Category Archives: Stately homes and picnics

The not-so-funny ha-ha

One of the worrying consequences of Donald Trump’s Great Wall will be its effect on wildlife. A recent piece in Scientific American mentioned that wolves, ocelots and even jaguars have been seen along the existing border walls. “Environmental groups say that migration corridors are crucial for the recovery and survival of wildlife along the border”, declares the article.

The piece also mentions the fact that architects have referred to the wall as a “pharaonic project”. It’s as though Trump, like the Pharaohs and their pyramids, sees it as his right to build a vast structure to memorialise his reign as supreme leader of the USA; indeed, it’s almost as though he feels he now owns the USA.

And it’s only natural to want to protect one’s property, of course. Somehow I doubt whether Mr. Trump is too concerned about the ramifications of his proposed barrier for border wildlife, given his apparent lack of concern about environmental issues generally.

But, funnily enough, when I read the Scientific American article my mind drifted back to a school trip … and a day when I learned that some people need to keep animals out of their territory.

Every summer, two or three coachloads of boys and girls aged around ten would set off from our school to visit various places of historic or cultural interest – museums, wildlife parks, a picturesque place at the seaside. I remember a wonderful afternoon’s rock-pooling in Aberavon, for instance – that kind of thing. Isn’t rock pooling fun, by the way? It’s enjoyed all over the world, as here by some young people in New Zealand.


On this particular occasion, we visited a large and quite ancient stately home.

Our guide was very knowledgeable but regrettably her pronounced stutter was the cause of a great deal of giggling by our young party, much to our teacher’s embarrassment and annoyance. There was a very fine collection of p-p-p-paintings, for instance. And I remember that she showed us the underground i-i-i-ice house, which, intriguingly, was where food was kept fresh through the winter.

Owners of stately homes in England and (as in this case) Wales have used a variety of methods to keep out intruders. But not all intruders are of the human variety. The incursion of animals, especially deer and sheep, can be a big problem, apparently, which is why the land closest to the house is often surrounded by a long, grassy, wall-backed trench, like this one in Farnley Park, Leeds.


Anyway, as time passed the mirth continued to spread like waves across the gathering, growing with every verbal hiatus, as the poor lady’s face became increasingly flushed and our teacher almost apoplectic with rage. We were a cruel bunch!

haha3But things were about to come to a hilarious climax, as we arranged ourselves along the trench that surrounded the house.

“And this”, announced our guide, “is the house’s h-h-h-h-ha-ha-h-h-ha-ha-ha!” – at which point everyone fell about in complete hysterics.

I’m pleased to report that both our long-suffering guide and the teacher shared in the hilarity, in a small incident that has stayed in my memory ever since.

Image credits: rockpools – By Dhartley (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha – Steve Partridge [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha wall sign – By Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


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Filed under History, Humour, Nature, Stately homes and picnics

August 2016 garden diary

We had the great pleasure of visiting Peckover House in Wisbech last weekend. The house itself is a fascinating time capsule of days gone by; but the spectacular garden is a stunning show of vibrant, colourful life in the here and now.



The surprises just keep coming as one sets off down the steps and across the croquet lawn to follow the winding pathways of this historic walled treasury – from the wonderful collection of specimen trees and sweeping herbaceous borders to the smaller but just as intriguing sights that show that this is very much a working garden. Both native and exotic plants are on display in a garden that looks very similar to how it would have looked 150 years ago. Finding a weed is an extremely difficult task and the house’s cats are glimpsed patrolling around the hedgerows to take care of any furry pests!

One of the main problems is the temptation to repeat the word “wow!”; but having said that the overall feeling one gets from this garden is one of peace, tranquillity and beauty.





The trees in the Orangery were reputed to be about 200 years old when purchased, which means they may well be over 300 years old now. Whilst most fruit was unavailable in the marketplace during the winter, the Peckover family were able to eat fresh oranges at Christmas.



The garden boasts a number of glasshouses.



There are so many memorable features in this stunning garden; it’s impossible to convey more than a small taste of its sensuous delights …










Finally, the moving sight of the cats’ graveyard. Cats have always been important in the lives of the Peckovers, and their gravestones, in a specially reserved plot in the garden, are a tribute as much to the love bestowed on the family’s pets as they are to the love, care and attention that has created this gem of a garden.




Link to the Peckover House website here.


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Filed under Gardening, Stately homes and picnics