The Abbeys of Cotswold… Henry VIII Said, “Get the Lead Out!”… by Peggy Mekemson

Graceful columns found when stepping inside the ruins of Tintern Abbey.

Graceful columns found when stepping inside the ruins of Tintern Abbey.

Between 1536-1540 (depending on which brochure I read) King Henry VIII declared the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Protestant Reformation and his break from the Catholic Church. Armies scoured the country— leaving most monasteries in ruin as soldiers took the lead to make cannon balls. Jane and I visited four very different abbeys that had existed at that time and earlier.

Malmesbury, believed to be the oldest inhabited town in England, has a 12th Century abbey. The original spire and tower both collapsed well before the Reformation. Only the nave remained and became part of the active Abbey as part of the Reformation. It is believed that the first King of England is buried nearby while his coffin resides inside the church.

The contrast between the active church and the remaining walls was interesting. Part of the old monastery grounds now houses the Abbey House Gardens (previous garden blog).

The contrast between the active church and the remaining walls was interesting. Part of the old monastery grounds now houses the Abbey House Gardens (previous garden blog).

Tewkesbury Abbey survived the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540 when the townspeople bought it from King Henry VIII for the sum of 453 pounds. Although the original church was consecrated in 1121, the current Abbey is 900 years old. It is considered one of the largest parish churches in England.

The armies of King Henry VIII destroyed the churches primarily for the lead. The people of Tewkesbury paid the King the value of the lead and saved the church.

The armies of King Henry VIII destroyed the churches primarily for the lead. The people of Tewkesbury paid the King the value of the lead and saved the church.

The roof bosses were indeed stunning.

The roof arches were indeed stunning.

Tintern Abbey, on the border of Wales and Gloucestershire, captivated me! The Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1131 and was a religious center between 1136-1536 at which time it was surrendered to the King’s “marauding visitors.” The lead was taken and 400 years of decay began. There was partial reconstruction begun in 1914. The CADW (a part of the Welsh government dedicated to preserving historic environmental and heritage sites) took over in 1984.

Our first view of the ruins of Tintern Abbey.

Our first view of the ruins of Tintern Abbey.

The following photos reflect the beauty of the area surrounding the ruins and the stunning views within the ruins.

Tintern Abbey in England

Wall ruins of Tintern Abbey in England

Tintern Abbey grand hallway

The two small windows in the middle are the only training original windows in Tintern Abbey.

The small windows in the middle are the only remaining original windows in Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey window view in England

Tintern Abbey windows looking out on forests

Tintern Abbey sky view

My last photo of the Tintern Abbey ruins.

My last photo of the Tintern Abbey ruins.

Our last stop was Gloucester Cathedral. Here, our volunteer guide, a wonderful storyteller, greeted us. During the Reformation, this was one of 6 abbeys designated by King Henry VIII as the cathedrals for the new Church of England. No damage was done. Apparently, the historic connections to the monarchy saved it. Our guide’s stories of the stained glass windows were particularly absorbing. The windows reflected the history of the cathedral and religious stories and included several modern stained glass art work.
A front view of Glouchester Cathedral.

A front view of Glouchester Cathedral.

An early stained glass window featuring a knight.

An early stained glass window featuring a knight.

A knight's tomb inside the Cathedral.

A knight’s tomb inside the Cathedral.

One of the modern stained glass windows.

One of the modern stained glass windows.

I have to admit that I was most fascinated by the stories of the filming of Harry Potter in the cathedral! We walked the halls used in several scenes. I watched the movies on my return so that I could compare Hogwarts School scenes with what I saw.

One of the halls of used for 'Hogsworts' in Harry Potter.

One of the halls used for ‘Hogwarts’ School of Wizardry’ in Harry Potter.

Downton Abbey to Harry Potter… and all the marvelous sites in between. It was quite the photographic adventure! This is my last blog on the Cotswolds. Thanks so much for joining me on the tour. —Peggy

More Beautiful Gardens in the Cotswolds… by Peggy Mekemson

Hidcote Manor (hedged rooms and sculptured hedges)

Hidcote Manor is known for its “outdoor rooms,” which include  sculptured hedges and dramatic plantings.

In my last blog we visited the gardens of Highclere Castle, Camers, and Abbey House. Today we move on to Hidcote Manor, Kiftsgate Court and Misarden Park.

First up. Hidcote Manor is referred to as the garden of “hedged rooms” and sculptured hedges. In fact, I read that the four miles of hedges require gardeners to work four days a week for seven months just to maintain them! An American horticulturist and later a naturalized British citizen, Major Lawrence Johnson, spent 40 years creating the gardens on land his mother had purchased in 1907. In 1948 he gave this estate to the National Trust. The Trust now advertises this site as an Arts and Crafts Garden.

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Despite overcast days, the colors were still striking.

An example of a hedged room.

An example of a hedged room.

Jane and a sculptured hedge.

Jane and a sculptured hedge.

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The Long Walk at Hidcote Garden.

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The village of thatched stone cottages behind the manor was a wonderful surprise. They were once home to Johnstone’s gardeners. Now the Trust rents them out.

We visited Kiftsgate Court on a rainy day. Having just come from a very dry summer in Oregon, I was thrilled to soak up the rain. With rain comes green, green, green instead of drought, drought, drought! I thoroughly enjoyed the fountains and the reflection pool, which, we were told, is a great swimming hole. The colors that popped out on the rainy day were another treat, especially the blue door leading to who knows what treasures. Your guess is as good as mine.

Kiftsgate Court

Kiftsgate Court

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We were told that we had missed the prime time for full blooms. However, I was pretty impressed by what I saw.

The blue door

The blue door with its overgrown path was quite intriguing.

Reflection and swimming pool.

Our path took us to this reflection pool. We learned that this was also used as  a swimming pool. I was tempted! Just below this overlook was a herd of sheep, quite a magical contrast of white on green.

Misarden Park/Estate began as a 17th century manor house, including 3000 acres and most of the village of Misarden (only the pub and school are not owned by the estate). The Wills, a tobacco family, bought this estate and village in 1913 and takes pride in both “the environment and the wider community.” For example, all electrical lines are buried. They will only rent to tenants who will contribute to the maintaining of the community and the estate. We were delighted to meet a future tenant and his friends who were renovating one of the cottages and happily took us on a tour.

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My first view of the residence, which is privately owned.  It was occupied when we arrived. We respected the family’s privacy and gave the house wide berth.

Roses

We had been looking for roses and finally found them— beautifully entwined in this old tower.

Tree

A Hobbit tree? Let your imagination go on this one. Yes, that is a tree packed with stones, all merged for a unique fence.

Gateway

Gateway to another Long Walk. How can one resist following it to the end?

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A final view of the residence with its Cotswold stone roof. I will feature scenes from the village in another blog which captures the character of the small villages in the Cotswolds.

NEXT BLOG: Cerney House, Overbury Court, Whitcombe House, Wyndcliffe Court, Veddw (that’s Welsh, not a misspelling),  and Hellens Manor gardens.

A Garden Tour of England’s Cotswolds… by Peggy Mekemson

Jane and I sit among magnificent Hydrangeas at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). A taste of things to come.

Jane and I sit among magnificent Hydrangea at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). A taste of things to come.

While I was off touring the California coast north of San Francisco in August, my wife Peggy was on a garden tour of the Cotswolds in England with her sister Jane. She’s been eager to blog about her experience, but I had to finish my Olompali series first. Please join her as she shares the beautiful gardens and charming towns she visited over the next couple of weeks. —Curt

My sister, Jane Hagedorn, loves gardens and she loves England. I love my sister. So when Jane called and asked that I join her for a garden tour in the Cotswolds, of course, I said “yes.” I did little research other than reading the notes sent to us by the tour company and checking the weather in England in August. I was going into this with a completely open mind wondering what my impressions would be….and of course, what kind of photographs would reflect this journey of 12 gardens, several abbeys, a cathedral, and seven English villages. The camera was packed!

We extended our stay to join my brother John and his wife Frances for a few days in London. They had been traveling via auto throughout Europe for 5 months. We had some catching up to do. John also had been blogging about their adventures, a great read. Check it out: http://dallen.posthaven.com

When Curt suggested I put together 4-6 guest blogs, I delayed, delayed, delayed! How could I take 800 photos and select a mere 50-75 to share on the blogs? What would I say— Curt is the writer in this family! Nevertheless here you are, beginning with three blogs featuring a brief photo journey of gardens in the Cotswolds. Following the gardens I will feature the Abbeys and small, colorful towns of Cotswolds.

1st Blog: Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey, Camers in Old Sodbury, and Abbey House Garden aka Home of the Naked Gardeners in Malmesbury.

Let me start by noting that all of the gardens were gorgeous. The colors, the size of the flowers, the hedges, the orchards, the kitchen gardens, sculptures and water fountains— wow! It was really, really hard to limit myself to 15 photos per blog that Curt suggested. I quickly learned that gardens came in all shapes and sizes ranging from 1 acre to 5000 acres. They were attached to castles, farmhouses, abbeys, manors, courts, parks, and houses. Also, I love architecture, so I have included photos of the various residences.

Historically, what was once a medieval palace became a house and then a castle rebuilt between 1838-1878. Over 1000 acres, it is considered a parkland featuring lawns, cedars, and deciduous trees….and a few gardens.

Historically, what was once a medieval palace became a house and then a castle rebuilt between 1838-1878. Over 1000 acres, Highclere Castle is considered a parkland featuring lawns, cedars, and deciduous trees….and a few gardens.

First stop on the garden tour: Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey. Although its location is actually in Berkshire, it was on the way to the Cotswolds and….we had tickets! With the popularity of the PBS series Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle has become quite a challenge to visit. It is open to visitors only 60-70 days a year. It is privately owned and family still lives in part of the castle! Add to this the fact that August is also a heavy month for tourism— well, there were a lot of people wanting to share this experience.

Second stop: Camers in Old Sodbury (love the English names) was an absolute delight! It is an Elizabethan farmhouse and is part of the National Garden Scheme. That means it is open occasionally for the charity to raise money. We were greeted by the elderly couple who, with their son, own and manage the gardens. They now live in the converted outer building while the son lives in the farmhouse (not open to the public).

We wandered the 2 ½ acre garden which is part of the wooded 4 acres. It was amazing how much color and variety could be found!

We wandered the 2 ½ acre garden which is part of the wooded 4 acres. It was amazing how much color and variety could be found!

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As I soon discovered, hedges are everywhere…all sizes, shapes, and forms.

One of many intriguing garden walkways at Camers.

One of many intriguing garden walkways at Camers.

This got our attention. Jane provides perspective! There must be plenty of water in England.

This got our attention. Jane provides perspective! There must be plenty of water in England.

Brilliant colors galore. My last photo at Camers.

Brilliant colors galore. My last photo at Camers.

The final stop today is Malmesbury, the oldest inhabited town in England. Abbey House Gardens is also known as the Home of the Naked Gardeners, Ian and Barbara Pollard. (Their web-site claims clothing is optional on six Sundays during the year.) I couldn’t help but wonder what the monks who lived here in the 12th Century would have thought about going naked. The Pollards purchased the residence and abandoned 5.5-acre garden in 1994 and revitalized it, adding their own touches. I found their design both amusing and eclectic.

I found the Abbey Gardens eclectic and amusing.

I found the Abbey Gardens eclectic and amusing.

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The gardens can be almost overwhelming when trying to capture the design, color, depth, lushness, and uniqueness. However, I had a good time trying!

Leaving the Monastery one is greeted by this sculpture at the entrance to Abbey House Gardens.

Leaving the 12th century abbey grounds,  one is greeted by this sculpture at the entrance to Abbey House Gardens.

Next blog: On to Hidcote Manor, Kiftsgate Court and Mismarden Park.