Monday, 9 September
Gloomily, 28 of us gathered outside the Cramphorn Theatre on a very wet morning, but all pleased to see that our driver was Marc, an old friend from previous holidays. He was proud to be at the wheel of Kings Coaches' newest vehicle in their fleet. Departure was delayed by nearly thirty minutes as we awaited the arrival of an unfortunate member who was travelling by bus, initially late, then slowly progressing to the bus station. By our first “comfort stop” at Cambridge Services, the weather had improved slightly but remained dull and damp for the rest of the day. As scheduled, we arrived at 2:00 pm for our first visit of the holiday: the grand house of Chatsworth.
This ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire is of almost obscene magnificence, with its painted ceilings and marble floors. This year it featured a special exhibition of “All things Dog”, celebrating the family’s enduring love of the animal. Every room featured depictions of every sort of dog in every possible way, from cushion covers to photographs, from statues to soft toys. An earlier Duke had been fascinated by Geology and the house contained an amazing collection of rocks and minerals, obviously brought home in the days before air travel and baggage weight restrictions! At the end of our visit, our journey resumed, reaching by early evening the York Marriott Hotel which was to be our home for the next four nights.
Tuesday, 10 September
Thankful that the weather had greatly improved, we enjoyed the hour-long scenic drive to our morning destination, Nunnington Hall. This lovely little National Trust property had been lived in by a variety of owners over the centuries. It has many different levels, odd steps and steep staircases. Sadly, therefore, it proved inaccessible to our less mobile members. They unfortunately missed the most delightful feature of the house: the display of miniature rooms set out on the top floor. However, the morning sunshine was ideal for exploring the gardens and the orchard of local apple and pear varieties.
Having torn ourselves away, we made the half-hour journey to a very different property - the well-known stately home of Castle Howard. The final undulating approach produced “ooooos” and “wheeees” from us all! Castle Howard is a property of overwhelming magnificence, with its breath-taking collections of paintings, porcelain and furniture, including sumptuous four-poster beds.
An extensive display of photos reminded us of its use as the setting for the ITV production of “Brideshead Revisited” in the 1970s. Its splendid gardens had also been used, featuring the impressive Atlas Fountain.
Wednesday, 11 September
Our first visit of the day was a short walk around the corner from the hotel to the NT property of Goddards. This delightful family house was built in 1927 for Noel and Kathleen Terry whose chocolate production played such a huge part in the life of York.
The downstairs rooms were laid out as the family would have known at the time with upper rooms given over to the history of their chocolate, including a model of the huge factory which, at its peak, employed over 2,500 staff.
The garden was a delight to stroll around, in spite of a heavy shower, with its extensive raised flower beds and croquet lawn. York race course was clearly visible from the bottom of the garden.
Our afternoon visit was to the NT property of Beningbrough Hall. This redbrick Georgian mansion, dating from 1716, had been restored by Enid Scudamore-Stanhope, Countess of Chesterfield, before being handed over to the NT in 1957. The upper of the three floors included a small room dedicated to members of the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force who were billeted in the house during WWII. As well as documents listing the appalling losses sustained by Bomber Command, there were heart-rending original letters which were sent to families of aircrew who were killed in action.
The remaining exhibits over the three floors were varied; they included paintings loaned from the National Gallery as well as by local artists. One section attempted to explain the characteristic of Yorkshire folk under the title “Achievement, Grit and Controversy” and displayed photos and biographies of such iconic personalities as Michael Parkinson and Jodie Whittaker. There was even a board which displayed some Yorkshire dialect words and phrases.
One final treat awaited me on the ground floor; a volunteer opened up a grand piano which invited visiting pianists to strike up a tune. I obliged, amidst appreciative responses from staff and visitors. I was told later that some folk even got up and danced!
Thursday, 12 September
There was just the one venue scheduled for today: York itself. While some of our group made their own arrangements to get into the City Centre, most opted to go with Marc to the National Railway Museum as their first choice. Famous locomotives from the past, such as Mallard and Evening Star, the last steam loco to be built in Britain, were on display, but there were also more recent additions such as a Eurostar locomotive and a carriage from the famous Japanese “Bullet” trains. Buses back to the City centre were frequent so it was the turn of York’s many other attractions to be viewed, such as the Jorvic Viking Centre, the Shambles, the Shambles market and, of course, the Minster. Shopaholics in the group were also having a field day!
Somehow or other everybody was back for the final evening dinner and to receive instructions from Paul on our morning departure.
Friday, 13 September
The arrangements for loading the cases on to our coach didn’t quite go to plan because of the absence of hotel porterage so some muddle ensued (did it have anything to do with the date?) However, we eventually got under way and headed south in brilliant morning sunshine. We had one final visit to make: the unusual NT property of Mr Straw’s house in Worksop. The contrast with the other properties we’d seen could not have been starker; it was a simple semi-detached house in a quiet street, so small, in fact, that we could only be guided around in timed groups of four.
A successful grocery shop owner, William Straw lived in the house during the 1920s with his wife, Florence, and two sons William and Walter, who had both avoided the horror of the First World War. Even after William’s death in 1932 the family chose to preserve the house as it was, avoiding all forms of modernisation. On taking over the property later, the NT decided to keep the house in its existing state, only renovating and repairing the more serious defects. Chaos appeared to reign! In spite of the cramped space, the delightful volunteer staff provided us with light refreshment and encouraged us to look round the attractive small garden.
So, sadly, it was time to re-board the coach and head for home, but not before Paul had been compelled to pay a call at a nearby Halfords to find a part to replace a broken bolt on Janet’s wheelchair. Progress was good until after our break at Peterborough Services when the routine Friday rush hour crawls on the A14 and M11 were encountered. Even then we were earlier than anticipated at Coval Lane, Paul and Marc having been warmly thanked and applauded for providing us with an excellent holiday.