Saturday, 28 December 2013

Berkeley Deer Park

The deer park at Berkeley is one of the last remaining medieval deer parks in England. First enclosed in the   the 13th Century, during the reign of Henry III, it was a private hunting reserve for the earl of Berkeley and his guests at a time when hunting was the preserve of royalty and the very privileged. This park, the Whitcliff Park was one of three deer parks owned by the Berkeley family, beside their castle on the banks of the Severn, and  the only one of them to survive. The high brick wall surrounding the park was started in 1770 and took seven years to complete.

The Berkeley Hunt lay claim to be the oldest pack of hounds in England, and trace themselves back to the 12th Century, when deer were the quarry.. During the tenure of the 5th Earl of Berkeley they hunted famously from Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire to Berkeley Square in London. To enable him to do so he maintained kennels along the route. Today, hemmed in the the M5 they are short of country and restricted to two days hunting a week during the season  from November to the beginning of March. The Berkeley hounds remain the property of Mr Berkeley and as such are one of the few remaining privately owned packs in the country. The hunt staff wear the mustard coats with green facings which are the outdoor livery of the Berkeley family, while the ladies wear blue coats with maroon facings which are their indoor livery. The masters of the hunt have a running fox embroidered on their lapels.

It has become a tradition for the tenants of Park House, the folly in the Deer Park to host a meet of the Berkeley hounds close to the New Year. The Gothick folly built in 1799 is a superb backdrop to a meet of these historic hounds, preparing to do what they have been bred to do, chasing the scent of a fox rather than deer. In these days after the hunting ban, I should emphasize the scent of a fox.

Friday, 27 December 2013


Nswatugi is a small cave in the Matobo Hills of Zimbabwe. Much higher than it is deep, around 14 meters, the walls of Nswatugi are covered with  some of the most beautiful rock paintings in Zimbabwe. A narrow and steep path covered with a dense canopy of vegetation leads up to the entrance of the cave. Bones found here have been dated to 42 000 BC,  the oldest yet found in Zimbabwe.  An utterly extraordinary place.

Two large polychrome giraffe dominate the main panel at Nswatugi.

Below them are a line of six kudu, a bull, three cows and their two calves. Underneath the second cow is an (faded) eland, one of a group of which only suggestions remain.Humans are shown carrying hunting equipment.The right of the panel is dominated by a large giraffe and a zebra.Below the main frieze are a series of overlapping abstract designs.

Drummond Castle Gates

The imposing gates were installed at the main entrance to Drummond Castle on the Crieff  to Muthill road c1785 to proclaim that the family had regained their inheritence.  The Duke of Perth's estates were finally recovered by the family after they had been lost as a consequence of his involvement in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Above the wrought iron gates are the arms of the earls of Perth.The gate piers finished with urns date from c1685. The entrance was remodeled once more, in the 19th Century,  by Clementina, Lady Willoughby de Eresby with the formation of a large circular space bisected by the Crieff Muthill road. The gate piers were joined by concave screen walls to smaller piers finished with ball finials on the west side, while further gates and a neo-Italianate lodge were added to the east side of the road.

Inside the gates a mile long avenue is a tunnel of beech trees that leads to the (unseen) castle. To the north are views  of the mountains and to the south over the policy park. The beech trees are planted close to the carriage way, so that when proceeding down the avenue, at the speed of a trotting horse they would have produced a magical shuttering effect, light, shade, light, shade....

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Worcester Lodge, Boxing Day

Boxing Day, the second most important date in the hunting calendar. All over England huge crowds turn out to support one of the country's finest traditions. And Worcester Lodge, that genius William Kent's masterpiece, where the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt meets for the third and final time each season is no exception.

In glorious winter sun Worcester Lodge looked magnificent. It is a building that exists to be beautiful. It also has several functions, Banqueting Hall, eye-catcher in the landscape, a gatehouse, with accommodation for the gatekeeper and his family and a place to watch the hunt.

The view from the south balcony offers a superb panorama of the designed landscape of the  park, down the 3 mile avenue to Badminton House.

The main staircase leading up to the Grand Room, the John o' Gaunt Staircase is cantilevered, has a scrolled iron balustrade and a mahogany handrail. The treads follow the measurements prescribed by Palladio for an effortless ascent. (In contrast the attic staircase to the gatekeeper's bedroom is so steep that it is more of a ladder than a staircase.) The Somerset family are descended from the Plantagenet kings of England through John of Gaunt and Edward III, leading some to say they are the grandest family in the land, bar none.

The Grand Room has the most magnificent plaster ceiling. In the centre is a circle (symbolizing the heavens) of flowers and fruit  The circle is squared by eight rays, bringing the heavens down to earth. The square is surrounded by the garlands of the gods of the four seasons. In the East, Flora Goddess off Spring, flowers and fertility, with a garland of roses, symbol of beauty and abundance.

South is Ceres, Goddess of Summer and the harvest with her garland of wheat which feeds us all.West is Bacchus, God of Autumn, drunkenness, debauchery and ecstasy with his garland of grapes, which become wine to sustain us.North is Pluto, God of Winter and wealth with his garland of ivy, evergreen and flowering in winter.They are surrounded by friezes of poppies and sunflowers, symbols of night and day. Beneath them is the Beaufort frieze with the two heraldic beasts, the panther and the wyvern and the ducal coronet. Linking them is the acanthus, Roman symbol of power, with sunflowers and poppies.

Beneath the eight rays on the ceiling there are eight chairs. This fabulous room, is a room for eight.

The Grand Room is surrounded by four balconies for watching the hunt. They were used  today

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Falkland Palace, Chapel Royal

The Chapel Royal was begun by James IV but remained unfinished at the time of his death at the battle of Flodden in 1513. The chapel was completed under his successor,James V. After his unexpected death at Falkland, his body lay here in the Chapel Royal from 14 December 1542 until 7 January 1543 and the walls were draped in black. His daughter, Mary Queen of Scots regularly worshiped here: on Maunday Thursday 1562 she washed the feet of 19 virgins, one for each year of her reign, and presented each of them with a piece of blue linen. A signature carved onto the wall behind the pulpit that is thought to be that of Mary herself.

The painted decoration on the ceiling and the frieze on the north wall of the Chapel are from the reign of Charles I. The frieze dates from 1633 when Charles I was crowned King of Scots and incorporates his monogram with those of his wife and heir on either side.The ceiling incorporates the royal badges of the Stuarts and the Tudors and the initials CR for Carolus Rex, MR for Maria Regina, and CP, Carolus Princeps for their son, the future Charles II..The royal pew is a reconstruction by Lord Bute incorporating pieces of decorative woodwork found during excavations of the palace cellars.

At the beginning of the 20th Century the Dowager Marchioness of Bute and her son Lord Ninian Crichton- Stuart revived the chapel  as a Catholic place of worship after centuries of disuse. Mass is said in the chapel every Sunday at 9 am.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Palace, Stirling Castle

The Palace in Stirling Castle is the one of the earliest, and most superb Renaissance buildings in Scotland. Work  began in 1530 and was completed by 1544. The palace was built for King James V to impress his second wife, Mary of Guise. What James wanted was a palace to display his power, sophistication and cultural ambition. Under the oversight of Master of Works, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, (until his execution in 1542), his conception was realized in one of the most innovative buildings of the age.

 The architecture of the palace is French in style but the statues that decorate the facades are based on engravings by a German, Hans Burgkmair. These statues are without precedent in Scotland. Each facade presents its own complete, integrated tableau.

On the south facade  a series of soldiers stand on the parapet and there are full size figures between the windows on the first floor. These figures include  James V himself, St. Micheal and several other planetary deities and also, the Devil.

The statues on the east and north facades were intended to impress members of the court as they approached the entrance to the royal presence. Above the parapet  are cherubs, some of them playing musical instruments. The parapet  is drained  by lion -headed waterspouts. Beneath them are angels, divine protection for the royal family.

The north-east corner of the palace is dominated by a statue of James V himself. Here he is crowned by a Scottish lion, adopting an elegant  pose, beneath his foot, a lion couchant, heraldic symbol of the king of England.

Near James stand the Classical deities Saturn and Venus. Beside him is Ganymede,  cup-bearer to the gods. He is here the symbol of the golden age ushered in by James's accession to the throne. The figure of Abundance above the entrance to the palace showers the fruits of his justice upon the king's visitors.