Tom and I had a very special weekend. With my teaching in Tuscany and his managing the business single-handed in London, we’ve been away from the great British Countryside for far too long, so we thought we’d pay it a visit in style.
Have you heard of The Landmark Trust?
It was set up in 1965, as an alternative to the National Trust and The Ministry of Works (the name they came up with doesn’t sound terribly alternative, I know, but stay with me). They aim to rescue smaller historic buildings that the other organisations are not interested in. You may think this a worthwhile but not particularly impressive or exciting a task as restoring a full-sized castle or manor house, but rather than letting you peer at them from behind ropes, The Landmark Trust restores these miniature buildings so that the public can actually stay in them. You can live in a fantasy for a few days, at the top of a fairytale tower or surrounded by crenellated battlements, beautiful countryside stretching into the distance on every side. It really is the most wonderful experience.
They vary in price according to the time of year and how many people can be fitted in, but are generally very reasonable; off-season, two people can stay in a mini castle for about £60 per night. A few photos below of some of the incredible places you can stay:
Appleton Water Tower
Appleton Water Tower interior
Gothic Temple, Stowe
The Bath House interior
The Bath House interior
The Chateau, Lincolnshire
The Ruin, Hackfall
Last weekend, Tom and I stayed at Swarkestone Pavilion, near Ticknall, Derbyshire. As you can see from the map below, it’s pretty much bang in the middle of England. We had been intending to go to Paris for the weekend, but realised at the last minute that we were both desperately missing the countryside and having had The Landmark Trust bookmarked for ages, it felt like the perfect chance to try it out. The weather forecast had predicted the start of autumn, with rain most of the weekend and a chill in the air, but this suited us both perfectly.
I adore autumn. The landscape bursts into shades of copper, rust, and gold, and the sunsets seem to set the sky on fire. Dawn walks are accompanied by frost crunching underfoot and breathe misting into the air. You can snuggle up in a heavy woollen coat and pull on soft leather gloves, and wander through the fields and hedgerows foraging for nuts, berries and toadstools. It’s also the start of the cross country season, for any horse-riders out there, which means exhilarating gallops through fields and woodlands, charging over rustic and often terrifying jumps, and getting completely covered in mud. Bliss.
For a more relaxed, peaceful autumn weekend though, I cannot recommend The Landmark Trust highly enough! The property we chose is just outside Derby. We got a taxi from the station, stopping off at Tesco’s on the way for supplies, and eventually managed to locate it when Tom spotted it across the fields. Finding our way inside and exploring was incredible. It really did feel like we’d been given the keys to a private National Trust property, and just told to enjoy ourselves.
The front of the pavilion
Obviously we ran straight up to the roof, to ensure that the defences were suitably fortified.
Tom enjoying the battlements
One of two towers – the left contains a spiralling staircase, and the other a rooftop bathroom.
The first floor living area – complete with open fireplace and entrance to Narnia.
It didn’t have a working fire sadly, but many other Landmark properties do
The kitchen – stocked with every implement you could need. I was particularly impressed by the toast rack personally, but it also contains things like a soufflé dish and rolling pin, which says a lot about the wonderful people that usually stay in places like this (they bake. People who bake are full of goodness, in my opinion). I stocked it with wine, tea and plenty of treats as soon as we arrived, to help compound the impression that we actually lived there.
A manor house was built nearby in the 1560s by Sir Richard Harpur. When it passed to his great grandson in 1630, the young John Harpur was also knighted and married in the same year, which triptage of fortune coincided – probably not coincidentally – with the pavilion’s construction. It looks like a typical Tudor or early Jacobean manor, but reduced to miniature proportions. The tiny pavilion was a majestic grandstand for whatever occurred in the enclosure before it (possibly something romantic like jousting; possibly bowls). According to the website, “it may well have doubled as a banqueting house to which small groups could retire to enjoy the ‘banquet’ course of fine wines and sweetmeats, play cards, or just enjoy the view of their host’s estate”.
The Landmark Trust rescued it in 1985, by which point it was already in a state of dereliction. It had also featured on the cover of The Rolling Stones’ The Beggar’s Banquet though, so, you know, every cloud.
Swarkestone Pavilion in 1968.
The enclosure in front of the pavilion, being put to good use.
The Beggar’s Banquet. This is NOT Swarkestone, because it had neither roof nor floor when they were filming there, but it’s too wonderful a photo not to include.
We arrived late on Friday afternoon, and managed to have a couple of glasses of wine on the roof before the promised rain arrived.
The next morning I had a luxurious bath on the roof, overflowing with bubbles, and looking out across hay bales and gorgeous countryside as I shampooed my hair into a lather. Tom prefers to shut all the blinds/ curtains to any bathroom that can be viewed from outside, but I’m a little more risqué; I like having a view when I wash my hair! I then made us a cooked breakfast, with Wild Boar pate and Woodland Strawberry jam from Fortnum and Mason. We were on holiday after all.
After breakfast we walked across fields full of golden stubble and scattered with left-over chaff, along a canal towpath, and down an abandoned railway line to the nearby village of Melbourne. We had a couple of drinks at the village pub, then picked up extra groceries and got a taxi back to the pavilion.
The Loggia, a gallery open to the elements on one side and supported by columns. Or “welcome to my hobbit house” as Tom cackled when taking this photo of me. Thanks darling. It’s the boots isn’t it; they make me look sturdy.
A family of swans we came across, making their way along the canal. The parents hissed, but their cygnets were clearly used to getting bread from walkers and made a beeline for us.
Cygnet rivalry. A little further on we spotted a moorhen wandering along the far bank, followed by several black fluff-balls which we presumed were moorhen chicks.
On Sunday Tom went on an expedition to purchase the weekend newspapers, but otherwise we holed ourselves away with lots of cups of tea and plenty of buttery crumpets. It’s a lot easier to write in an environment like this. Buildings seem to settle with time; it’s as if the older they are the happier they are to simply watch you rather than to intrude upon your thoughts. So many hands have smoothed away the sharp edges across the centuries, so many voices laughed and chattered between the walls, that the building is half-asleep; it trusts you to know what you’re doing and to get on with it.
I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a holiday this much. Everything was so easy, and peaceful… the perfect escape.
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