estate.

The grounds are structured so that there are many separate parts to the whole, where you can sit or walk through areas of parkland or woodland, waterways or flower gardens and barely hear a sound but for the birds, ducks or swans and the gentle lapping of water. There are wooded glens, wooden bridges and walkways over the water – one looked decidedly like the hangout of the local troll!

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There is a sixteenth century timbered building that has become the tearooms but used to be the stable block of the original mansion. Its interior is not for the faint-hearted i.e. me! The walls are covered in the heads of African game, including a huge water buffalo, and there is even a fully stuffed lion and tiger, just standing there to left and right of the entrance! No vegan food here!

But back to the start:

The small pay booth by the entrance gates is manned by a lovely elderly gentleman called Tony, who is so welcoming and knowledgeable, and always happy to chat.

The driveway into the gardens is flanked by beautiful multihued hydrangeas, they grow throughout the grounds in indivdual gardens and along the paths: blue, purple, all shades of pink, white, so many I could have spent all visit just photographing hydrangeas and little else!

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The current house is Victorian and was built when the family decided to move across the grounds to a higher, less damp position, but it was renovated in the 1960s. These steps lead down to one of the lakes:

The middle photo is of the other side of the house to where the main drive leads. Unfortunately the house is roped off, only the gardens are open to the public.

The bottom picture is the stone garden, a separate circular and sheltered spot where you can sit and just listen to birdsong.

The lakes are stunning. There are 5 of them, in varying sizes and settings. Some are quite wild and dark, set in almost rainforest-like conditions, one has pike, one has waterfalls, some more restful with swans and lily pads.

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There are some interesting structures and sculptures too. 

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The structure top left is the old smoke house – it has a seat in it these days.  The building below it is a 16th Century dovecote, a symbol of financial and social success. Pigeons would nest there and the young squabs taken before they could fly, destined for the dining table and regarded as a rich man’s delicacy. Below is the tithebarn or threshing barn from the same period:

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But this was my favourite view, we sat here for a very long time in quiet contemplation – my camera had given up when the battery died so I had to take this with my iPhone and it turned out to be my favourite. I leave it here for you to enjoy:

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Note there are no photos of big game!

(See also my post on the beautiful St Luke’s Village Church next door to the Hall).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Ducks Crossing! In Which We Take a Break from House Refurbishment

We had been cooped up for so long with all the work being done in the house and having the drive resurfaced: the parquet floor* took 9 days instead of 4, the drive had been delayed and went from taking 5 days to 11 days due to the rainy weather and we were also decorating the kitchen and lounge! The middle Sunday, however, turned into a fine day and I was feeling like a caged animal, so we took a short drive to one of my favourite places: Lilleshall National Sports Centre, where the  gardens and magnificent trees never cease to uplift and inspire.

Here are some photos from that afternoon’s breath of fresh air:

 

 Then, on the way out, along the long drive with its line of conifers, old farmhouse cottages and where we often see squirrels, a badger, pheasant and rabbits, here was a flock of ducks waiting to cross the road. We slowed to a stop so I could take a photo, and waited as they regarded us, assessed the situation and eventually decided it was safe to cross. Tentatively, the first one stepped out, looked at us then carried on, while the others had a little huddle to discuss whether he was wise or insane and then slowly followed his lead in a long line.

 

 Three cars were stopped either side of the road until they reached safety and proceded on to the lake a few hundred metres away. It made my day.

See also: Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep! for the history and more beautiful photos of Lilleshall

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If you like country estates, you’ll love this! for a different seasonal view.

*The Tour de France & A Parquet Tour de Force!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep!

Believe it or not, these are the grounds of our National Sports Centre at Lilleshall where Olympian gymnasts and archers, and professional footballers train. Not a bad place to work and train, eh?

It’s in a beautiful setting, I love the trees, especially this majestic cedar tree. It is stunning close up and the glade that it forms with the tall pines is home to lots of squirrels, rabbits, birds, pheasant and the odd fox and badger. We have brought friends and family, young and not so young, here to enjoy the peaceful surroundings in all seasons, even on Boxing Day!

The estate was originally in the demesne of Lilleshall Abbey but fell into private ownership during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monastries. For part of its history it was owned by the Dukes of Sutherland and the second duke’s wife played a large part in the architectural design and landscaping of the estate.

In 1949, The Central Council Of Physical Recreation bought the hall and several thousand acres of land and it has been used as a sports centre ever since. The future Queen Elizabeth II opened it in 1951. The entrance gates are replicas of those at Buckingham Palace.

The England football team trained there for two weeks before the 1966 World Cup – the fresh air and stunning views obviously did the trick!

I thought I would share a few photos from our recent visit.

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The view from the terrace

The water gardens are between the formal hedged garden and the woodland

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These water lillies looked like they were really enjoying the sun

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These are grapevines growing over the path

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There are several follies around the grounds.

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Count the chimneys – we got to at least 40! Imagine having to light all those fires and clean them after, not to mention the chimneys themselves. This is the side of the hall.

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At the far end of the estate there is a pet cemetery, one area for dogs, one for cats, some have their own headstones, some share them with others; there is even a memorial to a Russian wolfhound called Czar, who was given to the Marchioness of Stafford by Czar Alexander II in 1836 and lies buried alongside – but a little apart from – the other dogs and cats, as befits his aristocratic status!

I tried to take some video of our walk through the trees for a friend who could do with some sunny smiles, but finished up with a lot of footage of feet and pink knees! Apparently when I thought I was recording, I was in fact on pause and vice versa. Unfortunately when we tried to rectify this on a second visit, the rain came down and it doesn’t show the grounds at their best. Because we’d had storms in-between, the ground was too wet to retrace our steps (there used to be a canal system running through the estate, built to transport coal and limestone to and from local mines, and parts of it are very marshy, even in the summer). So I present to you some photos of sheep in a neighbouring field!

There is a lot of excitement around at the moment over the impending visit of the medal-winning gymnasts, who are currently having some much-needed chill-out time first.

Copyright: Chris McGowan