MY ROUGH GUIDE : In the darkness I found priceless treasure
Sunday 01 June 1997
Cycling down winding country lanes between the nodding heads of daffodils I came across a small lychgate and a church tucked behind some yews. I met an American art lecturer, who had flown to England for a couple of days just to see this church in Kempley, Gloucestershire. Inside wall paintings show a pre-Christian wheel of fortune beside scenes of Jesus's life, all perfectly clear and still brightly coloured after more than 700 years. By all accounts, these are the finest medieval wall paintings in Britain.
There's a hideaway in the Lake District that you would rarely chance upon, but once known it's never forgotten. Pickett Howe, a 17th-century farmhouse in the Buttermere Valley, combines luxury and homeliness. I stayed in the Georgian room, which has its own whirlpool. The hosts recommend a swift walk to the shores of Crummock Water before tucking into a four- course breakfast that's fit for royalty - oatcakes with nut, tomato and mushroom topping are great for vegetarians. The only other place that came as close to bowling me over was 13th-century St Briavels Castle, which is now a youth hostel on the edge of the Forest of Dean.
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to eat Isle of Man Queenie along with pate made from all kinds of sea food in Peel harbour. Nor could I decline a particularly good local whiskey to help wash it down. However, it was only lunch time and I had to spend the next three hours touring the island. My ex-rally driver host, Doug Baird, drove me round the TT course showing me his favourite corners - not comforting at 90mph. Never again will I eat fish pate at midday.
In the heart of Northamptonshire sits the home of the hugely wealthy Duke of Buccleuch, surrounded by 350 acres of park land and an 11,000- acre estate. Boughton House is only open to the public one month a year. I arrived in the wrong month and was treated to a private tour by the caretaker. We entered room after room in half darkness, and in each my guide prised open heavy wooden shutters, illuminating in a single flash of dusty light several art treasures among them works by Gainsborough, El Greco and Van Dyke , and cartoons by Raphael's students. Ceilings are covered with clouds and cherubs, there are secret doors in exquisite wood panelling, immaculate tapestries, a rare picture of a wrinkled Elizabeth I, and Britain's oldest rug, used on occasions by today's royals. Most of the househas remained untouched since 1709.
Biggest Let Down
It was a bitterly cold March when I made the trek over hill and dale from Manchester (home at the time) to the Peak District. Despite threatening skies I set off, but had to stop to call for help when my aged Mini Clubman refused to start at traffic lights. It turned out to be one of those occasions when your car miraculously recovers when the AA man arrives. So after an hour's wait and no need for rescue I drove to Buxton. I crossed a grassy mound to the museum and became engrossed in an exhibition featuring cavemen, neolithic jaw bones and moody paintings. After some time I emerged into a snowstorm which had covered the roads, houses and fields in a white sheet. Not wanting to face the consequences of getting thoroughly stuck I went back to my car and headed home to Manchester. The car got there and then broke down, conveniently close to a city-centre garage and the bus home, and I was told it would never run again.
Thomas Tresham was so keen to assert his Roman Catholic faith during the reign of Elizabeth I that he constructed buildings to reflect his religious obsession, continuing despite periodic imprisonment. Most bizarre is the Triangular Lodge at Rushton in Northamptonshire. Its dimensions play on the Holy Trinity: there are three sides, each 33ft long with three triangular windows and three gables, three stories, and a trilateral roof topped with a triangular chimney. The whole thing is striped, and dotted with dates Tresham felt to be significant, including the lodge's construction in 1595. Subtracting the date of his release from prison from the other numbers gives what he claimed to be the dates of the Great Flood, the Crucifixion, the Virgin Mary's death, and the creation of the world (in 1962BC). The lodge is strange, but has managed to remain standing despite having rarely been used, save on occasions for watching rabbits in the grounds of a nearby estate.
Harriet Sharkey did research for 'The Rough Guide to England'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.
Pickett Howe Hotel, Brackenthwaite, Cumbria (tel: 01900 85444). Dinner and breakfast pounds 58 pp; B&B, pounds 36.50.
St Briavels Castle youth hostel lies outside Coleford, Herefordshire. Adult pounds 9.40 per night, under 18s pounds 6.30 (tel: 01594 530272). Ferries to the Isle of Man from Heysham and Liverpool. Ships also sail from Dublin and Belfast. Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (tel: 01624 661661) Creek Inn, Peel harbour, Isle of Man, is well known for its fish pates and other fishy delicacies. Boughton House is near Geddington, outside Kettering, Northants. The house opens every day in August. Grounds open 1-5pm, house opens 2-5pm. Entry fee to house and grounds: adults pounds 4; child pounds 3; Grounds only pounds 1.50/pounds 1. Disabled visitors free.
The Triangular Lodge, Rushton, Northants, is run by English Heritage. Open 22 March-31 October, daily 10am-6pm. Adults pounds 1.1O, concessions 80p, children 60p.
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