Watch Out, Philip’s About!

It’s been a busy few days! After visiting Newark on Trent, I’ve continued south and finally made it into Norfolk……

Although I’ve been staying on camp sites most nights this trip, I did spent Thursday and Friday nights on a small car park just a few miles outside Newark. Wyke Lane car park (53.060613, -0.855044) had good reviews on SearchforSites and was well located for easy access to Newark town centre on Friday.

The Newark Visitor Information Centre (who I’d ‘phoned a douple of days in advance to ask about motorhome parking) directed me to the London Road car park in Newark as the best place for motorhomes to park. It wasn’t great (you’d really struggle with anything longer than 6 metres – there’s just one row of spaces each side and not a lot of room to overhang behind the spaces, also the spaces are not generous in terms of width) though luckily I’d decided to get up early to beat the traffic and found a suitable space for SOK just around the corner in the London Road annex car park. Phew!

The town itself was really nice – plenty of old buildings in the town centre and a good range of independent shops alongside the ubiquitous chains.

Newark is one of those places that was much more important in the past than today, situated as it is at the lowest crossing point on the Trent before the river becomes tidal and at the junction of the Roman Fosse Way and the Great North Road. It’s little wonder that during the civil war it was referred to as the “Key to the North”:

Newark was Royalist in the civil war. It was sieged three times, only surrendering in 1646 after Charles I was captured at nearby Southwell. I thought that the National Civil War Centre, situated in a former school in the town centre, did a great job of combining modern multimedia displays with original artefacts.

Blimey, there were a lot of sieges in the civil war (clicking on one on the screen below brought up lots of additional information about the siege in question; you’d have been there all week if you’d looked at them all):

Here’s just one example of the artefacts on display – a hand brand for felons and deserters (ouch!). This one was used by the Royalist side – you can see the crown and the initials CR on it…..

Newark Castle was ordered to be destroyed after the town surrendered in 1646:

Saturday involved quite a journey, out to the east to Tattersall Castle in Lincolnshire and then south via Wisbech to Norfolk and the Sandringham Estate, my base for the next two nights.

Tattershall Castle was built in the 1440s for Lord Ralph Cromwell, High Treasurer of England (no relation of the nowadays better-known 16th and 17th century Cromwells, Thomas and Oliver) on the site of an earlier fortified manor house, an early example of a new trend for building in brick.

In a terrible state by the early twentieth century, the castle was saved from imminent demolition by Lord Curzon and after careful restoration, re-opened in 1914. It’s very hard to tell which parts are original and which are early 20th century reconstruction / renovation.

Further south in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, Peckover House is a Georgian town house that was the home, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, of the Peckover family (though it was known as Bank House at the time – the National Trust changed the name after they took over, for reasons unknown).

The Peckover family were staunch Quakers. Jonathan Peckover moved to Wisbech in the 1770s and set up a draper’s shop (this being the established family trade). Before long he was keeping customers’ money and valuables for them in the shop safe, and a successful banking business was born (which would end up being merged into Barclays Bank in the 1890s). He bought Bank House in 1794.

Although it’s an attractive Georgian house with lovely gardens, I really didn’t feel that I learned much about Quakerism or, indeed, banking. I did learn a bit about the library – whilst the National Trust was left the house when the last of the family died in the late 1940s, it didn’t get the books. A significant (and very valuable) book collection, built up over several generations, was sold at Sothebys, mainly to private collectors and museums. A number of items were on display at the house, having been loaned back by their owners for a special exhibition.

From Wisbech, I finally made it to Norfolk and two nights on the Camping & Caravanning Club’s Sandringham site (chosen in preference to the Caravan Club site next door as the C&CC site has some grass non-electric pitches, which work out quite a bit cheaper).

Driving through the Sandringham Estate to the camp site, I’d just had the thought “at least Prince Philip’s recently handed in his driving licence, so I should be OK” (though presumably even he would notice a motorhome before pulling out of a junction?) when I came across this sign:

Ah, yes, I understand that he’s quite partial to a bit of carriage driving and you don’t need a licence for that….. I kept my eyes peeled (for the safety of SOK) but I didn’t see him and SOK left Sandringham unscathed…….

Sunday’s destination was Castle Rising which, according to English Heritage, is “one of the most important twelfth century castles in England”

The castle was built around 1140 by a chap called William d’Albini, who had married the widow of Henry I and was clearly feeling the need to show off.

The earthworks surrounding the castle are huuuuge:

The most famous period in Castle Rising’s history was in the 14th century (1330s to 1350s) when it was home to Queen Isabella – who had deposed her own husband (Edward II), making herself regent on behalf of her young son (Edward III), and was quite possibly later involved in her husband’s murder – but got away with it by acting innocent and letting her lover Mortimer take the flak (and the subsequent execution at Tyburn). She sounds scary!

I had planned to visit Castle Acre later on Sunday afternoon, but I had to admit defeat in the end as there was literally nowhere at all to park. The English Heritage guide book describes Castle Acre as “a very rare and complete survival of a Norman planned settlement”. Yes, well, the Normans clearly didn’t plan for motorhomes…..

I must have driven up every (narrow) lane in the village looking for somewhere to park. I decided that there was no way that SOK would fit down the windy alleyway that promised a car park at the end of it for the priory (home to the first Cluniac order of monks in England), the village centre was jammed with cars and I couldn’t even get to the castle car park as someone had abandoned a car on the lane leading to it – with insufficient space for anything bigger than a normal-sized car to get past (haven’t these people heard of ambulances?). I think I’ll have to put Castle Acre on a list of places to visit another time: preferably mid-week and out of season….

Mind you, I DID get a really good look at the Bailey Gate, which dates back to around 1200 – SOK drove through it! Why do the powers that be signpost you off a main road onto a narrow lane and only then suddenly present you with “not suitable for HGVs” signs? (what’s the HGV supposed to do at that point I wondered? I had to continue in SOK hoping I’d either be OK or find a spot wide enough to turn round). Then came the pièce de résistance – more specific warnings of 3.4 metres maximum height and 6 ft 6″ maximum width ahead. What’s that all about? Equality – so everyone in the country, regardless of age, gets one measurement (in metric or imperial) that they understand? I know SOK’s measurements in metres, but for 6ft 6″ the best I could do at very short notice was to imagine Mark plus 4 inches and decide that it might work but it’d be tight….. Luckily SOK fitted or it’d have been a long reverse back down that lane…..

Today (Monday) produced no such challenges on the driving front. First up I visited the Blickling Estate, having been sold on it by the photo in the National Trust book:

It turned out to be another of those “Nice Day Out” (rather than “extremely informative”) National Trust properties. Built in the early 17th century (so Jacobean), it was left to the National Trust in the early 1940s.

The highlight here was one of the country’s most significant book collections, housed in the long gallery:

No, actually, scrap that. The highlight here was the second hand bookshop, which is very big and very professionally run (from the staff discussions on stock management and pricing I heard as I perused the shelves). Unfortunately they do seem to price each book individually (rather than the £1 a book you quite often see), which makes a real bargain hard to come by – though I was happy with my “find” of Alison Weir’s biography of Margaret Douglas, erroneously put in among the paperback fiction and priced accordingly at £1.60….. Heads would no doubt roll if the management found out!

Then finally, on to Oxburgh Hall, another National Trust property and another one where the guide book seems to promise real information but I didn’t really feel that I’d learned as much as I’d expected. The house was built in 1482 for the Bedingfield family, who were staunch Catholics. As you’d expect, their fortunes followed a bit of a “snakes and ladders” trajectory over the centuries, depending on the religious leanings of whoever was in charge at the time.

There’s a priest hole (it’s assumed it was used, although there are no specific records), and this rather gloomy-looking lady painted on one of the upstairs doors:

The highlight, for me, of Oxburgh Hall was some needlework that came into the family through a marriage to a Mary Browne of Cowdray Park in 1761 (no-one knows how they ended up at Cowdray Park). They’re bed hangings and a bedspread incorporating needlework (the individual pieces having been sewn onto the green background later) done by Mary Queen of Scots and by Bess of Hardwick.

The “Marian Panel”, incorporating work by Mary Queen of Scots:

The “Shrewsbury Panel”, incorporating work by Bess of Hardwick:

The needlework was completed sometime between 1569 and 1586 when Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury, Bess of Hardwick’s fourth husband.

So there you have it, a whistle-stop summary of the last four days. I’m spending tonight on the Caravan Club’s Thetford Forest site (very nice indeed and much quieter than other sites I’ve been on this trip – the staff say it’s because they don’t have a shower block here, so you have to use your own van’s facilities, which some folk just won’t do….). There’s no rest for the wicked though – tomorrow’s another busy day.

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