Hardwick Hall: More Glass than Wall

Even now, the flamboyant and spirited nature of Bess Hardwick is one to be admired. Born into a minor gentry family in 1527, Bess’ life unfolded into a series of personal tragedies that she never allowed herself to succumb to. Instead she persevered with grace and dignity, her situation and station improving each time. Over the course of sixty-six years and four marriages, Bess elevated herself from the daughter of a ‘gentleman-yeoman’ house to an exorbitantly wealthy businesswoman and close friend of Queen Elizabeth.

Located in the Derbyshire countryside, Hardwick Hall stands as a glorious symbol to Bess’ lifelong ambitions and achievements. “Hardwick Hall – More Glass than Wall” is a popular saying associated with the spectacular estate. It is more than a cute rhyme. All four sides of the three-storey building are neatly lined with grid windows. Back in the Elizabethan age, windows leaked out indoor heating like no man’s business, making the act of heating an entire home even more costly.

Following the disastrous end of her fourth marriage to George Talbot – the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury – the now Countess Elizabeth Shrewsbury moved back to her family estate of Hardwick. From 1587 to 1597, she supervised the construction of the two Hardwick Halls. Money was no object, and both buildings stand as lavish displays of this great woman’s wealth.

Hardwick Hall, a seven year endeavour, spreads over three floors. A pioneering structure, the estate was one of the first in the country to be designed by an architect – in this case, Robert Smythson. Diamond pane windows range in size between floors to delineate the purpose of each room. The interior provides no less of an affluent air. Set in the second floor, the Long Galley runs through the entire east side. Displaying tapestries and portraits with immaculate detail and a plethora of colours, these intricate pieces would have signified the depth of Bess’ wealth to all her guests.

The windows, both grilled and diamond paned, pour sunlight over the ornate decorations. And it is not only the wall art and windows that help Hardwick Hall maintain its classic style. The floor of the Long Galley is fully carpeted with rush matting. Handwoven and sturdy, plaited rush matting was a staple of Tudor households. Made of bulrushes harvested from reed beds, the dried material is interwoven with camomile, lavender, herbs, and wormwood to subtly perfume the space. When fraying, the matting in Hardwick is either patched together and reused or given new life as mulch for the garden or bird nesting support.

Standing at the foot of Hardwick Hall’s grand façade sits its gardens. A mosaic of rectangular courts, the gardens grow both culinary and medicinal herbs. More than being aesthetically pleasing, the vegetables and herbs grown in the gardens are used in the Great Barn Restaurant. During the months of July and August, visitors are able to sample all the flavours the garden has to offer with Taster Days. Great lawns dotted with crab apple trees have comfortable lawn chairs provided by National Trust. With a cool breeze running through the trees and plenty of shade provided by trees and archways, it is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll.

Continuing the stroll through the estate, Hardwick Old Hall hangs at the periphery. Only five years younger than Hardwick Hall, the old hall drew on contemporary innovations in Italian design. When Bess died in 1608, her son William Cavendish was left in charge of the estate. William resituated the family in Chatsworth, which became the family’s preferred seat over time. By the 1750s, the family commissioned for the partial dismantling of the old hall. Vulnerable to the elements, many of the original overmantels still stand to the this day. The ruins overlook an endless horizon of countryside on all sides. When construction for the new hall began, the old hall was still incomplete. This is not to say the first hall was abandoned. The two were intended to complement each other. And though it stands a shadow of its former glory, the remains of the Old Hall are still a sight to see.

Leaving with a neck sore from marveling at tapestries and architecture, I left feeling inspired by the sheer grit of Bess Hardwick, a remarkable woman who faced the odds and came out victorious.

Woolsthorpe Manor: Not Just About the Apples

Located near Grantham, Lincolnshire in the village of Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Isaac Newton’s childhood home is perfectly preserved for generations to walk through and appreciate this little piece of history. Lush countryside surrounds the humble estate. A sturdy apple tree grows near the entrance, offering a sneak peek at what’s to come. Wild mushrooms with tabletop heads bend and flow, in much likeness of the mushrooms from Carroll’s Alice. Surrounded by all these natural splendors, it is no wonder Newton’s mind was a creative and expansive resource.

Before entering the quaint house, we pass by a pay-what-you-can bookshop. Located in the former stables, the timber-enforced ceiling, combined with stone walls and floors, create a space that is at once rustic chic and a perfectly cool oasis from the summer sun. Heading into the house, we headed right into the kitchen. Typical of most yeoman farmhouses, the kitchen had a large space that would have served as the stove – cooking area, and banisters above your head where vegetables and meat would be hung. Like the rest of the household, the kitchen was arranged with furniture comparable to that of the seventeenth century.

The dining room and the study were decorated with simple wooden furniture. Several windows peered into the rest of the estate. All of the windows were plain in design, offering unimpeded looks into the world outside. Most notable of these views were the ones into the garden. The famous apple tree associated with Newton’s law of universal gravitation lives on. By growing a tree with part of the original, Newton’s legacy lives on.

Not only is Newton’s tree preserved, but so are his doodles. What would have us yelled at by our parents is carefully protected by the National Trust. Sketches, carvings, and notes written on the wall have been uncovered by archaeologists over the years and fiercely safeguarded by the use of glass cases overlaying these historical gems. Newton was notorious for scribbling on surfaces and objects that were not meant for writing. His mind was a whirlwind of ideas, working too fast for organized thoughts of parchment and ink. One notable sketch, the first on the left, depicts what National Trust guides suggest could be a soldier, as Newton would have seen them marching by.

Setting our thoughts on Newton back down to earth, Woolsthorpe Manor was an enchanting look into a great figure’s past.

The Tides of Toronto

While growing up close to a city where sleep is not so much a necessity as it is a hobby, the calm island life I was raised in instilled in me a great appreciation for Mother Nature’s quiet splendour. In many urban landscapes, calmness is a luxury. A daydream you busy your mind with when you ought to be focusing on work. An idea you toy with. Toronto is not such a city.

Affording natural getaways through easy access to large parks and the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto is a city that understands the need to balance the natural and the modern. Of these, my favourite sites in the 416 (Toronto’s area code and nickname) are the rolling waves of Toronto Harbour and The Beaches.

Toronto Harbour is the middleman between the sprawling skyline and Centre Island (a cosy retreat of summer houses and bicycle paths). On the day I visited, grey clouds threatened of an incoming storm. This only increased the beauty of the rolling waves. Hypnotising shades of blue pulled your eyes in, their dark colours glinting every so often as if enticing you. When the occasional cloud broke open, the sunlight glittered fast-fading diamonds on the surface.

The trip to The Beaches was quite the opposite. With the sun out and the sky the first blue we were taught as children, my youthful spirit called out to the playful shore. Our feet rushed underneath fiery sand. Salvation was found in the white and turquoise of the flirty waves, rolling around our ankles only to shy away and come back again. Walking along rocks and docks half-submerged in the water, I looked out at the horizon. The blues of the sky and ocean met in a fine line. It always surprises me how endless Lake Ontario feels. A world of endless possibilities stretching out beyond comprehension.

To feel the wind on my face, listen to the rush of water, taste the salt in the air, and yet be so close to all the comforts that city life affords – that is why Toronto’s waves forever have a place in my heart.

Admiring Ancient Rome

 

Even in May, the heart of Italy slows you down with an intense heat. Covering all that it can reach, only tunnels built into the ground and indoor stores and restaurants are able to provide momentary respites from the glaring sun. This is actually a blessing in disguise. With your feet moving at a slower pace to combat sun lethargy, your eyes have the opportunity to pour over the sights and wonders of Rome with the care of a fine-toothed comb.

 

More than a little obsessed with architecture, my eyes couldn’t get enough in Rome. Both the  modern and ancient infrastructures fascinated me. From sunny shades and even tiles to elaborate stone carvings and shattered marble, it was all bewitching. My friend patiently waited as time and again I stopped in my tracks to stare, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, at some beautiful detail or enchanting colour. Faces pulled out of hard stone from artists who knew where to look. Light shades that, when caught by the sun, burst in their vibrancy and seemed to collect a piece of the shining star, if just for the moment.

Of our three days in Rome, four sites stand out most prominently in my memories; the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, and the Trevi Fountain. Being able to walk through history is always a treat. I find myself taking the time to wonder at the lives of those who had wandered in the same location thousands of years ago. What were their hopes, their dreams? What daily aggravations filled their heads and dominated conversations with peers? Did they admire the beauty of the city, or did they take it for granted?

Even before the busy season, Rome was packed. Tourists and locals alike flooded the streets. All steps were occupied by those taking a respite from the sun. In the Roman Forum, a middle-aged man slept soundly under the shade of a young Stone Pine. If it were not for the many public water fountains dotted throughout the grand city, we would have spent an absolute fortune hydrating ourselves. Thank goodness for thoughtful touches.

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Stunning even in ruins, I envied those who had lived when these buildings, arches, and statues were in their original state, carefully painted and displaying none of the effects of time. Difficult to leave, I find myself pouring over the photos from time to time, feeling the dry heat rush over my body and revelling in the cool protection of underground tunnels built centuries ago.

The Perfect Peak District

A visit to the Peak District can be summarised in one word: Perfect.

After a hearty breakfast at the cottage we were renting for the weekend, we piled into the car and headed off to start the day. Parking the car just beside Monsal trail entrance point. It is positioned right beside an abandoned set of railroad tracks that are now overgrown with weeds and grass.

Our walking path frequently shifted from dirt to timber bridges to large stones carefully arranged decades, or perhaps centuries, prior to today. A cool breeze was a welcome partner to the shining sun.

Alongside hiking among the rushing rivers and tall trees, we made the most of the day’s stunning weather and visited Eyam Hall. Visiting the site before its lease with the National Trust ended in January 2018, the modest estate was held by its founding family, the Wrights, for nine generations. A beautiful example of Jacobean architecture, the garden was as simple and effortless in its grace as the manor.

Driving back to the cottage, the sun was only beginning its slow descent into the horizon at seven thirty in the evening. As we headed back, I thanked my friends profusely for the day and apologised again for the copious amounts of photographs I had taken. They waved my words off and began discussing what to have for dinner. Absolute perfection.

Belton House: Wandering Into Beauty

It was a delightfully warm summer’s day when we piled into the car and headed off to Belton House. A short drive, the cool breeze folded through the car, the blue and green scenery blending together. Located in Grantham, Lincolnshire, the estate was built in the 1680s. Designed for the Brownlow family, despite its modest size in comparison to other country homes at the time, the estate, both outside and inside, is brimming with elegance and grandeur. With an impressive collection of artwork, books, and antique furniture, Belton House is a perfectly preserved window into the past.

This year, the estate celebrates the women who were inspiring individuals that found their muse in the spirit of Belton House. Wandering through the polished halls and neatly maintained gardens, it is little wonder how these women developed fascinating works of art based on the estate. Its parkland covering over 1300 acres of land, Belton House is a site that can be visited time and again without having the same experience time and again.

Wandering the gardens, it was easy to imagine myself placed right in the middle of Wonderland. Manicured flower bushes and twisting trees dazzled my senses. In many instances, my friends had to yell at me to catch up, I was that consumed by the beauty of it all.

Morocco: a summer feeling in the winter months

In the winter of 2015, I had just finished my first semester abroad. Between coursework, part-time jobs and newfound friends, there hadn’t been time to explore Europe, a world so close and yet so far out of reach. So when my sister and her then-boyfriend (now husband) invited me to join them on their winter travels, I was more than happy to tag along.

13087436_10209510268056234_5609370565635099615_nFirst traveling to Lisbon, from there we flew to Morocco. The tropical weather and stunning nature made Morocco the ideal place to celebrate the year past and welcome the year coming. Staying at The Lunar Surf House, we met an amazing array of like-minded travelers; people eager to explore every corner of the world, and leave no spare moment wasted. Owned and managed by Australian/Moroccan couple Irena and Adil, these two lovely people made every guest feel welcome. After showing us our beds and providing a tour of the hostel, they gave us helpful information regarding nearby restaurants, where to buy groceries, and scheduled activities that they organized for the guests. Of them all, we simply couldn’t resist a local tour of rocky cliffs and natural swimming pools.

Paradise Valley, surrounded by and within the Atlas Mountains, is an invigorating blend of hiking and swimming. A half-hour drive from the hostel, approximately a dozen of us met Adil after breakfast. The tour of Paradise Valley would take most of the day. Involving a forty-five minute hike, lunch at an outdoor restaurant nestled beside the rivers, and cliff-diving and swimming in the peaceful Paradise Valley, the three of us agreed that, at 30€ per person, the experience was a steal.
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The sun cast a bright and heavy glow throughout the day. Enveloped by the shadows cast by the towering rock faces and a cool breeze whispering through the hollows, the sunlight was a warm welcome. Keeping our spirits high with jokes and a helping hand, Adil brought us all safely and happily to Paradise Valley. With no one else in sight, the cool, shimmering water and sun-drenched rock faces were all ours. Setting all our things aside, the group divided into sun-bathers and river swimmers. Opting to soak up some vitamin D, I shared in the mirth and excitement as other guests cheered and whooped. Climbing up to the top of a rocky cliff, arms reaching to the skies as their bodies fell into the cool waters.

After the swimmers dried out in the sun, we all headed back to the main road. Greeted by the van, the sun was still pressed against a vibrant blue canvas. Mountains and cacti flit past us as we were driven back to the hostel. Thanking the driver and Adil profusely for the amazing day, we all headed up to our rooms to freshen up before dinner. Setting into the horizon so the stars could shine, the sun lit the sky in blazing oranges and delicate pinks and purples. A perfect end to a perfect day.