The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, October 14, 2013

On the Road Again...

Monday, 14 October

By mid-afternoon yesterday (Sunday) I was feeling well enough that Diane and I decided to take a short drive to visit The Vyne, a nearby National Trust site with its expansive grounds and a large and beautiful home that dates back to Tudor times. Back in Jane Austen's day it was owned by the Chute family; indeed, the family owned the property from the time of the Civil War in the seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth century when the descendants turned it over to the National Trust. In its original Tudor form, it was owned by William, 1st Lord Sandys, Henry VIII's Lord Chamberlain. The Sandys family apparently lost the house when they backed the wrong horse during the Civil War. Anyway, Jane Austen attended many a ball at the Vyne, which was certainly the most splendid house in the area.

Since I had cleverly purchased annual memberships in the Royal Oak Foundation (the US affiliate of the UK's National Trust) a few months ago, Dear Diane and I can visit any of the scores of NT sites for free. The Vyne is among them.

The weather was less than perfect, but we slogged through the mud puddles and made our way along the wooded paths to the grand home. The grounds were quite nice and would have been better appreciated had it been a sunny day. See photos below...

The self-guided tour was aided by the presence of knowledgable and very pleasant docents stationed throughout the large house. Here's a photo of Diane conversing with one of the docents.

Although the house underwent many major renovations over the centuries, parts of it still reflect its original Tudor design. In the chapel, for instance, one can see a rather young Henry VIII depicted in one of the stained-glass windows. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, can be seen in another. Obviously the chapel was built before this egomaniacal king began divorcing and beheading his wives. See a view of the  chapel below.

Here's a view of house from the main drive, probably as Jane Austen would have seen it from a carriage on her way to a ball.

Below are a few photos of some of The Vyne's rooms: the dining room and saloon. Some of the paneling and ceiling work is truly remarkable. And because the last owners also left the entire contents of the house to the National Trust, most of the furniture is original, from the 16th, 17th and18th centuries. Truly extraordinary.

All things considered, not a bad way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon. We even stopped by their tearoom for a bite to eat and, of course, made the obligatory visit to the gift shop. I was still feeling a bit edgy, so I didn't eat much, but the little I had (some homemade bread pudding) was pretty good.

Today (Monday) we decided to drive to Salisbury (about an hour's drive) and visit Stonehenge. We had hoped that a Monday in October, especially a rather bleak, overcast Monday, would keep the crowds down...and we we're right. It wasn't very crowded at all, which made the experience quite enjoyable.

Once again, my pre-trip planning paid off since I had purchased an English Heritage international tourist 9-day pass for two. Basically, English Heritage controls many of the places that aren't controlled by the National Trust. And so, Dear Diane and I were able to enter Stonehenge free of charge.

It's really quite well done. You are given an audio tour device that you carry with you as you follow the path circling the five-thousand-year-old site. I took about 100 photos as we walked along listening to our recorded guides. The only downside was the wind and the temperature. Exposed to the elements on Salisbury Plain, and despite our warm clothing, the two of us nearly froze. We were pleased to find a little concession stand near the exit and gladly paid £4 plus for two cups of hot chocolate. And of course we hit the gift shop before returning to our car.

Here I am, looking much warmer than I really was. On the way home we stopped at a pub near North Waltham, Hampshire, just a couple of miles from Jane Austen's family home in Steventon. The pub, The Wheatsheaf Inn, has been around for a few hundred years and Jane Austen visited it frequently. She didn't go there for the good ale, but to collect the family's mail since it was the local post station. You can read more about this here: Jane Austen and the Wheatsheaf. Our meal was quite good and the service excellent.

Tomorrow we plan to drive south to the coast and visit some of the sites in Portsmouth and Southampton. It should be another enjoyable day, weather permitting.

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