Friday, 30 September 2016

Tales of Blickling Hall

In the depths of Norfolk, near the market town of Aylsham, stands a 400 year old red brick building named Blickling.

"Nobody ever forgets their first sight of Blickling. The breath-taking red-brick mansion and ancient yew hedges sit at the heart of a magnificent garden and historic park in the beautiful Bure meadows. Inside the house is the Long Gallery, which contains one of the most important book collections in the country.
The story of the estate unfolds over a thousand years. The landscape, with its hedges and narrow tree-lined lanes has changed little over the centuries and is quintessentially Norfolk. The countryside is a hive of hidden activity, made up of farms and woodland, cattle and sheep, barns and cottages; all contributing to the rural charm of the surroundings. It continues to act as a hub of social and economic activity, providing homes and work for local families, some of whom have been part of the estate for 300 years.
Blickling’s owners have used the estate as a place of quiet refuge, while playing their part on the world’s political stage. From ambassadors and airmen, to kings’ mistresses, its complex and sometimes tragic family history has been tainted by debt and social ambition.
Blickling has always been a place of pilgrimage and tranquility to its owners, workers and visitors. Today, it continues to extend the warmest of welcomes to all who come here."

During the 15th Century, a manor house once stood in this spot belonging to a man named  Sir John Fastolf, an English Knight during the Hundred years war.
Later the manor passed to the Boleyn family, to be the home of Sir Thomas Boleyn and his infamous daughter Anne.

Interestingly, all 3 of these historical figures are said to haunt Blickling, even though the house we see today was in fact built over the ruins of the earlier Tudor manor.

Blickling Ghosts
"Thomas Boleyn died in 1539 and legend has it that as penance, for the untimely deaths of two of his children, he must cross 12 bridges before cockcrow on 19th May. With his ghostly coach of headless horses, he starts at Blickling and crosses bridges at Aylsham, Belaugh, Burg, Buxton, Coltishall, Hautbois, Meyton, Oxnead and Wroxham."

"Other odd happenings at Blickling include a mysterious grey lady, who has been sighted in the house and on the grounds by the lake. She was once witnessed by a butler who went out to enquire if she was looking for someone, to whom she replied: "That for which I search has long since gone". The next moment she vanished. Eerie groans are said to emanate from a bedroom in one of the towers. They are thought to belong to Sir Henry Hobart, who died there after being mortally wounded during a duel in 1698. A room in the house known as "Old Bullen's Study" apparently had such an oppressive atmosphere few would dare to venture into it so it was locked up. The exact location of the room has now been forgotten."

However, the most famous ghost sighting is said to be Anne Boleyn herself. 
Each year, on the anniversary of her death she rides up the driveway in a horse drawn carriage, where she proceeds.. headless... to drift from room to room until dawn.

It seems an unlikely ghost tale to me, and if you visit Blickling you will find no evidence of the Boleyn family's life. As indeed, there is no real evidence that Anne was ever officially born there.
But in a house with so much history there surely must be some remnants of the past, echoes, footsteps, whispers.

And as you wander though the rooms, you can imagine hundreds of years worth of people making their lives here.

"After the death of Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian (the last private owner of Blickling) in December 1940, the Blickling estate passed into the care of the National Trust as part of his bequest.
During World War II the house was requisitioned and served as the Officers' Mess of nearby RAF Oulton. It was at this time that the house and its estate passed to The National Trust, under the terms of the Country Houses Scheme. RAF servicemen and women were billeted within the grounds in Nissen huts, whilst RAF Officers were housed within Blickling itself. The National Trust has created the RAF Oulton Museum on site in tribute to the RAF pilots and ground crew who served in the Second World War, and this may be visited for no additional entrance fee.
At the end of the war, the house was de-requisitioned. The National Trust again let it to tenants until 1960, when the Trust began the work to restore the house to a style reflecting its history. The house and grounds were opened to the public in 1962 and remain open under the name of "Blickling Estate".

From Blickling's grand appearance on entering, it becomes more homely and comfortable inside. Each room has a warmth that makes you feel as though you could sit for an afternoon with a nice pot of Earl Grey.
It's a grand but cosy house. In fact, the Long Gallery was originally built as an indoor exercise area during bad weather.
It later housed the full length portraits you now see in the main stair well, and went on to become what it now the Library. 

We had visited Blickling estate with the intention of  enjoying a long Autumnal stroll around the lake and parklands. But the late September weather turned out to be so hot that it was all we could do to fetch our picnic after we toured the house, and stumble over to the lake side deck chairs, (Thank you National Trust for those... such a welcoming and lovely idea)
We whiled away an afternoon exploring the gardens and enjoying the views.
I think we need to return in Winter for that longer walk. The Countryside around Blickling is stunning.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Owlman of Mawnan, St Mawes Castle & the Fraggle Rock Lighthouse

"Mawnan Smith is an old village that lies to the west of Rosemullion Head, just a few miles south of Falmouth in Cornwall. Mawnan Wood is one of the most notable features of the area, and has become famous around the world following reports of a mysterious Owlman – a weird, half-bird half-human creature, reportedly spotted there on several occasions."

It was October 2015. My Husband was away on business and I foolishly decided to watch movies in bed late into the night. One of which was called 'The Mothman Prophecies'.
I'd loved the movie when it came out and not seen it in so many years. I was shocked to find that even now it still stands the test of time and made me feel so un-nerved that I had to sleep with the light on. :) lol

" Distraught by the sudden, tragic death of his wife (Debra Messing), John Klein (Richard Gere), a journalist for The Washington Post, finds himself mysteriously drawn to a small West Virginia town when his car inexplicably strands him. Rescued by the sympathetic but sceptical local police sergeant (Laura Linney), he soon learns that many of the town's residents have been beset by bizarre events, including sightings of an eerie "moth-like" entity, similar to the one seen by his late wife. Investigating further and having his own terrifying encounters with the creature, he becomes obsessed with the idea that this supernatural being can predict impending calamities and is trying to warn the town of one. Is this a psychic delusion brought on by his grief or can he convince the police sergeant that there's a tragedy that must be averted"

 I was suddenly intrigued... a film based on true events... this needed investigating.
I spent a while searching online and reading articles regarding the real life phenomenon that occurred in Point Pleasant, West Virginia back in 1966. It was creepy... particularly when you realise there have continued to be sightings of similar creatures, or apparitions over the years, right up to present day, and throughout the world.

As I continued to read I spotted a comment that sent a shiver down my spine... also reported as having been seen in CORNWALL (UK)! Not only that, but Mawnan Smith, nr Falmouth.
This was too close to home for comfort. How come I have lived in that part of Cornwall for nearly 20 years and not known about it? I was more than a little bit annoyed... if a little freaked out.
On further investigation I discovered the 'semi-famous


one of the earliest reports goes back to 1926, when the Cornish Echo reported that two boys were chased by what was described as a very large, ferocious bird. The lads took cover behind a steel grating, but the bird-like beast furiously continued to try to reach them through the grid.
Fifty years later, in 1976, two witnesses described an abnormally large bird resembling a giant owl flying over the tower of the 13th-century parish church of St Mawnan. Teenagers camping in the wood nearby reportedly heard strange hissing sounds and saw what they described as an owl as big as a man. It had burning red eyes and strange claws, shaped like two blacksmith’s pincers.
There were further sightings two years later, when the witnesses added that the huge bird-like thing was a silvery-grey colour. In 1989, a sighting by two more people described the Owlman as being at least 1.5m (5ft) tall, and the next report, from an American visitor in 1995, described sharp claws emanating from the Owlman’s vast wings.
Taking all the reports together, it would seem that something unusual, vaguely resembling a huge bird, was appearing spasmodically in the vicinity of St Mawnan’s Church, but surely monsters aren’t really on the hunt in our green and pleasant land? The church stands in the centre of a prehistoric earthwork, and some researchers have detected a ley line passing through the site. Sensitive and perceptive visitors have also described Mawnan Wood as being alive with energy. Could that natural earth energy be connected with the reports of the Owlman?
A natural explanation could point in the direction of the giant eagle owl, with a wingspan of close on 2m (6½ft). In the darkness of Mawnan Wood, even the most honest and careful witnesses could estimate such a bird as being bigger than it was. The references to the Owlman’s feet may also indicate a normal giant owl. The witnesses referred to its pincer-like toes, and owls’ feet are zygodactylic – two toes pointing backwards and two pointing forwards – which would give the impression of two pairs of pincers.
The mystery is similar to the Mothman of West Virginia in the USA, which was sighted in 1966. Like the strange Cornish entity, the Mothman was described as a humanoid figure with large wings. But whatever the origins of the Owlman, if you go down to Mawnan Wood today, you may be in for a surprise."
Here is one of the many other accounts online...
When I showed this to my Husband he told me that a friend of his back in Helston had apparently seen something in Mawnan Wood also, something that he refused to ever talk about! And so, even knowing all this, I couldn't resist tagging along with my Husband on his next business trip down that way so that we could investigate! He brought his camera equipment so that we could shoot some footage for a short documentary.. just for fun :)
After a morning of meetings & work for my Husband, we re-visited one of our favourite picnic spots for a Philps Cornish Pasty and a breath of fresh sea air. 
The cliff tops of Botallack are famous not only for the tin mine ruins & the spectacular views, but now also for the new TV adaptation of Poldark, as this is one of the main outdoor locations used in filming. (I have plenty more photos elsewhere on blogs of Botallack, but I'll do a new 'Poldark' blog post here too... eventually ;) )

Late afternoon we arrived in Mawnan Smith, and headed straight for the Churchyard, for a wander. It's a beautiful place. So peaceful & welcoming. 

"The name Mawnan came from a monk named St.Maunanus who was supposed to have   come to Mawnan in the 6th century.He
used the sanctuary well.The church was dedicated to him it was built of granite in the 13th century on the site of an ancient earthwork.The church is in a beautiful position over-looking the mouth of the   Helford river." 

Feeling brave in the daylight, we took a walk down into Mawnan wood, just behind the churchyard and in the fading Autumn afternoon sunlight it did have a very eerie feel about it.
The path slopes down & winds through the trees to reach the mouth of the Helford river & the sea beyond. As dusk fell we stood in the half light and listened for the Owl calls... or rustling of strange creatures in the trees.

Sadly there was none. So we headed for the supermarket in Falmouth for some food supplies & dinner before returning after dark to begin our vigil.
It was dark when walked back through the graveyard. Dark and silent.
We slightly surprised a lovely lady who arrived to lock up the church, but she happily chatted to us about the church & it's history & wished us happy hunting :)

We lurked about there for some time, hoping to capture some strange or curious happening... but we ended up sitting on the bench discussing how 'un-scary' it actually was. Could have happily stayed there for a midnight cuppa in the dark, but we headed back to our Wilbury (car) for a coffee & a giggle at our 'ghosthunting' recordings....

It was a peaceful & uneventful night... unless you count being woken by rain pattering on the roof & coming in the slightly open window, and at first light we waved farewell to the Owlman of Mawnan... wherever he was. And headed out for a day on the Roseland Peninsula.

To reach the Roseland from here you need to take the car ferry across the Fal. We'd never been on it before so that was a bit of fun.

"St Mawes is a small town opposite Falmouth, on the Roseland Peninsula. It lies on the east bank of the Carrick Roads, a large waterway created after the Ice Age from an ancient valley which flooded as the melt waters caused the sea level to rise dramatically, creating an immense natural harbour, often claimed to be the third largest in the world. It was once a busy fishing port, but the trade declined during the 20th century and it now serves as a popular tourist location."

We were bound for St Mawes Castle... 

"One of the finest of Henry VIII's coastal defenses, built around 1540 to defend Carrick Roads and the Fal estuary from attack by Spain and France. St Mawes Castle was built to a clover leaf design, with a large tower overlooking three circular bastions."

 First, a pit stop for a cup of tea & some breakfast...

Then into one of my favourite castles to date. From the outside it is just so pretty! Not at all like a military fortress. It's ornate decoration and unusual shape really sets it apart from most.

English Heritage provide audio guides to listen to on your way around their properties. We have found these to be well worth using as they give interesting insights into the history of a place.
Using actors to re-enact events or eras in the castle history it created a brilliant connection to the people who once lived and worked here.
The waxwork dummies accompany the sound of cannon fire & shouts alerting the sight of the Spanish Armarda on the horizon.

St Mawes castle was a really enjoyable outing. Probably one of my favourites.
And best of all we got to drive a short distance around the headland to St Anthony's Lighthouse... 
A bit of a pilgramage for me as it was used in the filming of a cult kids tv show that I LOVED when I was growing up.
Fraggle Rock :)

"St. Anthony's lighthouse was featured in the UK version of Fraggle Rock, as "Fraggle Rock Lighthouse" in external scenes. Nearby St. Mawes also featured in some scenes from the programme."

"Dance your cares away... worries for another day.
Let the music play.... down in Fraggle Rock!"