Monday, November 17, 2014

Haven


"I have never known any distress that an hour's reading did not relieve"
-- Charles de Montesquieu

I love books and continue to prefer them over electronic devices even though they sometimes threaten to take over my house! In fact, my very first blog post four years ago was about the beauty of books. In my opinion, nothing makes a room warmer than a personal collection of books. I love how they bring color, pattern and texture to a room. And they tell us so much about the collector. Recently, after returning from a trip to England and new books arriving daily, I realized it was time to edit the books in my study to make room for the new ones. The goal was to be able to put my hand on whatever title I needed without too much trouble. My system of organization was pretty relaxed with the only rule being to group all books by the same author together. Other than that, I hoped to arrange them in an attractive way to highlight the beauty of the books. Since every book "counts" in this room (no forgettable books here), I should be able to find what I want easily. The topic of this collection would be favorite authors, as well as some new ones from the trip to England. This room would contain literary novels and biographies, mostly English, and very much my "old friends."


 Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury would be front and center. These are the diaries I found in London. I have been reading Virginia Woolf's books for many years and finding these beautiful editions of her diaries was a highlight of my trip. Seeing her lighthouse in St. Ives was also pretty special!

 Books on her as well as her circle of friends take up a few shelves

 I have been collecting books on the Bloomsbury Group for about 35 years now!

Next were some groupings of favorite authors. I loved getting the Nancy Mitfords and Katherine Mansfields together.


As well as books by E.M. Forster, Elizabeth Von Arnim, and E.M. Delafield. Though it seems that I have many editions of just one title by Delafield, The Diary of a Provincial Lady. This charming book about the life of an ordinary woman living in an English village during the 1930's is laugh-out-loud funny. Go here to read more. I discovered this gem a few years ago and apparently can't resist buying attractive editions.


My beloved Barbara Pym --  I think I've read every one of these


And some lovely Persephone editions -- oh, there's another "Diary of a Provincial Lady"!

Elizabeth Bowen is next to books on reading and writing. This accidental combination makes sense since Bowen's writing is some of the most beautiful and memorable writing you'll ever read. Go here to read more.


My Jane Austen books


Next were the books purchased in London, Cornwall, Devon and the Cotswolds. The goal was to keep all those together so I could have them at my fingertips to remind me of my trip. I have been slowly making my way through them.


So far I have read A Cornish Affair and Ross Poldark. They are both fun, escapist books and they took me back to Cornwall. Ross Poldark is an old-fashioned, swashbuckling tale that I loved and would put under the category of "guilty pleasure."

Some highlights --

This one came highly recommended by one of my readers and I can't wait to read it!


Summer in February is about an Edwardian artistic community set in Cornwall. I am reading this  now and enjoying it. It was made into a film starring Dan Stevens which I may now have to rent.


This one is about a young woman who flees her wedding and hides out in Cornwall doing research on a grand old home and garden. Naturally she is seduced by the beauty of the place as well as the scion of the family who owns the house. A good old-fashioned love story.


I learned about Cider With Rosie while in the Cotswolds. A best-selling (six million copies) nostalgic memoir of finding love during a summer in the Cotswolds, it was published 100 years ago.

Another laugh-out-loud classic of English comedy, also set in the Cotswolds

A collection of recipes from Cornwall and Devon that I found in a bookstore in St. Ives

The third installment of the Old Filth trilogy by Jane Gardam. Go here to read an excellent article about her in the New Yorker magazine.

I found three books by Angela Thirkell -- they are impossible to find here -- at a little book store in the Cotswolds village of Stow-on-the-Wold.


And this book on Beatrix Potter's gardening life, found at Kew Gardens bookstore, was hard to resist.

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A room filled with books is such an inviting sight. I am looking forward to spending some happy hours this winter in my study curled up with a favorite book and a cup of tea!

Monday, November 10, 2014

English Countryside, Part Two



Pastoral beauty in Devon

Travel can be a blissful escape. It can also be a source of inspiration to tap into upon returning home. A trip to the English countryside is both. Anyone who visits is bound to come back filled with new ideas. Writers, bibliophiles, artists, home designers and garden lovers with a romantic sensibility would be smitten. As Keats wrote, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." I believe that travel to the places we love stays with us forever.

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After  six days in London and three days in Cornwall, it was time to move on to our next destination. I had read about Devon and knew it would be lovely, but was still unclear about what to expect. And I was convinced that Cornwall (go here) would be a tough act to follow. However, as we drove through the scenic countryside and got our first glimpse of Gidleigh Park Hotel, I was overwhelmed by what I was seeing. This was a country house hotel from my dreams. And the surrounding countryside in Dartmoor National Park was out of a Thomas Hardy novel. Would Tess of the d'Urbervilles be walking across that field anytime soon? One thing was for sure -- we were in heaven.

First, a little background on the origin of this trip. About six months ago my husband and I knew we wanted to go somewhere special for our big wedding anniversary. We considered going to Italy in the summer, but got sidetracked by another plan. As the year was heading into autumn, an idea began to take shape. Why not go to England and celebrate in the English countryside? And what better time than autumn? There would be country walks, old villages, beautiful churches, lovely gardens, antique stores, English teas, and pub lunches. I wanted to browse in old book stores and bring home special editions of favorite books. The plan was to explore the countryside by day and hunker down with tea and scones (or something stronger) in front of a blazing hearth in the late afternoon. We hoped to while away some leisurely hours in this fashion. Happily our fantasy came true.

Gidleigh Park Hotel

It would be hard to imagine a lovelier place to hunker down than Gidleigh Park


This has to be the quintessential country house hotel. Set on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, it feels lost in the woods. The challenge and adventure of getting there is part of its charm. The roads are bumpy and narrow and bordered by tall hedgerows. It's a bit like driving through a little tunnel. But once you arrive, you realize that the trip was well worth it. In fact, you never want to leave. You just want to stay and be enveloped by the elegant and warm atmosphere of the place. 

The grand staircase

After checking into our room, we walked down the grand staircase to take a look at the hotel. Yes, this was the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary. Gidleigh Park was beautiful! And this would be our sanctuary for two whole days!


We walked into the oak-panelled sitting room and anticipated some happy hours in front of the fireplace

And later that night, the beautiful bar


We went outside to see the grounds. The view from the front of the hotel is a postcard! It looks out onto terraced gardens, the rocky River Teign and the woods beyond. That evening we had a lovely dinner at the hotel and retired for the night with thoughts of adventures the following day.


The next morning, after a hearty English breakfast, we set off on the two-mile walk to the village of Chagford. We were advised that the strenuous walk was well worth it because Chagford is a little gem.

We walked though the woods

Along the North Teign River

Past some lovely homes

On the way into the village we had to step aside as two horseback riders and about twenty "hounds" came trotting along. I wasn't quick enough to get a photo. At that point we were walking with a lovely lady who had emerged from one of these homes and was kindly showing us the way. As we watched the spectacle go by, she calmly said "Oh yes, hunting season opened today. I imagine you don't see this kind of thing very often." I replied, " No, only on Downton Abbey"!

Chagford

And they were right about Chagford. It just exudes old English charm. It is an ancient stannary town (which means there was a tin industry) on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. It has an old-fashioned dairy, bakery, gift and clothing stores, an art gallery, a beautiful old church, an inn that dates from the 13th-century, and two of the best hardware stores you will ever find!


 We went into St. Michael's Church which has been around for more than 700 years

And strolled through its old cemetery


Lunch was right across the street at the Three Crowns Inn, a former granite and thatched inn dating back to the 13th-century. It has recently been remodeled and is a beautiful place to stay.

 The Three Crowns Pub

We admired the village bakery

And stopped in at the art gallery to see the World War I exhibition


We stumbled upon a wonderful gift and children's store called 30 The Square.
I bought some old-fashioned Christmas ornaments and holiday gifts.

And, of course, we had to check out Chagford's famous hardware stores!

Back at Gidleigh Park we took a late afternoon walk around the grounds 

The garden was filled with autumn color and the hydrangeas were stunning

That evening we had a casual dinner in the beautiful bar and, after another lovely night at the hotel, we left the next day for the Cotswolds to explore that area's beautiful old villages.



This is the pristine village of Snowshill in the Cotswolds where they filmed the opening scene of "Bridget Jones Diary." Remember the scene when Bridget and her parents are driving to Darcy's Christmas party?

It couldn't have been more picturesque

The next four days were filled with storybook magic --

There were country walks -- this is near Broadway Tower


Many villages to see

Beautiful gardens -- this is Hidcote

Ancient churches  

Honey-colored manor houses

Charming pubs 

With elegant interiors

And delicious food! 

Tea and scones 

Cozy corners

And blazing hearths

This is an enchanting part of the world. Cornwall, Devon and the Cotswolds are filled with so much inspiration. If you are a fan of English novels and poetry, you will feel very much at home. There is the sense that you have stepped inside the pages of one of your favorite books and your imagination will take wing. I took notes every day in my travel journal because I didn't want to forget a thing. I hope the memories will spark that impulse in me to sit down and create something of my own. In the meantime, I bought as many books as I could that were set in this delicious part of the world. They have been arriving daily and I will do a blogpost on them soon!