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Category: Hertfordshire

The Good, the Bad and the Ugley

The Good, the Bad and the Ugley

Yesterday we were thinking of going on a day trip but in the end we decided not to. Why did we not go? Because we had worn ourselves out the day before on another day trip.

We had decided to go shopping. We wanted a mower lift, a coiled hose that stretches to 100 feet and a drill bit sharpener plus some other items. Those every day items that everyone needs. smilies

These were to be purchased from a shop in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire. It was only 33 miles from us so it didn't take long to get there and we duly purchased our items and stuffed them in the car.

We walked off into Bishop's Stortford to have a look around. As we were walking away from the shop we noticed the unusual roof.

Shops don't normally have what appear to be strange tapering chimney pots. The reason for those is that the building used to be used for malting. Malting is a process that converts the starch in cereal grain, usually barley, to alternative forms of sugar used in brewing. The conical chimneys of these distinctive buildings emitted a rich aroma of roasted malt, a smell not unlike that of roasting coffee, that permeated the air for miles around.

Those days have long gone but the buildings remain and this one has now been converted to a shop.

We were now in Bridge Street with the 16th century Black Lion Inn just ahead and to our left. This looked to be a fine timber-framed building. There were other nice old buildings in this street.

After walking up Bridge Street we found ourselves in the Market Square with the Corn Exchange on the right and the church tower and steeple showing above the buildings in the distance.

 We wanted to see more of the church so headed in that direction. The continuation of Bridge Street westward is High Street and we spotted a very nice timber-framed building.

This local tailors was one of the oldest businesses in the world until 2013 when it closed. Part of the building dates from about 1360, with modern additions around 1545.

A little way up from here, near to where High Street changes to Windhill, we found the church. A rather large, impressive building in a rather small churchyard making photography difficult. It is unusually long at 170 feet with a spire 180 feet high.

Although there was probably a Saxon, and later, a Norman church on the site, the only surviving fragment of those times is the font. The church seems to have been completely rebuilt in the early fifteenth century and it was altered and restored in both the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

Immediately opposite the church is the Boars Head Inn dating from around 1420 (Tudor).

Samuel Pepys frequented this inn and is recorded as having dined here on 26 May 1668.

Just above this point High Street changes to Windhill a wide and attractive street tree-lined on one side.

You can see evidence of the malting industry again in the form of that tapering chimney and the fact that the house is called 'Oast House'.

So, back down Windhill then High Street to this junction where we turned left into Basbow Lane.

We had spotted some colour-washed houses at the far end when we were on our way up the hill and decided to investigate on the way back. This is what we found.

A nice group of old, pretty houses. At the end of the lane there were some steps down to Hadham Road and an interesting building at the bottom of the steps. The building is, apparently, timber-framed covered in plaster and dates from the 17th century with alterations in the 18th and 19th centuries.

We went back down Bridge Street and crossed the road into Castle Gardens where we saw all that's left of Waytemore Castle – the mound on which it was built.

The River Stort runs through the park and the southern part is navigable.

We followed the riverside path for a while and saw yet more evidence of malting in the form of those tapered chimneys.

We had had enough walking by now so headed back to the car having seen most of the interesting parts of Bishop's Stortford and it wasn't until we were headed out of town that we realised we had missed a bit. A group of old buildings on the junction of Dunmow Road and Stansted Road. Oh well, next time perhaps. That was the 'good'.

We headed north into Essex, through Stansted Mountfitchet, and this is when our situation turned Ugley. In fact it was precisely at this point.

Ugley is a very small village just a few miles south of Widdington. It has a lovely little church which unfortunately was locked.

The road to the church was narrow and they don't come much narrower than this. No hope of seeing out to the sides either.

There was a group of attractive thatched cottages and a few modern houses round about and that was 'Ugley'.

We decided to travel the few miles to Widdington. Remember Widdington? We visited that village in July 2010 and wrote a blog report. We saw a medieval barn there but were unable to see inside because it wasn't open but today it was open.

Now is that impressive or is that impressive?

We had come to the end of our day out and so headed home. Most of the journey back is on the A120, a fast dual carrigeway that is rarely busy, but suddenly we found ourselves being diverted off the road near Braintree with no signs to offer an explanation. We had to make our way through Braintree town centre and eventually to home. That was the 'bad'.

The other day trip I mentioned at the top of this post will happen another time. Wait and see. smilies



From plain glass to stained glass.

From plain glass to stained glass.

Nearly two weeks ago now we had a bit of a storm and the glass in half the roof of one of Amanda's greenhouses was blown out. It didn't do it a lot of good. That damage is covered by our house insurance but to keep the annual premium down we elected to have an excess imposed of £50. That means we have to pay £50 pounds towards each claim and as that would be about the cost of replacing the glass it wasn't worth claiming.

Meanwhile Amanda did a search on ebay and found someone within travelling distance of us who was selling some secondhand greenhouse glass the right size for £20 for 20 sheets. We need only 8 so that's a bargain. Amanda bought 20 sheets.

So this morning, Thursday, we set off for Gazeley in Suffolk near Newmarket and collected the glass. The thing about Gazeley is that it's not very far from Ely so guess where we went next.

We were last in Ely 12 years ago and I can't remember why but I didn't take any photographs of the interior of the cathedral, apart from one single picture of the nave, so we decided to rectify that omission. Ely doesn't seem to be on the normal tourist routes and they don't know what they're missing.

Ely Cathedral is different. It is unique in that it doesn't have a central tower like other cathedrals but instead it has a structure called the Octagon. In 1322 the Norman central tower collapsed caused, it is thought, by the digging of foundations for the new Lady Chapel. The tower was replaced by an innovative design called the Octagon which was surmounted by a smaller structure called the Lantern Tower.

Part of the ceiling of each transept is visible in the first picture, at the bottom of the left and right edges, and the transepts are the oldest parts of the cathedral dating from 1090.

As well as being an unusual cathedral it has many items of interest inside. The nave ceiling, as you can see below, is quite something even though it is 'only' Victorian in age.

The Quire and Presbytery.

The Quire looking into the nave.

The South Aisle.

We stopped for lunch part way through our photographic proceedings and retired to the cathedral's Refectory Cafe which is small but perfectly formed. smilies

The food was a little on the expensive side but nice. Whatever you do don't go near the cakes. Just looking at them will make you put on weight. But, and I talk from experience here, the Coffee and Walnut cake is delicious.

If you are at all interested in cathedrals then this is a 'must'. Don't miss it!

There are exterior pictures of the cathedral on the web site from our previous visit in 2002 and these interiors, and more, will be added in due course.

This really was Nasty.

This really was Nasty.

A strange thing happened this week – we had a weather forecast for 5 consecutive sunny days! Not sunny all day every day but to have 5 partly sunny days in a row this summer is a miracle. However, Wednesday was one of the days where the sun was forecast to shine all day, in certain places, so we decided to make use of it.

We set off on our journey to one of these certain places and our route took us very near a small hamlet that we just had to visit.

Nasty is a pretty little hamlet in Hertfordshire and our very short visit did convince us that Nasty is nice. We do have some very odd village names in England but I think that this one wins the prize. Our next destination is in the same county.

So onward to Hatfield, Hertfordshire, where Hatfield House was the primary purpose of our trip. There is a free car park and a number of those familiar brown road signs, which generally signify places of interest, pointing to Hatfield House so that, once you are in Hatfield, it should be easy to find.

Hatfield House is also within easy walking distance of the railway station so could be visited as a day trip from London with a train journey of as little as 20 minutes.

Hatfield House is one of the Treasure Houses of England, a loose association of 10 privately owned stately homes.

Entering the Hatfield House complex we first came across the Old Palace, dating from 1485. This, the Banqueting Hall, is all that remains of the original Royal Palace of Hatfield where Elizabeth I spent most of her childhood.

We found it to be rather strange because there was a large open door,which you can see in the base of the tower, but no signs of any sort to indicate that visitors are allowed access. There are some notices on the walls of the short passage inside but they are not visible from outside. At the end of the short passage is a barrier forming a small viewing area where one can look at the large and impressive hall.

On the far wall, at window height within the wooden beamed area, are two rectangular panels which we didn't notice at the time but discovered later. These are openings filled with clear plastic sheets which allow viewing from an upstairs room accessible only from the West Garden but that appears not to be signed or mentioned anywhere either.

This is in an area which also contains the restaurant, shops and toilets and which is freely accessible i.e. you don't need to buy a ticket to get in. It is almost as if they feel it should be open to the public but are trying to keep it a secret. Very odd!

Next we decided to visit the West Garden which also gives access to the Old Palace Garden (you need a ticket for this).

Notice that wooden stairway on the left? There is nothing to indicate that it provides access to an upstairs room or that visitors are allowed access at all but another visitor told us about it so we had a look and discovered the viewing panels mentioned earlier which enabled me to take this next picture.

You may be able to see, on the left, the barriers which provide a viewing area down below which we discovered first. Emerging back on to the stairs there is a nice overall view of the Old Palace Garden. Topiary anyone?

We were also beginning to discover that the plan in the visitor guide showed all the paths, even those to which visitors didn't have access and this made navigation a bit of a lottery. A number of times we planned a route using the visitor guide only to be thwarted part the way along and had to find an alternative. They also show a view of the South Front on the first page of their website but don't explain that visitors don't have access to that same view.

We did find a path down the west side of the house to a viewing platform, which is described as a 'Viewing Bay' in the Visitor Guide, from which I took this photograph but it's not as nice a view as the one on the web site.

We next found our way into another garden which appears not to have a name of its own but which we called, for our own convenience, the Fountain Garden. Did I mention that there is a lot of topiary in the gardens?

That's the west side of Hatfield House shown in the picture. We left the Fountain Garden via this gate and went into the Sundial Garden.

I thought that the gardens, although very formal, were rather nice but Amanda thought that they were particularly good and decided to stay there whilst I went to look round Old Hatfield. Most of Hatfield is recent and of little interest to the tourist but the original small centre still remains next to the Hatfield House Estate.

There isn't much of it and one could easily walk round it in an hour or less but it is worth a look. This old building was in Fore Street

and this view including the Eight Bells Inn was at the bottom of Fore Street looking along Park Street. It is believed that this building existed in 1630 but was first recorded as an inn in 1728.

There is also the parish church of St. Ethelreda dating from the 13th century with a 15th century tower.

That's it really. There isn't a lot as I've said but it is worth a short visit. I went back to Hatfield House to find Amanda and we went to the restaurant for some lunch. It is a nice restaurant with tables both inside and outside and the menu is not extensive but it is adequate. We both agreed that everything was over-priced but the cooked food we had was good. The food, in what I assume were heated trays, was displayed in a glass fronted cabinet but the problem was that it wasn't very hot to start with and by the time we got it to a table it must have cooled further. By the time I was near to finishing I left some of it because it had become cold.

There are also salads, sandwiches and cakes available which, of course, don't need to be kept hot.

After lunch we headed for the house and this is the main entrance in the North Front (you also need a ticket for this).

The rooms were spectacular and particularly so the Entrance Hall for its ceiling and the Chapel for its Jacobean stained glass windows. 'Wait', I hear you say, 'lets stop the waffle and get on with the photographs'. The bad news is that there aren't any interior photographs. The current rule is that cameras cannot be used within the house and that even  includes photographing views outside through the windows. I get the impression that this is done in the hope of increasing the sales of their own pictures but I'm afraid it didn't work with us and I think it will antagonise a number of other people.

Amanda particularly likes wood carvings and was rather irritated that she couldn't record some of the work that she saw. It is unlikely that we will return whilst the 'No photography' rule is in force.

All I can say is that the house is worth a visit.

We set off for home with the intention of stopping briefly in Much Hadham, still in Hertfordshire, on the way. The village, previously known as Great Hadham, stretches for  about a mile along the B1004 road and there are a number of attractive old buildings in the village.

There was also a plant nursery in the village which Amanda wanted to visit and there were a number of plants that she liked. She didn't buy anything this time but it's not very far from us so she could sneak over on her own at any time. :shock:

Another trip accomplished in spite of summer. Would anyone like a Nasty holiday?

Springs and Things.

Springs and Things.

Recently a friend of ours who lives in Royston, Hertfordshire invited us over for the day and took us to the village of Ashwell which is six and a half miles west of Royston.

We parked by the roadside next to the Ashwell Springs -the “well” from which Ashwell gets its name.

The water rises from several holes in the natural chalk surrounding Ashwell village and the average flow is between 1,300,000 gallons a day to less than a million. It is at its highest level in March and April and lowest in September and October.

The water seen here is clear but very shallow and the brown colour is actually the gravel laying on the bottom. In this area we saw a number of places where water could be seen to welling up from beneath and these springs are one of the main sources of the River Cam which flows through Cambridge not far from here.

Ashwell is a picturesque little village with a 14th century medieval church which has a positively massive tower. Not only is the tower very tall but its sides are also extraordinarily broad.

Inside the tower at its base we saw some medieval graffiti which recounts the Black Death, a great storm in the late 14th century and a drawing of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London before the great fire. Some individual letters are not easy to decipher, being scored into the stone, and it’s all in Latin anyway.

There are plenty of ancient timber-framed buildings in the village of which the Rose and Crown is one.

This is where we had lunch, our friend having had previous experience of eating here, and it was exceptionally good and is to be thoroughly recommended if you are ever passing this way. I have to be honest and say that just writing about it makes my mouth water.

There are plenty of other ancient buildings including the Forresters Cottages shown below.

The central hall was built first in the 14th century, with two cross-wings (the jettied gables) added in the 15th century.  The left wing housed the pantry and buttery on the ground floor and sleeping accommodation on the first floor.  The right wing was a solar, having the best rooms for the head of the house.  To the right of it (at the far end of the photograph) is a 16th century extension.

This is another group of ancient timber-framed houses with the central colour-washed house showing some pargetting.

There is also thatch to be seen here – cottage? house? well yes but …

also a cob wall with a thatched top. Not all that common. The only other one we’ve seen was in Avebury in Wiltshire. There were also other thatched houses and cottages of which this is just one with that massive church tower showing in the distance.

We also walked from the village up to Arbury Banks, a Bronze Age Hill Fort, although there were almost no features to easily distinguish it from the surrounding countryside. It was, however, a very nice walk and worth it for the views from the top of the hill.

There’s that church tower again.

We had a very enjoyable and interesting day thanks to our friend.

The Chilterns: A beacon in an ancient landscape – Day 1

The Chilterns: A beacon in an ancient landscape – Day 1

The view from the top of Ivinghoe Beacon wasn’t as good as it could have been. We had just walked a short stretch of The Ridgeway, an ancient path that goes back to Avebury times, having arrived at our hotel just an hour previously after an uneventful drive of about an hour and a half.

But back to the view. It was a balmy spring day but there was quite a thick haze which prevented us seeing very far.

We had started from a car park down by the road from Aldbury and walked the one and a half miles to the top of the beacon.

This is where our walk started showing The Ridgeway stretching out in front and Amanda making her way along the path.

The Ridgeway starts from Avebury, Wiltshire and finishes on the top of Ivinghoe Beacon here in Buckinghamshire. The high ground on the left is the top of Ivinghoe Beacon.

Finally, with much puffing and blowing after a winter of sitting around and generally getting unfit, we arrive at the top. You can see how murky the view looked which was a pity as on a clear day it must be fantastic.

Amanda’s foot behaved much better than we thought it would and gave her no trouble at all. Looks promising.

After coming down from Ivinghoe Beacon we drove the very short distance to the village of Ivinghoe from which the beacon gets its name. First stop was Pitstone Windmill on the outskirts of the village and is the oldest windmill in the county

You should be able to see, to the left of the mill, the tower and spire of Ivinghoe Church and here is that same church close up.

We stopped, on the way back to our hotel, in Aldbury. An attractive little village sitting at the foot of the high ridge of which Ivinghoe Beacon is just a part in the area known as the Chilterns.

After that it was back to our hotel after our first half-day until tomorrow.