Tuesday. Michael’s birthday (age irrelevant) and we took off for the day, abandoning all our responsibilities. Bliss. Autumn is such a majestic season and Cumbria does it so well. When the sun shines (and it did) the scenery is due a sharp intake of breath as the fells stride across the horizon, grandiose and serene.
Mist cloaked the Eden plain as we set off, the landscape still holds memory of the long shallow lake that once lay between Penrith and Carlisle. Our first call was Sizergh Castle, a conglomerate of stone buildings dating from the Norman Conquest. The Strickland family were movers and shakers during the Border Wars but made their fortune (and extended their lands and power) through pertinent marriages. Since the 1950’s the house has been in the care of the National Trust.
We arrived to discover the house didn’t open until noon, because they were into their ‘winter’ programme, but there was a ‘tour’ at 11 so we explored the gardens while we waited. The famous lime-stone rockery was designed by Hayes of Ambleside in the 1930’s when Sizergh was undergoing renovations by the current lady of the house (reported to be the third richest woman in England). Volunteers were busy tidying the long borders still brimming with blousy blooms and a velvet-smooth croquet lawn steps down to the small lake which is surrounded by wild flower meadows. We discovered a traditional Maltese gondola laid-up in the great barn and during our tour of the house learned a Strickland was first Prime Minister to Malta. Unfortunately at the same time he was MP for Kendal and virtually dismissed from the House of Commons for putting Malta before matters more pertinent to his constituency. Perhaps our first MEP?
During their years of tenure the NT have re-established Sizergh’s unique interior – negotiating the return of its Elizabethan fixtures and fittings from the V & A Museum in London. Death duties forced the family to sell what is thought to be the best surviving example of domestic Tudor panelling, restored to its original setting in the master bedroom in 1999.
Almost noon and we crossed into the vale of Windermere. We rarely get a chance to visit this part of Cumbria because it’s clogged with tourists all summer, making the roads impassable. We took the opportunity to visit Blackwell, a property gifted to Kendal Museum of Art at the turn of the 20th century. Architect MH Baillie Scott was commissioned to design a summer residence for brewing magnate Sir Edward Holt of Manchester. It encapsulates all the innovations of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
When I went to Art College we were drilled with the achievements of Morris & Co and Blackwell House captures the spirit of that revolution in design. Every detail in the house is produced to work in harmony with the overall theme of nature. Worth a visit although very little of the original furnishings remain.
The weather still being kind we decided to forego lunch in order to visit Holehird Gardens, another long-held wish fulfilled. Originally the Lakeland Horticultural Society leased two acres of an abandoned rock garden above Holehird Mansion in 1971 but this has grown into a magnificent series of gardens which provide inspiration for anyone who loves gardens, but most particularly those north of Preston. And the views across the surrounding fells are breathtaking.