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You are familiar with Davidia Involucrata, the handkerchief tree which originates from Southern China? Well, I have to say that although I had heard of it I had never seen it in flower until we visited the gardens at Newby Hall recently. There it was in all its dainty splendour, not one, but four trees, dripping with little white handkerchiefs against the azure spring sky. It was a perfect day for our visit with all the magnolias in full bloom, the celebrated double herbaceous border, not fully out, but showing great promise with its variegated hues of green shoots. The house itself, now somewhat optimistically, attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, was as delightful as ever, with its handsome brickwork glowing in the sunshine. Inside as always, the theatrical neo-classical splendours of Adam’s entrance hall was followed by the unique Gobelins tapestry room and the equally outstanding sculpture gallery. Imagine two unique rooms, unique in the world, in one comparatively small house!

On from there to a not-so-small-house, Castle Howard. A baroque palace dwarfing anything in Ruritania. The Vanbrugh pile with its dome, soaring columns, and enfilades is itself quite an eye-full, without even mentioning the artistic wonders within its walls, but it is the setting which sets this gem apart. Like another Vanbrugh house, Blenheim, here is a jewel in its true setting. Not just a mammoth house but complete with its Arcady of temples, bridges, fountains, mausoleums, statues and vistas stretching as far as the imagination into the Howardian hills.

Opera North, based in Leeds, has a reputation stretching far beyond “God’s Own Country”, and the production of Puccini’s evergreen La Bohème was quite a highlight in this visit to Yorkshire. Phyllida Law had transposed the setting to the early 1960’s, so we had to accustom ourselves to James Dean rebellry and the then-modish existentialism. But this gave the production a renewed fizz and delighted the audience. On a more solemn note was the attendance at Choral Evensong in York Minster. No James Dean there, but the cadences of the traditional Anglican service sung by the choir in the majestic chancel of the Minster.

Thus passed a few days without the walls of ancient York, for we were based at the excellent Grange Hotel in Bootham. In a few steps we were within the walls of York itself with its Roman remains, cobbled streets, jettied roofs, and handsome 18th century architecture owing much to the local “lad” John Carr. He it was who completed the unique townhouse of the Fairfax family with its splendid plasterwork by the Italian Cortese brothers. This house was rescued from dire council-neglect by the York Civic Trust, and is filled not just with Noel Terry’s extraordinary rich collection of 18th century furniture but much else besides. An architectural gem snatched from the jaws of the demolition men.

Our programme of holidays continues though the rest of the year with a number of expeditions in conjunction with Travel Editions with whom we visit the Country Houses of Derbyshire. Here the dates are 29th June and the 10th August 2014 for Chatsworth, Haddon Hall, Hardwick and Bolsover Castle. Please see website Stately Homes of Derbyshire for full details and booking arrangements.

Later in the year we go to the South of France. The October journey is fully booked but we go again November 2014 from 3rd- 10th to visit the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, The Villa Kerylos, the Villa Eilenroc, and have a day in Monte Carlo along with several garden visits. Again see Villas and Gardens of the Côte d’Azur… and if you miss that visit there is another in March 2015!

March 2015 also sees Nicholas on board the surrogate royal yacht Hebridean Princess cruising the Firth of Clyde to visit the Houses and Castles of the Clyde. Here is a chance to visit not only the much-celebrated Dumfries House, but also Mount Stuart, Brodick Castle and Inverary. Full details are to be found on Look for 2015 Cruise Preview.
If you prefer to speak to someone, Louise Pratt, on 01756 704704 is ready to help you.
Please quote Nicholas Merchant, as your reference.

We look forward to seeing on these visits.


Mount Stuart: The Chapel

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