Margaret Price, with help from Lyn Humphries, has liaised with Richards Bros to set up a tour to Cheshire in May 2020, based at Rowton Hall Hotel. The coach trip is likely to take in National Trust Properties at Dunham Massey, Attingham, Croft Castle and Tatton, as well as the Anderton Boat Lift and the Paradise Mill and Silk Museum.
More details and booking forms are available in the recent newsletter. If you have mislaid the printed version, it is available on our website. If you intend to come on the tour to Cheshire, it would help Margret Price a great deal if you could send your deposit before the end of October. The hotel needs an initial payment then, so we want to know, by then, whether we have a viable trip. Numbers are encouraging so far, but we need to have a few more signing up, for the trip to happen.
This was our first visit to Llanelly in 20 years and we visited three historic houses. Our first stop was Llanelly House. It was owned by the Stepney family in the 18th Century. They had moved from London to share in the wealth that Llanelly was creating with its local supplies of lead, tin and coal. The house was extensively renovated in the early 18th century and is seen to be the best example of early Georgian architecture in Wales. At that time the house was home to Sir Thomas Stepney, the 5th Baronet, and his wife Lady Elizabeth. They acted out the acrimonious state of their marriage for us, with Sir Thomas complaining about his lack of funds, and Lady Elizabeth talking about her latest trip to Bath that enabled her to buy all those things that would keep her up with the latest fashions.
The House was later owned by a number of families but as Llanelly’s wealth decreased it deteriorated and it was finally bought by the Town Council for use by local businesses. Its resurrection began in 2003 when it was runner up in the BBC Restoration series. Following a period of fund-raising, renovation commenced in 2011. This work was done with great care so that the House was brought back to its 18th Century design. However as a 21st century addition, it was fitted with splendid Audio Visual displays which included a court action against the Butler for inappropriate behaviour with one of the maids. It also has a very good café.
Our next stop was Parc Howard, a. Victorian stone House built in 1885 by the Buckley family, the local brewers. It was gifted to the town in 1912. It is now a museum and art gallery which shows various facets of Llanelli’s growth through mining and shipbuilding, and becoming the largest tin plate centre of manufacturing in the world, acquiring the nickname of Tinopolis. It also houses the largest public collection of Llanelli pottery. This shows how the manufacturing of pottery progressed and the problem of balancing of quality and cost. Few local potteries survived into the 20th century.
Our final stop was Stradey Castle, built for the Mansel Lewis family around 1850. We were welcomed by the current custodians, Patrick and Claire Mansel Lewis, who have lived there since 2009, who were our guides. The House was built to impress, and has a grand staircase and large rooms. The pictures on display were also impressive. From the tower you have a good view down to the sea, but this was only achieved by moving another large house which blocked the view.
Patrick and Claire were very open about the financial constraints of running the House. When they took it over, the Insurers demanded that the roof had to be made weatherproof and there had to be up to date electrical wiring. This work was costly but has now been done. As with all historic houses, trying to bring them up to modern living standards is not easy.
Our tour finished off with tea and biscuits in the dining room prepared by Claire followed by a short walk in the garden.
Dale Sailing at Neyland Marina were willing to take us on our planned boat trip, but as it was pouring with rain, with little prospect of let up, they kindly let us cancel at the quayside following a show of hands, in favour of keeping dry.
Instead, after a warming cuppa at the nearby cafe, we drove to Dale to enjoy a sociable lunch at Coco’s @the Sailing Club, looking out at the grey skies with a wry smile.
Thirty nine members headed south east to the Connaught Hotel, Bournemouth. Some had been on many a PNTA tour before, others were new to the experience. En route we visited Lacock NT featuring the Abbey, the village famous for TV and film locations, and the museum of photography.
On the Monday we did not need to venture far to enjoy the delights of Kingston Lacy NT. The house offered art by famous names, whilst the grounds offered walks through acer groves and cedar avenues. In the afternoon most of the group strolled Compton Acres, with its selection of themed gardens. A grass snake was seen swimming in the waters of the Japanese area.
Tuesday saw us venturing further afield. The morning visit was to Nothe Fort, Weymouth. Constructed in the 1870s of Portland stone, it was built to deter Napoleon 3rd, like the many forts of Pembrokeshire. Now in the ownership of the council, enthusiastic volunteers have made it a historical museum of interest to all ages. Three such volunteers took us on guided tours. Amongst the many passages and nuclear bunker, the group sizes dwindled, but fortunately everyone found their way back to the coach at the appointed time. The afternoon was spent at Abbotsbury Sub tropical Gardens which offered views of Chesil Bank and Golden Cap. A splinter group went to see the cygnets at the swannery.
Fortunately the weather continued to be bright, if breezy, for our Poole Harbour Cruise, on the Wednesday. We saw the palatial retreat for John Lewis staff on Brownsea Island, learnt about the oil producing island. We saw terns diving and a dolphin swimming by. The afternoon optional visit was the Russell-Cotes Gallery, in Bournemouth with its personal collection of paintings and much more.
At the hotel, our tasty suppers were enjoyed at a leisurely pace, with much conversation, so there was no time for a quiz, despite travellers keenly absorbing facts across the week, ready to be tested.
The route home took us via Stourhead, where the National Trust gardens were looking fine, with the Rhododendrons in full bloom.
Southwood Farm, near Roch and overlooking Newgale, was donated to the NT in 2003 and has become the Home Farm for all the North Pembs. Properties. The two previous walks we had there both started on the coast side of the farm but this time we began at the farmhouse. Andrew led us down the lane which runs through the middle of the farm and into an old wood. The wood had been properly surveyed but one old ash was the only tree to be registered. It had some enormous branches which seemed to be defying gravity.
Andrew then showed us the herd of 20 Welsh Black cattle which are based at Southwood. Their role is to be taken out in the summer to the different areas of wild coast owned by the Trust to munch the undergrowth to stop it becoming dominant. Ideally about 50 cattle are needed but Southwood can only provide winter quarters for 20 and are reliant on the tenant farmers making up the balance.
Southwood also has 34 Welsh Mountain ponies, also used for coastland grazing. Andrew showed us six plump ponies which were still at Southwood and enjoying grassy meadows. He said they would quickly lose their fat when they had to forage for food in the undergrowth.
Wild flower meadows are also being developed at Southwood and they hope to have established 71 hectares in the next three years. Work on covered wildlife corridors is also underway with hedgerows being widened and connecting corridors created.
Andrew finished by showing us around the Courtyard buildings which were advanced for their time but have no obvious current use without a large amount of money being spent.
Haydn explained that Gupton Farm, which abuts Freshwater West, came under the ownership of the NT as part of the Stackpole Estate which was transferred to them from the Cawdor Estate in 1976. The NT left the management of farms to their tenant farmers, but when Mr and Mrs Watkins retired in 2013, the Trust took Gupton ‘in hand’. It was important that Gupton should be self-funding, and the better land was rented out to some other local farmers. It was decided that the farmhouse, farm buildings and some adjacent fields would be used to support tourism with the farmhouse being used as a holiday let, and the buildings and fields used for caravan and tents.
On other fields, which were less fertile, the aim became to implement the diversification of flora and fauna with wild meadow planting and the development of wildlife corridors. This programme is starting to progress but will take time on the very sandy soil..
The lower part of the farm is dominated by the Castlemartin Corse, the stream which runs into the sea at Freshwater West. The Corse has developed an enormous reed bed used by lots of different birds. It is a hotspot for local birders who have seen flocks of a thousand skylarks in the winter and also flocks of several thousands of lapwings and golden plovers.
On our visit we were treated to the sight of a lone marsh harrier drifting over the reed beds which is a sight many of us will remember.