I watched a blackbird on a budding sycamore
One Easter Day, when sap was stirring twigs to the core;
I saw his tongue, and crocus-coloured bill
Parting and closing as he turned his trill;
Then he flew down, seized on a stem of hay,
And upped to where his building scheme was under way,
As if so sure a nest were never shaped on spray.
Thomas Hardy, I Watched a Blackbird
So it turns out that spending lots of time indoors really isn’t my bag. I was never lazy pre-travelling, but I could quite happily bonce about in my pjs, watch DVDs or sit in front of my laptop for hours on end and never really think about it.
Fast forward to three months back on home soil and I am often found eyeballing the nearest exit, or planning my escape route. Or pining for the absolute freedom I had exploring the mountains of New Zealand, beaches of Australia and volcanoes of Bali.
Pre-trip, I never thought about how many hours I spent behind a desk. If you couple the time spent at my part-time office job with the time I spend secreted at home, behind my laptop, in my scruffs, I am shocked at how much time I spend sitting on my arse.
I am a city girl at heart. I love urban areas. I love the juxtaposition of historical mixed with modern, and of industry mixed with art in particular. I previously wrote a blog post on how much I love street art in Manchester and another on how I love nothing better than trawling the vintage shops of the Northern Quarter. I could quite happily while away my days exploring the nooks and crannies of Manchester City Centre.
But I was born and raised in the countryside. I was a tomboy, always in wellies, climbing trees and running like a crazy thing through fields I knew I wasn’t allowed to be in, so every now and then my inner country-bumpkin needs a fix, and I start to crave the rolling green landscape of the English Countryside.
(As I write this post, I am actually sat at my parents’ house in rural Warwickshire. When I look out the window I see fields and trees. All I can hear is the gentle hum of a faraway bypass, cows mooing and birds chattering. Bliss.)
The North boasts some pretty spectacular countryside. The best thing about living in Manchester – as opposed to the monolith that is our capital city – is that you only have to drive for half an hour before hitting the green fields, open spaces and – most importantly – country pubs.
So, when I felt myself feeling a little cooped up this weekend, I hot-footed it to one of the many beautiful stately homes run by the National Trust.
The National Trust do excellent and worthwhile work. Although the entry prices to these places can seem a little steep (Dunham Massey was £6 to park and £13.00 per person to visit the house and gardens) it is worth parting with the cash in order to see the stunning grounds and contribute to the – expensive and time consuming – upkeep of such places.
Luckily my trip to Dunham Massey coincided with the First World War exhibition in the beautiful main house.
A bit of background for you history buffs (like me).
During the First World War the Georgian House – like many other stately homes in England – was transformed into a military hospital. Not quite as it was portrayed on Downton Abbey, the house became a sanctuary from the horrors of the trenches for approximately 300 soldiers. Most of these soldiers were seriously injured and were suffering the debilitating psychological and physiological impact of war. They had lost limbs and as a result had lost their ability to earn a living. They had lost friends and family. They had lost themselves. Medicine and surgery in particularly advanced a great deal during this time period, but a lot of these men suffered tremendously during their recovery and, for most, the rest of their lives. The great work done behind the doors of these stately homes is something that should be celebrated, commemorated and never forgotten.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
To mark the centenary, the National Trust have quite literary turned the clocks back.
Visits to the house – or Stamford Hospital since we are being transported back in time – are operated on a token ticket system. At the main desk you will be issued with a time slot which you have to stick to. The exhibition gets pretty busy so you can see why they’d want to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.
First up there’s a short video. Black and white video clips flash on a screen in one of the reception rooms and the voice over urges us not to talk to the inhabitants of the house as they are experiencing life 100 years ago. Pretty creepy for a Halloween visit, don’t you think?
I don’t want to spoil the exhibition for anyone who is thinking of going – although be quick! Its due to return to its original state on Wednesday 11th November! Instead, I will post some snaps I took while making my way around the house.
There’s a lot more to Dunham Massey than the house or this excellent exhibition. Set in a sprawling deer park, there’s plenty to do throughout the year including a stunning rose garden and one of Britain’s best winter gardens.
If you’re a little short on cash and just fancy a day out, perhaps somewhere to walk the dogs or tire the kids out when they just won’t stop running around the kitchen, for £6 (parking fee) you can enter the grounds for (almost) free. It’s a really stunning walk and you can access some of the nearby villages via public footpaths.
Though new to Dunham Massey, I have visited many National Trust sites and can honestly say – while the nights are longer and the weather better during summer – Autumn is my favourite time to visit. Crisp golden leaves crinkle underfoot, everyone is wrapped up in scarfs, you can just make out the deer frolicking through the mist, oh, and the cafes always sell such excellent hot chocolate.
Oh, and of course, no trip to the countryside would be complete without a meal at a country pub, a nice glass of red wine and a warm fire!
Thanks for reading this post and welcome back to my new #itsnotgrimupnorth series! Expect photos, tips and tales!
I’d really love to know what you think about the city and my posts.
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