Dressing For Christmas!

TrumpetersNicola here. Every year as Christmas approaches, I try to visit one of my favourite stately homes to see it “dressed” for Christmas. This is an official term, apparently, and involves a lot of decorating which puts my own Christmas tree and lights to shame! (For a start, I don't have four model trumpeters outside my house to welcome visitors!) It hasn’t been possible to keep this visiting tradition going during the pandemic, so this year it was a real treat to be able to go to Beaulieu in the New Forest and enjoy some spectacular decorations that totally put me in the Christmas mood.

Beaulieu is probably best known for its famous Motor Museum and whilst I did pop in to have a look at an Aston Martin or two (there was a James Bond exhibition on) my main interest was in the ruins of the abbey and Beaulieu Palace itself.

There isn’t much left of the abbey, once the largest Cistercian building in England. The ruins are rather atmospheric Abbey though. Like so many other monastic buildings, the abbey’s downfall came in 1538 with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries when it was sold into private hands and much of the stone was taken away and used for other building projects. It’s still possible to see the scale of the whole estate and imagine it surrounded by a 12 foot high wall that stretched for a mile, with the great gatehouse (which still stands) and the river and quay where boats would unload their supplies.

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Memories of Holidays Past

The New Forest Nicola here, just returned from a lovely trip to the South Coast of England and the New Forest. The New Forest is one of my favourite places in the whole of England. Originally set up as a hunting chase by William the Conqueror after his victory at Hastings in 1066, it gets its name from being a "new" forest as opposed to the old Saxon hunting grounds. It is a hugely atmospheric, mystical and historical place and very inspiring for a writer.

Memories

Until last year I thought that I had never been to the New Forest as a child but then I turned up Nicola7 some black and white photographs from my very first holiday. My mother confirmed that we had stayed in Lyndhurst in the New Forest and also at Mudeford, a seaside town nearby. Here I am on the beach! I don't remember the holiday at all except for one tiny memory of how the sand felt between my toes! But I do wonder whether my love of that part of the coast and of the Forest springs from those very earliest memories and impressions.

Children of the New Forest We never returned to the New Forest for holidays during my childhood. Instead my love of the place was fostered by the book "Children of the New Forest" by Frederick Marryat. For those who have never come across it, this is a classic children's book set during the period of the English Civil War. It features four children who are orphaned when their father is killed fighting for King Charles I and tells the tales of their adventures in the Forest. I loved it when it I was young and it's still on my bookshelf today.

Sightseeing

On my recent trip I visited lots of places that feature in the book and also places I IMG_5651 went to as a child. Calshot Castle was wonderful, a little moated fort built by Henry VIII in 1539 to defend England against the joint threat from France and the Holy Roman Empire. Calshot was closed on the day we visited but another of Henry's forts, Hurst Castle, was open. It is situated at the end of a mile and a half shingle spit. We walked out to it and got a boat back. In storms the shingle can move hundreds of feet but the castle has never been washed away. It was garrisoned in the Napoleonic Wars and extended in the later 19th century and also used during the Second World War. It was quite a thought to stand on the walls and imagine England's defenders occupying this castle for the last 500 years. Here is a photo of Monty and me on the battlements!

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A building that was created for fun rather than fortification was Luttrell's Tower, a Georgian folly that was built in the late 18th century for Temple Luttrell a Member of Parliament who was also a gentleman smuggler. A passageway connected the basement of the tower to the beach, making it very easy to bring the contaband directly into the building. Unfortunately the excisemen started to take an interest in Luttrell and he was forced to flee to France to escape prosecution! These days you can actually stay in the Tower as it is a holiday cottage with a fabulous view out across the sea!

 

 Iconic Landmarks in the Forest

Back in the New Forest we visited a couple of iconic landmarks. The Knightwood IMG_5688 Oak is six hundred years old and is the oldest remaining tree in the New Forest. It's mind-boggling to imagine that this tree was already over a hundred years old when Henry VIII was hunting here. Another famous spot is the Rufus Stone, which marks the spot where King William Rufus, William II, was supposedly fatally shot when on a hunting expedition in the Forest in 1100. William was named Rufus for his high complexion and his red hair, and he had a reputation for being a very unpleasant character indeed. The story goes that the Frenchman Sir Walter Tyrrell, who was the King's best archer, shot at a stag but the arrow struck an oak tree and ricocheted off it straight into the chest of the king, puncturing his lung and killing him on the spot. The question of whether the king's death was an accident or not has never been resolved and is one of the most enduring of British historical mysteries. One thing is for sure – no one was sorry to see him go and his brother, who succeeded as King Henry I, did not even make an attempt to retrieve the body!

If you would like to read more about the history of the New Forest and the places I visited, I will be blogging about it this week on my personal blog here.

Lord of scandal I've thoroughly enjoyed visiting these old haunts and it got me wondering about other places that I haven't visited since I was a child, whether it's good to go back, whether places you love when you are young still measure up later in life or whether's it's better not to try to re-create those memories. What do you think? Is there a place that you used to go for vacations or holidays when you were young and then re-visited many years later? Was it as you remembered or had it changed? Better or worse – or just different? Or is there somewhere you remember from your childhood that you would like to see again? I've unexpectedly received some hardback reprints of my 2008 RITA-nominated book Lord of Scandal so I'm offering a copy to one commenter on this post!