Friday, 27 October 2017


After much tutting and fretting about the change of presenters and the intrusion of commercial breaks to the show, the Great British Bake Off successfully made its transition from BBC1 to Channel 4 for this year’s series, which reaches its climax next Tuesday.  At first I was adamant that I wouldn’t watch it anymore, but I soon found myself sucked into the new format.  Yes, the commercials are annoying, but the bakes are as magnificent as ever, the dramas and tears just as poignant, and the surroundings just as lovely.  One aspect of the show which was not changed for the move to Channel 4 was the filming location, Welford Park, a privately owned mansion in Berkshire which had already been used twice for the BBC version.  As is so often the case, the collaboration between Welford Park and Bake Off came about as a result of a conversation at a party involving the Park’s agent, and filming began there just three weeks later.

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Welford Park House. Photo by Des Blenkinsopp, via Wikimedia Commons
Anyone wanting to visit the scene of all this baking will have to wait until the New Year, as the estate only opens to visitors between January and March, when the main draw is the magnificent display of snowdrops in the grounds of the estate.  The snowdrop season ends just in time for the marquee to be erected in April for the filming of the upcoming series.  The same cafeteria used to cater for snowdrop watchers is used to feed the show’s production team.  The interviews with the contestants take place in the estate’s gardens, which are much loved by the team for the changes which take place from spring through to summer.

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The snowdrops. Photo by D Gore, via Wikimedia Commons

Welford Park was built in 1652 for the son of the then Lord Mayor of London.  In keeping with the baking theme, additions made in subsequent centuries included the addition of a kitchen block and a very large dining room.  Before the creation of the estate, the site was occupied by a monastery and village.  Baking was a serious business in those days:  the Berkshire Record Office unearthed a document dating from 1337 from the Welford Estate archives described as an ‘assize of bread’.  The document gives strict instructions for baking a white bread known as a wastell loaf as well as a simnel cake.  This was used as the basis for making sure that bakers were not diddling their customers by falling short of the set standards.  If found guilty they were fined or, if persistent offenders, sent off to the stocks for a day.  Makes one of those ‘looks’ from Paul Hollywood seem like child’s play in comparison!

Welford Park is just off the M4, to the north west of Newbury.

Monday, 23 October 2017


When the Caleighs, the family at the centre of The Secret of Crickley Hall - Gabe, Eve and their children Loren and Cally - arrive in the sleepy seaside village of Hollow Bay for a temporary stay at the riverside property Crickley Hall in a bid to heal the pain of their son’s disappearance, they look forward to walks along the “beautiful deep-sided and tree-lined gorge” marked as Devils Cleave on the map – down to the sea or up to the moors.  They anticipate weekends exploring the “craggy coastline”, and they are met with the sight of the “swift-moving, boulder-strewn Bay River”.  Early on in their stay they pay a visit to the local whitewashed and thatched inn, the Barnaby Inn with its low-ceilinged, beamed interiors.

Anyone who has visited Lynmouth on the North Devon coast will recognise this description, and indeed Hollow Bay was based on this beautiful little harbour village.  The reference to lime kilns is further proof, these being a feature of the village and surrounding area, formerly used for burning imported lime.  That, plus the fact that Hollow Bay is on the shores of the Bristol Channel, as is Lynmouth.  The craggy coastline referred to brings to mind the Valley of the Rocks to the west of Lynton, just above Lynmouth, while the Barnaby Inn may well be based on the charming harbourside inn The Rising Sun.  The only part of the scene described which doesn’t ring true to me is the reference to the “stranger-shy” locals.

Harbourside, with the Rising Sun

Devil’s Cleave must surely be the fictional equivalent of East Lyn Valley whose river tumbles down to the sea from Exmoor, although in an interview with the author of The Secret of Crickley Hall, James Herbert, he reveals that what he had in mind was a valley near his Sussex home called Devil’s Dyke.  As for Crickley Hall itself, which turns out to be a hotbed of supernatural phenomena, there is no particular building in Lynmouth that inspired it, but one can easily imagine such a pile lying alongside the river, where there are a number of impressive properties from the Victorian era lording it over the valley.

The 'boulder-strewn' river and the start of the East Lyn Valley

As well as the village and its surrounding landscape, The Secret of Crickley Hall manages to weave through the story two features of Lynmouth’s history.  During the war, Lynmouth played host to wartime evacuees from the big cities.  In the novel Crickley Hall is used to house some of the evacuees.  Several years later, in 1952, Lynmouth experienced a devastating flood which killed 34 people.  In the novel this event is moved back in time to 1943, with many of the evacuated children among the dead.  The horrors the Caleighs are met with at Crickley Hall are born of this event, with the spirits of the children haunting the property, along with the ghost of the sadistic Augustus Cribben, who subjected them to beatings and starvation.

In 2012 the Secret of Crickley Hall was dramatised for TV, but Devon was nowhere to be seen in the TV version.  Crickley Hall itself was represented by Bowden Hall in Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire.

The real-life Hollow Bay, Lynmouth, is a reassuringly charming and quiet seaside village.  Attractions on offer to visitors include the Victorian cliff railway linking it to the clifftop town of Lynton.  The walk up the valley to Watersmeet is popular with walkers, who are rewarded for their efforts with a pleasant National Trust tearoom with a garden overlooking the rushing river.  Another gorge accessible to visitors (for a fee) is the Glen Lyn Gorge, where among other points of interest is an indication of the 1952 flood level mark.  See my other blog Postcards From The Edge for a write-up on Lynmouth.

Thursday, 28 September 2017


In 1876 Queen Victoria became Empress of India, some years after the British protectorates and possessions in India were incorporated into the British Empire. This new role led to a growing fascination with the Indian Subcontinent, and eleven years later Victoria decided to bring two Indian nationals to Britain to act as attendants to the Queen.  One of them, Abdul Karim, developed a close platonic friendship with Her Majesty, which led to some considerable friction among members of the Royal Household.  This story forms the basis of the recently released film Victoria and Abdul.

Abdul spent time at a number of the royal properties, but one which features heavily in the film is Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s beloved retreat on the Isle of Wight.  This was an exciting time for the English Heritage staff at the property, it being the first time a feature film had made use of the sumptuous interiors, which include many Indian influences.  For example, the Durbar Room, with a ceiling designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of the author Rudyard Kipling.  There is a portrait of Abdul Karim hanging in the Durbar Room and it is redolent with Indian touches such as the beautiful peacock fireplace.  The Drawing Room also makes an appearance, with its yellow satin curtains and full length mirrors, as does the Grand Corridor with its classical statues and busts and decorative tiled floor.

The Durbar Room
As well as the interiors, the grounds of the house are also seen in the film.  The exterior architecture is Italianate in style.  When I visited last year I had recently been to Lake Maggiore and the exterior of Osborne House took me right back there.  The grounds range from a more formal style immediately outside the house to the landscaped parkland in which red squirrels can sometimes be found – we thought we saw one belting along, but it was moving too fast to be sure it was a red.  There is a lovely walk down to the private beach with views over the Solent, where the Queen’s personal bathing machine can still be found, as well as a cafe.  Probably the most surprising thing encountered by visitors to the property is the Swiss Cottage, an authentic wooden chalet where the Queen’s children enjoyed hours of fun and where they were taught about ‘normal’ life activities such as growing and cooking vegetables.

The Italianate exterior

As mentioned before, Osborne House, which is a short distance to the south-east of East Cowes, is run by English Heritage and is open all year round except for Christmas.  Allow plenty of time for your visit as there is lots to see.