Tuesday, 21 July 2015

National treasure

A few months ago I was watching Bargain Hunt while I ate my lunch (and there’s a glimpse into the life of a working from home artist right there) and Tim Wonnacott was looking around Chirk Castle. I’d never heard of the place but it looked marvellous. Another lunch break and another tv antiques programme put me on the trail of Wroxeter Roman City, which turned out to be in the same neck of the woods as Chirk Castle. I stored these things up in my heart and remembered them, so when my husband proposed that we book a weekend away I suggested we visit Shropshire. He was a little surprised – he’d been thinking more in terms of Florence or Paris – but I confessed that I was filled with ungrateful weariness at the thought of boarding passes, euros, travel insurance and putting my shoes in a plastic tray and I would really like just to get in the car and drive somewhere we had never been before.

So it was that late on a recent Friday evening we arrived at Sebastians in Oswestry, which attracted the requisite rave reviews on Trip Advisor and promised beamed ceilings, four poster beds and an award winning restaurant – all of which it delivered, with knobs on (polished brass ones).

The next morning the sun shone as we drove up to Chirk Castle which is a crucial few hundred metres over the Welsh border, as firmly announced by the red dragon fluttering proudly from the battlements. Rising into view on a hill ahead of us, the castle looked for all the world like the set of a Hollywood swashbuckler. We would not have been surprised to be stopped by some elegant men in tights on horseback, laughing uproariously and slapping their thighs. Instead we encountered the nice volunteers at the ticket office who scanned our National Trust membership cards and booked us onto a guided tour, which got us into the interior of the castle ahead of the usual opening hours.

This is a gem of a house, having been lived in and loved for centuries. The effect of generations extending and redecorating is that you find yourself making a tour of the history of interior design, through medieval simplicity, Jacobean majesty, Georgian classicism, over the top Victorian Gothic thanks to a Pugin makeover and, most recently, homely 1930s comfort. The gardens are equally delightful, lacking only playing card gardeners painting the roses. Dotted around are pairs of deckchairs, placed so thoughtfully it would be rude not to sit in them. So we did. For quite a long time.

The view from a deckchair

When it was time for a little something, the tea room did its National Trust thing and supplied our needs perfectly.

Note for overseas readers: when visiting National Trust properties you have to  eat a cream tea.

Most artists are probably used to the funny looks they get when they stand with their backs to the usual photo opportunities and focus on the unnoticed. I got some useful shots in the gardens and also at Erddig, another nearby National Trust property, to be filed away for future prints.

I have a thing for water lilies - leaf forms, reflections, shadows. What's not to love? (I talked about creating a water lilies woodcut in this interview for Jackson's Art a few years ago).

This Virginia creeper (parthenocissus tricuspidata) was on a wall at Erddig and is another candidate for my foliage series of woodcuts, like these two.

Beech and Ivy hand burnished woodcut prints
We packed a lot into one weekend and this was not the end of our Shropshire adventures, but that's probably enough for one post. To be continued….


  1. We have Boston Ivy on part of our wall - it grows so fast! But we forgive it for the Autumn colour.

    btw I too find places to visit from lunch time antiques show viewing x


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