by David Evans
In November the Friends Trips and Visits team went on a residential visit to Dorset, staying for three nights in the Grand Hotel in Swanage, and visiting the region’s cultural highlights including Kingston Lacey, the Russell-Cotes Gallery in Bournemouth, and the church of St Nicholas in Moreton with its engraved glass windows by Laurence Whistler (above).
Here David Evans gives a distinctively personal take on the trip with his Dorset diary…
Nov 8: – Having just got back from Egypt (where it rained for 20 minutes) with what I shall call an upset stomach, I was not as well prepared as I usually am; either mentally and physically for the trip, however my train arrived on time in clifton and I reached the boarding point at the same time as the coach. After a, fortunately, short trip down the motorway, I was able to view a countryside that I had not seen for over thirty years.
Our first point call was at Kingston Lacey, somewhere I had wanted to visit – because of its Pharaonic associations – I was not disappointed – but other aspects caught my eye. The timing of a visit to the house was – not as advertised – but in the end worked out well! I headed off – via the temple of Isis to the Japanese Garden – which, even in the November conditions, was splendid, certainly my highlight; though others came close, I then headed off to the house, this being rather a let down.
The house was dingy and ill lit (I accept conservation qualms) and the lower floors very crowded – with ne’r an eye pointed upward. I headed upstairs, which turned into a pleasant surprise, with the recently restored bedrooms. Although there was a slight clash of culture, two periods displayed at once – the striped wallpaper based on the design of Napoleon’s campaign tent was excellent. He is not my favourite character – I prefer Caligula – but design at the time is difficult to fault. Of course the Egyptian room had me entranced as did the servants hall, watched people walking past both – will they never learn?
Emerging from the house I was hit by a rain shower – modify plans I went for a quick light lunch – expecting an evening meal at 6. And visited the shop, always a ‘mistake’ and the second-hand book shop where on visitor decided that my choice must be superior to his– correct! – followed me round – bought nothing – neither he nor I. Decided to risk the rain – good choice – further delights in the gardens, but not quite enough time to complete the woodland walk.
The shortish drive to the hotel was filled with sights – not least the repurposed searchlight position on Swanage seafront. The hotel was in a superb position – the building a bit marred by the recent porch, super views – good beer (praise from a cider drinker). Time of the evening meal changed at least twice – however by the time we finished I could not face a lecture – pity part 2 was excellent- so went to bed with “The Kraken Wakes” fortunately not an omen!
Nov 9:– Breakfast 10/10. Amused by the bemused art lovers who were confused by the coffee machine and who obviously have never been to Wetherspoons. Black pudding not quite up to Bury standards, super poached egg. Walked down the steep path to the beach and, avoiding the waves went to the bus Station, via the war memorial which included civilian casualties, to go to Corfe Castle. The castle wrecked in the English civil war could be an art instillation commemorating man’s inhumanity to woman, its defender was Lady Mary Bankes.
Back in Swanage managed to visit some of the suggested sites. Also; noted that although not taking passengers the Swanage station was open and trains in steam – another art form! Gift shop open, very tempted – the socks fit well. The church, has interesting glass and the millpond is strange! – imitation of Windermere??? Walked as far as Peveril point with its WWII features and coast guard museum – could not find a path to the Wellington Tower – walked slowly back to the hotel. Durston country park would have been a bonus – but I made my choice. Evening meal on time and I even remembered what I had ordered, I appreciate it is not easy to prepare and serve so many meals at one time, but I am a simple eater. The communal eating reminds me of Oliver Twist, except those were held in silence and I might have asked for less. The evening lecture added much indeed I regretted missing part 1 more that I though I might.
Nov 10:- Russel-Cotes Gallery Bournemouth, although very much of interest, certainly quirky – found the time spent there inordinately long, very crowded in the morning – walked down to, and along the wind swept pier and nearby gardens – Egyptian goats echoes of Windmill Hill City Farm and there is somewhere else I can’t quite recall. Gallery much quieter in the afternoon – easier to appreciate – disappointed with the Shangani Patrol painting, where did the trees come from? Spent time reading in the grotto (“The forgotten garden”) and looking at the small Japanese Garden.
Nov 11:- A lateish start – closed road and the APC did nothing to harm the effect the wonderful church at Moreton and its Whistler-etched glass – for once unique can be used for once correctly – reminders of the outside world were the explosions from nearby Bovington camp – hopefully not from the museum!. The T E Shaw grave and the Hidden Garden added to the favourable, if sobering, impression.
Sladers Gallery at West Bay – Bridport = site of Monmouth’s first set back in 1689 – was our next port of call- we were met with a tasty, but partly unwelcome – by me – pre-ordered lunch. Having checked leaving time I headed down to the sea to view the Jurassic Coast. Came back on time via the gallery and a pottery shop – not over impressed by the exhibition, thought the furniture lift and stairs were challenging.
Back in Bristol – I nearly missed the dropping off point -walked home – got wet inside and out – and my bed collapsed!
CODA -It is a truth universally acknowledged that whatever can go wrong will go wrong, I have much pride but no prejudice to remark that apart from a few annoying niggles on this trip few things did!
Image top: St Nicholas Church, Moreton, Dorset – Engraved glass windows created by Laurence Whistler. Photo: Quisnovus