In 2018 our members enjoyed many delightful outings and you can read about the excursions below. Photographs taken at these outings are available to view in the photo album.
18th April: Cambridge and Anglesey Abbey & Gardens -
Our first trip of the year and how pleased we all were to be setting off on a warm, sunny day after all the dismal weather we had been having for so long. A trouble-free journey found us arriving in Cambridge by 10.45 am and the coaches dropped us a leisurely 10 minute stroll to the city centre. Situated on the River Cam, Cambridge is most famous for its University which dates back to 1209 and includes Colleges such as King’s with its Gothic Chapel and Trinity founded by Henry VIII. The magnificent architecture of the college buildings and museums and the history therein draws visitors from around the world and many were enjoying a traditional punt along the river in the sunshine. The benefit of the cool weather meant that the Spring bulbs were still giving a wonderful display, especially in the lawns at the ‘backs’ of the colleges. With a wide range of shops and a good selection of places to eat, it was all too soon to meet back at the coach at 1.15 pm.
A short 20 minutes journey and we were arriving at Anglesey Abbey. Built on the site of an original Abbey, the history of the house and estate we were to learn about was from 1926 when Lord Fairhaven purchased the property as a country home. Over the next 40 years he renovated and extended the house to house his treasure trove of artwork and antiques. With his eclectic taste, objects ranged from the seventeenth to nineteenth century and represent the very best craftsmanship of these periods. In the gardens, although you can wander at will, there is a good circular walk which leads you through the Winter garden to the wonderful display of Himalayan silver birches under-planted with a carpet of Spring bulbs and then onto the Lode Mill. A mill at Lode is in the Domesday survey of 1086 and the present mill dates to the mid-1700s. Fully restored, they produce their own flour which you can purchase as well as learning about the work involved. The path then follows the river before turning towards the house, passed the Herbaceous garden and Dahlia garden, which will give floral interest for the season to come. A nice restaurant, shop and plant centre was a good place to spend our time before boarding the coaches back to Upminster. Another trouble-free run saw us back in good time and I’m sure everyone would look back on a very enjoyable day.
17th May: Brighton and Nymans Gardens - Terry Threlfall
The intense will of the Horticultural Society must have won against the wishes of the Weatherman, because what had been forecast as a dull and slightly chilly day, turned out to be one of unbroken blue skies, sun and pleasant warmth. We had a good run to Brighton, that town of contrasts - elegant and shabby, busy and idel, extensive parks and crowded tenements, lots to do and nothing to do bu stroll. We viewed the pier, decided instead on coffee, tea and then lunch at leisure in an hotel, then walked idly along the promenate, ignoring the possibility of visiting the Royal Pavilion or the Laines.
After negotiating a hundred traffic lights determined to stop us leaving the town, the coach nevertheless arrived on time as Nymans, a garden with something to show at all seasons. The particularly striking items on the day were several handkerchief trees, wisterias in full bloom with 8 inch trunks - how old must they be? - and rhododendrons and azaleas so wrapped in blossom no leaf was visible. There were trees with unusaly leaves, with unusual bark, with unusual blossom. What was realy nice is that nearly all the trees and shrubs were labelled, so that one could bask in the belief that one was an acceomplished horticulturalist with in-depth knowledge of the names and varieties of everthing. We were tempted by the secondhand book shed, went through the walled garden and on via the colourful azalea walk to the refreshments near the house. On a previous visit many years ao, the ruined house was not open. This time we learned that some rooms were open, 10 minutes after it closed! So we consoled ourselves wth a viewing of the rockery beds, the wisteria pergola and the winter jasmine 'basket' filled with late tulips. No time to explore the arboretum before catching the coach back on a rapid journey to Upminster. Thank you Valerie, for arranging such a splendid outing.
19th June: Tunbridge Wells and Chiddingstone Castle & Gardens -
We started our Royal Tunbridge Wells (RTW) visit at "The Pantiles" which takes its name from the clay tiles baked into a pan to pave the Walks; there are some original pantiles in the TW museum. The upper walk is colonnade. In days gone by promenaders were serenaded by musicians from the "musical gallery" above number 43; now only number 48 has its original colonnade.
The Corn Exchange building on the Lower Walk dates from 1801. Originally the Tunbridge Wells theatre, until the county boundaries changed, it had its stage in Sussex and the auditorium in Kent.
The Chalybeate Spring was discovered here in 1606, high in iron it was believed to have health restoring properties making RTW a favoured resort of royalty. Just past the station Calverley Grounds, the town centre park, showcases the Golden Jubilee rosebeds where every rose has a royal connection.
Chiddingstone, nagging wives and a murderer
Leaving Tunbridge Wells we made our way to Chiddingstone. The charming village of Chiddingstone takes its name from the large sandstone boulder formed 135 million years ago. Legend has it nagging wives and wrong doers were brought to the stone and "chided" by the assembled village.
Chiddingstone Castle itself, originally known as High Street House, dates from the 1550s. In 1805 owner Henry Streatfeild [correct spelling] extended and modified the building into its present bucket and spade crenellated castle style. Its well maintained 35 acres has a lake, rose garden and well stocked long border.
The Castle is open today due to the bountiful Denys Eyre Bower (d.1977) who revived it in 1955. Bower was a renowned collector and the castle's rooms are full of fascinating artefacts including articulated insects such as a centipede (see photo album).
Bower lived a complicated life. In September 1957 he visited a girlfriend who was losing interest in him. Intending to win her back by saying he'd kill himself if she left him, he took a gun with him. On withdrawing it from his pocket he accidentally shot and killed her. He was sent to Wormwood Scrubs prison for murder but due to the services of an excellent lawyer he served just 5 years.
It was a fascinating and memorable day out!
19th July: Rye and Great Dixter & Gardens - Terry Threlfall
It is difficult to imagine that a long time ago Rye was an important port on the seafront, key to the defence of the realm. Now, like many of the Cinque Ports, it is on a narrow river miles inland due to silting. Thanks to that, it never developed and so it remains a mediaeval town with narrow cobbled streets, quaint buildings, a town gate, a lookout tower, an enormous church and ancient hostelries.
Two hours was insufficient to see the two and have lunch, before we were back on the coach to Great Dixter. We went via narrow winding roads, past tiny villages with small but undoubtedly expensive cottages with lovely gardens and dwellings even more expensive with even bigger wooded gardens. It was the Garden of England as it used to be before the developers and the expanding road network destroyed much of it.
Great Dixter is an attractive large wooden house completely surrounded and smothered by gardens. It is a brown and white gabled Tudor style edifice, unlike the characteristic 20th century architecture by Luytens, apparently constructed from three separate buildings. It was the home of the plantsman Christopher Lloyd for the whole of his life. Some complained that the gardens were unkempt and overgrown. To me there were a delightful never-ending jungle of flowers, all the more welcome because it had been so difficult to maintain any garden these past 6 weeks of scorching sun and blistering drought. Much use was made of plants in pots, some of wihchwere being reorganised during our visit. The main object of the afternoon was to dodge the sun. To that end we visited the house, the oast houses, the barns and the tea-room venturing out to the gardens in short bursts in between. There was a colourful border, an exotic garden with banana trees, a sunken garden, a vegetable garden, an orchard, a pond full of water lilies and several meadows. One of these was a topiary meadow, perhaps the least successful of the ideas. To me the most lasting impression was how tall all the flowering plants were, as though competing to reach the sun.
Finally we were treated to a different route back to admire the Kent countryside. Thnks to the organisers and the drive for a lovely day out.
15th August: Amersham and Chenies Manor & Gardens -
The sky was overcast when we left Upminster at 9.30 am and it was still the same when we arrived at the delightful town of Amersham. By the time we reached our final destination of Chenies Manor, it was fine and warm. The coaches arrived at Amersham well before 11 o’clock so there was plenty of time for coffee and scones or lunch and then we explored the historic part of the town. Known as old Amersham. The Market Hall and Almshouses both date from the 17th century and there are many old houses that date from the 17th and 18th centuries as well. The Church was interesting to visit and the War Memorial Gardens were a picture. We strolled back along the High Street taking in the different styles of architecture along the way and doing some window shopping at the same time.
We rejoined the coach at 1.15 pm and made our way to Chenies Manor, a wonderful 15-16th century brick-built Manor House. The house was once the seat of the Earls of Bedford and, in the nearby church, there are monuments and brasses to the Dukes of Bedford.
When we arrived we were split into two groups and taken on a tour of the house by very knowledgeable guides telling us all about the history of the house, including the rooms visited by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The house remains a family home and regularly features in films and TV programmes.
Afterwards, we explored the beautiful gardens which are designed in a series of rooms as in the Tudor fashion. Every part was full of colour and so well tended by the gardeners working there. The dahlias were out of this world and one of the gardeners told us that all the tubers are dug up and stored away in the greenhouses ready for next year. In the physic garden, there is a wooden building with a very deep well which was excavated some years ago when all manner of objects were recovered and are now on display.
Then it was time for tea and cakes, a quick browse in the gift shop and then back to the coach for a comfortable and safe journey home after another great day.
13th September: Stamford and Burghley House & Gardens - Edie Bell
We set off to Stamford on a beautiful sunny morning and although there are major roadworks on the A14, we were in the town by 11.30 am. Stamford, or Strong ford as it was known in earlier times, has some beautiful 17th and 18th century buildings but my friend and I went straight to the library which houses a small museum and the Stamford tapestry. It took 25 embroiderers 17 years to complete the tapestry which is made up of 12 panels and is 8 metres long and shows the town’s history. After a cup of coffee and a look around the town, we were back on the coach for our visit to Burghley House.
Burghley was built by William Cecil, the Lord High Treasurer of Elizabeth the first and it has been owned by his descendants, the Earls and Marquesses of Exeter, until 1981 when the houses and contents became a charitable trust set up by the family. There is still a direct descendant, Miranda Rock and her family, living in the house.
We entered the house through the old kitchen – an enormous room with high ceilings and a wonderful display of copper pans of every possible shape and size. The main part of the house has 32 rooms on the ground and first floors. The rooms in the west wing were created from the 16th century long gallery. The rooms in the south gallery have been decorated with mythical scenes by the artist Antonio Verrio, which took him 11 years to complete. Each room has magnificent painted ceilings and beautiful furniture and there are hundreds of paintings. In the Heaven room stands an enormous silver wine cooler made by Philip Rollos. It is said to be the largest in Europe.
We then descended the Hall staircase and walked through the Olympic corridor which displays the Gold and Silver Olympic medals won by the 6th Marquess. The Gold was for the 1928 400m hurdles and the Silver was for the 1932 men’s 4 x 400m relay. At last we reached the Great Hall with the original double hammer roof and a Tudor fireplace – a really magnificent hall.
We had spent a long time in this wonderful house and so we quickly made our way to the Garden of Surprises and then it was time to go back to the coach. Another excellent day.
11th October: RHS Hyde Hall - Stella Hazlewood
One of the many joys of our outings has always been the view from the coach and the enjoyment brought by the change of seasons. Today was no exception. Following our glorious summer, autumn had arrived enabling us to experience the vast variety of colours and the sight of trees blowing in the gentle breeze. This was the background to a wonderful day.
Originally a working farm, Hyde Hall was bequeathed to the RHS in 1993 and, at present, is undergoing major garden development along with the extension and improvement of the shop and plant centre. The same goes for the restaurant where we enjoyed a welcome coffee.
The estate is extensive and displays many signs, so much so we were unsure where to begin. We decided on the Lake Walk and Winter Garden where again we were treated to a multitude of leaf colours, berries and peeling barks. As Halloween was approaching, we took the opportunity to seek out pumpkins in the Global Growth vegetable garden. Again, we were not disappointed, noting several types hitherto unknown to any in our group. And the garden was edged with dahlias the size of cabbages – another WOW!
Next, we visited the Mediterranean-style Dry Garden showcasing a wide range of drought-tolerant plants. These flourish without artificial irrigation and, in the light of ongoing climate change, this type of garden is particularly successful in the South East where dry spells occur more often than many places elsewhere. We also spotted a small display of rocks – what could they be? Relics of the Ice Age we were informed but the sign emphasised that it was unclear whether “rock trolls” still lived there. I kept a lookout but sadly saw none.
Moving on towards a nearby pond, we were greeted by six friendly mallards as we inspected the box hedges and beautiful roses. And then there was the Modern Country Garden with its great variety of grasses gently blowing in the early autumn breeze while we strolled to a really delicious meal with glass of Prosecco.
What a day – who could have asked for anything more!