Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 10: Stoneleigh Abbey

This is the tenth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Stoneleigh Abbey from other side of river Avon Paranormal Warwickshire
Stoneleigh Abbey from other side of river Avon (photo credit Sheila Robinson)

Stoneleigh Abbey occupies land granted to a group of Cistercian monks by Henry II in 1154 , but twenty five years after the dissolution of the monasteries, now a roofless ruin, it was sold to Sir Rowland Hill and his protegee Sir Thomas Leigh.

First an Elizabethan mansion emerged from the ruins of the abbey. The property would remain in the hands of the Leigh family for the next four centuries. One member of the family, another Thomas, became the 1st Baron Leigh after he found favour with King Charles I , and by the seventeenth century the property had become a sumptuous and richly furnished mansion. Damaged by a fire in the 1960s, the grand rooms were beautifully restored and now offer a fascinating experience for visitors.

Much of the building is occupied by private residents but those gracious rooms, the chapel, the library, the Humphrey Repton gardens and the Orangery are all open to visitors. The association of the Leigh family, and thus the Abbey, with Jane Austen, via her mother Cassandra Leigh, and a very fruitful visit in 1806, makes the Jane Austen tour a rivetting addition to the more general but equally entertaining history tour.

Chandos Leigh, nineteenth century poet, and member of the literary establishment, was the first Baron Leigh of the second creation, and it is in his lovely library (my favourite room) that we may encounter some strange phenomena, and hear a few curious anecdotes.

Chandos Leigh, poet, and first baron Leigh of the second creation, painting at Stoneleigh Abbey
Chandos Leigh, poet, and first baron Leigh of the second creation, painting at Stoneleigh Abbey (with permission)

You may wander through the Humphrey Repton grounds, and cross the River Avon (which was specially diverted here from its natural course, to ensure the gracious silver stone building might be reflected in the water, and shown to its best advantage) to gaze at the Abbey from the opposite bank.

One of my stories comes from a visitor who was doing this very thing, when she saw someone whom she took to be an irate landowner – and later had to revise that view. You can find out more in my book Paranormal Warwickshire when it comes out in November 2020

Stoneleigh Abbey bridge, river and field
Stoneleigh Abbey -bridge, river and field (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

Baddesley Clinton

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 3: Guy’s Cliffe

This is the third in my series of glimpses into the subject of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Guy’s Cliffe claimed its hold on my imagination from the first time I saw it, not long after I moved to Warwickshire twenty six years ago.

Guys Cliffe seen from Saxon Mill photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Guys Cliffe seen from Saxon Mill photo credit Abigail Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Clinging to a cliff alongside the river Avon north of Warwick, this ruined gothic mansion nearly fulfilled Shakespeare’s words in Two Gentlemen of Verona Act 5, Scene 4:

Leave not the mansion so long tenantless,

Lest, growing ruinous, the building fall

And leave no memory of what it was!

As in the case of all grand historical houses, this one has been vulnerable to the changing fortunes of the families who held it over the centuries, and in particular the use to which it was put, and the way it was treated, during the two World Wars. Some of these grand houses were saved, others not.

Guys Cliffe courtyard photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Guys Cliffe courtyard photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

In this case, the mansion at Guy’s Cliffe, first built by wealthy landowner Samuel Greatheed in 1751, has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – but only in a ruined state. Today it teases and haunts those who view it, with its gothic architectural flourishes, thanks to the romantic imagination of its most colourful owner, Bertie Greatheed, whose influence is felt everywhere in Warwick and Leamington Spa.

Guys Cliffe entrance courtyard photo credit Jamie Robinson. Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Guys Cliffe entrance to the Courtyard photo credit Jamie Robinson. Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

The full story is told in my book Paranormal Warwickshire, in which I repeat many curious anecdotes about this atmospheric ruin and its environs. During the course of my research, I interviewed the custodian Adrian King whose love of the history and the spiritual ambiance of this location is very evident; not least in the facts that he currently leads a major fundraising effort to restore the site, and also hosts popular ghost-hunting tours at this location.

The present ruinous condition of the mansion serves only to feed the imagination of all those who view it from the Saxon Mill, further down the river, and all those who tour the ruins as I did, with Adrian’s expert guidance.

Guys Cliffe 1900 photo credit Warwickshire County Record Office SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Guys Cliffe as it appeared in 1900 photo credit Warwickshire County Record Office SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire

The land on which Guy’s Cliffe is built attracted ancient Celtic people and Christian hermits long before any structures existed here. According to 16th century historians, the combination of an idyllic glade with many clear streams above a steep rock full of caves… washed at the bottom by a crystal river proved irresistable to the Romans, cave-dwelling hermits, the Earl of Warwick, and chantry priests; and to many others.

The enduring legend of Guy of Warwick is centred upon this location, and the tragic tale of his wife, the lady Felice, and her fateful plunge from the cliff has imbued the site with its poignant aura.

John Rous historian chantry priest guys cliffe Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
John Rous, medieval historian and Chantry Priest at Guys Cliffe, writing in the year 1440, tells us of the Celtic monk St Dubritous who established the St Mary Magdalene Oratory here in the year 600

Now, the grounds of Guy’s Cliffe receive loving attention; clearance work and restoration of the formal gardens is underway and in the not too distant future, visitors may gain greater access to this beguiling location with its ruined mansion, the Chapel of Mary Magdalene with its statue of Guy of Warwick, its mysterious grounds and outbuildings, which never cease to deliver curious experiences and strange stories, right up to the present day.

Check out my previous posts on the subject of Guy’s Cliffe estate.

The walled garden which was formerly the kitchen garden for the mansion

and

romantic ruin in a dreamlike state

If you are interested in supporting the fundraising project headed by Adrian King do look here for further details.

You can read much more about Guy’s Cliffe in my book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published on 15th November 2020 by Amberley Publishing. Pre-order the book here.

Cornwall Mini Series Part 15: Lanhydrock National Trust

A vast parkland, a major historical house which has so many associated buildings clustered around it, alongside its own church, it seems like a village in itself – and a garden of ingenuity, beauty and variety, which surprises and delights you as you explore its paths, its structure and colourful planting: this is Lanhydrock.

Closer to the house and church, on our July 2020 visit, we could see that the gardeners have been hard at work during the UK Covid19 lockdown, preparing the beds for new planting, which shows us the perfect symmetrical layout waiting for the lines to be softened with a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes and textures.

garden ready new planting Lanhydrock National Trust Cornwall SC Skillman
views Lanhydrock House National Trust Cornwall SC Skillman

With every bend of the path we come upon new vistas which satisfy our innate sense of proportion and design, please the eye and fill us with a sense of peace and harmony.

Explore the thoughts and feelings of other bloggers who have been inspired by the gardens at Lanhydrock: Shoffmire, roadeveron and ilovecornwall8.

And 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

Part 14 Trebah Garden

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

A Resurgence in Withdrawal – Covid-19 Lockdown Art

So many of us have reacted in different ways in the UK lockdown, some being energized and leaping into action in house and garden, others relapsing into lethargy, feeling flat and down and disorientated and bewildered by what’s going on in the world. Others may have taken up a new activity or found themselves behaving differently.

I’ve taken up art. An artist friend Jane lent me her artist’s supplies before the lockdown and then of course I had no chance to call on her to give them back. She urged me to use them, though I hadn’t painted for years.

The sumptuous thick squidgy texture and the brilliant colours of the acrylic paint called me, and the full set of artist’s brushes invited me to engage with them.

So I ordered a Strathmore art pad online and began painting.

At first I laid on blocks of colour in an abstract design…

bright coloured abstract design in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
bright coloured abstract design in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

Then I seized a chance to lavish cobalt blue onto the paper…

blue and purple iris in acrylic paint SC Skillman lockdown art
blue and purple iris in acrylic paint SC Skillman lockdown art

Then I thought I’d try a tree of life…

tree of life in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
tree of life in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

The next one was in freestyle, and ended up looking like a fabric design:

red and yellow design acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
red and yellow design acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

A beautiful blue borage flower caught my eye in a friend’s photo on Facebook. Some see it as a weed. I loved the colour and the symmetry.

borage flower in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
borage flower in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

The next day a photo of a quarry garden inspired me. My husband looked at my painting and identified the ‘path’ as a river, and that’s when I realised the photo is just a guide, and at a certain point lack of technical skill tips you over the edge into fantasy.

river and garden in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
river and garden in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

I love the combination of trees and parkland and rich verdant landscapes with man-made features such as a bridge and a carefully designed lake and a temple. Capability Brown, step forward.

parkland, lake, bridge and temple in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
parkland, lake, bridge and temple in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

My sister sent me her photo of rich rainforest on the Queensland/New South Wales border. I loved the perspective. Standing on the edge of a cliff, the viewer gazes down to the waterfall far below.

rainforest and waterfall in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
rainforest and waterfall in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

Following a week in Cornwall visiting some vibrant tropical gardens, I felt like capturing one of the many vistas at Trebah:

garden and bridge in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
garden and bridge in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

Each time I paint a picture there’s always a point when I think, ‘This is going to be a mess. This feels so random’.

Later I take a photograph of the picture, and when I look at the photo I think, ‘oh it’s not so bad after all’.

Viewing a photo of art enables me to see it more objectively. It also changes the colour slightly and makes it appear more muted and subtle, and even gives the image a different feeling.

Something happens in that moment, something liminal, which makes me feel happy.

I later shared the photos of the paintings on social media, and people responded to them. Each time I felt a sense of surprise. They feel naive to me, and yet it is thrilling to evoke a response from a simple image.

I’m a writer but I never forget how people will often respond to an image first.

Have you taken up anything new or creative in lockdown?

Perhaps feeling flat and dispirited and down has led to something unexpected, which has given you a sense of fresh possibilities?

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 28: Queensland, Australia: from University Campus to Botanic Gardens and Iconic Lookout: Brisbane Highlights

This is the twenty-eighth and final post in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our final visit in New Zealand: Auckland Botanic Gardens. Whilst there we enjoyed the outstanding Sculptures in the Gardens exhibition which continues to showcase and celebrate New Zealand sculptors and artists, through to March 2020..

After flying from Auckland to Brisbane, we were to catch up on some of Brisbane’s highlights in the closing days of our visit.

Promotional websites for Brisbane will point up a number of places to visitors as the “jewels in the city’s crown” but I think the University of Queensland campus certainly deserves to be one of them. I worked there in the School of External Studies, during the time I lived in Brisbane during the 1980s. Much has changed since then but I still enjoyed walking once more through the cloisters of the Great Court, and admiring the wonderful landscaping and of course the magnificent poincianna tree with profuse blossoms, and fragrant frangipani trees which you may see here. Among many other outstanding features, the campus also has a stunning art gallery.

Out last two visits in Brisbane were to the Look-Out and the Botanic Gardens at Mount Coot-tha.

The Lookout is one of Brisbane’s most popular tourist destinations, offering almost 360 degree views. I’ve been there many times in the past, and often a glorious blue sky and clear atmosphere makes this a joyful experience for visitors. However, on this occasion, at the summit the heat was fierce, and the smoke from bushfires was very much in evidence, filling the Brisbane skies.

For me this was a nostalgic, poignant visit, though it has always given me pleasure just to be there and do some tourist-watching! The views from this lookout must be the most popular place in Brisbane as a backdrop for photo opportunities, and at the height of the holiday season, myriads of holiday-makers from all around the world enjoy posing in happy and often artfully-arranged groups.

Our final visit was to Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens. These gardens, too, I have loved and often wandered around in the past; today, sadly, the temperatures and humidity were so high, we were unable to tour the gardens as there is much uphill walking, and again a lovely lookout at the highest point of the gardens.

Instead we did the Rainforest Trail: always a blessed relief and an excellent option in times of fierce heat and humidity!

I was also a pleasure afterwards to enter the air-conditioned atmosphere of the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. The day of our visit the Planetarium was offering as its midday show, “Cosmic Collisions” narrated by Robert Redford. I’ve been to the planetarium show too in the past and greatly enjoyed it.

It was a pleasure to return once more to Brisbane and to the many familiar haunts that I remembered from the four and a half years I spent living there in the 1980s. Inevitably there have been tremendous changes, and yet these simply serve to highlight and set in sharp relief those elements which endure, and arouse a sense of recognition, bringing again a sense of deep connection.

These can arise at unexpected moments, sometimes the subtropical forest of a mountain lookout, or a kookaburra sitting on a branch in front of the panorama of the Samford Valley; at other times the glimpse of a gracious colonial Queenslander with its iron lace balustrades; or the feeling of walking through spacious galleries and gazing at the water features of the State Library of Queensland or the Gallery of Modern Art, or the lovely landscaping of the South Bank Parklands.

Perhaps I may best end by highlighting an excellent presentation of the history of the city, in the Museum of Brisbane to be found in the City Hall in King George Square.

There, aboriginal people speak on video. They represent the ancestral owners of all the land upon which Brisbane is built.

“We believe the land respects us if we respect the land.”

Another said, very gently, of the great city that has risen up on this land: “We wish it wasn’t here. But times change.”

I thought of the corroboree spaces, the campsites, the burial grounds and other places of aboriginal life along the Brisbane river in the past. These were all vividly depicted on a timeline map of the Brisbane river, to be found on display in the museum.

“We believe the land respects us if we respect the land”.

Their words, and the feeling behind them made me feel sad. And yet, I reflected, if the feelings of the aboriginal people had been respected, and their land not taken from them and occupied…. I would never be here myself.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 27: North Island, New Zealand: Auckland Botanic Gardens

This is the twenty-seventh post in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today concludes my account of a journey through New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Map of the Coromandel Peninsula

I described our stay in Hahei, on the South Pacific coast, and our boat trip to Cathedral Cove: which appears as the first dramatic setting for the Pevensie children as they arrive unexpectedly in Narnia in the opening scene of the film Prince Caspian.

On the last day of our day we headed south again back to Auckland. Before returning to Auckland airport for our return flight to Brisbane, we visited the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

The entrance to the gardens featured lovely architecture, sculptures and water features.

Inside the entrance area we found an art gallery and cafe. Here in the Auckland Botanic Gardens, Sculpture in the Gardens will showcase and celebrate some great sculptors and artists through to March 2020. We found much to inspire, move and challenge us. I was particularly impressed by a white sculpture of a sad seated girl: poignant, graceful and evocative.

White sculpture of sad seated girl in the entrance area of Auckland Botanic Gardens

Another sculpture which fascinated me, by artist Oliver Stretton-Pow, represents a vision of a city. Called Just City, the artist created it in 2019 using wood, steel and found objects.

Just City, a sculpture in the entrance area of Auckland Botanic Gardens, created in 2019 by artist Oliver Stretton-Pow, using wood, steel and found objects.

Out in the gardens we found this intriguing installation by artist Jeff Thomson. Jeff is known as “Mr Corrugated Iron” and he called this installation Islands. Using corrugated iron, water, galvanised steel mesh, hay, wire, wetland and aquatic plants, he has re-created some of the 50-pus islands of the Haurakia Gulf. He hopes that by playing with positive and negative shapes, he will make us question the relationship between land and sea.

Later we wandered through an area of the garden which featured giant bees on honeycomb.

The ingenious use of arts and sculpture interwoven with colourful planting delighted us all.

Elsewhere in the gardens, we found an area devoted to demonstrating styles of garden design and planting suited to specific climates and location; I was interested to find a recommendation of “green manure” very similar to that seen in Ryton Organic Gardens in Warwickshire a year or so ago. ‘Green manure’ rules, in both the UK, and in New Zealand twenty six hours fight away!

We then set off for Auckland airport and so ended our tour of New Zealand’s North Island, a green and beautiful land full of majestic landscapes and sublime coastal scenery, along with outstanding tourist attractions and awesome geological wonders.

In my next post, the last in my ‘Australia and New Zealand’ series, I share more images of lovely botanic gardens: this time, on the slopes of Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 22: North Island, New Zealand: An Artistic Vision Arising from New Zealand's Worst Earthquake in 1931: Napier, and Hawke's Bay

This is the twenty-second in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the sixth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the enchanting Lake Taupo.

Lake Taupo

From Lake Taupo, we headed south east to Napier, through a landscape of golden broom and vast pine plantations, which gave way to grand mountain scenery, as the road crossed a precipitous chasm. Our first view of Napier was from a great height and we saw areas of dry bleached grass for the first time since our arrival in New Zealand, with evidence of the logging industry everywhere.

The town of Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 which killed 256, injured thousands and devastated the Hawke’s Bay region. It remains New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster. Out of this tragedy, though, a new and beautiful town was reborn; subsequently rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the period, Napier today is an artistic vision with evidence in its architecture of the most minute attention to the highest standards of design. Every years the locals hold an Art Deco Festival with a Great Gatsby picnic on the sea front which I would love!

The region is also noted for its wineries and first of all we visited The Mission winery outside the town. I was intrigued to learn that it is New Zealand’s oldest winery and ‘the birthplace of New Zealand wine‘; and started life specialising in communion wines; hence the name. We certainly enjoyed our wine tasting there.

We then went down into Napier, where we became absorbed in gazing at and photographing many elegant buildings as we strolled around the town.

After that we drove to Bluff Hill Lookout overlooking Hawke’s Bay where vast numbers of stacked pine logs awaited transportation by ship to other countries.

Bluff Hill Lookout was developed by Napier City Council on the remnants of two 2nd World War gun emplacements, so that visitors today may admire the panorama of Hawke’s Bay. We enjoyed the beauty of the gardens surrounding the lookout, full of colourful flowers, and the fascinating view of the bay.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 19: North Island, New Zealand: Enchantment and Delight for ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Fans: Matamata and Hobbiton

This is the nineteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the third of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We set off from Paihia early in the morning and drove south through a landscape of velvety green hills uninterrupted by hedges or fences, dotted with a wide variety of trees, and occasionally by pretty white bargeboard houses in gardens. It felt as if we were surrounded by JRR Tolkien‘s hobbit country all the time: The Shire, that pastoral idyll which the hobbits called home. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for Hobbiton.

Further along in our journey we entered a region of verdant forest packed with trees so diverse and so attractively interspersed with giant tree ferns that they seemed planted by design.

arriving in Matamata close to the Hobbiton film set

When we arrived in Matamata we immediately saw the welcoming sign and those of us who have loved the world of Middle Earth for so long at once felt a sense of high excitement.

excitement at arriving in Matamata

Even the local visitor information centre has been turned into a nostalgic homestead reminiscent of the hobbits’ innocent world.

The visitor information centre in Matamata

And yet, as we were to discover again and again throughout our stay in Matamata and our visit to Hobbiton, you don’t even need to have read the books or have seen the films to be thrilled by what has been done here to recreate this romantic vision of pre-industrial rural England.

This of course was what inspired JRR Tolkien. The irony is that he was influenced by the countryside between Birmingham and Warwick, in the UK, and by Sarehole Mill – and his vision of Mordor came from the industrial wastes he found. So Tolkien’s inspiration is very close to where I live. But I went halfway across the world to find it recreated here in New Zealand!

Upon entering the visitor information centre we found a sculpture of Tolkien’s most insightful creation: the tragic and chilling figure of Gollum, who had, long before, been known as Smeagol, one of the river folk, until he came into possession of the One Ring, and had been enslaved and possessed by his lust for ‘the Precious’. The One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The sculpture of Gollum in the visitor information centre at Matamata

I can imagine Matamata itself was an unassuming little ‘one-horse settlement’ before Peter Jackson found his ideal location for the Hobbiton film set nearby. It is astonishing to reflect upon the power of an iconic fantasy epic to catch the imagination of millions and transform the fortunes of one small town.

We had dinner at a restaurant called The Redoubt which had, along with the town of Matamata, ‘fully embraced its Middle Earth credentials’! (a phrase borrowed from the Matamata section in the Lonely Planet Guide for New Zealand).

The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata

The menu and decor were based around characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“Sneaky little hobbitses” – Gollum’s well-known catchphrase, up on the wall of The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

We had a delightful meal in The Redoubt and it built up our excitement at the prospect of visiting Hobbiton the next day. It was also an opportunity to sample a range of New Zealand red wines!

Inside the Redoubt Bar and Eatery in Hobbiton

Early the next morning we arrived at The Shires Rest, a short distance outside Matamata, to join our tour of Hobbiton, led by a young man called James, who was, appropriately enough, English.

The tour bus took us through the rolling hills of the Alexander Farm, a vision of the undulating landscape of young children’s picture books, a perfect setting for the small, round, cheerful hobbits.

On the way James showed video clips of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and also gave us plenty of fascinating facts about the making of the films, how this area came to be chosen as the site for the Hobbiton film-set, and why indeed there now exists here a perfect, robust and well-built rendition of hobbit country, for the delight of many thousands of visitors each year.

AS for Hobbiton itself, we all found it beyond our expectations, so perfectly realised, with exquisite attention to every detail: Bilbo’s sign on the gate announcing ‘No admittance except on party business’; the oak tree above Bag End, the line of washing, the wheelbarrows full of freshly harvested vegetables, the mill and bridge, the party field, Bilbo’s eleventy first birthday cake, the Green Dragon Inn and the tankards of beer.

Throughout Hobbiton we found exquisite English flower varieties, all in top condition. In fact, being here was indeed like being transported into JRR Tolkien’s original vision. It has been said that he wouldn’t have liked the idea of his books being turned into films, as he believed that the power of the imagination must determine how people see the world he created. Nevertheless I feel that he would have been awed by what has been achieved here. Hobbiton lacked only one thing: real life hobbits!

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Cornwall mini series Part 3: The Eden Project

This is the third in a series of short reflections on places in Cornwall.

There will be few words, and mainly images.

The Eden Project is now famous for its extraordinary vision, which emerged from the original idea of one man, Tim Smit. And now it is a glorious display of the wonders of this earth: both natural, and man-made.

A visit here will inspire you with new faith in the human race. It also warns us of what a precious, fragile treasure we have in our hands, as stewards of the planet earth.

Above all, just come here to wonder, to imagine, to feel joy and inspiration.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction.

My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published on 15th June 2020 by Amberley Publishing.