Lunuganga – a garden tour

For quite some time now, I had been meaning to visit Lunuganga but it didn’t quite work out till earlier in April. Ever since I learnt that my favourite place in Colombo, Seema Malakaya meditation centre, was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I have been interested in his other work around the country. I went on the tour of No 11, his Colombo residence. And, it was time for me to visit his first landscaping work, considered his masterpiece.

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The country home of Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect, was his first landscaping work which led him to his passion – architecture. After completing his law studies in England, he realized that it was not the career he wanted to pursue. After spending some years traveling around the world, he returned to Sri Lanka and bought an abandoned rubber estate in Bentota in 1947. He started landscaping the place and continued working on it till 1998, when his illness prevented him from doing further work.

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The garden tours, at Lunuganga, allow the public to visit the place. For those ready to splurge a bit, one can stay overnight at one of the guest rooms at Geoffrey Bawa’s country home.

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The Glass House

There are fixed time tours, and you simply need to be at the gate at the specified times for the tours, and ring the bell. One of the staff takes you to the ticket office just in front of the Glass House, one of the spaces that is rented out to overnight guests.

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Garden room

The tour starts from the Garden room, a beautiful space where Geoffrey Bawa kept his gardening tools as well as used to work from.

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Lovely corner in the Garden room

Close to the garden room was his studio, which was originally the chicken shed and the cow barn. The studio is also one of the spaces that one can stay overnight in.

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The studio

From the terrace in front of the garden shed, one has a beautiful vista to look upon.

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Nataraja statue, with the butterfly pool in the background

This was a spot that Bawa enjoyed dining from and there was a table with a bell adjacent to it. From this spot, not only did he have a view of the butterfly pool, but also the rice fields and the river beyond.

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We walked down the stone steps to the butterfly pool and the water was very clear that day, they were beautifully reflecting the blue skies and the trees above them.

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Reflections in the butterfly pool

From the butterfly pool, we walked along the rice fields and came across a windmill, that is no longer used. In Bawa’s time, the windmill was used to power the motor of the well beneath. You can see the windmill and the well in the left corner of the photo below.

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We walked up to the bank of the river, where during Bawa’s time, a boat could be taken to his little private island. Boat tours can now be taken by overnight guests at Lunuganga.

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River bank

We came upon several benches placed at lovely spots, as well as alcoves that looked out on to beautiful views, while giving one privacy for reflection or a quiet read.

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View of Pan in the woods, from my bench

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The yellow pavilion

The main plantation house, which was where Geoffrey Bawa stayed at, had a view of the river on one side and a lovely frangipani tree and the cinnamon hill, on the other side.

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Frangipani tree, by the plantation house

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View of cinnamon hill

The design of the exterior of the gatehouse, which is close to the row of hedges seen in the above photo of the cinnamon hill, reminded me of Bawa’s Colombo residence and which perhaps, he had worked on during the same time period. The gatehouse is also one of the spaces that is available for overnight guests.

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Gatehouse

Passing the gatehouse, we came across a little corridor. The guide opened a window in the passage, which he referred to as the ha-ha window, and pointed out the public road below cutting through the estate but which could not be seen from any part of the estate ground, though it was right between the hedges seen in the photo of the cinnamon hill.

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View from the ha-ha window

We then passed a mural, that had been created by another of Bawa’s artist friends, and climbed cinnamon hill to its peak and the tree with the tempayan pot, that can be seen from the main house. This tree marks the spot where Bawa is buried and as per his wishes, there is no stone marking his resting place, except for the tempayan pot which one can see placed at different spots across the estate.

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The cinnamon hill house is a house that Geoffrey Bawa had built for visiting friends and it is at the edge of the hill, overlooking the river. It is also now available for overnight guests but is a bit isolated from the main house and the rest of the estate so I am not sure, I would want to stay in this space were I an overnight guest.

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Cinnamon hill house

We walked back to the main plantation house and walked up the steps to a tiny terrace that led us back to the ticket office.

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Steps leading to the terrace of the plantation house

We looked back one final time, from the terrace, at the view of cinnamon hill and Bawa’s resting place in the distance, before leaving Lunuganga. The place is certainly a labour of love and Bawa’s passion for landscaping can be clearly seen and experienced. I am glad that the Geoffrey Bawa Trust are maintaining this gem of a place very well.

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Have you visited Lunuganga? If not, I would highly recommend visiting it next time you visit Bentota in Sri Lanka.

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #27]

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Special Six: Colombo Cafes

I am more of a fan of cosy cafes, than fine dining restaurants, especially if they are independent ones and not part of a chain. In Colombo, there is a tendency for cafes and restaurants to mushroom and then close after a couple of years of poor business choices or tough regulations. However, there are some that have established themselves firmly over time. Here are my favourite six in Colombo, some of which I have been a regular customer for over a decade, and others which I like from the newly opened offerings around the city.

  1. Barefoot Garden Cafe

Ever since I first stepped into Barefoot Garden back in 2003, it has been my favourite cafe in Colombo. Aesthetically pleasing, the outdoor cafe adjacent to Barefoot gallery, which hosts art exhibitions and music performances among others, serves great food, has a good tea menu and a better wine selection. The customer service can vary but I usually go to Barefoot when I plan to spend a couple of hours there catching up with friends so I don’t mind the sometimes long waits for food to arrive. It also used to be my preferred place of work, during my consultant years, as the atmosphere on weekdays prior to the lunch hour is conducive for working on a report.

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Broccoli and mushroom quiche with salad

Barefoot cafe is at the back of Barefoot, the shopping outlet of the cotton handloom company started by Barbara Sansoni in 1964. The company engages rural handweavers and has continued to be the best in the Sri Lankan handloom industry over the years, yet to be matched by other handloom companies for its vibrant colours, quality and choice of products.

While I enjoy the ambience of Barefoot, I prefer to go to Barefoot during weekdays than weekends, despite its live jazz on sundays, as it is too crowded then for my liking and you are conscious of people waiting for tables to leisurely enjoy your own meal.

2. Commons Coffee House

Commons, the first of Harpo Gooneratne’s ventures, was opened in 2004. From his DJing career, Harpo shifted to the hospitality industry and worked as an entertainment manager at 5 star hotels. With the start of his own Harpo Productions company, he has launched a series of cafes and restaurants with different concepts. While I like several of his cafe/ restaurant ventures, I like his first the most.

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Stringhoppers with fish curry, kiri hodhi and sambol

Commons at Flower Road, Colombo 3 has continued to be a place I have enjoyed meeting up with friends. It has a relaxed atmosphere, friendly service, good food, particularly their Sri Lankan menu – my particular favourite is the rotti cart, with the selection of rotti with fillings.

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Rotti with tandoori chicken filling

3. Heladiv Tea Club

Heladiv Tea Club is an initiative of one of Sri Lanka’s largest tea exporting companies. They started the Tea Club at the old Dutch hospital precincts at Colombo Fort in 2011, after the site went through a massive renovation and restoration project. While I enjoy their tea offerings and their limited food selection is good, my particular favourite here is the soursop iced tea soda.

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Soursop iced tea and peach iced tea

4. Whight & Co

While Sri Lanka is well-known for its tea, it’s coffee is hardly known. It is surprising therefore that for a few decades in mid 19th century, Sri Lanka was one of the top global producers of coffee. In fact, according to the website of Whight and Co, one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo, the Dutch introduced coffee beans from Mocha in Yemen to Sri Lanka in early 17th century and the British subsequently expanded coffee cultivation. It was the coffee blight of 1869 that resulted in the switch to tea plantations.

James Whight, the owner, had tested coffee plants in regions where they had once grown coffee and found that the sample from Mathurata region in Uva province were from the descendants from an Ethiopian coffee bean mother plant. This coffee is now available as the Ruby Harvest coffee and is served at Whight and Co on Marine Drive, Colombo 3.

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Cold brewing in progress

I have tried a few of their coffees and my favourite is their cold brew, which is only sold in two coffee shops in Colombo that I know of. The upstairs space is lovely, if you need to work on your laptop for a couple of hours, read or simply enjoy the view of the Indian ocean while you appreciate your coffee.

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Cold brew coffee

5. Cafe Kumbuk 

A cafe that opened up a year or so ago, I like the way they have decorated their space at the Prana Lounge premises at 60, Horton Place, Colombo 7. It is an inviting, cosy cafe serving delicious meals. I love their french toast specials, which they seem to change seasonally. The couple, who run the cafe, have lived in London for several years and had been inspired by the food scene in East London and opened up this organic cafe. They have opened up another outlet, called Kumbuk kitchen, next to Good market on Reid avenue.

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Pistachio French toast

6. Kopi Kade

I visited this newly opened coffee shop on Stratford avenue, Colombo 6, last month and I immediately added it to one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo.

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Nimesh Namasivayam, the owner and barista of the coffee shop, has come up with a lovely menu of small plates and bites of Sri Lankan food with a twist.

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Roti crisps with a choice of accompaniments

My favourite part of the coffee place was of course the coffee, which Nimesh sources directly from organic coffee producers around the world. The delicious cup of coffee that I tried out recently was a blend of Ethiopian and Indonesian coffee beans.

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Have you visited any of these six special places during your visit to Colombo? Which ones would you be interested in trying out?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #71 and Faraway Files #28]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Special Six: National Museum Gallery Highlights

The national museum of Colombo is the largest in the country and its founder, Sir William Henry Gregory, who was the British governor at that time declared it open on January 1st, 1877. When I visited the museum a dozen or so years ago, I was not impressed with the quite dilapidated building and presentation of exhibits, especially the lack of information about exhibits. Having learnt that the national museum had reopened after major renovations, I decided that it was time for me to revisit the museum this week and hoped that this visit would be more interesting. I was not disappointed as the building itself seems to have undergone a face lift and looked beautiful.

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In this post, I would like to share the six galleries that interested me the most of the different galleries at the museum.

  • Prehistoric gallery

The earliest evidence of the pre-historic period in Sri Lanka is 250,000 years ago in Minihagalkanda, Hambantota and the latest around 2,800 BC in Manthai, Mannar.

This gallery’s focus was primarily on burial techniques. I came across two different burial methods. One was an urn burial that was excavated from Pomparippu from around 800 – 700 BC. The pot was used to place human ash and offerings and covered with the circular stone slab, similar to the stone enclosure on display, which had been found near Galewela.

The other form of burial on display was the earthen canoe burial, where a pit built with clay was used for burning the corpse together with offerings and then filled and covered with a layer of burnt clay lumps. The one on display had been found in Kegalle district and was dated to 360 BC.

  • Anuradhapura period gallery

The museum has missed out on the period between prehistoric and Anuradhapura period, where there was an influx of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, which contributed to the decimation of the indigenous population and establishment of the Sinhalese and Tamil settlements in the country. The information plaque at the entrance of the gallery mentions that Anuradhagama was founded in 5 BC by Anuradha, a minister of the legendary ruler Vijaya. The city of Anuradhapura was then established in 4 BC by King Pandukabhaya, and became the first capital of Sri Lanka.

Two images under this period caught my attention. One was the 8th century image of Buddha found in Toluvila, which actually is displayed at the entrance of the museum and not within the Anuradhapura gallery. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 3 BC, through the missionary activities of Emperor Asoka of India.

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The other image that fascinated me was that of Goddess Durga from 9 – 10th century, found in Mihintale. The image had no similarity to contemporary images of the Goddess in the country. The information board in the gallery mentions that “the presence of Tamil rulers in Sri Lanka from pre-Christian times indicates the practice of Brahminical or Hindu faith” and it mentions the 7th century poetry of Tirujnanasambandar, praising the Hindu shrine at Tiruketisvaram in Mantai.

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I was also intrigued by the surgical instruments found from this period. On display was a scalpel and a scissor from the 8th century, as well as a grinding stone for herbal medicine.

  • Polonnaruwa period gallery

During the heydays of Anuradhapura, Kandavurunuwara, which was considered to be the legendary ancient city of Pulastipura from Ravana’s time, became a strategic city midway between the Anuradhapura kingdom and the southern kingdom of Mahagama. It was this city that became the capital of the Chola empire of India when they re-conquered Anuradhapura in the 10th century. The city was renamed Janathamangalam and became the second capital of the country. It was when Vijayabahu I defeated the Cholas and took over the city that it was named Polonnaruwa. Irrigation tanks was a major contribution of the Polonnaruwa reign and the major ones are still in use.

In this section of the gallery, what attracted my attention immediately was the images of the Hindu gods, Siva  (12 – 13th century) and Ganesha (12th century). These images looked more like contemporary images, than the ones from the Anuradhapura period.

Of interest again was the medical instruments of the time, which was similar to the ones found in Anuradhapura.

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Another object that fascinated me was the time and day calculator. While the water ladle in the center of this glass display is beautiful, the time calculator was the polished coconut bowl with holes in it through which water seeped into another bowl. When the bowl was filled, it indicated that an hour had passed.

  • Transitional Period Gallery

With the decline of Polonnaruwa in early 13th century, there was a transitional period across the country where there were frequent struggles for power between kingdoms and one kingdom would emerge powerful within a region (s) for a few decades. This transition period was till the end of the 16th century, when Kandy emerged as the capital of the country. It was towards the end of this period that the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka and took over the coastal areas.

I would have liked to see more local artefacts from this period, especially details from the Kingdoms of Dambadeniya, Gampola, Jaffna and Kotte. From the exhibits in this gallery, the one that fascinated me most was the trilingual inscription, carved in Nanjing, and brought to the country by the Chinese navigator Zheng He in 14th century. The stone was installed in Galle. The Chinese writing on the stone invokes Buddha and offers alms to the Buddhist shrine at Samanalakanda, alternatively known as Sivanoli Pada malai and Adam’s peak, the Tamil writing invokes blessings of Hindu gods and particularly of God Vishnu, the Persian writing invokes the ‘light of Islam’. The placement of the inscription in the gallery was poorly done as it has been placed by a glass door, so the strong light at the back of the stone reduces the visibility of the inscription in addition to not allowing a good photograph to be taken.

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  • Kandyan Period Gallery

By the end of the 15th century, the Kandyan kingdom emerged as a powerful force, despite the turbulence experienced in the rest of the country due to the inter-Kingdom wars, the Portuguese colonization of the coastal areas followed by the Dutch colonization efforts. The capital finally fell to the British in 1815, due to internal power struggles between the King and his Prime Minister, which divided the people.

Occupying the pride of place in the Kandyan gallery was the throne, crown and scepter of the King of Kandy.

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The best display in this gallery was the writing instruments though. The stylus pens used to write on palm leaves or gold and brass plates.

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The ground floor of the museum was the most interesting part of the museum for me. I didn’t find the upper floor as fascinating, despite some interesting galleries focusing on art, woodwork and even agriculture.

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I was delighted to know that the cost of the museum ticket for residents and non-residents, while still different, was not too much as in other sights in Sri Lanka. I used to be embarrassed when accompanying visiting friends to places in the Cultural triangle, where they would be forking out a 1000 or 2000 for a entry ticket, while I only had to pay a 100. The national museum ticket on the other hand is LKR 35 for locals and LKR 300 for non-residents, and the photography permit of LKR 250 is the same for both.

The museum has been better organized and presented in the form of different galleries and now conforms to the trilingual policy, that was initiated in 2012. This enhanced the experience of my visit, as each exhibit now had information boards in English, Sinhala and Tamil. I also noticed there were tags on several of the exhibits and asked the museum staff, if there was an audio guide. It seemed most of the current staff in the galleries were newly recruited and were not aware of the guide. It was towards the end of my visit that I met a staff, who was able to explain to me that the audio guide was in the form of a downloadable mobile app and that once downloaded, I could scan the tag of an exhibit and listen to the corresponding audio recording.

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Hope you enjoyed the brief tour of the museum of Colombo! Would you include it in your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka?

[Linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayFaraway Files #25 and Cultured Kids]
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A photo tour of Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey was founded in the 7th century and expanded by St. Dunstan, the Abbot of Glastonbury in the 10th century and by 1086, it was the richest monastery in England. Of special interest is the legend connecting the site of the abbey to the burial place of King Arthur as well as Joseph of Arimathea. As I had been fascinated by the legend, my sister decided to make a stop at the abbey on our way back from Wells.

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According to the exhibition at the abbey museum, there was an old church made of mud and wood on the site, the origin of which is not clear but there are various legends surrounding it. However, the fire of 1184 destroyed any traces of this old church and the Lady chapel was consecrated on its site in 1186.

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When the medieval St. Joseph’s crypt was constructed under the Lady chapel, it became a popular destination for pilgrims. The crypt was rededicated in 2015 by the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

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On the side of Lady chapel is a marker of a grave. While there are many stories connected to this grave, a popular story that is mentioned on the abbey’s website is that monks needing to raise funds to rebuild the abbey after the fire, dug up this grave in 1191 searching for the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

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They were then re-buried in a black marble tomb in the then newly constructed abbey church in 1278.

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The ruins of the Great church, though not having survived to the extent of Lady chapel, are also quite majestic.

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The best preserved section of the abbey is the Abbot’s kitchen, which was built in the 1300s, and was used to provide meals for the abbot and his guests.

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Facing the kitchen was the ruins of the refectory, marked as the monastic ruins on the abbey map.

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The abbey grounds cover 36 acres of parkland. I was not up to walking around the entire parkland but I did stop and pause by some lovely benches to rest and observe the ruins.

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Another site of interest to the visitor to Glastonbury would be the Glastonbury Tor. Having walked a lot that day, my sister was concerned that I would find it too much to climb and with the clouds opening up as I finished my visit to the abbey, we decided to turn away with a brief glimpse of the Tor, from a distance.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary media pass to Bath and regional attractions, during my November 2016 visit to south west England, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to Glastonbury Abbey. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[Linked this post to The Weekly Postcard and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

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Special Six: Morning at Wells Cathedral

Wells, the second smallest city of England in terms of its population size and geographical area, has been a city since medieval times due to the cathedral. I had been fascinated by Clare’s (Suitcases and Sandcastles) mention of the oldest complete medieval street left in England on her post on Wells city. So, I asked my sister, during my weekend stay with her, whether we could visit Wells. She decided that we would go for the Sunday Holy Communion service at Wells Cathedral.

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When we arrived at the cathedral around 7.30am, the entrance was closed. Someone pointed out a door on its West Front that had been left open for those coming for the service.

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At the end of the hour long service, my sister and I decided that we would meet up on the cathedral green near the entrance in a few hours as I had wanted to wander around. Since it was a Sunday, the daily cathedral tours by volunteers was not available. I asked permission to take a few photos of the Quire area from a church staff preparing for the next service. While I would have loved to explore the rest of the cathedral, especially its chained library, I did appreciate having been part of the morning service which I would not have been able to had I visited on a weekday.

What catches one’s attention as you walk into the cathedral through the west front are the Scissor arches which, according to the cathedral website, had been added in 1338, when a new spire added to the top of the tower threatened to collapse the whole structure.

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The 14th century stained glass windows of the Jesse window was impressive. While the windows narrowly escaped destruction during the English civil war and was protected during the second world war, the windows have been deteriorating over time. A protective glazing has been added to the exterior of the window and conservation work undertaken to preserve the beautiful window.

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The Quire area, where the morning service had been held, is one of the oldest part of the cathedral and is beautiful.

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The present organ was rebuilt in the 1970s, with the original instrument having been built in mid 19th century, with pipework from late 18th century.

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While I had been eager to see the famous 14th century astronomical clock at the cathedral, considered the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and its two famous jousting knights and Quarter Jack, I could not see it within the cathedral as I could not wander around. However, there was a clock on the exterior face of the wall, facing the Vicar’s Hall, that was connected to the same mechanism as that of the clock inside.

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I walked further and came upon the Vicar’s close, the medieval street that had intrigued me.

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Built to house the Vicar’s Choral, which is an all male group, it still continues to be inhabited by successive choral groups.

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At the end of the close is the Vicar’s chapel and library.

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Returning to the Cathedral green, I sat on one of the benches overlooking the west front and admired the cathedral while taking a break.

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Have you visited Wells Cathedral? What aspect of the cathedral intrigues you?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #67 and Faraway Files #22]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Walking around Lacock village

A couple of months ago, I visited Wiltshire on holiday and decided to stay at the lovely village of Lacock for a couple of days. The key museum highlight of the village is of course Lacock Abbey and the Fox and Talbot museum, which I have shared in a separate post. In this post, I am focusing on the special highlights of my stay in the village and my morning walks around the village.

Each morning, I woke up to a view of a private garden that I had labelled the secret garden. I would have loved to explore that garden, if I had had the permission of its owner.

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After making myself a hot cup of tea, I would go out for my much treasured morning walks, exploring the village without a soul in sight. The village is tiny with just four main streets in a grid like pattern, so I invariably ended up walking around several times during my stay.

The medieval village of Lacock was built around St. Cyriac’s chuch. The base of the current church was built in the 11th century, though there has been renovations made across the centuries.

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Close to the church is King John’s hunting lodge, said to have been used by the King when hunting in the Melksham forest that surrounded the village then. The 13th century hunting lodge, which still has some of its original beam structure, is now a tea room. It was closed for renovations during my visit.

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I took the tiny street near the church, leading towards Nethercote hill, and came upon the packhorse bridge over Bide brook. The packhorse bridge was the first bridge of its kind that I had seen. So, while I guessed that the path leading into and out of the brook was for carts carrying market goods, I had to read about it to learn that it had been used for packhorses during the wool trade heydays of the village.

Instead of continuing down Nethercote hill or taking the Lover’s walk footpath trail, I turned back and walked back along Church street. I passed Lacock bakery, which I had visited during the afternoon of the previous day to indulge in a sweet pastry.

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Near the end of Church street, close to the main road, I came upon the Sign of the Angel, which had been a 15th century inn and was now a restaurant with rooms to board. Later in the day, when I was walking along the street, I saw tour groups gathering outside the inn and the tour leader was referencing Harry Potter so I guess this place must have been one of the many places in Lacock that was used in the movie. I was more interested in the fact that the village was used to depict Meryton village in Pride and Prejudice (the 1995 BBC miniseries).

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From the corner of Church street and West Street, it was lovely to see my rooms above Quintessentially English and I wished that the cars had not been parked on the road, so I could imagine that I had traveled back in time.

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Walking along West Street, I passed George Inn, which had been highly recommended for their food by Ollie and where I had planned to have one of my dinners but never did get around to it. George Inn has continued to be a bustling inn since it obtained its license in 1361.

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Turning on to High Street, I passed the National Trust shop and Red Lion inn.

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While I did not try out all three main inns in Lacock as I had originally planned to, I did have a lovely meal at the Red Lion. I am a fan of the chunky chips that is served in England.

Opposite Red Lion, at the start of East Street was the medieval tithe barn. This was the place where taxes was collected in the form of 10% of farm produce.

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At one end of the barn was a small holding cell, which had been used to hold people overnight, who had too much to drink.

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The next door village hall is used for community events.

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Returning to High Street and walking further in the direction of the abbey, one passes the playing field managed by the Lacock Parish council.

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The High Street curves around the low walls and perimeter fence of the abbey grounds and onto Hither Way. I enjoyed my views of Lacock Abbey and its grounds, from the road.

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I walked up to the Wharf and Lacock bridge. This bridge has been in use since the 14th century and I read that it is sometimes inaccessible due to floods.

I became fond of the little village from my morning walk explorations during the two days that I stayed there and would highly recommend an overnight stay or more, rather than a day trip to the village. It adds to the experience of exploring Lacock Abbey.

A special highlight of my stay in the village was my accommodation. From the moment I saw Snoozums on AirBnB, I knew I had to stay there when I visited Lacock. Fortunately, the place was available on the days I planned to visit and it was right in the heart of the village,  above a shop opposite the bus stop.

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Quintessentially English is a delightful shop that Jacqui Sheard founded, so that she could make her passion for crafting handmade organic soaps her profession. The lovely scents of different bath products greeted me as I entered the shop upon arrival. I was soon ushered next door and up the stairs, to Snoozums, the apartment I would be staying at.

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It was a lovely space with a living area, cosy bedroom and a private bathroom. Jacqui left a huge breakfast basket for me as well as some of the bath product goodies in the welcome tray.

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In addition to my delight at staying at the cosy and comfortable apartment in a historic building, I enjoyed interacting with Jacqui and her husband, David. I also enjoyed helping Ollie with packing some of their Christmas orders and learnt about different bath products, in the process. Jacqui was very generous that she gave me an extra night’s stay free of cost, for helping them out with the Christmas orders, and dropped me at Chippenham for my onward journey at the end of my stay.

[Linking this post to Faraway Files #19 and The Weekly Postcard]

Suitcases and Sandcastles
Travel Notes & Beyond

Lacock Abbey and grounds

It was a photo tour of Lacock abbey, by Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles, that inspired me to add the abbey to the list of places I planned to visit during my trip to England last year.

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Lacock abbey has a very fascinating history. Ela, the Countess of Salisbury, was a wealthy heiress who became the countess suo jure or in her own right, and not by marriage, in 1196. She did marry that same year, at the age of 9, and her husband became the Earl of Salisbury by marriage. A few years after her husband’s death, Ela founded Lacock Abbey in 1229 and laid its first stone in 1232. She joined the abbey as a nun in 1238 and became its first Abbess in 1242. To ensure that the village around the abbey thrived, she obtained a charter from the King which allowed a weekly market to be held in Lacock.

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During the dissolution of the monasteries, Sir William Sharington bought the abbey and converted it into a house in the mid 16th century. Despite the demolition and construction work that took place, the cloisters remained as it was in Ela’s time. The Abbey soon passed into the Talbot family, when Sharington’s niece, to whom the property was willed, married John Talbot. In the mid 18th century, the house underwent alterations in the Gothic revival style.

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The abbey was gifted to the National Trust in 1944 by Matilda Gilchrist-Clark, who inherited it from her uncle Henry Talbot, the son of William Henry Fox Talbot, who contributed to the history of photography by developing the photographic negative process. A museum on photography is housed at the barn at the abbey gates and you can see the copy of the world’s first negative taken by Talbot in 1835 here. The negative is of a window at Lacock Abbey.

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My visit to the Abbey was in winter and so only the cloisters and the grounds was open to visitors, and not the house. However, as my primary fascination about the place was centered around its medieval history, it worked out well for me.

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The entrance to the cloisters was adorned with Christmas decorations and the staff were at work decorating the passageways, as I explored it.

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The Chapter House is a section of the cloisters, which has been well preserved. This room was where the nuns gathered every day and read a chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict for Benedictines and Cistercians.

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If not for Septimus, the kid’s guide to the cloisters, urging one to watch out for the creatures that came alive at night, I might have missed out a closer look of the ceiling bosses. I spotted the swan but not the seahorse or the mermaid. It would have been fun had the adult’s guide also included ‘spot the object’ games.

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The niche in the wall, which once held books, was also interesting. Since books were very expensive during the Middle ages, they were often locked or chained to the shelves.

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The warming house was one of two places at the abbey, which had a fireplace. Visitors were therefore shown to this room, after being received in the parlour. The nuns’ dormitory was above this room so that the warmth from the room would reach them. The huge cauldron, dated 1500, was originally a cooking cauldron before becoming a garden ornament in the 18th century.

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With the quiet surrounding the cloisters, it was very easy to imagine how it must have been like during the time that the nuns were in residence at the abbey.

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Emerging from the cloisters, I decided to walk around the abbey grounds, circling the abbey. The grounds were well maintained and a beautiful place to walk around.

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I passed a deep and still pool, as I walked along the grounds carpeted with the fallen leaves.

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The Rockworks was a mid 18th century creation, built as a mock ruin for those walking the grounds to come upon.

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Other highlights of the abbey grounds was the rose garden, the botanic gardens and the kitchen gardens. The kitchen gardens were used, since the time of the nuns, to produce food for the abbey residents. The botanic gardens were a special endeavour of Henry Fox Talbot, who was a keen botanist in addition to being a keen photographer.

Walking back to the entrance gate, I stepped into the Fox Talbot museum, which was opened in 1975 in the barn, used as stables in the 16th century. The ground floor gallery showcases the history of photography, while the first floor displays temporary photography exhibitions.

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Henry Talbot became interested in photography when he became frustrated with his artistic efforts to capture the scenes he and his wife saw on their honeymoon travel across Europe in 1833. Returning to Lacock, he started thinking about how the image reflected onto ground glass from a camera lucida could be permanently captured, without having to trace its outlines. His chemistry experiments led him to develop light sensitive papers which could be used to leave contact prints of opaque objects, which he called sciagraphs. It was in 1835 that his experiments of using sensitive coated paper and a modified camera obscura led to the development of the world’s first negative. However, he did not publish his results and in 1839, Louis Daguerre announced his independent findings and came to be known as the father of photography.

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While I had heard of a daguerrotype, which was the first commercially successful photographic process, I had not heard of the calotype, Talbot’s invention and modification of his earlier work in 1835, and which he had patented in 1841. So, it was with interest that I explored the Fox Talbot museum in Lacock.

The Lacock Abbey has certainly had a very interesting history from its medieval beginning as an abbey for nuns and then as a site for early photography experiments.

What features of Lacock Abbey is of most interest to you? 

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #18]