Wrestling With The Weather At Wrest Park

In which we bravely visit Wrest Park, near Bedford, despite evil weather conditions.

Wrest Park on a very wet day, from the Pavilion

We’ve had some glorious sunny days around here lately, very springlike. Sadly though, Sunday was one of those grim reminders that we shouldn’t yet take spring for granted and that winter could still turn round and bite us in the bottom.

Having felt that I might actually climb up the walls, across the ceiling and down the other side, I decided that I needed to ‘get out of the house’ at the weekend. We didn’t have a huge amount of time to spare, so we stayed local and paid our first visit to Wrest Park, since they’ve introduced a new visitor centre.

Now we go camping in Scotland for our holidays, so we’re not exactly unfamiliar with bad weather, and indeed, such is our spirit, that even rain which my Dad would have called stair-rods, didn’t stop us setting out on our trip.

But, perhaps we bit off just a little more than we should have.

On arrival (and let me tell you, there were half a dozen other mad people there already), we were ‘greeted’ by a poor chap with an umbrella, and told where to park. We worried about him all morning. I hope he was being paid, but I’ve an awful feeling that he was a volunteer. By the time we left, he’d gone – we hope it was to home and a nice hot lunch, not the emergency department for people with hypothermia.

The Pavilion, Wrest Park

We made our way to the new visitor centre – and decided on a fortifying cup of coffee before we set off into the garden.

Now, only a few weeks ago, we had one of the best meals ever at Goodrich Castle. What a pity that Wrest park couldn’t achieve the same standards, despite having considerably bigger facilities and more staff.

Suffice to say that the presentation of the chocolate cake was worthy of my old school dinner hall. Had they not also overcharged us, I wouldn’t have been so put out, but in my book, if someone makes a mistake, a simple apology and quickly putting it right is what’s called for, not being made to stand around while your tea goes cold and being told to sign bits of paper and provide full address details.

The cafe was not busy – I really hope they get their customer service act together before the season heats up.

Interior, Bowling Green House, Wrest Park

We had a look around the few rooms of the house that are open to the public, then took our courage in our hands and braved the gardens.

Well, by that time, the stair-rod rain had turned to sleet.

Full marks must go to the brave buggy drivers who kept ferrying people about – I think if they’d had a St Bernard dog with them, they’d have had even more business.

Fireplace in The Orangery, Wrest Park

We walked down the canal to the pavilion. Somehow much more atmospheric than the house. My other half always thinks that rather nefarious things probably took place in this type of folly – he may be right, but certainly not in that weather.

Retracing our steps, we went back via the Bowling Green house and the Orangery.

And then, cold to the bone, we gave up and drove home – with the heater turned up very high in the car.

My coat was still wet on Monday morning. How I love the English weather.

We’ll go to Wrest again when the weather improves.

A ghostly image of a previous age?

For visitor information, see English Heritage’s page here.

 

Goodrich Castle: Roaring Meg & The Best Cheese Scones Ever…

Some castles are inferior little numbers, scarcely more than a raised mound of earth or a dubious pile of stones. Not Goodrich Castle. Goodrich is A PROPER castle; solid, chunky, brooding, mysterious, exciting.

When you need a castle fix, Goodrich should be there high up on your list.

Sitting on top of a hillside, above the meandering River Wye, near Symonds Yat, Goodrich Castle has just about everything you need to get a sense of what these monsters were all about.

Take young children there and they’ll be hooked on history for good.

Roaring Meg: far too cocky for my liking.

There’s enough still standing (despite the best efforts of Roaring Meg – see the picture), who blasted the walls during the English Civil War (1646), to get a feel for life in medieval borderland.

Small but perfectly formed Norman keep

The oldest part of the existing castle is the square Keep. This somewhat diminutive keep – only about 25 x 25 feet inside, was built in the mid C12th. I imagine that the people who lived in it must have been on fairly intimate terms, as there’s not a lot of space to wield your broadsword, let alone a cat in there.

A castle with a view from every tower

But clearly the stunning position on the hillside, must have recommended itself for development. As a result, various names from medieval high society, decided to make the castle there a place fit for a king, or at least some very well placed nobles.

Sympathetic restoration

Considering that the Welsh Marches were a hot bed of violence and treachery for a few hundred years, Goodrich was remarkably untroubled by sieges and that kind of thing – although it has some impressive looking defensive systems in place. It wasn’t until the Civil War, by which time castles really were on the way out, that it saw action.

Roaring Meg, the biggest mortar of its kind in the Civil War, smashed Goodrich beyond repair. A bit unsubtle putting it back inside, I thought – does it gloat over its work? ‘Hey look at me, I did this you know…’

But, as is the way with castles, being ruined, only enhances its romantic appeal. Oh and by the way, it even has a tragic ghostly lovers story – truly the perfect castle.

What more could you want?

Well, Goodrich manages to go the extra mile. At the cafe in the visitor centre, they make their own food. On the day we were there, last week, the menu included Roasted Red Pepper and Sweet Potato Soup, with Cheese Scones. I am serious – these were the best cheese scones I’ve ever tasted (the soup was excellent too).

Inside the bijou Keep

Goodrich is managed by English Heritage. It’s open practically all year –  but check here for details. Make sure you pick up one of the audio guides (they’re free and excellent). Above all, make sure you leave time for tea and a bun in the cafe.

Castle score: 10/10