Last week we…

Is it me, or do these school holidays seem to come around faster and faster?

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. Number Two daughter was in Paris on a school trip until Friday, so Number One daughter and I went around and about. We managed a trip to London – culture and shopping again – we’re getting good at it. Then a visit to Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham (I’ll post about that on Mists of Time as soon as I have a chance), and then we decided that we should carve a pumpkin, even though Number Two wasn’t going to be back in time to enjoy the trick or treaters.

IMAG3796

And then, on Saturday, the highlight of our week – perhaps the highlight of our year – we went to Stratford, to see David Tennant in Richard II.

IMAG3806

We booked the tickets so long ago, we’d had a lot of time to get excited about it, but in the event, it was even better than any of us could have hoped. I have absolutely no problem in admitting that it was the attraction of our almost all-time favourite Dr Who (I’m of the Tom Baker generation), that made us go along to what you’d have to say is not perhaps the top of the Shakespeare picks, but oh my goodness, how brilliant it was.

Our party included two fifty-something ladies, a seventy-something lady, two middle-aged men and four teenage girls, and each one of us came away absolutely enthralled. In my opinion, nobody does Shakespeare like the RSC – so many people think that Shakespeare is difficult to understand, but go to the RSC productions and they make it entirely understandable – if our teenagers knew what was happening, anyone could – simply marvellous.

So if having someone like David Tennant in the cast is what it takes to bring in the next generation of Shakespeare lovers – that’s fine by me. (Oh and he was incredibly good – of course).

Back down to earth now…

 

 

-)O(-

 

Advertisements

A churchy day out in York…

Warning: this post contains gratuitous references to bell-ringing. Anyone with allergies to bells should stop reading now.

York is one of my favourite cities in the UK, and I was delighted to be able to spend the day there last Saturday.

Now of course there’s more than enough to keep you happy and occupied in York for days on end, but we were there for a bell-ringing event, so inevitably the day was dominated by visiting churches.

York Minster is one of the granddaddies of gothic architecture and an absolute ‘must-see’ at least once in a life-time, but we started our visit to York with a very special tour of the two towers of York Minster that house the incredible Minster bells. For bell-ringers, the best bit was the fact that a peal was being rung during our visit, so we could see, hear (and feel) the sound of the bells in action.

The NW tower houses Great Peter, a huge bell, one of the biggest in the UK (10 tons), which sounds the hours, and the quarter bells.

If you want some idea of how Great Peter sounds try this YouTube clip here (but imagine it so loud your teeth rattle).

The SW tower holds the ringing bells. As they were being rung, I didn’t take pictures, (I was too scared I’d drop the camera into a swinging bell). We went up onto the roof of the SW tower to get one of the most amazing views of the city. The weather was so good we could see for miles. (Actually the sky was that amazing deep blue, but I’ve had to adjust the pictures to show the details). I just adore the gargoyles on the pinnacles.

Click on the pictures for a better view.

After enjoying our very noisy tour, we strolled along to St Olave’s Church in Marygate.

This was a wonderfully gentle antidote to the size and magnificence of the MInster. Of all the churches we visited on Saturday, this was my favourite. You know that feeling in some churches of serenity, calm, peacefulness – well that’s St Olave’s.

The font cover soars into the air – click the picture to see it better.

By contrast, St Wilfrid’s church, built close to the Minster is all about sturdy Victorian values. As an example of its type, it is pretty amazing, but my own response was to feel over-powered.

Some of the family went in search of other bells, but I went in search of refreshment (lager shandy – not my normal lunchtime habit, but it was soooo hot!).

Later we headed off to St Lawrence’s Church, just outside the city walls. The girls were competing in a striking competition there, so mother mode took over and I didn’t take photos – in fact I sought shade and a place to sit where I wouldn’t be in the way. St Lawrence’s is another Victorian church, built on the ground of an earlier church. All that now remains of the original church is the tower – a slightly forlorn relict. But the most poignant element for me was this derelict tomb – so sad and with a rambling white rose growing wild across it.

IMAG1861

After the excitement of the competition, we took a very slow walk back to St Helen Stonegate, which was acting as the hub for all the ringing events. They had a little mini-ring set up and the girls enjoyed having a go – it’s quite different to the normal ringing we do. The lovely people at St Helen’s laid on lashings of tea and cake – they understand their audience very well indeed!

I’m afraid I gave up taking ‘proper pictures after that. We went on to St Michael Le Belfry (the church where Guy Fawkes was christened), where the competition results were given. Suffice to say it was extremely exciting and quite out of the blue, our team won. I’m not going to embarrass any of them with ‘proud mother type’ pictures – but it was fantastic and I am incredibly proud of all the young ringers who took part.

During the afternoon, I’d re-visited some old-haunts in the city. I was disappointed to find that Taylors of Stonegate had been renamed Betty’s – I know it’s all the same firm, but Taylors had a certain something special. I nodded at the Judges Lodgings – which used to be my favourite place to stay in York, I’ve spent some happy times there. And of course, no visit would be complete without saying hello to this little chap…

IMAG1854

Apologies for a rather indulgent post – it was a beautiful day I will always remember.

Now, get out into the garden and soak up some rays!

Symmetry…

I’ve been working on a new linocut today. As with the needlepoint, I find the process becomes meditative as you get involved – it’s huge fun – just like being a child again, approaching a technique just for the hell of it, not expecting anything.

I must have been designed for repetitive tasks – something in them carries me off in my imagination.

Anyway, I digress….

In case you were wondering, this is the piece I was sketching out.

Scan_2

When it was sitting on my desk with the copy sheet flipped to the side, I was suddenly struck by the symmetry it created.

I don’t normally ‘do’ symmetry – even when I try it never works, but here it is without any input at all (well if you ignore the piece of Sellotape that was holding them together).

And I rather like it.

Scan

 

Strange how things sometimes work out…

First frosts, last roses…

We’ve had a few frosts here this week. Yesterday, I couldn’t help noticing that one of my roses was still putting out blooms.

After I’d walked the dog, I took the camera into the garden to capture the splash of colour – the frost already turned to water.

The roses have been good this year and I always feel a bit sad as we go into the winter without their rich colours to warm us up.

I thought that might have been the last, but on a closer look, I found these…

 

I suppose they might not make it to full bloom, but these perfect buds give me a little thrill – there’s something so beautiful about roses.

Hope you’re warm and cosy.

Prague Spring

In which a city break to Prague produces a cultural overload.

Prague Castle & St Vitus Cathedral from the Charles Bridge.

Last week, a few girlie friends and I, took a short break to Prague, Czech Republic. It was a belated birthday bash – we thought a quick culture fix might be just the thing for four middle-ish aged women.

I’m ashamed to say that until we went, I knew next to nothing about the history of Prague. But we did our best to give ourselves a crash course on Czech history and planned our trip to Prague to see as many of the city’s highlights as we could.

Old Town Square, Prague

Well, to put it mildly, I was overwhelmed by Prague. I’d heard people say that the city was a mix of Gothic medieval and Baroque architecture, but it hadn’t prepared me for the sheer concentration of these beautiful buildings. After the first hour or so if saying ‘wow!’ as we turned every street corner, we agreed that it is possibly the most gorgeous place we’d ever been to.

(I might still put Rome at the top of my list, it is steeped in a certain grandeur, but if someone told me that I would have to go and live in Prague, I’d leap at the chance).

Prague's medieval Astronomical Clock

I was struck by the politeness of the people we met. Everywhere we went, from the customs lady at the airport, through to the taxi drivers, the hotel staff and all the people we met in the shops, cafes and churches, we were treated very well and with great courtesy. This is a friendly, welcoming city.

Car drivers stop for you at street crossings!

A lovely, relaxed atmosphere in the city, that I’ve rarely experienced anywhere before.

As to the culture. Well, clearly this is a very musical city. Concerts were taking place at lunchtime and in the evening at numerous venues.

There is a puppet theatre that stages puppet shows for adults and children – Don Giovanni was on offer last week.

Museums abound. You could easily spend days exploring all the treasures of the city.

But for me, it was the churches that stole the show. St Vitus’s Cathedral dominates the Prague skyline, but despite being told how big it is, and being able to see it in front of you, I couldn’t believe its incredible beauty once inside. It is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The stained-glass windows took my breath away.

English: Alfons Mucha's stained glass window i...
Image via Wikipedia

Already overwhelmed with Gothic magnificence, we later visited St Nicholas’s church in the Castle side of the city. This church is a baroque extravaganza. Apart from a few uprights, there are hardly any straight lines in this church. Everything is huge, gold, marble and executed with enormous flourish.

As if the city weren’t enough by day, in the evening, it is beautifully lit. It’s like walking through a fairy tale. Spires and towers glow and light up the sky.

Prague is not a big city. You can easily walk around it and I’d say that’s the best way to experience Prague. There are cafes and bars everywhere, so it’s easy to pace yourself. I had some excellent coffee at a little Italian cafe in the late afternoon, which set me up well for the evening.

Prague
Prague (Photo credit: RachelC)

If you go, make sure you see the Charles Bridge in the evening. The bridge and the Vltava River, are iconic Prague and look wonderful bathed in the evening light.

English: View on Vltava river, Charles Bridge ...
Image via Wikipedia

Our visit was a short one; back home, I feel that it might have been a dream, it has certainly cast a spell over me and I can’t wait to go again.

 

Culture score: 10/10

Politeness score: 10/10

 

 

Cawdor Castle, Oh, Yes Please…

I have to be honest – I’m insanely jealous of the people who own Cawdor Castle. I first went there with friends in 1995 and from the moment I walked inside, I felt comfortable – it’s one of those places, where you feel that you could just slip off your shoes, and curl up in a chair with a good book and a mug of tea.

We went back there this year, on the return leg of our Scottish Odyssey, this time taking our daughters too.

Gorgeous Cawdor Castle

My youngest daughter has promised to buy it for me, so that when we’re very old, we can retire there – how thoughtful of her!

The husband thinks it’s more of a house than his idea of a castle, and I suppose you could think of it that way, but for me, it’s simply divine.

Now I don’t propose to give you a room by room description of the interior – the late Earl Cawdor, did such an excellent job with the room guides, that it would spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that if you go there, buy the guide-book, you won’t be disappointed.

If you’re studying country house style, then Cawdor would be a perfect place to visit. It seems to sum up everything you’d need to know, if you were wanting to re-create the style. I just love soaking in the atmosphere.

Cawdor has a very good restaurant, (although don’t expect things to happen quickly, just relax and read the guide-book while you wait for your lunch). And just next to the restaurant, is a rather nice little book shop.

This year, I was impressed by the trailing nasturtiums in the pots around the courtyard. Somehow, everything at Cawdor seems lush and well cared for.

The gift shop is definitely a cut-above the average stately home offering. Last time I went there, we bought a plush bat, which now hangs (upside down), in the bell tower at our local church.

This year, we couldn’t find any bats to add to the collection, but there were lots of other lovely things to tickle your fancy. Be strong – or give your wallet to someone else to look after for you – or you’ll find it difficult to get out empty-handed.

An avenue in the garden

Whatever you do, don’t miss the gardens. As with the rest of the castle, the gardens are gorgeous – the sort of thing you’d just love to have at home. Full of inspiration for the gardener. There’s a maze, but they won’t let mere mortals go round it – sad really, but it’s still impressive.

It’s also one of those gardens, designed to have hidden places, you come upon by surprise.

Looking through the branches of a Cawdor giant.

Perhaps best of all, are the walks outside the gardens through the woods. They’re graded and signed, so you can choose the distance that seems right to you, but they’re not difficult, so if you have time, go for a stroll. Some of the trees are huge and there’s a river running through, which you cross and re-cross by a variety of bridges.

If you’re hoping for a Macbeth experience, it’s probably going to disappoint you. The castle wasn’t built for years after Macbeth died, and it doesn’t really go over the top on the connection at all.

However, if you’re interested, there are some fascinating pieces of artwork, dotted about the place. I think the late Earl must have been a collector – I admire his taste.

So, Cawdor Castle remains an enormous hit with us and we’re looking forward to our retirement there!

 

 

The Romance of Tomb Effigies

I’ve just realised something – I’m an effigy junkie. I’ve been visiting churches for as long as I can remember, fascinated by the architecture and the history, but it only dawned on me at the weekend, how much I’m drawn to the effigies.

It was really brought home to me, when I visited Paulerspury (Northamptonshire, just off the A5) church on Saturday. There, in the church dedicated to St James the Great, tucked in to one side of the altar, is a rare wooden tomb effigy of a knight and his wife, dating to around 1329. The description said that it is Laurence de Paveley and his wife.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get a photo of the whole effigy – I’d have needed a step-ladder – but never mind – it was the lady’s face that had me entranced.

Just look at that expression. She’s quite a beauty, don’t you think? And her eyes are open aren’t they?

What do you think she’s supposed to be looking at?

And would you say that her husband’s eyes are open or closed? I’m not sure.

I’m guessing that these were originally painted, although there’s nothing left of that to see now.

If you’re at all interested in the history of costume (as I am), then this is the sort of reference that I’d imagine is invaluable. You can make out quite clearly what they’re wearing.

Well, I’m just fascinated by these people. It makes my mind go off in all directions, thinking about what they were like in life. How did the carpenter decide what to carve. How well did he know them in life – if at all? Were they meant to be life-like?

So many questions, and no answers other than what your mind can invent.

The biggest question I have about this particular tomb is, why does the lady have such an incredibly long neck?

Can’t really have been that long do you think?

 

So, there they are – lying side by side for nearly seven hundred years, through plague, civil wars, industrialisation, immense social change – unchanged.

I hope they were happy together in life. And I really wish I could decide what she’s thinking about.

For me, there’s something enormously romantic about these images. I think I might go on an effigy quest at some stage and see how many others I can find to feed my imagination.

 

 

Hunting For Castles in Ardnamurchan

When we travelled north in August on our mammoth camping expedition, our first stop in Scotland was at Resipole, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

First, one incy-wincy rant: what on earth are drivers doing on those single track roads? If we’d encountered one or maybe two idiots speeding into blind bends on single track roads, we’d have shrugged it off, but no, there were positively hoards of idiots – is it a new pass-time, playing chicken, seeing who can drive the most people off the road?

Anyway, apart from that very small detail – what a marvellous place. I’d been there before when I was a young girl, and I could remember so much. We didn’t want to do a lot of driving, so instead, we got walking.

You'd love the view from Beinn Resipol - if only you could see it!

We walked up Beinn Resipol – the highest mountain in that area.

There were frogs everywhere – well, almost. But as it was also incredibly wet, I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised. Superb views as we went up, but cloud and rain spoiled the descent. At least the showers at the campsite were good and the laundry facilities meant that we could get our clothes dry too.

A prince perhaps?

Now I really don’t want to tell you how good the campsite at Resipole is, but in all conscience, I have to say that it is BRILLIANT – well, we loved it. But you probably wouldn’t like it, no honestly…

The girls were also treated to a walk to the Singing Sands, near Acharacle. This is a bit of a trek – about three miles each way, but the path goes along the edge of a bay and then through a pine forest that smells divine, so really it’s just part of the fun. And when you get there – what a delight. Glorious white sands. This is one of the gems of the Highlands. (Minor detail – no toilets, no cafe etc – naturally this is why it’s so gorgeous, but if you’re planning to go, it’s better to be forewarned – take you own refreshments and prepare yourself for a behind-the-bushes experience).

If you time it well, you can also enjoy fish and chips from the little chippie at Acharacle. Chips and a mug of tea after a long walk and playing on the beach – what more could you want.

One of the things I remembered doing as a child, was paddling in a loch, just in front of a ruined castle that sat in the water. I could remember the approach being along a very narrow road (even narrower than the usual single track efforts), and I thought it was on a road out of Strontian. So it was, that we all took off on the road to Pollock, but after mile of incredible views, you guessed it – no castle.

I’m now desperately trying to work out where it was. Do you know? I can remember walking in the water, picking up shells, whilst pine trees were being felled on the hillside above us, the trees would appear as if by magic, on top of the hill and then be dragged down on chains – very dramatic. But I don’t know where. The castle as I recall it was pretty decrepit, (I don’t think it was Tioram – that’s too well preserved), but I don’t think it could have disappeared in thirty years.

Still, we had a consolation prize – as we were leaving Pollock, two enormous and very beautiful deer popped out into the road and ran along it for a few yards, before detouring into the trees and instantly becoming invisible. It was verging on a mystical moment.

That wasn’t our only contact with elusive nature either – one evening, as the girls were getting into bed in their tent, we heard frantic movement. It turned out that a small lizard had taken up residence between the inner and the outer tent. As the girls weren’t too keen to share their tent, there followed a period of hilarious slap dash activity, culminating in said small lizard crawling up husband’s jumper sleeve – much laughter. All ended well, and small lizard was re-homed on a nearby wall.

Pub entertainment at The Salen Hotel

It was a fabulous few days, despite the lack of castles in the water. Ardnamurchan remains a relatively remote part of Scotland, but I’m glad we’ve introduced our children to the area, and I very much hope that we’ll be back again before too long. (I might fit bull bars to the front of the car though).

PS: Midges – LOADS, but you’re a sissy if you let that put you off.

Lanercost Priory Pilgrimage.

Lanercost Priory: Burtholme, Nr Brampton, Cumbria – CA8 2HQ

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the unexpected pleasures of our recent holiday, was finding that we were camping not far from a place I’d heard about, but never visited – Lanercost Priory.

Why I should want to go there, apart from the usual enjoyment of all things ruined, is because it has a link with Edward I. Now I know he’s not everybody’s favourite king. If your only knowledge of him comes from watching Braveheart, then I’d understand, and a nickname like The Hammer of the Scots, isn’t likely to endear him to anyone of Scottish descent, I accept. And then there are the castles in Wales that he had built as a tangible means of domination – OK, so there’s a bit of a theme running here.

But this is also the king, who was loyal and faithful to his wife, Eleanor of Castile for over thirty years, and when she died, had monumental crosses erected at all the places where her coffin rested on the journey to London. His second marriage was also a success, despite an enormous age difference – so whatever his other characteristics, he seems to have been a good husband.

Well, anyway, this complicated and fascinating king, stayed at Lanercost Priory for five months in 1306-7, during the Anglo-Scottish wars. His stay was prolonged due to his ill-health – he was getting on a bit by this time – and in fact he died not long after at Burgh Sands.

But I have always been enthralled by the idea of standing in the same place as historic characters. I just love to look out at the view and imagine what was going through the mind of the man or woman who stood in the same spot, hundreds of years earlier. I’ve visited most of his Welsh castles and was keen to see the place he’d spent so much time in at the end of his life.

So we headed off to Lanercost Priory, so I could have my little Edward pilgrimage.

It was a desperately wet day, but the lovely lady at the ticket office made us very welcome. She gave us a very interesting briefing from the safety and warmth of the ticket office, and told us all the things that we should look out for – even the daughters were interested and managed to find the things she’d told us about, including Roman stonework and medieval board games.

She also talked to us about the Border Reivers  – not something I knew much about, but how fascinating. She stirred my historical juices, so I’m currently reading a book all about them, The Steel Bonnets, by George MacDonald Fraser. It made our visit to the area richer and I’m very grateful to her for opening up another aspect of history for me to get my teeth into – what a horrible collection of similes and metaphors – sorry.

We had a really good look around, even though it was tipping down the whole time and felt more like November than August, but eventually we retreated to the cafe next door, peeled off our waterproofs and indulged in excellent cake and coffee.

I’d like to go again sometime, but preferably when the sun is out.

A Visit To Canon’s Ashby & A Picnic.

Canon’s Ashby House in very rural Northamptonshire, is one of those half forgotten manor houses that pepper England, and when you find them, you feel as if you’ve been let into a precious secret. I probably shouldn’t even write about Canon’s Ashby in case it gets big headed and loses it’s charm; but I will, because I’m sure if it’s the sort of place that appeals to you, then you should be let into the secret too.

On Sunday, we took ourselves off there for a visit. It had been a couple of years since the last time we went, but in that time it has only got better.  Plus, it was a gorgeously hot summers day, perfect for strolling around a quintessential English garden and sitting under the shade of some trees, eating a picnic.

It's much better than my poor pictures suggest.

The house was built in the 1550’s by the Dryden family (yes, that Dryden family). It’s on land which had previously belonged to the Augustinian Priory, a small portion of which survives today as the Parish Church of St Mary. The Black Canons (from the colour of their habit) at Canon’s Ashby, were amongst the earliest to lose their land when Henry VIII began the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 – one wonders what they’d been up to, to receive that treatment…

Anyway, you can still see what’s left of the Priory. It’s worth popping inside to see the collection of funeral hatchments (what an odd tradition this now seems).

The remains of Canon's Ashby Priory, now the parish church.

We started our visit by going into the church, because we got there just a little too early for the house opening (1.00pm). It was also so hot by that time, that we decided we’d better have our picnic first, because since the cold box blew it’s fuse, we can’t keep our butties cold for very long. As it was, the box of chocolate mini-rolls I’d packed for daughter two to eat, decided to morph into a sticky chocolate heap.

At last we were on the visit proper.

Do you ever go to one of these historic houses and fall in love with the smell? I know I do. There’s something about beeswax polish and a faint lavender scent, that has me drooling. That’s what I always think about at Canon’s Ashby. It’s one of those very old houses that smells lovely. I could just stand in the Hall and inhale.

The house wears it’s history very lightly. You can quite easily work out the stages in which it was built – the last of which was in 1710, since when it has remained largely unchanged. I like this, it’s so easy to step back in time.

isn't he gorgeous.

The kitchen is one of the few very old kitchens that I think I could be happy using today. It has a very high ceiling, but excellent light. The range might guzzle too much fuel, and you’d have to be catering to the five thousand to make it worthwhile firing it up, but with a little adaption, I could see myself knocking up a pretty decent sponge cake in that kitchen.

I suppose in grand historic house terms, Canon’s Ashby might not have many breath-taking features, although it can boast Elizabethan wall-paintings and some amazing Jacobean plasterwork, but in a way, that’s the point. This house is simply charming, it doesn’t need architectural bling, it has atmosphere instead.

 

My favourite room is a bedroom decorated in tapestries and with superb needlepoint covered chairs dating to 1716. I could probably be happy looking at the work in those chairs for days on end. I mentioned to the lovely lady who was stewarding in that room how gorgeous it was, I think she felt it too – perhaps a kindred spirit.

Wouldn't you just love those gate piers?
Wouldn't you just love those gate piers?

Outside, the National Trust who now run Canon’s Ashby, are doing a splendid job of reinstating the garden. Again, it’s being done in a sympathetic way. I read one commentator who lamented that the Trust should spend more to give the garden more plants, but as someone who still believes that a garden needs time to develop and grow it’s character, I’m not offended by a few bare patches. It won’t be long before it’s lush. It’s already lovely.

The pears are coming along nicely

Don’t miss the Green Court garden. It’s got impressive yews, and a fabulous collection of old pear varieties growing against the walls, and a lead statue by Van Nost – OK, I admit it, I am a touch jealous of that garden.

It’s also reassuring to see that this is another National Trust property, where they are encouraging games to be played on the lawns. Brush up on the rules of croquet before you go and you can have a lovely hour smashing your opponents balls out of the way!

So now you know. Canon’s Ashby – one of England’s little gems, just don’t tell everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day trip to Oxford

Considering we only live an hour away from Oxford, it’s surprising to me how infrequently we go there, which is a shame, because it’s a fascinating and inspiring place – well it is, if you’re in to architecture over the ages, expensive shops, quirky pubs, massive bookshops, rivers, bells towers, oh and probably lots of other stuff too.

So this weekend, we went over for a day out, sight-seeing (oh and a bit of bell-ringing for himself). For the first time in about sixteen years, we took the Park and Ride from Thornhill – fabulous – I may not bother taking the car any further again.

I was really happy to wonder around, catching up with the ringing husband from time to time, but I decided that this visit, I really would go to the Ashmolean and see for myself a painting that has long been a fascination, but which I’d never seen ‘in the flesh’ before – it’s Uccello’s The Hunt In The Forest. A big THANK YOU, to Stephanie Redfern for alerting me to the painting’s location – proof that blogging really does open horizons.

A postcard of The Hunt In The Forest

I wax lyrical about the painting on my ‘creative’ blog, so if that’s your cup of tea, pop over and have a look.

Well, of course the main thing about day trips is to get the balance between doing the sights and drinking tea/coffee and eating cake, just right. So you won’t be surprised that I started off in Oxford at Patisserie Valerie. The cakes in the window were simply gorgeous, and so it turned out was the coffee, the chocolate cake and the service!

After that great start, and fortified with plenty of chocolate, I went next to The Ashmolean. This was a total revelation. I felt like it was an enormous treat for the senses – probably helped by the rather muscular sculptures in the ground floor halls – but so much to see. I learned my lesson years ago with museums and galleries – don’t overdo it. So these days, I try and have just one or two things to see properly, and usually find a couple more that really excite me.

Of course it was the Uccello that I went to see – it’s up on the second floor. But there were several other gems to discover. I particularly like the display of rings. Amazing to think that we’ve been wearing them, giving them and using them for many centuries – there’s something about a ring that gives you an immediate connection to the person or people who have worn it before.

Not having had anything to eat for at least an hour and a half, I headed to The Red Lion in Gloucester Street. I don’t think this is a pub Inspector Morse would have approved of, far too modern, but it did us proud. Lovely food (and a wicked glass of Prosecco at lunch-time – what decadence). We sat outside as it was warm, and were amazed at how quiet it was, despite being really quite central.

The afternoon took us over to St Thomas the Martyr‘s church, a little way out of the centre, past the Castle. It’s an interesting spot. It looks as if it should be in the middle of the countryside, but in fact is one of the noisiest churchyards I’ve ever sat in, thanks to traffic noise from all around and car alarms in the car park behind the church.

A sad reflection on the fragility of life.

Nevertheless, this is a hidden gem of a church. I was particularly moved by a commemorative stone, detailing the deaths of three daughters in the seventeenth century. Perhaps connection was the order of the day, but as a mother of daughters, it’s hard to see something like that and not to feel a strong empathy for the parents. Sometimes when you visit places like this, it’s those little touches, often quite hidden, that you remember most.

The height of the afternoon was very hot, and I had a lovely refreshing cup of tea in the Castle grounds. There was an exhibition of photographs taken from the air of famous British landmarks. Do go and have a look at their website, the pictures are wonderful.

I caught up again with the husband at Lincoln College. This building is one of the ones you walk past, when you ‘do’ the centre of Oxford – it’s very close to The Market – do go to the market, it’s one of the city’s unusual attractions. I’ve bought most of my Kipling handbags from there over the years.

Vantage point from the ice cream parlour

From Lincoln College, we went to St Aldates. Well, in fact I only got as far as the ice-cream parlour opposite the entrance to Christchurch. I sat outside and watched the world go by – which mainly consisted of buses, ambulances and ladies on bikes.

I was getting pretty tired by then, so we wended our way back to the Park and Ride stop outside Blacks, and were swiftly returned to our car.

All in all a very enjoyable day. I’m plotting my next visit to the Ashmolean already…