Last Sunday was a perfect day for an autumn photo walk. The fog was settling in and the bright fall colors are out in force, so I put on my coat and scarf, grabbed my camera, and trekked up to beautiful Hampstead in North London, where I was joined by my friend and Ava Gardner co-author, Anthony, and his partner Tony.
It’s no secret that I’m a Victorian cemetery fan. Some people may find them eerie, and I get that, but I love the history quiet beauty. Plus, they make for nice atmospheric photographs.
London has some of the best old cemeteries in the world. Just over 200 years ago, the dead were all buried in inner-city churchyards, a situation that quickly got out of hand as the city’s population doubled in the early 19th century. To accommodate the new demand for space (and help combat disease), seven grand cemeteries were built on what were then the outskirts of the city. Today, they reside in zone 2.
Portrait of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, at Chatsworth House
I’ve been MIA from blogging for the past couple of weeks. Sorry! It’s just that some freelance writing and editing work came up and has kept me busy. We’ve also been regaled with the fantastic news that Vivien Leigh’s grandsons have sold her archive to the Victoria and Albert Museum, so there’s a lot going on as we head into autumn.
Two weeks ago Robbie celebrated his birthday, and last weekend he and I drove up to Chester to visit his sister and her boyfriend. Whenever I travel around the UK, I usually take the train, but it’s great to rent a car and get a different feel for the landscape. The only problem with driving is, of course, traffic. It took us over an hour just to get out of London! On Saturday, Louisa and Alex drove us over to Wales. This was really exciting for me as the Bean side of my family is Welsh, and my dad always asks me if I’ve met any of our people (answer: no). Our destination was Conwy, on the north coast. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Conwy is known for the military garrison Conwy Castle and the city walls built during Edward I’s conquest of Wales in the 13th century. Only English citizens were allowed to live inside the city walls, and the Welsh were relegated to living in the surrounding areas. Conwy Castle is really interesting in that it remains much more in tact than a lot of the other castles I’ve visited while living in the UK. It’s largely a stone shell, but you can still climb to the tops of the towers (watch your step) where the views of Conwy Estuary and the surrounding town and hills are breathtaking.
After lunch at the vistor’s center, we explored Plas Mawr, a preserved Elizabethan house once owned by the merchant Robert Wynne. Not only did we get a glimpse into middle-class life during the Elizabethan Era, we also learned about things that affected all citizens during that time, like diseases, water supply, etc. There was an interactive board where visitors couple tap a “symptom” and have a doctor say what we could do to “cure” that particular ailment. My favorite was a woman asking how she could tell whether her husband was bewitched. The answer? “Look into your husband’s eyes. If you can see your reflection, then he is not betwitched. If you cannot see your reflection, then he is probably betwitched.” *Science*
The Herstmonceux Castle Folly – a Victorian facade that served no purpose other than to decorate the landscape.
Romance is when your partner plans surprise get-aways to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. This is what Robbie did for me over the weekend. I knew we were going to the seaside, but had to guess the town before he’d reveal the exact location.
On Saturday morning we caught a train from Victoria Station to East Sussex where he had a whole day planned out. One thing I love most about living in England is the focus on preserving national heritage. It’s just not something we see as much of back home in the States. Stately homes and castles are at the top of my list of places to go and practice photography (two of my favorite destinations are Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire) because of the opulent architecture, beautiful gardens, and history seeping out of every stone and crevice.
Our first stop was Polegate station where we hailed a cab and drive to Herstmonceux Castle. Constructed in the 15th century, Herstmonceux was one time the largest private home in England. In the 1520s, the castle was seized from the Dacre family by King Henry VIII, only to be given back under the rule of Elizabeth I. The Restoration period in the 17th century saw renovation and rejuvenation, but also the bankruptcy of Lord Dacre who was forced to sell the castle in 1777. By the 19th century, the castle was in ruins and became a popular tourist attraction for Victorian holiday-makers visiting Brighton and Eastbourne. Herstmonceux took on new life in the early 20th century and is now a part-time wedding venue and hosts international students studying at Queens University.
The grounds at Herstmonceux are stunning and include ancient chestnut trees, an Elizabethan garden, a folly (a house that serves only as decoration), lakes, and sprawling fields.