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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Tea and fruitcake with Lord Byron

No the 'fruitcake' of the title doesn't refer to me. Read on:

Inspired by the blogger, French Fancy, and her recent Byron based post I went off on the Mansfield bound Pronto bus yesterday to Newstead Abbey in order to write about their tea rooms and how it was to have a fun half day out to Lord Byron’s ancestral home.

The journey from the Nottingham city centre Victoria bus station takes about half an hour and the buses come back to Nottingham every fifteen minutes. I was quite amazed at that frequency and thought that I would be stranded for a couple of hours whilst I waited forlornly for a return bus. Once the bus arrived at the main gates I paid my entrance fee to a very chatty young woman and headed off down the main drive (about a mile and a half long) to the actual Abbey and home itself.

The weather was a bit grey looking but it was pleasant enough strolling through the countryside. There were woods and bracken either side of the road and massive rhododendron bushes not yet in flower. The air was filled with the songs and calls of thrushes and wood pigeons, blackbirds and wrens; all chattering delightfully away in the trees. I felt like I was back in the Boy Scouts taking a nice hike in the country, sans Kendal Mint cake, an ordinance survey map and a compass. At one point I thought I saw a distant fox pause in the road and then scarper into the undergrowth. I also stopped further along and stood very still as a grey squirrel dodged about in the crisp fallen leaves. As soon as I moved again it shot up a tree.

I had been to this location before a few times in the past but that was in a car and distances can be deceptive when driving compared to walking the self same distance. So when I eventually did arrive at the West Front of Newstead Abbey I was ready for a brief wander around the formal gardens and my favourite, the Japanese Gardens. The gardens and parkland at Newstead encompasses more than 300 acres. I certainly didn’t intend to cover all of that in half a day and I was keen to return soon for a cuppa with Lord Byron.

I wasn’t alone in my adventures as their were a few families with young children taking part in the Easter Egg hunt and later on a tour bus full of German speaking people arrived all beaming and laden with cameras. The peacocks that are resident at Newstead were letting out their shrill cries periodically but alas not one showed the display of feathers that look so spectacular. I probably spent an hour walking slowly through the gardens and taking photographs and then went back to the house for a cuppa and piece of cake. Just before I went there I stopped at a stone rotunda by the maze and read Byron’s poetic elegy to his Newfoundland dog Boatswain or Bos’un. It was full of praise for the dog’s ceaseless love and faithfulness to man and yet full of distain for humankind for a variety of bad qualities inherent in our nature.

The indoors teashop was modern and pretty full when I arrived but the courtyard outside was empty apart from one member of staff phoning her boyfriend. I ordered myself a pot of Earl Grey and had a nice bit of fruit cake. The cake was sticky and moist and as fruit cakes go – pretty fruity.

As I sat drinking my tea and taking this silly picture, a young boy (about twelve years old) and his mum and dad and another lady in her forties all arrived in the courtyard. The mum to (my name for him) Childe Harold, a precocious little shit if there ever was one, was asking the boy if he wanted a drink. Childe Harold craned his neck towards his mother and spat out an elongated version of the word “No” to her. Like he had told her this a thousand times before and now she was just getting on his nerves.The look on his pale face was one of utter distain for his long suffering mother.

A few minutes later he was asked again whether he was sure he didn’t want a drink. This time the wan Childe Harold turned on his best Margaret Thatcher withering look and actually said (to his mother no-less) “What part of No don’t you understand?” Now I am not a violent man but I would have killed the little f*cker! His mother just went. “OK, I only asked.” Childe Harold went into a dark eyed mardy sulk and sat slumped in his metal garden furniture chair. I finished my tea and went for a tour around the house.

It was very impressive and probably rather spooky in the darkness of night There was even an opportunity to try on some replicas of Lord Byron’s romantic clothes if one wanted. Er, no I didn’t but I did read some poetry in the courtyard.

I didn’t take in a lot about the history but did feel inspired to read further about Byron’s life and that of the Romantics at a future juncture. I was just enjoying the stroll and the opportunity to take some nice photos. You can see my day’s photography efforts on this link - Newstead Abbey

After my tour around the house I went back around some of the gardens and the lake and spent a short while sitting chatting encouragingly to a peacock and hoping it was going to fan out its tail for me and my every ready camera. It didn’t, so I nipped to the loo and made my way slowly back up the long curving drive to the bus stop on Mansfield Road. On the way there was a lovely smell of wood smoke and once again I was transported back to my Scouting days and camping and cooking outdoors on an altar fire at Drum Hill in Derbyshire.

Did I ever see the very rude Childe Harold again? I believe he is now buried alive in a pit full of vipers and red ants. Not saying where. (Evil laugh!)

For a reasonably cheap day out in historical Nottinghamshire I would definitely recommend a visit to Newstead Abbey. I went on a normal Monday but I imagine it can get quite busy at the Weekend. For more info see


French Fancy said...

Oh what a lovely post and I'm rushing off to authorblog right this very minute

I wish I'd been there, Phil - you did a grand job. Back to look at the other photos after I've been shopping.

david mcmahon said...

Great job. I like your style. And yes, I'm a big fan of Byron, Keats and Coleridge.

French Fancy told me I simply had to check out this post.

Phil Lowe said...

Thanks FF. Pleased that you liked it. As for being there - you would have loved it. look forward to hear what you think of the photos.

Hi David, you are very kind and French Fancy equally so for putting the word about.

I've added a picture of a bust of Byron since you read it.

Anonymous said...

You only buried one of the millions of Child Harolds in this world.

Great post, you're looking dapper.

Phil Lowe said...

Dedene: there are millions of them? OMG. Thanks for the compliment too. :0)

Janette Jones said...

I usually find that poking the peacocks with a large stick helps (only kidding!) - OMG are you sure that child wasn't called Damien?

Phil Lowe said...

Janette: Watch out those roof tiles are falling!

(Close up on smug kid in tight fitting suit smirking.)

Elizabeth said...

Utterly jealous of your outing. Newstead in deed and tea!

I would have smacked young 'Childe Harold' about the ears.
Oh well.

The best thing that was ever said to me in my teaching career:
Me to 15 yr old boy entering class late: Christos, please come here for a moment.
Christos to me, witheringly: Don't talk to me; it's annoying.

StGeorgeOfEngland said...

Newstead is a wonderful place and one that I shall be visiting when my lady comes over from the States. She loves architecture and the fact that I talk almost endlessly about history.
I laugh out so loud when I got to the 'little f****r' bit with the kid and spat my spicy sweet potato, chicken, mushroom and sweetcorn soup over my keyboard (yes it is homemade and was a casserole last night but the texture of sweet potato put me off. Enter one hand blender, stage right).

I hate that kids talk with little or no respect at times. I blame parents for letting them do it. A 'bat round the tab' usually does the trick. Anyway, the little shits should be up chimneys or down t'pit.
Nice blog Phil.

Mary Elizabeth said...

Great post. Wonderful shots at the Lord Byron.

Congrats on Post of The Day @ Authorblog.

Mary ElizabethBlog.

French Fancy said...

Yes, congratulations on being one of the posts of the day at David's site (no, I don't know how he does it either)

Cheffie-Mom said...

Great post! Congratulations on Post of the Day from Authorblog.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

What a wonderful lesson on how you all do things across the pond. Sidenote: we were at a local amusement park here in Southern California and two boys were kicking a duck that had waddled out of the pond. My husband went after them and the evil beasts cussed him out and ran away into the bushes and out of sight. We reported them, but I don't know if anything was done. Glad I found your blog, thanks to David.

Anonymous said...

So glad to have found you through David at authorblog. Those kids do proliferate, they are everywhere, and the mum's? What happened to a swift slap on the legs and a 'Watch your manners'? Making sure that the do gooder police are nowhere to be seen. Do I advocate a quick slap? You bet I me a hoody [which is what your Childe Harold will become] and I'll demonstrate.