Saturday, June 30, 2012

We went to see the Old Vic's production of Michael Frayn's play Democracy which we really enjoyed. A brilliant play about the final months in office of the charismatic West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Superb acting and a very clever minimalist set with several locations on stage together giving plenty of pace as the characters moved from scene to scene.

Saturday, June 09, 2012


We visited Dorking to take a quilt into The Quilt Room for quilting and then spent some time smooching round the many excellent antique shops down West Street. We kept noticing some interesting plaques on the walls, so A and I returned, found out about the Heritage Trail by visiting the none-existent Tourist Information Centre in the Dorking Halls (Council cuts have closed it down, but the ladies at the booking office still have some leaflets to give out).
Being thirsty, we began with coffee in a lovely hostelry, Fothergill's, known for cherry and marzipan cake if they have it, which isn't that often.

 Then to our first plaque commemorating the visit of  the Queen and Prince Philip in 2004. This is the most recent event immortalised on the plaques, and as we were working our way backwards along walk 1, it was all downhill from here. So now we were looking for Plaque 7, the route taking us down the High Street to the estate Agents on the corner of  Wather Rd. We turned to look at the Oddfellows Hall, across the road that was built in 1894 by William Shearburn, a local architect. Apparently this was when the retail centre of the town was extended. Down Wather Rd. is a house with a blue plaque that was a great surprise to us as it is the birthplace of Sir Laurence Olivier; and further on we crossed the T-junction and found ourselves on a delightful riverside walk along Pippbrook mill pond.

This led us to Pippbrook Mill, a pre-16th century corn mill, now being redeveloped, although it looks a bit quiet just now.

 We crossed the road and entered the grounds of the Council Offices where we found the old Pippbrook House that houses the library and on up the hill to the imaginatively designed Council Offices - all split levels and gardens on the roof. From here it was a short hop to the Deepdene roundabout which has the Dorking cockerel sculpture in its centre. This was a special breed of chicken that dates from Roman times, but became a favourite of Queen Victoria. It was known for its good meat and tasty eggs. Its distinctive feature is the fact that it has five claws.

Back on the route, we walked towards the town to look at the statue of Thomas Cubitt, a local builder who built large parts of fashionable Victorian London. Crossing the road we also looked at the statue of Ralph Vaughan Williams outside the Dorking Halls. He founded the Leith Hill Music Festival in 1905, which he continued to support until 1953. Although not born in Dorking, he came to live in Leith Hill Place at the age of three when his father died. It was the family home of his mother, a Wedgwood.

Our walk took us up Moores Road and on to Cotmandene, common land with a view right over the town to Box Hill, The story goes that there is an 18th century painting of two stump cricket being played on Cotmandene hanging in the Long Room at Lord's Cricket Ground. There are lovely alms houses running down one side of the common and then we walked down Heath Hill to the High Street.
  We came past the old wooden 16th century part of Cafe Rouge and turned left on to the High Street  arriving quickly at the White Horse Hotel. This hostelry was developed in the 18th century as the town's markets expanded. Before that the Knights Templar and knights of St John had buildings on the site. Today, it is a 'posh' hotel owned by the Mercure Group. Crossing the High Street, we made our way along to Barclays Bank that has a plaque commemorating the Millennium - almost hidden behind some stalls and parked bikes, today! Now we took the footpath down to St Martin's church, built in the Victorian Gothic style with its high spire is 210 feet high and was built by Henry Woodyer in 1877.It has a Dorking Cockerel weathervane.

 Behind is a row of 19th century cottages and North Street that brought us to Pump Corner where several streets meet and the old town pump can still be seen. We turned into West street, site of many antique shops, as well as Dorking Museum (closed just now), the home of Pilgrim Father, William Mullins (a blue plaque shows us where it is). Another blue plaque denotes the site of the first Methodist Chapel in Dorking which was opened by John Wesley himself.

 Up Junction St and out on to South St, we came to the War Memorial and the site of the old bandstand that had to be moved in the 1930s as the traffic became too noisy to hear the band. Now they have placed some interesting musical themed benches in the space. Just between the two is a tiny door that leads to the Dorking Caves that can be visited, apparently. We passed Rose Hill and the Bulls Head pub, which has been around for several hundred years, before turning on to the High Street again.
 Our next destination was Robert Dyas, which occupies what was once another inn, Upper Chequers, in the 16th and 17th centuries. When the renovation took place, they kept some of the old wall murals dating from the time of James I, and we went inside to see them on display at the back of the shop on the first floor.
 Just across the road is Kings Head Court. The Old King's Head also dating from the time of James I and now houses a courtyard of special shops, a gallery and a tea shop, with plenty of outside seating. And this was the end of our walk as we didn't need to get back down the footpath to the church, from where it all began.

The Quilt Room
Dorking Halls
Leith Hill Music Festival
The White Horse
Dorking Museum
The Gilliangladrag Fluff-o-torium
Dorking Caves
The Bulls Head

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


Flags and bunting, champagne and chocolate, pageant and procession, beacon and fireworks; all the elements of a grand celebration for HMQEII on her Diamond Jubilee. If only the weather had been a bit kinder, but spirits were high and heart-warming. The procession down the Mall to Buckingham Palace and the subsequent balcony appearance and fly-past was uniquely British and a fitting end to the celebrations.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Pitt Rivers Museum

We slept well and managed a light breakfast before heading off in the rain to Oxford. Our plan to park in the Pear Tree park & ride was ideal and we were soon on the bus into the centre of Oxford. First stop was at the TIC and they pointed out our destination on a map we were buying - in fact, Pitt Rivers Museum was just beyond the edge of this map, but near enough! So off we set along the route and soon arrived at the Natural History Museum which has the Pitt Rivers Museum at its rear. We were glad to get inside as it was very cold and damp outside. Lots of families were visiting the Natural History Museum, and the children were really enjoying the dinosaur skeletons on display in the light and airy glass roofed atrium.
We gradually made our way to the back and walked though the arched doorway into Pitt Rivers. It is breathtaking as you walk in as there is a panoramic view across the main floor, down ten on so steps. Display cases are crowded in below you and it is clear that they are crammed full of exhibits, all arranged by type and begging to be explored. It is just a matter of looking and noting what you are seeing, and trying not to wander in circles, but one case leads to another and everything is fascinating. 
We were having a wonderful time, when the 
urge for coffee became too great for A. But there is no cafe in PR, so we had directions from the lady in the shop, and went off to find a cafe. Across the road by the church we discovered a Maison Blanc and inside we were lucky to find a table and soon ordered coffee and sandwiches. The place was buzzing and people obviously enjoyed the experience, complete with the weekend newspapers.

 At last we were back at the museum and elected to view the exhibition - which included a coffin made by an African craftsman who makes coffins depicting anything the deceased or their family decide would be appropriate. The coffin on display was for a shopkeeper and featured panels with advertisements for the things sold in the shop. Other coffins included planes, boats, cars etc. After this we went to the upper floors, which consist of two deep galleries with views down to the ground floor and across the atrium; all filled with display cases; all stuffed with exhibits. It is an amazing place and has to be seen to appreciate the experience.

So, we had to leave and get back, reversing our bus ride to the P&R, then wending our way down the A roads and home. We watched highlights of the Royal Pageant and realised that the cold, wet weather seemed to have been everywhere - what a shame for the celebrations.

Pitt Rivers Museum

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Blenheim Palace

We arrived in Woodstock late yesterday afternoon and after checking into The Feathers, we went off to meet Andrew Webster at The Kings Head for his historic walk and talk around the town. This was very interesting and we suddenly realised that we had friends in common from a long time ago. It was an amazing coincidence.
Woodstock, meaning a clearing in the woods, predates Blenheim Palace by a long chalk, being a place where Ethelred the Unready held an assembly; as well as being a royal forest (hunting ground) for early Norman kings. Henry II enclosed an area forming a park in 1110 and eventually a palace was built on an island near to where Blenheim Palace stands today, and a royal charter was granted to Woodstock in 1179. As the king continued to visit the area, the town grew up, a market was established there with an assortment of inns and coaching houses to accompany it. The young Princess Elizabeth  was held under house arrest in the gatehouse of Woodstock Palace by Queen Mary.
During the Civil War, Cromwell's forces besieged the Palace and reduced it to ruins. The town clerk had already handed over the arms held in the town to the Royalists, and was forced to apologise in Parliament for his 'mistake'. So that was the end of Woodstock Palace. It wasn't until Queen Anne granted the piece of land that was known as Woodstock Park to John Churchill, that fortune once again shone on the Woodstock area. General Churchill was made the first Duke of Marlborough following his victory against the French at the Battle of Blindheim, and he was also granted enough riches for him to be able to build a prestigious residence. His wife had grand ideas, but even she was somewhat overwhelmed by Vanbrugh's design of the baroque style palace.

The town was mainly built of local limestone, but latterly the trend was to cover the fronts of the buildings with sandstone to give the impression of a Georgian town, mirroring the facade of Blenheim Palace. And in the last couple of years some trendy sandstone plaques have been placed by several houses in the town that are deemed to be of interest. After a drink with our guide we had a tasty dinner at the King's Head, and then went back to our comfortable room at The Feathers.

Today it started dull, but with the promise of being mostly dry and a bit of sun, later. We had a lovely breakfast at The Feathers and then strolled down the high street to the gates of the Palace. Paying our dues, we walked through the gate and stopped to take in the view of the palace across the lake. The bridge was also in sight and the island on which the first royal buildings had been built. So, then onwards to the main entrance, through huge gilded gates in to the outer courtyard, then into the main courtyard from where we were able to access the house.
No photos inside, but plenty to see with ornate ceilings, tapestries depicting the owner's heroic deeds and many treasures one expects in fabulous country houses. There were a couple of van Dijk's on display and some unique furniture and the dining hall was set for a formal dinner with a huge silver table decoration depicting the victory at Blindheim, lest anyone forget with whom they were dining! Here the walls are decorated with impressive murals of people from four continents looking into the room over a balustrade with pillars stretching to the ceiling. The family still have Christmas celebrations in here.

 We also saw an interesting couple of rooms celebrating the life of Winston Churchill who was born here; and also saw the room where he was born.

But we needed refreshments, and so we found our way to the cafe and coffee and cake before we went off to discover the gardens. These are extensive, and we wandered from area to area, appreciating the formal gardens and the more relaxed layout of the Secret Garden as well as the walks through the woods and by the lake. 

We discovered the Cascades and some new features that are being built before eventually returning to the cafe for tea and scones. Our last visit was to walk over to the Pleasure Gardens and pop into the Butterfly House where there are lots of butterflies flying freely around a rather hot and humid glasshouse. This is when the sun decided to come out, so it was doubly warm inside!

By now it was getting round to closing time, and time for us to have half an hour or so with our feet up before our tasting dinner with accompanying wines. This was indeed a tasty tour de force, but we enjoyed every mouthful before at last retiring to bed.

Blenheim Palace
The Feathers