Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Back in February, I posted about taking Anna to the National Botanical Garden of Wales. I said there that we were planning a further trip to Aberglasney when Spring arrived (and I needed to be in Anna's good books again). I am going off for the weekend to the International XT Meet, so I reckoned a quid pro quo would be a day going round some gardens. Yesterday, the forecast was for showers only (i.e. at the dry end of Welsh weather arrangements) and I had the day off work, so off we went. Good choice, it was.
Aberglasney is the site of a house which was owned by the descendants of Elystan Glorydd and the grand-daughter of Hywel Dda in mediaeval times and passed to the Rudd family around 1600. Bishop Rudd reconstructed the house in 1603 and laid out some formal Elizabethan gardens. The house was then bought by Robert Dyer, a successful Carmarthen lawyer, and substantially rebuilt in the Queen Anne style. Dyer's descendants got into debt, and the house was bought and sold several times until it was abandoned in 1908. It was commandeered during the second World War as a holding station for US troops in the run-up to D-Day, and was inhabited briefly, but in the 1950s the estate was sold and broken up. The house was neglected and vandalised, but in 1995 was taken over by the Aberglasney Restoration Trust, and work began to restore the gardens and house. The work in the gardens was a combination of horticulture and archaeology, but painstaking efforts led to the uncovering of Elizabethan and Jacobean goundworks which are now revealed and restored to their former glory.
We first visited Aberglasney around ten years ago, when restoration work had only just started, and the gardens were still being excavated and the house only a shell. The gardens now are beautiful, and work on the house is progressing. Most of the house is inaccessible to the public and I don't know to what extent there are plans to restore the whole structure, but one superb innovation is the construction of a 'ninfarium' in the ruined courtyard in the centre. The area has been roofed in with glass and a variety of large and small sub-tropical plants have been installed. It's very impressive. A few photos and comments follow.
The house at Aberglasney - the Queen Anne facade
The Cloister Garden with arcaded stone surround, supporting a parapet walkway, and original Elizabethan chequerboard cobbles
Detail of Elizabethan floor surface - amazing to walk on this and reflect how long ago the cobbles were laid and who has walked there since
View through the arcade to the Pond
Raindrops on a hosta leaf
Upper Walled Garden, laid out according to the archaeology
Delicious lunch in the Tea Rooms
Interior of the Ninfarium
Plaque to commemmorate the Cabots, American benefactors whose generosity allowed the restoration to happen
Preserving the house interior
I reckon it's an Iris, but I am told it isn't. By those what know. It's beautiful anyway.
The visit was enhanced by an art exhibition in the two habitable rooms on the ground floor of the house. Two local artists, Glenn Ibbitson and Carole King (no, not that Carole King) had their work on show and it was fabulous. I got chatting to Glenn and it turns out he is a Leeds lad (like me) and spent a lot of time in Hull (like I have). He's about my age, but the years didn't match, so there were no "ah, that must have been you!" moments. He's another 'ex-biker' - got as far as a Honda Superdream and then moved to London and never looked back. His work ranged from superbly-drawn landscapes to semi-impressionist interiors, and I liked it all. That's from someone who is very wary of 'modern art' - the man can paint, and paint extremely well. His partner's work was more small-scale and delicate, using fragments of maps and collages, and was delightful. I went back in when we had finished the tour of the garden, as it is our Wedding Anniversary coming up soon, and I know Anna would have loved a lavender-coloured interior piece that we had both admired. At £750, it was not even in mad impulse purchase territory, but we took his business card and phone number and we will see if we can find something more affordable at a later time. His work can be seen here.
Aberglasney, highly recommended.