Port Eliot, Cornwall

Entrance front, Port EliotPrivately owned
A grand house and grounds near the Saltash estuary. Parts of Port Eliot are extremely old – there are fragments dating from the 4th, 9th, 10th and 13th centuries, but most of the house dates from a makeover by Sir John Soane in the 18th Century. It was previously known as Port Priory. The estuary water used to be closer, but was diverted by a dam in the 18th century.
A notable feature of the contents is a series of family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. They belong to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, having been accepted in lieu of death duties, but remain in the house on condition that they are available for viewing on 100 days per year. There are a number of fine rooms with contents including valuable furniture – the Morning Room, Drawing Room (library), Big Dining Room and the Round Room. I don’t recall seeing the Conservatory annex.
The Round Room was designed by Sir John Soane and is considered one of his outstanding achievements. It is painted with a 20th century mural by eccentric artist Robert Lenckiewicz, which is regarded as his masterpiece. It depicts dozens of people known to the Eliot family and is an outstanding work. In the same room is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, restored and presented like an art exhibit.
A look on Google Satellite makes the house plan, with its two almost separate blocks, clearer.
I found that all the house guides (stewards) were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The house is still a family home, and visitors may see family possessions lying around – and the family dog. There are extensive grounds, which I did not have time to fully explore.
Visiting – the house is about 200 yards north of St Germans village on the B3249. Approaching from this direction you will come on an entrance with gateway and lodges forking to the right, at a small car park. The pedestrian entrance is here. You could park here and walk down past the church, as the house (behind the church) is much closer than it looks. I’m still not sure what they expect car-borne visitors to do – apparently there is another entrance and car park 1Km further on, to the west, which you’d come on first if approaching from the A38. I visited on a day of low visitor numbers (they do have an annual literature festival), and not finding anyone to ask, I drove through the gate and parked in front of the house. There was plenty space and nobody objected.
Important Notice: The owner of Port Eliot is in negotiations to sell the house to a trust run by Prince Charles. The implications for visitor access are unclear, but the interior will no longer look like a family home. As with privately owned mansions in general, the message is: Visit It While You Still Can.
For interior photos see Port Eliot website.

East Front, Port Eliot
East Front
Church from house grounds
North Front, Port Eliot
North Front
Round Room & North front
Round Room & North front


Bradley, Newton Abbott, Devon

View of house exterior and lawn
Bradley Manor
National Trust.
A white manor house sits in green meadows surrounded by woodland. The L-shaped house, with many gables and tall chimneys, retains most of its medieval features. The dining room (former kitchen) has a fireplace opening formed of four tons of Dartmoor granite. The hall is the only spacious room. On the walls of an upstairs room is preserved a late medieval pattern of stencilled black fleur-de-lys. Also upstairs in a panelled room is some fine seventeenth-century plasterwork in high relief, looking well preserved. There is a collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Arts & Crafts furniture. Much of the furniture is 18th century and listed on room cards. The chapel, which has an array of carved wooden bosses on the ceiling, should not be missed.

The interior was interesting. Outside, one can walk round with the guidebook and look at when each part was altered. Extensive woodlands surround the house. I finished my visit by exploring these, and found a back exit which eventually leads into a housing estate.

The house is half a mile from Newton Abbott town centre, on the Totnes road. The opening dates and times are somewhat restricted. The signs on the main road are inconspicuous. Note that there are no toilet facilities or tea room on site.
Good news: you can park at the site from 1.30 for the opening at 2:00 pm. It’s possible to get there by train, but I found that, unless you figure out the bus routes, it’s rather a tedious walk from the station and you need to know what foot route to take. Leave the house grounds on foot the same way you came in, if you don’t want to get lost in a housing estate.

Pevensey Castle, Sussex

Inner bailey wall English Heritage
Pevensey Castle was founded around AD 270 as a Roman fort called Anderida, defending the Bay of Pevensey. After the end of Roman rule in Britain, the walls sheltered a settlement until at least the fifth century.
In 1066, the ruinous Roman defences were refortified by William the Conqueror, and a great Norman castle developed in one corner of the Roman enclosure. By the early sixteenth century, the castle was abandoned.
The site was briefly remanned in Tudor times, and also in World War II, in response to threatened invasions.
The size of the Roman enclosure is impressive, and the walls stand to nearly their full height over much of the perimeter. The walls and towers of the medieval inner bailey mostly stand, but the keep is very ruined and little remains of the upper floors.
The castle was besieged four times in the medieval period and the keep underwent substantial alterations in the 14th century.
The machine-gun nests and the refitting of several towers for accommodation as carried out in WWII can still be seen today.
A basement room near the gate can be entered by descending steps. It was used as a prison. Another can only be accessed by a hole in the roof and may have been an ‘oubliette’.
The castle is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Access to the outer bailey is unrestricted, but entry to the castle inner bailey is chargeable. If you have time, walk or drive around the outside of the outer wall.

Roman East Entrance
East Entrance
Inner bailey tower
Inner bailey tower
Outer Bailey
Outer Bailey
Inner Bailey view
Inner Bailey view, keep

Observatory Science Centre

Thompson 26" refractor, Dome E
Thompson 26″ refractor
The Observatory Science Centre occupies part of the site of the former Greenwich Obeservatory at Herstmonceux. It includes the six domes and other buildings of the ‘Equatorial Group’. The prime purpose of the site is as a science centre for schoolchildren but, with six large historic telescopes in the domes, the site is obviously also of interest to adults with an interest in astronomy.
The empty dome of the 98-inch Isaac Newton telescope is nearby but not open to the public.
As well as the six domes and ancillary buildings, the site has various indoor and open-air science exhibits including the actual original 98″ mirror of the Isaac Newton telescope, a granite ball supported by water pressure, the aluminising tank, sound dishes, water park, and Discovery Park. See also the ‘Domes of Discovery’ exhibition in Dome F.
This is clearly a good place to bring an inquisitive child. It should be of interest to adults too.
It may not be immediately obvious from the publicity what telescopes you can see when. You can visit three of the domes (B,E,F) in the course of a day visit. There may be guided tours on the day of your visit, to two of these.
On an open evening, all six domes are open and (weather permitting) you have a chance to look through three of the historic telescopes including the 10 inch in dome D not exhibited during the day. There are around two open evenings a month. The site will be very dark, so bring a red-light torch with you.

You are advised not to use postcode navigation to find the site. Instead, navigate to Wartling Road, Wartling or to Bradley Road, Herstmonceux. The only public entrance to the site is off the Wartling Road, which runs north from the A27 at Pevensey. Parking for the Centre is at Wartling Road adjacent to the entrance. Herstmonceux Castle is on the same estate (same entrance). If you want to visit the castle grounds and gardens, I suggest parking at the castle which will involve slightly less walking, and purchasing a joint ticket at the castle ticket hut opposite the Science Centre.

Thompson 26" Refractor, Dome E
Thompson 26″ Refractor
Yapp 36" Reflector, Dome B
Yapp 36″ Reflector
Yapp 36" Reflector, Dome B
Yapp 36″ Reflector
Yapp 36" Reflector, Dome B
Yapp 36″ Reflector

Herstmonceux Castle

Castle and wide moat Herstmonceux Castle has a chequered history. It was built in the 15th century as a castle-style palatial residence by one Roger Fiennes, Treasurer to the court of Henry VI. By the 18th Century, the castle was in the hands of Robert Hale-Naylor, who had the interior of the castle dismantled in 1777 on the advice of fashionable architect Samual Wyatt. The contents were sold off, and other materials used to build a new mansion, designed by Wyatt, nearby. The outer walls remained as a romantic ruin till the 20th century.
Radical restoration work was started in 1913 by Colonel Lowther and completed for Sir Paul Latham by the architect Walter Godfrey. Despite appearances, everything visible from the inner courtyard is 20th century work.
In 1946 the castle and estate passed into the hands of the Admiralty and by 1957 was the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, with the castle being used for accommodation and the grounds housing various telescope domes.
By the 1970s the Observatory had moved out and in 1992 the castle was bought by Queens University of Canada with funds provided by Alfred Bader. In 1994 the Queen’s International Study Centre opened.
The most striking thing about the castle is its size – it is one of the biggest brick-built castles in England and one of the largest early brick-built structures.
The grounds and gardens are normally open to the public, and on some days a guided tour of the Castle is available at extra cost. (Pay at reception in the Castle). It is worth taking the tour, as you will see much of the ground and first floors, as well as the courtyard. The interior contains various bits of architectural salvage from older houses.
The gardens and woods are also worth exploring.

If visiting the castle by car, it is recommended that you do not use postcode navigation, but instead navigate to Bradley Road, Herstmonceux or to the Wartling Road running northward from the A27 at Pevensey.
The only public entrance, shared with the Observatory Science Centre, is off the Wartling Road. The ticket hut for the castle grounds is opposite the Science Centre.

Inner Courtyard
Inner Courtyard
Staircase from older house
Fireplace surround from older house
Fireplace surround
Folly House distant view
Folly House

Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire

Little Castle from wall walk
Little Castle
English Heritage
Bolsover Castle was built in the 17th century by the Cavendish family as a country retreat. It replaced the ruins of an earlier castle on the site. The Little Castle was begun by Charles Cavendish in 1612. His son William inherited in 1617 and added the Terrace and Riding House ranges, making the castle a place of aristocratic reception, entertainment and pleasure.
William fought for the Royalists during the English Civil War but having been given command of Royalist forces he suffered a humiliating defeat at Marston Moor and fled abroad. It appears that the terrace range suffered substantial damage during the Civil War. William returned in 1660 and built the riding house range, also rebuilding the state apartment.
William was an enthusiastic horseman and invented the art of ‘menage’. Wm. Cavendish’s son Henry inherited in 1676, and under him Bolsover suffered a decline as interest shifted to Nottingham Castle. The Terrace Range was unroofed by 1770.
In the 19th century the Little Castle was let as lodgings.

There is a lot to see at Bolsover Castle. The riding house range is visible across the outer bailey, and at certain times displays of horsemanship take place inside. At other times the interiors can be viewed.
The Terrace Range is a ruin, but there are various rooms to inspect, and also a series of ruined kitchens at basement level. The outer terrace gives great views over the plain below.
The Little Castle, a miniature Renaissance mansion in the shape of a Norman tower, has rooms on three floors, and a kitchen area in the basement. Each floor has several rooms of varying sizes, which retain some of the original decoration, including notable wall paintings and ceilings. Representative furnishing has been installed in a number of rooms. The Little Castle is the highlight of the tour.
The Fountain Garden is surrounded by a wall with walkway (recently restored) and has an elaborate fountain at its centre.


Castle from below
Castle from below
Terrace Range ruin
Terrace Range
Little Castle entrance
Little Castle entrance

Scotland Street School Museum, Glasgow

School front Glasgow Museums
Scotland Street School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and operated for many years as a school for the city’s children. It closed as a school in 1979 and is now operated as a museum of the story of education in Glasgow during the 20th century.

The building is a must-see for fans of Mackintosh, being designed both inside and out in his distinctive style. It was built between 1903 and 1906 for the School Board of Glasgow. Mackintosh had to incorporate certain standard requirements such as separate entrances for boys, girls and infants, a drill hall, teachers’ rooms on each floor, raked classrooms and electric lighting. He also had to incorporate a cookery room.
Mackintosh produced two sets of drawings for the school. One set was approved by the school board and the other set, with different detailing of tiling scheme, windows, doors, stair railings and drill hall, given to the contractors. The school board did not find out till 1905 and after heated correspondence Mackintosh had to revise his designs to something more acceptable. (This sheds a different light on Mackintosh as ‘neglected genius’. If he was known to behave like this with clients, it is not surprising that he did not get much work.)

The Museum’s permanent collection includes a Victorian classroom representing the appearance with raked floor much as built in 1906, a World War II classroom still with raked floor, a 50s/60s classroom with flat floor and brighter colours, the cookery room restored to its 1906 appearance, and the Mackintosh room with information about the building of the school.
There is also a temporary exhibition space, hosting an exhibition for “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” when I visited.
All three floors of the building can be explored, and most rooms are open.
Around the back the original divided playground can be seen.

The combination of architecture and museum make this building well worth a visit.
Admission is free (donations encouraged). The Museum is opposite the Shields Street underground station and a pay car park (parking fee £5). If you mention at the museum desk that you came by car you might get a pass-out for the car park. :-)

Rear of school
Rear view
Rear external detail
Rear detail

The Hill House, Helensburgh, Scotland

House from south lawn National Trust for Scotland
The Hill House was built in 1902-3 with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, arguably Scotland’s most famous architect and designer, as architect. It was commissioned by the Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie, and remains a remarkably complete example of Mackintosh’s unique vision. It is also widely acclaimed as a work of art and design associated with the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the 20th century.
Though very modern for its time, the house does not entirely turn its back on tradition, for some of its details evoke the spirit of old Scottish castles and tower houses.
Parts of the interior decor were designed by Mackintosh’s wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, a talented artist in her own right.
The house was originally run with the aid of several servants, and had only one private owner after the surviving Blackies sold it. It was acquired by the NTS in 1982, and they have gradually returned the house to its original appearance.
The entrance passage and hall incorporates a change in level and has elaborate rectangular lampshades, originally lit by gas, now electricity.
To the right of the entrance is the library, containing many Blackie publications. The drawing room is a large room with a bay window facing the Clyde. The fireplace is made of small putty-coloured tesserae with oval decorative panels. Above it is Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s gesso panel depicting a sleeping princess in her bower. There is also a writing desk designed by Mackintosh.
The Dining Room has dark walls with a lighter frieze and ceiling. None of the furniture was designed by Mackintosh.
Beyond the hall are the service quarters.
Upstairs are an Edwardian bathroom and a number of bedrooms. The main bedroom is L-shaped and has a barrel ceiling over the bed. The walls are stencilled and copies of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s silk hangings hang over the bed. In the upstairs east wing rooms, traces of the original decorative schemes have been uncovered.

The house can be reached by car or train. It is a must-see if you are interested in Mackintosh or art nouveau. There is a cafe in the service wing.
Thumbnails (no interior photography).

House from east garden
House from east
House from east
House from east
House from south-west
House from SW

Dumbarton Castle, Scotland

Historic Scotland
Dumbarton Castle, on the Clyde near Glasgow, has a recorded history going back some 1500 years. In the dark Ages, the rock was the capital of the British kingdom of Strathclyde. It was besieged by Vkings in AD870. A medieval castle was built by Alexander II of Scotland in the 1220’s against the Norwegians, who occupied lands just ten miles downriver.
In later centuries, the rock became a formidable garrison fortress, its defences bristling with guns. It last saw military action as recently as the Second World War.
Substantial new artillery fortifications were built in the 17th and early 18th centuries. These are what the visitor sees today, for nothing survives from the Dark-Age fortress, and precious little from the medieval castle.
The castle rock can be seen from some way off, and great views can be seen from the twin peaks at the top.
If you are looking for an ancient castle keep, what’s here may come as an anti-climax. The most substantial buildings remaining are the King George’s battery and three-storey Governor’s House, both visible from the ground-level entrance. Like almost all the surviving structures, they were built in the 18th century. There are only two other roofed structures, both small.
The views, on the other hand, are great. The Clyde can be seen to the south, and the town of Dumbarton to the north, with distant views of hills and mountains further away.

Portcullis Arch & steps
Portcullis Arch
French Prison
French Prison
Wallace Tower base
Wallace Tower base
View to NW, River Leven
View to NW, River Leven
View to North
View to North
Powder Magazine
Powder Magazine
View to SW
View to SE

Moirlanich Longhouse, Central Scotland

National Trust for Scotland
This house and connected byre is typical of a rural 19th century or early 20th century dwelling. The roof is supported by crucks and was originally thatched, though the thatch was raked back in the 1940’s and covered with corrugated iron sheeting.
Inside, the house still has many of its original features, including a Scotch dresser, box beds and a ‘hingin lum’ or hooded fireplace. Walls were papered, and in places there are over twenty layers of wallpaper, some of which has been separated and displayed.
There is a parlour kept for entertaining the minister and the landlord, and a kitchen and bedrooms for everyday use.
Nearby is an interpretation display hut with a small exhibition.
The opening hours are restricted to two afternoons a week in the summer.
I visited the house during a tour of fine Highland scenery.

Parlour with table etc
Kitchen with fire hood
Byre with cruck beam

Menzies Castle, Scotland

Menzies_0171 Private Trust
Castle Menzies (pronounced ‘Mingis’) was built in the 16th century (exact date unknown), possibly on the site of an older castle.
In 1577 the upper storey and roof were altered, adding the series of dormer windows with their elaborate pediments. This completed the construction of a Z-plan house, representing a transition between a fortified tower-house and a mansion.
Despite the domestic features, the house was involved in conflict in 1646, 1715 and 1746.
In the early eighteenth century a new block of apartments was built against the north (rear) side of the main block and the west side of the north tower. A new entrance was made in the middle of the main block. This block was deemed unsalvable in the 1970’s (riddled with dry rot) and subsequently demolished. Marks of its former presence can be seen at the rear. Pictures of the vanished block can be seen on the Canmore website: http://canmore.org.uk/site/25670/castle-menzies and in particular
http://canmore.org.uk/collection/1461079 showing the rear in 1942.
In 1840, another wing was constructed on the west side of the main block. This block still stands today.
On approaching the castle, its striking appearance immediately marks it as a classic Scottish castle. It stands unfenced in open fields, in front of a high escarpment.
The castle was acquired by the Menzies clan in 1957 in a greatly dilapidated condition. Since then the 16th century building has been restored with, it would seem, rather limited resources, followed by the restoration of the 19th century wing.
The ground floor consists of vaulted chambers including a kitchen. On the first floor of the main block is a great hall, panelled and with a plaster ceiling, and a withdrawing room with a fine pendant plaster ceiling.
On the second floor are two more large rooms with plaster ceilings.
The third floor is now an attic-like space open to the pitched roof. There are many other smaller rooms (the total for the castle is about 70).
In the 19th century wing, the first floor hall (Dewar Room) is the only room of note open to visitors.

The castle with its many rooms, some elegantly restored, is a fascinating place to visit. Various objects are identified by handwritten labels, which gives the place a dusty charm quite different from the high-budget National Trust for Scotland or Scottish Heritage properties.

Larder with old items
1st floor hall
1st floor hall
1st floor Withdrawing room
1st floor Withdrawing
1st floor Withdrawing room
1st floor Withdrawing
South wall close-up
South wall
2nd floor hall with displays
2nd floor hall
Attic (3rd) floor with exposed beams
Attic (3rd) floor.
Top S. tower Victorian bedroom
Top S. tower room
Dewar Room, C.19 block
Dewar Room, C.19 block

Rear, from NE
Rear, from NE