Weekend in Rutland
22 May 2016
We’ve been in Rutland for the weekend – for a wonderful wedding of our friends Connie and Tom. In a strange sense, Connie is familiar to every one of our readers – she’s the brilliantly talented graphic designer who designed our website when Bridie and I re-planned everything a couple of years ago now.
It was the happiest craziest most fun party we’d been to for, well, at least a year (since our own wedding party, of course, down in Dorset) and even more fun to explore a completely new part of the world; the beautiful, serene, green Heart of England.
We started in Uppingham, the tiny market town near Connie’s house… having a perfect Saturday morning mooch around this little place with, seemingly, hardly a chain store in sight and a thriving number of small independent butchers, bakers and bookstores. And this brilliant Ironmongery shop complete with gloss green and cream shopfront.
We left with piles and piles of incredible architecture books (well, I left with those) and some very nice bits of junk.
After a hasty turn around at our hotel we set off again, destination… wedding.
The lane leading to the church has that perfect combination of post-box-set-ancient-wall, cow parsley and an old orchard beyond. Tick.
While the church had an equally beautiful red brick late 18th century rectory next door. Tick.
Plain English. Tick.
I’d never really before seen anything like this huge area of tombs in a corner of the church.
There was a wonderful and moving ceremony, and we poured out in to the rain and wind!
But nothing could dampen those smiles:
We partied long into the night. In various quarters of the internet there are now photos going viral of Charlie dancing without his trousers on, having torn them to shreds in some extraordinary moves earlier.. Connie’s naughty sister Eve ripped them off with a final flourish and they were gone. For some reason Charlie had already taken to wearing a pair of wellies (blaming the weather maybe, but the rest of us managed to stay in our shoes and stay dry…) so the sight was pretty extraordinary from that point forward. Proving, I think, the rule that you can take someone out of New Zealand but you can’t quite take the Kiwi out of them.
Of course when we returned this morning, bleary eyed, to retrieve our car, the storm had blown over and the sunshine was sparkling. But honestly the rain did not dampen spirits; it was one of the best parties ever. Tom’s claim to fame, meanwhile, is that he set up the brilliant Honest Burgers many years ago and I have an embarrassed feeling I ate three (I certainly remember two, and I’m almost certain about the third) cooked at the little green tent that you can just spy…. completely and utterly delicious, and a bit of a life saver at about 2am.
The day gleamed and having made our good byes to family, Charlie and I set off across country on what felt like the most perfect of English days… and we decided to head back to London not in a completely straight line.
There were some curious moments. One minute we were driving along enjoying this,
When suddenly this happened.
Freaky. But other than that, an easy journey.
Our destination was Lyveden New Bield, a remarkable, dreamy, haunting house now owned by the National Trust; begun in the late 16th century by that great patron of architecture (and architect) Sir Thomas Tresham, the house was never finished after his death in 1605. Remarkably, the house remained unaltered – neither completed nor demolished for its stone – until it was bought by the Trust early in the 20th century. It is powerfully beautiful.
Walking around these rooms you realise how different construction is today, with its vast sandwiches of different damp proof membranes and insulations to keep out the water and keep in the heat. These massive stone walls need only timber floors and panelling, glass in the windows and lime plaster on the walls to make the building complete. This is perhaps why the house makes such an elegant ruin.
The rooms are filled with ancient graffiti.
The floor plan is in the form of a huge cross; it is thought that Tresham planned a third storey with a great cupola for viewing the wide Northamptonshire country around.
Immediately adjacent is a little early 18th century cottage, a beautiful house in its own right, but all the more special for its setting.
The house sits on a wide square platt, surrounded by a moat filled with cowslips.
We went for a walk around the extensive gardens, which Tresham planned also, and which the Trust are slowly restoring. They are superb; a network of wide green paths, woods, viewing mounds and beautiful canals.
The Hawthorn trees were unreal, like a painting by Samuel Palmer. We left having stayed much longer than we could have imagined. Inspired by Tresham, we sped down the road to Rushton, his great estate nearby (and which is now a fancy hotel), and where, in one corner of the parkland he constructed his famous triangular lodge – originally the home of the rabbit warrener. The lodge was built before Lyveden. A stranger building I have not really seen.
The entire facade is finished with mystical symbols based on the Trinity.
I couldn’t help feeling – exactly as I did at Montacute a week or two ago – that this was a building you could expect to find in a dusty hillside town outside of Florence or Siena; early classical with gothic undertones.
Inside the rooms are curiously chapel-like; white washed, and with curious pierced windows that made one feel that Sir Thomas was not overly concerned for the warrener enjoying the view.
The upper rooms were serene.
The dark basement had an altogether stranger energy. Charlie and I both wanted to leave that room very, very quickly.
We left Rushton and found our way back from narrow country lanes onto the motorway network and sped home to London through a desolate landscape of giant distribution warehouses, roadworks: the edge lands; and the world of Tresham, and even the magical evening of a day earlier, felt very remote. Now we are home back in London, with that contended feeling of real, real tiredness, and Mavis is fast asleep under the ottoman, and frankly I think we’d all like to be joining her. It’s not a feeling you could cope with at the end of every weekend, but once in a while – it’s ideal. Happy times!