The past three weeks, from our warm, sunny Easter to a largely cold and soggy start to May, have been exciting ones for Herstory! On Saturday 20th April, my cousin Sarah (pictured, with Hubcap and her partner, Sam) came to see Beckside in all its spring glory, and were as thrilled as I am by the pond of thriving tadpoles, hives of busy bees, (see below) and Hubcap’s pal Sneezy, the friendly hen-pheasant – not to mention impressed by the way the whole site’s shaping up, thanks to his hard work.
Then on Easter Sunday, my children’s book, Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat, received a huge shot of incentive when we met another of my cousins, Donnas, for the first time. A tremendously talented artist and craft potter, Donnas is very keen to illustrate the book, and make items (like mugs and figurines) to sell with it as gift-sets in her Grimsby shop. After a good brainstorming session, (which inspired me to finish the fourth and final chapter!), her parting gift to us was this delightful little ‘twit-pot’ (below, centre) for wrens, which Hubcap has fixed to the trellis in hopes of attracting residents. (Cont'd below pics)
Donnas also has time now to start on some drawings – and if they’re as good as her pottery, they’ll truly illuminate the story for young readers. I can’t wait to see them!
I’ve also made headway on editing my fantasy trilogy, Lay of Angor, down into a single volume for my friend Martine Guillermin to translate into French (as well as re-launching it in English-speaking markets). I’m having great fun revisiting the text, addressing reader criticisms, and making substantial cuts – mainly to Book 1, which I’ve always felt was the weakest. I’ve already revised the opening chapters so that Martine can start working on it this summer, and feel much happier with my ‘new and improved’ version.
Meanwhile I’ve also been enjoying a successful end to my winter lecture season with a flurry of activity this month. On Wednesday 1st, Hubcap and I had a splendid time doing our double act on the Battle of Towton for Horbury Historical Society. As ever, his ‘Arming the Archer’ section went down a storm, attracting a crowd of eager questioners after the talk – one gentleman was so fascinated by everything to do with the longbow that he didn’t want to go home – and I also sold plenty of books! My annual contribution to the Doncaster & District Heritage Festival was so over-subscribed that it had to be moved to a larger venue; and I’m hoping that my Battle of Wakefield presentation to Morley Monday Club tomorrow will be equally well-received... and then I can rest on my laurels until the autumn!
Yesterday, Hubcap and I discovered a wonderful treasure practically on our doorstep: the Garden Centre and Historic Walled Gardens of Wentworth Woodhouse, just off the M1 in South Yorkshire between Hoyland and Elsecar.
Wentworth, an old estate village formerly belonging to the Fitzwilliam family, is extremely beautiful and worthy of a visit in itself. The Garden Centre and walled gardens on Hague Lane, just off the Main Street, were originally the kitchen gardens and pleasure grounds of the family mansion; they now belong to the Airey family, who, over the past 30 years, have brought them back from a state of dereliction with a most sympathetic and tasteful restoration. The nursery part of the operation, (left), set against mellow old brickwork, is one of the best I've ever seen, with high quality, superbly maintained plants and shrubs arranged in alphabetical order, and presented in imaginative displays which show them off to their best advantage; Hubcap was delighted to find a particularly fine lungwort and two sublime scented irises for our garden, and we'll defintely be going back to buy a van-load of plants for customers! It also sells a great range of gardening sundries, and has a branch of Earnshaws Fencing Centre, a pet and aquatic centre, butchers and deli, and a lovely gift shop - so there are plenty of tempting things to spend your money on!
We were also extremely impressed with the historic garden restoration, featuring (among other attractions) a yew maze, sunken garden, rock garden, water features and formal gardens - all beautifuly planted and immaculately maintained, as you can see from the pictures below.
The gardens have been restored to a semblance of their 19th century appearance under the stewardship of Countess Maud Fitzwilliam, whose delightful brick summerhouse now contains a photographic studio. We managed to stroll the four acres in just over an hour, leaving plenty of time to visit Larry the Llama (pictured) and other animals in the Family Farm before repairing to the coffee shop and restuarant for a splendid afternoon tea (served from 3 pm) with a gluten-free option for Hubcap. Altogether, I can't praise the place enough: friendly, helpful, enthusiastic staff, excellent facilities for families and children, the whole site spotlessly clean, and enough to do/look at to occupy at least a half day. Not surprisingly, it's extremely popular, so booking for afternoon tea is essential - and now that we've found this lovely place, I imagine we'll go back again and again to see how the grounds look season by season. Highly recommended!