What better way to enjoy a four day binge on National Trust properties than to take the tandem, spend a few nights in a strategic location so that you can access several properties on two wheels? An hour or two in the morning wending our way across the East Sussex countryside, 3-4 hours enjoying the setting and intriguing history of a rich family’s country pile, an hour having lunch and coffee, and another hour or so heading back, discovering a different route with its own surprises…….which usually come in the form of hills (groan!), but the rewards were stunning views across a countryside strutting the catwalk wearing its new autumnal collection. East Sussex in October is full of chromatic intrigue, and when the sun shines (which it did for us most days), it can be breath-taking. Forget New England in the fall……..we are surrounded by our very own ‘leaf-peeping’ opportunities. You just have to go out there and find them…..
On our first day, we headed off in search of the country hideaway of the famous (and infamous) Vita Sackville West, and her husband Harold Nicolson. Both provocative people of their generation, challenging the mores of the day with regard to their sexuality, they were nevertheless a happily married couple, and together they restored Sissinghurst Castle from its ruinous state, and together they combined their expertise and energy to create one of the most admired gardens in the country.
Vita hated the manicured primness of many country gardens, preferring the more natural beauty of the slightly messy, slightly chaotic growth of flowers and plants that created their own beauty, dividing the garden into ‘rooms’, with each room having its own character and selection of colours.
On our route back, and you will see this from the map below, we were led along a track that was seemingly a right of way, but we were cut off by a locked gate and a big threatening sign telling us that the area was ‘bio-protected’, and was closed to the public. This caused us a bit of panic because we had to double back, increasing our mileage, and it was getting late in the afternoon. We had to get back to our base before sunset. We did, but only just………..
People sometimes like to see route maps of rides. Everybody’s rides have something of the rider’s own personal touches….what prompts them to take that direction, climb this hill and not that one, stop in this place and not that one. My two rides over the weekend were circuits of two large bodies of water: Windermere and Coniston Water. It’s tempting to think that circuits of lakes will be fairly flat rides, but not so in the Lake District.
The two rides together included nearly 1200 metres (4000 feet) of ascent, almost the height of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. Of course most of the hills were relatively short, some sharp, some gentle, but one in particular was almost unrideable (for me at least), rising to about 20% in gradient.
When you live in East Anglia, and do most of your daily riding in your own locality, the muscles in your legs have to be ‘re-formatted’ when you go to an area like the Lake District. It is quite a change…….
The Windermere ride took me past Wray Castle, a Victorian neo-Gothic building notable for its selection of rare and unusual trees, and Hill Top House, the home and farmstead of the famous children’s author, Beatrix Potter.
My ride around Coniston Water led me to the former home of John Ruskin, writer, artist and social reformer of the 19th century.
The sun shone over the water as I was served, in the adjacent tearoom, with one of those ambrosial cream teas that are the ultimate comfort food for the hungry cyclist. Drool over this……..
I love it when a visit to a historic country house in the UK throws up a bit of obscure history that didn’t quite make it into the A level history syllabus. And this is precisely what happened when we recently visited Farnborough Hall in Oxfordshire.
I am sure, like me, you will have heard of the window tax, used extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries in several countries, as a way of raising revenue for the crown. Instead of the income tax we pay today, families then were taxed on the number of windows (above a certain number), meaning that those with the biggest properties were taxed more heavily than the rest. Because some wily home owners started bricking up windows, thereby reducing their tax bill, in 1792 William Pitt had a brainwave. In addition to taxing windows, he imposed a tax on the number of clocks and watches owned by people. The resulting effect was exactly the same. People got rid of surplus timepieces, the bottom fell out of the clock-making industry, and pubs and inns started doing brisk business because they were often the only establishment in a community to have a clock. Yes, you’ve got it….locals would pop in to check the time and be distracted by the merchandise.
The few clocks that were made during this brief period (lasting only about 6 months), came to be known as Act of Parliament clocks, and I’m sure if you are an owner of one dating from this time, you will be sitting on a fortune.
Time to book your place on Flog it! or the Antiques Road Show.