Hidden gems of the Llŷn Peninsula – Plas yn Rhiw and Pernarth Fawr

You have to be a bit determined to get here. Tucked away on the southern coast of the Llyn Peninsula and after a couple of miles on narrow lanes, you reach one of Wales’ prettiest manor houses – Plas yn Rhiw. The 17th century Tudor/Georgian style manor house and terraced garden overlook the beach of Porth Neigwl, Cardigan Bay and Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynned, northwestern Wales. The history of the estate goes back even further to neolithic times and today is under the care of the National Trust .

Now, when you hear manor house you might think of stately homes with columns at the front, lion flanked stairs leading up to an impressive entrance and big windows through which you can see rich paintings and chandeliers. A Welsh manor house in a location like this is somewhat smaller and more solid build but what it might lack in size and grandeur it sure gains in atmosphere and charm. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take any photographs inside but let me show you around the grounds.

The 17th century house was built for a descended from a ninth-century King of Powys and from there passed through the family until 1874, when it was bought and occupied by a series of tenants.
After being abandoned it was finally acquired by the Keating Sisters in 1939 who restored the building and recreated the garden. Big supporters of the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, they donated the surrounding land of the estate to the National Trust in 1946 and Yn the rest of the property in 1952.

After indulging in a cream tea we headed back home (I was travelling with my parents) when my dad said: “Oh, what’s this with a star on the map, shall we stop there?” (See, that’s one of the perks about travelling old-style with a map instead of a naviagation system, you notice things you otherwise wouldn’t.) It was Penarth Fawr, a medivial hall house with thick stone walls, high ceiling and beautiful timberwork. Today it is under the care of Cadw and was definitely worth our little detour.

 

Ness Botanic Gardens

Usually, late March wouldn’t be my preferred time of year to visit a botanic garden but it was a glorious spring day (and Mother’s Day on top of that) so I made my way to Ness Botanic Gardens.

The brainchild of Liverpool cotton merchant Arthur Kilpin Bulley, he began to create a garden in 1898 and thus laid the foundations for one of the major botanic gardens in Britain. He sponsored expeditions to the Far East, believing that Himalayan and Chinese mountain plants could be established in Britain. After his death in 1942, his daughter presented the Gardens to the University of Liverpool. Apart from some fascinating plants, it features different habitats like a Rock Garden, Water Gardens, The Spinney, Wildflower Meadow, Azalea Walk, Herbacious Lawn and much more.

But without further ado – let the garden do the talking…

Of views and greens in London

I think there are two ways of really getting a feel for a city: walking its streets and public parks and viewing it from above. But being my parents’ daughter I am not one to spend a lot of money on these things if I can get them for free instead (so sorry, no pictures of a helicopter ride). Fortunately, walking is free but then only half the fun in the rain on a cold January day.

So instead I headed inside for some luscious greens at one of London’s best kept secrets – the Conservatory at the Barbican. This hidden tropical gem actually the second biggest Conservatory in the city and features over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees and even some exotic fish. The conservatory was built as an “add on” to disguise the theatre’s fly tower (where sets are stored) and manages to incorporate the structure in clever ways. There are bridges and balconies to explore and some of the plants you might even recognise from your own home, though they are enormous in here. Who would have thought there is such a fine green oasis hiding amidst this brutalist concrete structures. Entry is free but the conservatory is only open on certain dates so check their website in advance.

 

One of my other favourite indoor green spaces is the Sky Garden at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (locally also known as the “Walkie-Talkie“). And best of all, it combines a garden with spectacular views (depending on the weather obviously). The Sky Garden features three storeys of exquisite public gardens including an open air terrace. 155 meters up, the Sky Garden begins at level 35 and gives you a 360-degree view of London. Entry is free but spaces are limited and you have to book in advance!

Last but not least on my list of best views has to be one of its latest additions – the new Switch House at the Tate Modern. The top floor features an open viewing terrace and though it might “only” be 10 levels up, it certainly gives you good 360-degree views of the London skyline. Access is free but you might have to queue for the lift during busy times.

And I even managed to fit in a short walk along the banks of the River Thames.

Erddig Park and its castle

It’s funny how you tend to write about places you travel to but hardly about the ones right at your front door. While visiting Erddig Hall and the adjoining park for the annual apple festival this weekend I realised, I had never written anything about this beautiful place just outside of Wrexham even though I visit it several times a year.

Erddig Hall is one of the country’s finest stately homes and, as well as the park, managed by the National Trust. In Erddig Park you can find the ingenious Cup and Saucer and the lesser known Motte & Bailey Castle. This old castle mound seems to be one part of the park which is often overlooked and not so well known. Even on beautiful sunny days when the park is enjoyed by many, you can have the old motte-and-bailey castle all to yourself. One of my neighbours, who lived in this area for more than 30 years, didn’t even know it existed.

When visiting Erddig Hall I like to include a little stroll through the country park so why don’t you join me. And yes, the park is much bigger than what you will see right now.

Even though the park might look like it was created by nature, it is actually the work of landscape designer William Emes who worked at Erddig from 1768-1780. He planted many trees and manipulated the flow of water across the park. His most famous feature is the Cup and Saucer waterfall.

One of the lesser know features of the park is the Motte and Bailey Castle that was incorporated into Emes’ design. Built by the Normans in the 11th century, the Motte and Bailey Castle’s purpose was to enforce their control over the local area. All that is left today are some earthen mounds hiding between the trees but once the castle would have dominated the skyline. When Emes started his work 700 years after the castle’s originial construction he planted an avenue of trees on its summit named Cathedral Isle. Back then the avenue was leading to a spectacular view over the surrounding landscape but nowadays the trees are just too high to see much.

The park surrounds the hall and offers, apart from the beautiful woods, many meadows and a lake – Llyn Erddig. Also included in the park is a section of Wat’s Dyke, a 40 mile long defensive earthen dam built in the 8th century.

I will do a proper post on Erddig Hall soon but as I had mentioned I was going there, I have included some pictures of the house and garden. It was nice seeing it so busy for the apple festival and I’m sure I’ll be back around Christmas for some Victorian Christmas inspiration.

The City Churches of London

Ask any tourist to name churches in London and the most likely answer you get is St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and maybe Westminster Cathedral. And if you’re very lucky “that church by Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery” – St Martin-in-the-Fields.

But if you are like me and enjoy to walk around the City of London, you will notice a church at almost every corner. This is still from the time when the city was heavily populated; today only about 8,000 people actually live here compared to the over 300,000 who commute to and work here. What better way to explore the history of the City of London; enjoy a bit of peace and tranquility; visit buildings that survived the Great Fire and those who didn’t and were rebuilt afterwards; and see churches where Sir Christopher Wren experimented with domes for his masterpiece St Paul’s Cathedral (yes, even he had to practice).

I have only scratched the surface so far, not all churches are open every day or to the public at all, but you can find a complete list with more information via the Friends of the City Churches. If you take a look at the image captions you get more information on some treasures and history of the individual churches.

I started my walk outside the City of London, at St Martin-in-the-Fields and then moved eastwards, mainly along the Strand, Fleet Street etc until I reached the Tower of London. I didn’t have a list or anything, just whenever I saw a spire I went there, but unfortunately was limited in time.

St Martin-in-the-Fields is right at Trafalgar Square and not exactly a City Church but it was where my idea was born so I can’t leave it, and some of the following churches, out. The church gets photographed a lot but I was surprised how few people actually go inside (at least when I was there). It is famous for its work with homeless people and the crypt houses a nice café.

Next was St Mary-le-Strand. You can’t really miss it as it sits on a traffic island almost opposite Somerset House. Construction of the current church began in 1714 under the architect James Gibbs. It is now the official church of the Women’s Royal Naval Service and was unfortunately closed, but the Baroque exterior makes it different from other churches.

st mary le strand

St Mary-le-Strand

St Clement Danes, the Central Church of the Royal Air Force, is a little gem and holds some architectural treasures. The church gets its name from some Danish settlers who had married English women, settled here and took over a small church dedicated to St Clement. Since then it has been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren with James Gibb adding the tower. Inside, you can find a pulpit designed by Grinling Gibbons (stored for safe keeping in St Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz), a restored Stuart Coat of Arms mentioning Wren and many other treasures.

I always wanted to have a look round Temple, probably because the name is a bit intriguing. Unfortunately Temple Church was not open to the public.

temple church

Temple Church

On Fleet Street you can find St Dunstan-in-the-West, which I missed at first because I wandered around the small alleys near Temple. When I finally came across the Guild Church I was too late to stop but I found a nice picture of the interior on wikimedia commons. The church is of medieval origin but the current structure was built in the 1830s. It is dedicated to a former Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury.

A bit further east, perched between other buildings, you can find St Bride’s Church. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1672 it suffered a lot from fire during the London Blitz in 1940. Due to its location on Fleet Street it has a strong connection with newspapers and journalists. It is the second tallest of Wren’s churches, only St Paul’s has a higher pinnacle.

The next couple of churches I just passed with two not being open and another housing a café on the inside – St Benet, St Nicholas Cole & St James Garlickhythe.

St Mary Aldermary is one of the rare examples of a Wren church built in the Gothic style. From medieval origin it was rebuilt in the 16th century before being badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1666. It has a very beautiful fan vaulted ceiling and today is home to a café and has some market and food stalls outside on weekdays.

I mentioned in the beginning that even Sir Christopher Wren had to practice and experiment with domes before he was able to design and build St Paul’s Cathedral. St Stephen Walbrook is one of these experiments and what a glorious success it is. You can definitely see where this was going. And for all art lovers, the altar is by Henry Moore.

St Mary Abchurch is another medieval church that was destroyed in the Great Fire and is also one of the dome experiments by Sir Christopher Wren. However, this one features a big oil painting inside the dome that was done by a parishoner, William Snow in 1708. It depicts the worship of heaven with the Divine Name in Hebrew in the centre. The real treasures however, are the limewood carvings by Grinling Gibbons, the largest and only authenticated work of his besides St Paul’s Cathedral. The receipts are still among the parish records.

St Magnus the Martyr is a different story altogether. The churchyard was once part of the roadway approach to the Old London Bridge and people coming into London used to enter the city here. Because of its prominent location and beauty, although it is a bit tricky to get a really good view today, it has been mentioned in literature by the likes of Charles Dickens or T.S. Eliot. The church is named after Magnus the Martyr, Earl of Orkney and was one of the first buildings to be destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666 as it was only 300 yards away from the bakehouse in Pudding Lane where the fire started. Rebuilding work was carried out for several years under the direction of, yes you guessed correctly, Sir Christopher Wren.

The story of St Margaret Pattens has seen some ups and downs. First recorded in 1067 and probably built from wood it was rebuilt in stone but fell into disrepair and had to be demolished in 1530. The church was rebuilt but then destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666 only to be rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. Fortunately it escaped major damage during the Blitz. The unusual addition ‘Pattens’ to the name St Margaret comes from ‘Pattens’ being made and sold close to the church. These were a type of ‘undershoe’ that were strapped to the shoes and therefore raised the wearer from the muddy roads, preventing his shoes from getting dirty. A notice in the church still “requests women to leave their Pattens before entering”.

st margaret pattens

Old meets new – St Margaret Pattens in front of some modern office blocks. Unfortunately I had to hurry.

My final stop was All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London and, as the name implies, right next to the Tower of London. There is much to discover here: a Saxon arch from the original church founded in 675AD, a remarkable stretch of Roman floor beneath the arch and some other splendid artefacts that can be seen in the undercroft. After surviving the Great Fire in 1666 (although it too was only a few hundred yards away from the starting point) it was heavily bombed during World War II and only the tower and walls survived. A new foundation stone was laid by the Queen Mother in 1948. And even though much of it was destroyed you get the feeling that this place has seen a lot during its history when you are inside.

 

There are many more fine churches to discover and maybe next time I’m lucky and even get some sunshine.

Stairway to heaven – London City Hall

During my last visit to London I got the chance to take a look inside London City Hall. Apart from splendid views across Tower Bridge and the financial district, it also has one of London’s most famous staircases.

city hall

Nicknamed the “The Glass Gonad” or “The Onion”, City Hall is to the left with The Shard standing proud in the distance.

City Hall was designed by Norman Foster and opened in 2002 and its unusual, bulbous shape certainly stands out among the other buildings.

The open viewing deck at the top of the ten-storey building is only open during “Open House London” and you will have to queue and undergo a security check (think airport) to get in. But it is so worth it…

city hall tower bridge

A new perspective of Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf in the background. We were spoiled with sunshine and clear views.

city hall gherkin

HMS Belfast on the Thames and some of London’s famous skyscrapers (left to right): ‘The Walkie-Talkie’ (20 Fenchurch Street), ‘The Cheesegrater Building’ (Leadenhall Building) and ‘The Gherkin’ (30 St Mary Axe) to name just a few.

 

Inside, I wasn’t the only one being mesmerised by the staircase and getting the camera out. It turned out to be a bit of a challenge to get a clear view of the features and odd shape of the staircase.

Discovering a new part of Manchester

Walking along Manchester’s canals towards Salford is like walking from the past into the future. I had never been further than the YHA at Potato Wharf. I stayed there for a couple of days almost 20 years ago but never wandered along the canals and the River Irwell back then. First of all there wasn’t much to see yet and second when you’re in your early twenties on holiday on your own and it’s your first stay ever in Manchester, you’ve simply got better things to do.

 

castlefield-deansgate

Starting on the tow path along the Rochdale Canal which officially opened in 1804.

It was finally time to change that and take a closer look at The Lowry, Imperial War Museum and Media City as well. And what better way to end the day than on the German Christmas Market with a hot mulled wine.

I started off at Oxford Road station and made my way along the canals and the river to Salford and then back into the city centre. I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic as I passed the YHA on my return way and walked the same streets I did back then when going into the centre. Things have certainly changed.

rochdale canal bridge

They don’t build bridges like these anymore.

rochdale bridgewater canal

The Rochdale Canal meets the Bridgewater Canal in Castlefield. I did remember that distinctive foot bridge – I think.

bridgewater canal

Bridgewater Canal with the YHA in the background. The Bridgewater canal is often considered the first true canal in England and was opened in 1761.

bridgewater canal2

A lot of “bridging” going on.

lockkeepers

You don’t mind your job displayed on the door if it’s done in such a beautiful way.

georges island

St George’s Island – a locks junction once formed an important connection between the Bridgewater Canal and the River Irwell/Manchester Ship Canal here.

 

Leaving the canals behind the next stretch of the way took me along the shore of the River Irwell.

green bridge1

Crossing the river from St George’s Island

And then I entered the world of graffiti. Literally everything was covered. On my way back I saw some of the sprayers applying a new coat of colour as a fresh canvas. Kind of recycling available wall space…

Passing an old Colgate Palmolive factory and the Trafford Road Swing Bridge (not swinging anymore) I slowly made my way towards the Salford Quays.

The Lowry with its very recognisable features is a theatre and gallery complex and was opened in 2000. The architect is Michael Wilford.

The Lowry footbridge is a lift bridge, that means it lifts vertically to provide clearance for ships using the canal.

The Imperial War Museum North opened in 2002 and is often photographed for its shapes and contours. Architect is Daniel Liebeskind.

A quick look at Media City before returning via Exchange Quay.

Ordsall Hall is a formerly moated Tudor mansion. The oldest parts were built during the 15th century.

ordsall hall

The hall was the setting for William Harrison Ainsworth’s 1842 novel “Guy Fawkes”

Sunset over the River Irwell.

Time for that mulled wine now!