Isle of Man: Cregneash Open Air Museum

Last month, I visited the Isle of Man, an island full of history and spectacular scenery, and today I’m looking at the village of Cregneash which has a special place in the hearts of Manxmen. Even in the mid-19th century, this isolated village was known for its insistence on keeping to the ‘old traditional ways’ of farming and living and where the inhabitants still spoke Manx, a Gaelic language most closely related to Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic which was rapidly dying out elsewhere on the island. Cregneash became a sort of ‘curiosity’, a place to be visited by Victorian visitors who wanted a glimpse into the Olden Days.

Approaching Cregneash with its traditional thatched and whitewashed cottages

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Painshill: A Gothic and Romantic Landscape

Earlier this week, I visited what is surely the most astonishing landscape garden in England: Painshill, near Cobham in Surrey. It was built by the Honourable Charles Hamilton (1704 –1774) in the eighteenth century. Hamilton was intoxicated – there is no other word for it – by the Classical ruins and Gothic architecture which he’d seen on the Grand Tour. Once back home, he set about buying land in Surrey and started building dramatically ruined follies and then creating a spectacular landscape around them to show them off to their best advantage. His fantastical creation was, and is, unlike anything else in Europe.

Ruined Abbey: all it needs now is ivy, moonlight and an owl!

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A Visit to Thornhill Gardens

Today, I’m visiting Thornhill Gardens in Islington. Other boroughs surrounding Islington have large open spaces: to the north, Hampstead has Kenwood and the Heath; to the south, the City of London offers you the spires of numerous Wren city churches and the dome of St Paul’s cathedral. Two hundred years ago, Islington itself scarcely existed, except as a village with a small spa attached and it was viewed by City dwellers as a pleasant place to take a walk. It sits on a hill, well above the City of London smogs.

Map of Thornhill Gardens 1940-1960s

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Visiting Buckingham Palace Gardens

Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited (plus guest) to the Press Preview of the opening to the public of the Buckingham Palace Gardens so I asked my friend and fellow author, Sophie Weston, if she would like to come. Apart from the three Garden Parties which the Queen hosts every summer, the general public don’t usually get to see the gardens, but Covid has made the annual opening of the State Rooms and the accompanying exhibition impossible. Naturally, I said, ‘Yes, please’. Sophie and I were both looking forward to it. Normally, if you visit the State Apartments and the Summer exhibition, you come out of the palace onto the West Terrace Steps of the Palace where there is a café –

The cakes are always delicious, and I love the way that even the chocolate button on your vanilla slice has a small gold crown on it!

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The e-book launch of ‘Crossing the Tamar’

I’m thrilled to announce that the e-book of Crossing the Tamar is due out on Monday – it’s one of my favourite Elizabeth Hawksley novels – and it did well. Not only was it reprinted, it went into large print both in the States and in the UK, and was translated into German as Jenseits des Stromes by Wunderlich Taschenbuch. I was also invited to talk on Radio Cornwall about it; I had to go to BBC Broadcasting House (exciting!) where I was ushered into what looked like the cockpit of a space rocket  – (scary – it was full of knobs and buttons which I didn’t dare touch) – and  eventually a voice from someone in Cornwall came over the air waves (this was in 1998) to interview me.

E-book cover for ‘Crossing the Tamar’ by Elizabeth Hawksley

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A Spring Walk along Regent’s Canal (and what happened)

On Wednesday morning, for the first time in weeks, the weather forecast predicted that the sun would shine. I was desperate for a walk, so I put on my mac, (I was still sceptical about the forecast) grabbed my camera and left the house. The sky was bright blue. Hurray! I would walk down the Regent’s Canal towards King’s Cross and visit the Camley Street Natural Park, which I’d never visited, and where I hoped to see some evidence of spring: a few ducklings or goslings, perhaps. Would it be too early for dragonflies?

Sweet-smelling wild roses – which were almost over – had I missed spring completely?

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Why Historical Novelists need Dorothy Hartley’s Books

So, who was Dorothy Hartley (1893-1985) and why do historical novelists need her books? Miss Hartley was a highly intelligent, talented, empathetic and thoughtful country woman; she was also a writer, an historian, an artist and a teacher concerned with keeping alive the knowledge of the old ways of running a household, cooking, growing food, preserving it and much, much more. She was a well-respected expert in her subject and an unusually readable one – as thousands of readers have discovered. Her books were praised by professors as well as by critics: a Sunday Times review called Food in England as ‘Food scholarship at its best’ … even though there were no academic footnotes.

Food in England by Dorothy Hartley

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The Natural World: Meeting New Flowers

In 2008, I decided that I would take my holidays in countries that were once part of the Roman Empire: I’d been fascinated by the Roman Empire ever since I read Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels which were set during that period. As a child, I’d written two novels set during Roman times: A Circle of Stones based on Caesar’s Gallic Wars which I studied for Latin ‘O’ Level, and In Days of Old set in Rome itself.

Sicily: scarlet pimpernel and toadflax.

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The Magical Mount Stewart Gardens

Today is Valentine’s Day and I want to celebrate it by taking you to what has been voted one of the world’s top ten gardens: Mount Stewart Gardens in Co. Down, Northern Ireland. It was created by Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry from 1921 on as a place to ‘be lived in and enjoyed’.

A garden needs a lot of upkeep as represented here by the full wheelbarrow. Lady Londonderry loved splashes of colour – the more brilliant the better.

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The Brontës and Wycoller Dene

Back in 2012, I visited the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time. It was all wonderful but the garden which really touched me was The Brontë Garden, created by Tracy Foster for the tourist agency, Welcome to Yorkshire. Not only did it win a gold medal, it also, deservedly, won the People’s Choice for the best Small Garden.

So I thought that a touch of countryside beauty – with a literary association – might be cheering.

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