Sunday, September 29, 2013

"You should have been here in the summer.."

I've just returned from nearly 3 weeks in England when it rained pretty much each day except for the last couple and the stock response was to mention the glorious Indian summer when everything turned brown.  Well suffice to say I saw none of it but as usual there was a hosepipe ban in force!

That's something I really don't get.  England has to be one of the wettest countries in the world yet always it is caught out by an insufficiency of water ... apparently ... meaning you cannot run hosepipes to maintain the garden or even wash your car.  I realise that a large part of the basic infrastructure of the country was built in the Victorian era of fewer people, homes, etc., and much of it is in need of update and in some cases repair.  But really it rained cats and dogs for weeks.  In Bermuda we catch rain on our roofs and a few days of heavy rain is enough to refill our tanks and turn everything green.  And we don't get anywhere near the amount of rain.

It was nice though to spend some time in both Canterbury and Southend (our respective home towns) but a couple of highlights stand out:  Beachy Head and Arundel Castle.  Both are in Sussex and definitely worth a visit.

Beachy Head is a chalk headland near Eastbourne (a corruption of Beau Chef or Beautiful Headland in French), the highest chalk cliff in the country actually at 531 feet.  It is also a place where 20 people a year go to commit suicide and is quite possibly the reason why the Industrial Revolution happened.

No French or Dutch in sight this time.

Back in 1653 the English fought the Dutch at the Battle of Portland over 4 days exhausting and finally demolishing the Dutch Navy who had big global trade aspirations and as a consequence took the decision they couldn't compete with the English any more (this was before Great Britain was created).  However in 1690 at the Battle of Beachy Head (same place) a combined English and Dutch fleet was royally thumped by the French who were supporting the recently deposed James II in Ireland and elsewhere.  The French followed up into the River Thames and the consternation it caused made the new king and queen William III and Mary determine to rebuild the navy properly.

As there was no money available, the Bank of England was created in 1694 as a private institution and in 12 days raised £1.2 million, half of which was for rebuilding the navy thereby creating the global behemoth that was subsequently the Royal Navy.  The industrial activity this caused country wide transformed the economy with iron works making nails to agriculture feeding the quadrupled strength of the Royal Navy undoubtedly sowing the seeds for the Industrial Revolution that followed in the 18th century.

Today it is a lovely place for a walk and some great views.

One thing that gets me though, and this is something that is endemic these days in Britain, is that everything costs money.  Everything.  Now I don't mind paying for things as upkeep of course costs money but at Beachy Head ... and we weren't even at the top ... the parking spots were all pay and display.  This doesn't sound much but consider that Beachy Head is very, very remote indeed and the likelihood of a traffic warden strolling by just as they would outside Sainsbury's, for example, is laughable.  Yet still you have to pay.

But that still didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the sights and scenery which were magnificent.  Tres beau indeed.


It was my idea to visit Arundel Castle.  As a cricketer I have long been enamoured of the wonderful tradition that the first match of any tour by a foreign team was against an invitation XI at Arundel.  This must be a fantastic event to play in.  The castle itself is anything but shabby too and well worth a visit.

Arundel is between Worthing and Chichester in Sussex and was established in 1067 immediately after the Norman Conquest as a means of controlling the rebellious Saxons and also to guard against another foreign invasion as Britain was wide open at that time and rich pickings for anyone from overseas.  It has stayed pretty much in the family since this time with brief moments when the then Earls of Sussex and then Arundel as well as the superceding Dukes of Norfolk backed the wrong side and the monarchs executed them and appropriated their lands.

This was actually a major consideration as England in the early to late middle ages went through several periods of civil wars which turned the nobility rather more than the country upside down.  Take the Matilda/Stephen war of some 20 years back in the later 1100's, a war that was country wide, disruptive and saw the swapping of the throne back and forth on a number of occasions.  If you were a noble back then, you had to pick a side so this meant that at some point in the conflict you were bound to be on the losing side.  And being on the losing side often meant execution and confiscation of lands.

The inner courtyard with the Motte and Keep on top in the background

One way out of this was that taken by Thomas Howard, the 2nd duke, who was a general for Richard III but found himself catastrophically on the losing side at Bosworth in 1485.  He spent 3 years in the Tower of London having been demoted from Duke of Norfolk to Earl of Surrey but more than recovered in 1513 when he took command of the English forces that destroyed the invading Scots at Flodden when Henry VII was away campaigning.  In addition to regaining his dukedom and lands, the 2nd Duke received an augmentation to his coat of arms, namely that of a Scottish lion shot through the throat with an arrow.

Next problem was religion.  The Norfolks were/are still a prominent Roman Catholic family which was all to the good during the early Henry VIII era but the next duke was a schemer who was able to marry not one but two nieces to the king, both of whom were subsequently executed for treason (Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard).  This really didn't help the family fortunes much and when Elizabeth I took over, things got worse a later duke became involved in a plot to marry Mary Queen of Scots and was promptly executed for treason.

During the Civil War with Parliament, the Norfolks sided with Charles I but sensibly left the country for Italy until the Restoration in 1660 but the castle was scene of a number of engagements which damaged the structure considerably.  Fortunately the family married well, remained wealthy, regained all their prestige and over the next couple of centuries were able to reconstruct the castle in magnificent fashion.  The massive renovations in the Victorian era have brought the castle back to magnificent condition and the current family shows no sign of taking things easily.

One of the 65 loos put in by the Victorian restoration.  Still in use today.

Interestingly the Norfolks were the first family to establish family trusts to hold their various properties, a move designed to ward off the nastiness that is death duties in Britain.  The model they use has been widely copied around the country.

One of the bathrooms, still in use.

High spots for me were the magnificent library which is truly stunning, dozens of magnificent great works of art by Caneletto, Van Duyk and other great masters (one of the benefits of being around for 1,000 years, being wealthy and interested in art is that commissioning a Caneletto, say, when he was a young whipper snapper wasn't that expensive a proposition as today.  In fact they ordered 3, all hang in the Caneletto Room) and the garden which is very contemporary.

The 10,000 book library.  

The current Duchess is very keen on the garden and it shows.  I imagine spring time and early summer must be breath taking.  The magnolias and rhodedendrums were simply green when we visited. In early summer they'd be in their full glory.

Part of the garden with the Catholic Cathedral in the background.

Just lovely in fact.

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