John Snow makes our family tree

The women think it’s wonderful – but I’m a little more blasé.

HBO’s television show, ‘Gunpowder’ – starring English actor and heart-throb Kit (John Snow) Harrington – has put an infamous section of my family tree into high definition colour

The show is about England’s ‘gunpowder plot’.

You’re probably asking: “So what?”

Certainly, a failed attempt to blow up England’s Houses of Parliament more than 400 years ago, seems fairly tame in today’s age of global terrorism.

But, Guy Fawkes Night is rarely allowed to pass in our family without at least a couple of snide remarks.


The reason is that some of those behind the infamous plot of 1605 were ancestors of mine.

In fact, the chief conspirator, Robert Catesby (played by Harrington) sits quietly on my family tree – one of those we don’t often talk about.

After the plot was discovered, a fleeing Catesby decided to stand and fight the law – and the law won. I won’t say much more in case you haven’t seen ‘Gunpowder’.


He was the son of the former Anne Throckmorton, part of a prominent Warwickshire family and political dynasty from which I can trace direct linage.

Leading Catholic recusants, the Throckmorton family members were wealthy gentry, parliamentarians and members of court whose three-storey stone house, Coughton Court (above) is located near Alcester, Warwickshire.

The stately house stands in richly timbered countryside close to the forest of Arden.

So, while Sue can trace her roots from rural Dorset to Australia’s first non-convict settlers,  The Rose family of the Bellona, I’ve once again been reminded  that my ancestors include a fair share of ‘colourful identities’.

One day, we’ll visit Coughton Court.

And Sue says we’ll also meet ‘John Snow.’ I’m not so sure … but then again I “know nothing”.

Photo of Coughton Court courtesy of its website, which is a good read.

Main photo of Kit Harrington courtesy of the HBO Gunpowder website – also worth a look.

Gunpowder plot UK

English village series: the stone crosses

We’d never heard of preaching crosses until we came face to face with one in England.

Since then, we’ve kept and eye open for these unusual medieval landmarks – many of which are fast weathering away.


Cross in the Nadder Valley

Driving on the A30 motorway in Southern Wiltshire, we crossed the River Nadder and entered the picturesque village of Barford St Martin.

Sitting between the provincial centres of Salisbury and Shaftsbury, this dot on the map was known to us only for the 16th Century Barford Inn, which once brewed its own high quality beer.


After checking out the inn, we set off for Shaftesbury – and then encountered the village’s preaching cross.

It was obviously taller and much different to the market crosses which can be found in many English villages and rural towns.

High crosses

After photographing the structure out of curiosity, we wandered into the adjoining Church of St Martin and were told that the stone cross dated to early medieval times.


Courtesy Wikimedia and Pauline Eccles

It was one of many so-called ‘high crosses’ built across England, Scotland and Ireland for travelling priests to preach where there wasn’t a church. At Barford St Martin, for example, we were told that a church wasn’t erected until the 13th Century.

Historians say that Cornwall was probably the first county in England to have stone crosses, as long ago as the 4th century.

Market crosses


On the other hand, smaller market crosses – like this one at Sturminster Newton in Dorset – designed a market place, although they were also sometimes used as a rallying point for important news.

Political crosses?


In another twist to the story of the stone crosses, we came across a plaque in the East Sussex town of Rye that marked the site of another cross – this time for the election of the local mayor  between 1289 and 1602.

Perhaps an example of mixing politics and religion?


Main photo courtesy Wikimedia and Pauline Eccles

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English village series: Rye’s colourful past

History, some say,  isn’t what it used to be.

Take the case of Rye, in beautiful East Sussex, England, where the town’s rich past included smuggling; gangs; ghosts; secret escape tunnels; a disappearing harbour; and a mass evacuation of sheep.

One of the best preserved medieval towns we’ve visited, Rye draws  big crowds of visitors eager for a taste of its colourful past.

The town’s Mermaid Inn – parts of which date to 1156 – offers a peek into the days when the bloody Hawkhurst smuggling gang met in the bar and often left by a secret passageway.

Today, the inn continues to be well known as the site of repeated ghost sightings.


Photo courtesy Mermaid Inn


Smuggling is known to have existed in the Rye area since the 13th Century, when King Edward I introduced the Customs system.

Taxation on wool exports made the rewards from illegal wool export well worth the risk of capture.

Rye fronted the English channel and locals knew the shifting  and dangerous sands well. Smugglers were able to evade customs officials with relative ease before moving  contraband across the misty Romney Marsh that adjoins Rye and covers over 100 square miles.

Rye’s narrow cobbled streets and closely built houses interconnected by attics and cellars, made it an ideal landing place for smuggled cargoes. As import taxes were later imposed on luxury items, the emphasis switched to bringing in tea, spirits, and tobacco.

The murderous Hawkhurst gang – at one stage about 600 strong – was a force to be reckoned with until it was finally crushed in 1747 and many of its members executed. For a time,  the gang was so bold that it transported goods in broad daylight in convoys of hundreds of heavily armed men, known as ‘Owlers’.

Coastal defences too

With its channel frontage, Rye was also at the forefront of England’s coastal defences against attack from Europe.

Eventually, the coast shifted, leaving Rye with a dry sea port but three local rivers.


Today, visitors can stand on Ypres Tower – built in 1249 to defend the town – and gaze across the old port area.

The tower has served as a fort, private dwelling, prison, court hall and now finally as a museum. Visit the tower to read a lot about the area’s smuggling past.

Rye’s charm

With enchanting streets, the 900 year old medieval Church of St Mary’s, restaurants, shops and pubs, and well preserved historic houses from medieval, Tudor and Georgian times, Rye is a ‘must-see’ for travellers in southern England.

Again, we soaked up the town’s history by checking out  the Landgate, which built in 1329 and is another remnant of Rye’s earliest fortifications.


And we rambled  through the original town and smiled at the quaintly named houses such as ‘The House with two front Doors’ or ‘The House Opposite’.

At the Rye Heritage Centre, there is a sound and light show that brings to life seven hundred years of the area’s history.


World War II

Rye’s dramatic history certainly didn’t end with the smugglers.

In World War II – expecting an invasion by Germany – a radar station was set up near the town, beaches were mined and the Rye area was fortified with wire and concrete pill boxes designed to hold machine guns.

Many of Rye’s residents were evacuated – including tens of thousands of  local sheep.

Medieval gem

Overall, Rye is fascinating with a capital ‘F’.

The town thoroughly deserves its international reputation for architectual treasures, medieval ‘feel’, specialist shops, art and photography galleries, stunning nature reserves and long beaches.


Getting there

Rye is in East Sussex, about 75 miles or just over one-and-a-half hours by road from London.

The town is situated on the A259 between Hastings to the west and Folkestone to the east – and on the A268 from the north.

By train, the trip takes a little more than one hour. High speed trains run from London’s St Pancras station to Ashford International, where you change into a train for Rye.


Across Romney Marsh


The visitor can choose from a range of hotels, including the Mermaid Inn and  The George Hotel, which is one of the south coast’s most luxurious accommodation options.

Rye also boasts guests houses, B&B’s and self-catering accommodation.

Main photo courtesy Rye Museum

Rye travel village life

English villages: mystery and history at Painswick

Sharp-eyed travellers can find an historical gem when visiting the village of Painswick, in the Cotswolds Hills of west-central England.

In 1644, Painswick was occupied by Parliamentarian forces during the English civil war.

It was later recaptured by Royalists, but the fighting was so severe that bullet and cannon shot marks remain to this day on the tower of the parish church of Saint Mary.

The marks are one of the highlights of the historic Gloucestershire village, which is built mainly of mellow, honey-coloured Cotswold stone and features quaint, narrow streets.

Photo courtesy and Lyn Haigh

We visited Painswick to see friends who live nearby, but couldn’t pass up the chance to first spend time in the beautiful village that is promoted as the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’.

Sitting quietly in the Cotswolds Hills and surrounded by lovely Gloucestershire countryside, Painswick is about two-and-a-quarter hours from London via the M4 motorway or two hours by train from Paddington Station.

Our first stop was the church, which is known world-wide for the yew trees planted in its grounds and an unusual ceremony held each September.

The church yard is famous because it boasts 99 yew trees. According to local folklore, many attempts to grow the 100th tree have never succeeded.

While no one seems willing to swear that the 100th tree story is correct, it certainly gets plenty of publicity and draws large numbers of visitors to the village.

Each September, the church is also the scene of a ‘Clypping’ ceremony that apparently comes from the old Saxon word ‘ycleping’ that means embracing. It involves local children carrying ‘nosegays’ or a small bunch of flowers, joining hands around the church to form an unbroken chain.

The children sing the Clypping Hymn as part of a re-dedication of the church. The custom is apparently thought to date to 1321.

While checking out the yew trees, we were impressed by the collection of chest tombs and monuments standing in the church yard.

Dating from the early 17th century onwards, the tombs were apparently carved in local stone by local craftsmen.

Church officials told us that the oldest tomb is dated 1623.

Behind the church, near the Painswick courthouse, are a set of 17th Century stocks and we wandered to the Falcon Hotel, said to have the oldest bowling green in England.

After a quick look at Painswick’s former post office, which is the only example of exposed timber framing in the village and the striking Georgian frontage of a building known as Beacon House, we took to the road to visit our friends.

Like most of the Cotswolds settlements, Painswick is a picture-postcard example of a traditional English village.

However the area’s historic gems like the civil war reminders, yew trees and the Clypping ceremony make this slice of heaven stand out from the crowd.

We wholeheartedly recommend a visit.


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Charming Bath: take a selfie at Lacock

We used our iPhone to take photos at Lacock.

It was a particularly apt thing to do, because this beautiful village – in the English county of Wiltshire – is said to be the official birthplace of photography.

In 1835, Lacock resident and scientist, William Henry Fox Talbot, created the world’s first photographic negative using a camera. The negative was not much bigger than a postage stamp.

Now, about 180 years later, we were taking photographs in the same place – without even needing a dedicated camera.

How things change!


Fox Talbot’s discovery is one of the reasons that visitors find their way to Lacock.

His former home, Lacock Abbey, now contains a museum devoted to the history of photography.

The museum tells how Fox Talbot – frustrated that the could neither paint nor draw – became determined to ‘fix’ images on paper. After experiments, he took an image of a window in his home – the first negative.

And, in doing so, he changed the way we would see the world.


National Trust image/Arnhel de Serra


Although it is fascinating and well worth of look, the museum is far from the only reason to visit Lacock, a medieval wool village in the delightful Southern Cotswolds, about 30 minutes drive from the grand English city of Bath.

Lacock is the quintessential English village and dates from the 13th Century.

Visiting is like taking a step back in time, with many lime washed, half-timbered and stone cottages.

Most of Lacock is owned by the National Trust and is beautifully preserved.


We stopped for a meal and a pint at The George Inn, which dates to about 1361, before taking a look at Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot’s old home and one of the few intact medieval abbeys in England.


Founded in 1232 and converted into a country house in about 1540, the Abbey features medieval cloisters; a sacristy; chapel; and monastic rooms.

As well as 800 years of history, the Abbey also boasts extensive grounds and gardens that are ideal for a relaxing wander.


It’s also easy to see why Lacock village is such a favourite with film and TV producers.

Its picturesque streets and historic cottages, largely untouched by modern alterations, have appeared in the likes of ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and the films ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ and ‘Wolfman’.

Main image of Fox Talbot courtesy of The National Trust and Nick Carter.

village life

Dreams come true in Cornwall

If you’ve watched TV’s Doc Martin or marvelled at the scenery in Poldark, then you know a little about Cornwall.

But, this historic and endearing area – a key part of England’s West Country – is a traveller’s dream.


The rugged Cornish coastline

In a nutshell, Cornwall is as far west as you can go on Great Britain’s south-west peninsula. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the River Tamar and the county of Devon.

Cornwall has heaps of attractions, from animal and bird conservation centres and general amusement parks to historic gardens, fine Tudor mansions, steam railways and many reminders of the county’s  industrial heritage


Well known for its stunning cathedral, Truro is the county’s unofficial capital and adminstrative centre and in the Middle Ages it controlled Cornwall’s flourishing tin mining industry.

Truro has some wonderful examples of Georgian architecture, and Lemon Street is one of the best preserved Georgian streets in England.

But, knowing our liking for the English countryside, you probably won’t be surprised that we are particularly fond of Cornwall’s north coast, with its striking scenery and charming villages.


Travelling through this area is unforgettable, with villages like unspoilt Portreath; ‘Doc Martin’s’ Port Isaac with its whitewashed cottages and narrow alleys; Tintagel’s eye-catching Cornish castle ruins; scenic Boscastle; and picture-postcard Bude by the sea.

There’s something calming and extraordinary about sampling villages in an area where life and surrounds have changed little over the years.

Cornwall works for us – and we can’t recommend the county more highly.


Cornwall UK

Now that’s a castle!

The many wonderful attractions of the United Kingdom include some of the world’s most beautiful castles.

And, naturally, everyone seems to have a favourite.

From the grandeur and amazing history of Windsor Castle and the Tower of London, to the fairytale settings of Bodium Castle in East Sussex, Corfe Castle in Dorset and Leeds Castle in Kent, there are many stunners.

However, without hesitation, our vote goes to a lesser known but equally awe-inspiring structure.

Although it is set high on a hill, Arundel Castle, in West Sussex, seems to appear out of nowhere to literally take your breath away.


It caught us totally by surprise as we travelled from Brighton on England’s channel coast to the ancient settlement of Shaftesbury in Dorset’s Blackmore Vale.

Our road swung around a corner bringing us suddenly face-to-face with a commanding 11th century Norman Castle overlooking the River Arun.

The great castle totally dominates this section of the South Downs, perched above the historic market town of Arundel. We were in awe of its sheer size and majestic presence.

On investigation, we discovered that Arundel Castle was built at the end of the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, a loyal baron in the days of William the Conqueror.


The baron was awarded a third of Sussex with the stipulation that a new castle be built near the mouth of the Arun to protect the area from attack.

It was founded on Christmas Day in 1067.

Arundel Castle has been owned by the family of the Duke of Norfolk for more than 400 years and is one of the longest inhabited country houses in England.

Investigations have shown that there was possibly prehistoric earthworks on the site.

The castle was damaged in the English Civil War and was restored in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, many of the original features such as the Norman keep, gatehouse and barbican and the lower part of Bevis Tower survive.

The castle’s size and location also lends itself to regular jousting tournaments, occasionally on an international standard.

Grounds of Arundel Castle are also extensively landscaped to feature striking gardens, with particularly stunning displays of tulips each April and May.


When we told English friends how Arundel castle had impressed us, they mentioned that – as well as its beauty and sensational location – the building was also well known for a collection of ghosts and a mysterious white owl said to warn of impending death.

How to get there

Arundel Castle is located in a steep vale of the South Downs of West Sussex.

It is open from Easter to the end of October each year. See exact times.

Only about  49 miles from London, the castle is also close to both Brighton and Chichester. Arundel can be reached via the A27 or by train direct from the capital’s London Bridge and Victoria stations.

Visit the cathedral too

There’s more than one magnificent public building worth inspecting in tiny Arundel.

In 1868, Henry, the 15th Duke of Norfolk, decided that he wanted a church to rival the imposing castle. The result was Arundel Cathedral, one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival style in England.


Soaring high above its gardens, the Catholic cathedral features unmistakable Bath stone, clusters of pillars and awesome vaulted ceilings.

The western frontage of the cathedral is dominated by a huge rose stained-glass window, much like another sensational English church, the York Minster.

 Credits: main photo courtesy Brett Oliver; aerial and cathedral photos courtesy Flickr and snowmanradio; videos and garden photo courtesy Arundel Castle
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