A Visit to Stourhead National Trust: a Perfect Vision of an Idyllic Landscape and Lake; an Infamous ‘Romantic’ Encounter in the Temple of Apollo

Before visiting the gardens at Stourhead, Wiltshire the other day I looked forward to seeing for myself this ‘living work of art’, for I had created a brightly coloured, stylised copy of a photo of that iconic view just last year, during the first UK lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When we visited the garden, originally created in the eighteenth century by the Hoare family, we learned that Henry “the Magnificent” (‘gentleman gardener’) had relied on elements of concealment and surprise in his grand vision of this classical landscape. So we took the route that Henry had set out specially for his guests to take, from the house to the lake, and experienced the concealment and surprise and revelation for ourselves.

The first lookout point, Stourhead gardens, from which you can see the Temple of Apollo
Further along the path from the first lookout point, Stourhead gardens
The second lookout point, Stourhead gardens – here you can see the Pantheon
The third lookout point, Stourhead gardens – a clearer view of the Pantheon

Finally, having received glimpses of both the Temple of Apollo and the Pantheon through the carefully selected, planted, cultivated and shaped trees, we came upon the iconic view itself, where you can see the Pantheon across the lake beyond the bridge:

The iconic view of bridge, lake and pantheon at Stourhead gardens

I was enchanted as this was the view I had copied in acrylic paints from a photo back in the lockdown. I felt as if I was walking into my own painting, albeit with more subtle colouring than my own fluorescent production!

Stylised acrylic copy of photo of the iconic view of lake and pantheon in the gardens at Stourhead

Later, after visiting the house, we walked around the lake and climbed up to the Temple of Apollo.

The steps at the Temple of Apollo at Stourhead gardens – this was where Keira Knightley stood, in the role of Lizzie Bennett, in the film of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Darcy came striding towards her to propose marriage in the pouring rain – she turned him down.
The Pantheon which you can see across the lake, beyond the bridge, in the iconic view of Stourhead gardens
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Out and About Collecting Photos for ‘Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire’ due out from Amberley Publishing 2022

A view of the River Avon at Bidford.

Snow in Warwickshire

Many of us love the arrival of snow – as long as it doesn’t last too long or lie too heavy or cause too much disruption…

When snow falls it creates an immediate transformation. We see the familar scenes in a different light. And many also associate it with fun – snowmen, toboggans, slides and snowball fights.

I love to see all the familiar trees and shrubs and objects set in sharp relief by the snow.

Guys Cliffe, the subject of chapter one in my new book, Paranormal Warwickshire, always takes on a fresh aura of mystery in the snow.

Guys Cliffe, Warwick

Paranormal Warwickshire is widely available online and via any bookshop.

Warwickshire Lockdown Walks

Curious how when we are instructed by the government to stay at home and only venture out for a very few clearly defined purposes, those of us who didn’t do enough walking prior to the pandemic suddenly find ourselves seizing the opportunity to get out every day.

And I am one of those. Living in Warwick we have several lovely walks not far from our home. We can head for Leamington Spa, and Jephson Gardens; or to Abbey Fields in Kenilworth. Both are very special places and water is in abundance there and in many other local places – either the River Leam or the River Avon or the Finham Brook or the Grand Union Canal….

Views of Jephson Gardens Leamington Spa, and Abbey Fields, Kenilworth.

Do you have lovely places to walk, close to your home? I’d love to hear about them! Do share in the comments below.

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 5: Stoneleigh Abbey, Kenilworth

This is the fifth in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Stoneleigh Abbey seen from the other side of the River Avon, showing the Orangery (photo credit Sheila Robinson)

I love Stoneleigh Abbey, near Kenilworth, and have visited it several times. The history tour and the Jane Austen tour are both excellent; the Humphrey Repton grounds and gardens enchanting; and the afternoon tea in the Orangery is to be highly recommended!

Originally the home of an order of Cistercian monks,who were granted the land by Henry II in 1154, the abbey saw the twists and turns of fortunes through the centuries, emerging from the dissolution of the monasteries in a sorry state and spending 25 years as a roofless ruin before Rowland Hill and his protegee Thomas Leigh purchased the building and set about building an Elizabethan manor house in the ruins.

Stoneleigh Abbey – the approach from the gatehouse (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The full story of the history of the house, through the generations of the Leigh family, how they gained and nearly lost their Baronetcy, how further extensions to the building were made, and how the Abbey emerged from a devastating fire a few generations ago, but has now been sensitively restored, may be heard in a lively and engaging history tour through the grand rooms. Stoneleigh Abbey claims a close connection with Jane Austen, who in 1806 formed part of a family party invited by her mother’s cousin Revd. Thomas Leigh of Adlestrop to view his new inheritance. Jane drew several inspirations for her novels from her visit to Stoneleigh Abbey.

Many curious tales cling to the abbey; and my favourites are associated with the library.

Stoneleigh Abbey – view of the 14th century gatehouse. Photo credit Jamie Robinson

Here is an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire (published 15th November 2020).

Who haunts this room? We cannot be sure, but it may be Chandos Leigh, poet, first Baron Leigh of the second creation. Chandos loved this room and spent many hours writing and studying in here. He was the only son of James Henry Leigh (1765–1823), MP, of Adlestrop, Gloucestershire, and subsequently of Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, by his marriage with Julia, eldest daughter of Thomas Fiennes, tenth lord Saye and Sele.

   Chandos during his lifetime was a very well-known poet. His first publication was ‘The Island of Love,’ a poem, published in 1812; he published ‘Trifles Light as Air,’ in 1813; ‘Poesy, a Satire,’ in 1818; ‘Epistles to a Friend in Town, Golconda’s Fate, and other Poems,’ in 1826.  His poems reflected the influence of Horace, Virgil, Pope, and Byron, and were much prized by the scholarly few.

   But for the room’s paranormal stories, we must let the Abbey’s history guide take up the narrative. “I was doing a tour here,” he says, “and while I was speaking, the handle on that door over there started moving violently. It was really loud so I said, ‘Stop!’ And it stopped. So I said to the manager, ‘somebody’s trying to get through that door and you need to have a word with them as it really put me off my tour.’ He said, ‘that’s impossible.’ I said, ‘I know it’s impossible, the grandfather clock’s standing in front of it, so they can’t come in.’  He said, ‘no no no, the other side of that door’s a wall, the handle is only on your side.”

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

Preorder Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Cornwall Mini Series Part 14: Trebah Garden

A giant gunnera tunnel, lush subtropical vegetation, vibrant flowers of many colours, and a journey through an imaginative and intriguing landscape: as you will find when you visit this lovely part of Cornwall, Trebah Garden becomes a series of portals to different worlds.

The path draws you into the heart of different areas which yield up a variety of feelings, memories, reflections. In the centre of the garden we come upon an auditorium used for theatrical performances.

Though no performances were taking part at the time of our visit due to the recent Covid19 lockdown, we could imagine ourselves into the acting arena, into the responses of the audience, as we contemplated this empty space full of creative possibilities, taking a rest before breaking out into a reawakening.

Your journey tempts you on through glorious shrubs, trees and exquisite blossoms past a quiet pool and an inviting white bridge…

… and ultimately leads you down to Trebah’s own private beach at Polgwidden Cove.

In addition to this, you’ll find an excellent restaurant at Trebah: the post-Covd19-lockdown arrangements were immaculate, and the vegetarian tart we chose for lunch a perfect taste sensation.

This is a place of enchantment, as several other bloggers will testify: explore the thoughts and feelings of Cornwall in Colours, Trebah blog, and Lizzie Bailey blog.

Do check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Part 11 Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

Part 12 Trellisick National Trust

Part 13 St Mawes and Gorran Haven

Angel Encounters Mini series Part 4. Unusual Angels – Bikers in Leathers

What do you think modern angels might look like?

Like this?

angel sculpture Lucia Zahara pixabay SC Skillman post Modern Angels
Angel sculpture Brasilia Cathedral courtesy of Lucia Zahara Pixabay free images

Since my last post in this series a reader has given me the story of a modern day angel encounter.

man on motorbike dust whirling up behind him SC Skillman Unusual Angels Bikers in Leathers
Photo by Daniel on Pexels.com

I’m grateful to my author friend Anna Hopkins for giving me this story, passed onto her by the lady vicar who experienced it.

This story took place in the days before mobile phones (rather like my story here in my previous post in this series!)

The lady, whom we shall call Audrey, had accepted two teaching engagements on either side of the Pennines, one for Saturday afternoon and one for Sunday morning.  She was offered accommodation in both places, and decided she’d rather get to her Sunday place on Saturday night, than have to get up early.

So off she set. It was quite late, on a winter day, after a thick snowfall. Then disaster struck. She skidded into a snowdrift.  It was dark and cold and she realised she had no emergency kit. She’d forgotten to bring a blanket, or a hot drink, or anything.

She knew there was no way she could move her car. It looked like she was in for a long, cold, dangerous night up in the hills, with all the possibilities of freezing to death – even if she ran the car heater as long as possible. All she could hope for was that someone would come along.  So she shut her eyes and prayed, hard.

Then she heard engine noise behind her, and two great motorbikes drew up.  On those motorbikes were two men, dressed in leathers.  They seemed so big and tall.

Her first thought was, ‘Oh no, now on top of all this I’m going to be mugged!’

They knocked on her window and spoke to her. They never removed their helmets, just got her out of the fix. 

Throughout this incident, she just thought they were bikers.  Once they set her going on the road, she obviously couldn’t stop, so she looked in her rear view mirror to wave at them. But they were gone.  They had come from the same direction as her, and so should have overtaken her. 

They would not have had time to have roared off back the way they came in the few moments it took her to look in her mirror.  Even then she didn’t think anything other than, ‘that’s odd’.  It was only when she arrived at her destination, and recounted the story, that her host said, ‘They must have been angels.’

At which point Audrey put it all together – the size of them, their sudden disappearance – and realised she’d been saved by angels.

I’ve written about angels and supernatural experiences before on this blog. Check out these posts:

Angels and Supernatural Experiences

The Brightest Heaven of Invention

The first three parts of this Angel Encounters series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Also you may like to visit some of the following bloggers to learn more of what different people believe about modern angel encounters:

Modern Day Angels and Miracles

The Angelic Realm

Modern Miracles That Science Can’t Explain

And here is a blog post about an angel who appeared in the Apocrypha:

Tobias and the Angel

What do you think? Do you believe in angels? Do you have a story to tell of an angel encounter? Please share in the comments below!

#SocialDistancing #Walks in Enchanted Woodlands

I admit I rather like taking nature walks where everyone we meet is social distancing… with a polite smile, other walkers withdraw into the shrubbery or the bracken and we pass each other by at a safe distance, or with jokes about whether we are on the right route and whether we’re going round in circles and have seen each other before.

So it was in Thickthorn Wood, Kenilworth. Only the sound of cars rushing past on the A46 between Warwick and Coventry in a newly-loosened lockdown slightly detracted from the exquisite melody of the birdsong.

Glorious rhododendrums and bluebells gave this woodland the feeling of an enchanted forest. I could almost imagine Merlin and Arthur making their way along the track on white horses, searching for Nimue to try and persuade her to cancel one of her magical conspiracies against the inhabitants of Camelot….

Enchantment in the Natural World in this Time of Lockdown

As the days of the lockdown pass, I’m becoming more aware of a new and powerful sense of renewal in the natural world.

Not only have I noticed this on my daily walks but I am hearing it from other people too.

“It’s like going back 50 years. Everyone is so much more ‘together’ and more friendly.”

“The sky is much bluer, the water in the River Avon is much clearer. The birdsong is outstanding.”

“Air quality has improved. There are no longer any chem-trails from planes flying over.”

I myself on my walks feel that nature is much brighter and more intense and more abundant than I have ever known before.

The light keeps shining on delicate buds and new baby leaf sprays about to burst open. The green is rich, the white is intense. It is all very spiritual.

I find myself being constantly ‘surprised.’ As I returned home from one walk, everything became more golden and more green until it was almost overwhelming.

Nature has flourished because human activity has been subdued.

This isn’t just the open countryside, it’s the pockets of green and the pathways and small areas of parkland nestled in between and alongside houses and canal and roads.

This is how it appears to me because we are all slowing down, the streets are quiet, we are not all engaging in frenzied activity and chasing achievement and Doing and Aquiring Things as we normally do.

“May this heal us from the sickness that brings death to the body; may this heal us from the sickness that brings death to the soul.”

Paranormal Warwickshire Cover Reveal Coming Soon

I hope you are all well, and staying home, except for your one-daily-piece-of-exercise here in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.

I must admit I’m finding plenty to do as a writer. ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ has a new publication date: 15 Nov 2020. I’ve just returned the corrected proofs to my publisher, Amberley. Meanwhile I’m working on another novel and researching a new non-fiction book (more details in a few months’ time).

As for my daily exercise… what better location than one of those featured in my upcoming book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’: The Saxon Mill, on the Guy’s Cliffe estate, Warwick; just 10 minutes walk from my home.

The Saxon Mill, on the River Avon, Warwick.

‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ can be pre-ordered here.