Things I Love Thursday #61
OK, it’s another visual TiLT today… but there are reasons. Honest.
Stuff I love this week:
LOWTHER CASTLE & GARDENS
Last week/end I took a trip Southwards across the border, supposedly to perform at a poetry reading in Durham (more on that in a minute). But I took the opportunity to go and visit my parents, who live in Cumbria. While I was there, we decided to go and visit Lowther Castle, which has recently begun a massive, multi-million pound renovation.
When my mum was a child — and visiting Lowther regularly as many of our relatives lived there — the Castle was a ruin, and the gardens totally overrun by undergrowth and trees. The estate was basically bankrupted in the early 20th century, and the grounds were hired out first for tank testing during WW2, and then later as a conifer plantation. All the beautiful, manicured gardens — the Rose Garden, the Countess Garden, the Japanese Gardens — were lost under tons of soil and overrun by trees and plants.
Lowther holds a special place in our family. Not only did my relatives live in the village — many of them were also in service at the Castle, across several generations. My great uncle Des worked in the Castle’s sawmill, and my great auntie Vi was the only person the Earl would trust to press his trousers! Further back, we’ve discovered that my great, great, great grandfather, Aaron Lloyd, worked as a joiner at the Castle… which means it’s very possible that he built/helped to build this little house!
Happily, both the Castle (which has been without a proper roof for several years) and the grounds are now being slowly rebuilt as part of a huge renovation project. I was lucky enough to visit about two years ago, when they opened the place up for one day so people could go and get a “before picture” of the place. It was heartbreakingly desolate — the grounds were swampy and filled up with bracken and brambles. There were a lot of places you couldn’t get to. Mounds and bits of stone poked up here and there, so you could see that there used to be statues, summerhouses, etc — I couldn’t wait for the project to start.
There’s still a lot to be done. Over the past two years the main work has been making the Castle safe, and opening up a visitor centre space and cafe in the outbuildings. In the grounds, the main work has been to clear the rangy conifers that covered so much of the ground, and to shift out the tons of soil that had covered up many of the landscaped gardens. Now, with only the original, mature trees remaining, it’s possible to see things starting to appear again.
Above is what was the Japanese garden. When I visited before it was thick with conifers, very dark and without paths. Now, they’ve excavated out many of the old paths and they’ve found little stone shelters, stone seats, ponds, ornamental stream-beds and bridges.
There are some amazing finds — people are free to wander anywhere on what is essentially an excavation site, so you come across all sorts of things. There are no ‘keep out’ signs or tapes… you can even go into the still-wrecked summerhouses (at your own risk)!
The plan is for work to carry on over the next few years. I don’t know if the gardens will be fully restored to their incredible, highly manicured original state (you can see some photos of what the Castle and grounds used to look like — as well as a few interior shots of the Castle before its renovation — here).
Personally, I kind of hope they won’t turn things back entirely. I really liked clambering around and discovering these half-wrecked, half-rescued secret gardens…
So, the aforementioned poetry reading. It’s one to add to my list of Totally Weird-Ass Places I Have Read Poems. I’ve read poems in a medieval tower, in the Smoking Room of a gentleman’s club, in churches, in muddy fields… but this might be the weirdest venue ever. It was also possibly the all-time coolest: The Old Cinema Laundrette, Durham.
Once — you guessed it — an old cinema, the space is now a fully functioning laundrette (all of the washers are named after movie stars! We met Errol, Bette, Clark and Grace), a retro coffee shop, and a live events venue, hosting poetry and music nights. It’s run by the truly lovely Mr Wishy Washy, who made us very welcome and acted as an excellent compere for the proceedings.
Lovely Boyfriend and I were invited to read by the great Mr Kevin Cadwallender (who, by the way, is almost entirely responsible for the existence of The Mermaid and the Sailors), who, in collaboration with the aforementioned Mr Wishy Washy, had cooked up the idea of taking some Scottish poets over the border to read alongside some North East locals. Our reading-mates were Theresa Munoz, Jo Brooks, Colin Donati, James Oates, Aidan Halpin and the one and only Colin McGuire.
The gig was amazing — and not just because I was reading, obv. The crowd was small but everyone there was a proper, die-hard poetry fan, and all the readers were on top of their game. Lovely Boyfriend read better than I have ever heard before, I think, with a set including his ‘Benghazi’ poem about the Arab Spring, his four-part poem about the 2011 London riots and his page 3 girl haiku. He finished the set with the now-quite-infamous “Prince Philip poem” which always has me weeping with laughter. I was a proud girlfriend, I must say.
My second-favourite reader of the night was — predictably — the great McGuire, for whom my fangirlishness is well known. I was extremely happy to hear him read a poem I’d never heard him perform before, from his self-published collection Riddled With Errors, as well as some old favourites (the “white” poem! I love that poem so much!). He was on last, and capped off a night that was truly brilliant — one of the best poetry nights I’ve been to in, possibly, years.
As for the venue — if you’re ever in Durham, please go and find the Old Cinema Laundrette (< -- like them on Facebook!) and support it. This is one of those niche small businesses that you just desperately want to survive and thrive. I liked it so much that I'd be tempted to get on the train with my duvets piled around me just to get them cleaned by Mr Wishy Washy! I mean, look at this place. You just have to love it!
My book is well and truly into its second printing and now available for purchase — here or here. It’s the equivalent of buying me a pint! // The Wetheral Animal Refuge. Whenever I visit Cumbria I visit this place. You can wander around, say hello to cute kitties, scratch a pony’s nose and feel horribly sad about the fact that you cannot adopt any of the adorable dogs because you’re always at work and anyway your flat is totally unsuitable, dammit. // Freecycle. The greatest thing ever, officially. I got a new hula hoop from a lady up the road and it’s so perfect for tricks! // The Baked Potato Shop. Edinburgh’s greatest eatery, bar none. Curry rice + baked beans (no, really) = the win.
What are you loving this week?
You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!
Tags: ancestors, colin mcguire, durham, family, gratitude, kevin cadwallender, love, lowther, lowther castle, lowther castle and gardens, mr wishy washy, old cinema laundrette, positivity, relatives, stephen welsh, stuff i love, thanks universe, Things I Love Thursday, thursday, tilt, wetheral animal refuge