Visit to Danesfield


Blue skies and sunshine! We were blessed with perfect weather for our visit to Danesfield Hotel on Monday 14 March. Twenty-two ‘A Foot in the Chilterns’ walkers, spouses and friends joined Dan Lawrence, the Head Gardener for a tour of the garden and a talk on RAF Medmenham (the RAF station based at Danesfield during WWII).

The present house was built in neo-Tudor style over the period 1899 – 1901 to a very high standard. The beautiful chimneys are similar to those at Hampton Court, each one is slightly different. The building is not stone, but brick with rendering cut to look like stone blocks. The cost of re-rendering, now overdue, is an eye-watering half a million! Once completed, the old Georgian house and Pugin chapel were sadly demolished.
Danesfield became a country house hotel in 1991. The building is a Grade II* listed, while two lodges, the steps, walls and fountains are Grade II listed. The coat of arms in evidence everywhere was recently designed by marketing!

Dan was a great guide; he has been at Danesfield for five years and is clearly passionate about his job. Until recently there were three gardeners, but currently there are only two of them managing the entire estate. Lawns and hedges take up a great deal of their time! To date, they have escaped blight attack to the box hedging (though there has been some insect damage). The formal beds were prepared but empty, waiting to be planted with hundreds of geraniums once the threat of frost has passed.
Dan was full of interesting little anecdotes. In this photo, we are standing above the old swimming pool, which he had heard had been filled in many years ago with anything unwanted that was lying around, such as old chairs and doors. Dan has first-hand evidence that this is true; his very expensive lawnmower hit a door handle a few years ago, resulting in a £2000 repair bill!

Beyond the old pool was this massive Cedar of Lebanon tree trunk. The
current owner is from Lebanon and he will not allow it to be cleared away. It does make a nice feature!

Here we are on the listed steps. The views from there were wonderful and it was clearly a sun-trap as the magnolia shows – the flowers significantly ahead at the time of the ones in gardens near me.

From this area, there were great views of the river and across the valley, none of which I photographed! The fountain and ponds were close to here with lots of large koi carp and goldfish, the latter were apparently added by some of the staff! No longer wanted fairground prizes perhaps?

A bad fire badly damaged the house in the 80s during renovation. After the fire, this pipe down to the river was installed so that if there was ever another fire, water could be pumped directly from the river. Dan told us that the fire brigade come every year to check that it is still in sound working order. Celia then told Dan that after that fire she attended a special service, where the Medmenham Church priest said prayers to protect the site from ever suffering fire damage again!

The spa was opened in the 1990s and is linked to the main building by a glass corridor.

As the plaque shows, the RAF used Danesfield during WWII as a base for photographic reconnaissance. Phyllis Court and Hughenden were also part of this work. After the garden tour, Dan showed us some interesting photographs taken during this time.

Danesfield House stands on a plateau, on the site of an ancient hillfort where artefacts from Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages have been found. The land shelves steeply down to the River Thames to the south. Its lofty position means we can often see it from our ‘Foot in the Chilterns’ walks. When I next see it in the distance, it will give me great pleasure to know a little more about it!

(If anyone would like to add more photos, please send them to Anthea. I particularly regret not taking one of the lead drainpipes which were beautifully ornate).


Mission 40 – March challenge in aid of TVAA

We are participating in the above event in aid of Thames Valley Air ambulance with the dual purpose
of motivation to keep fit into spring and raising money for our favourite charity.

They do an amazing job and any help to keep them flying is very worthwhile.

Please do support us if you can via our Just Giving page
As they say every little bit helps.

If you are a walker with the group do sign up and get your T shirt then get walking.

Snowdrops and signs of spring

The year is marching onwards and the countryside bursting into life a little early.
Snowdrops are among the first signs and there are many wonderful places to see them.

A visit to Welford park

Welford is open to the public on certain days in February including an NGS day on Wednesday 9th February. There are lots of other gardens
too see

If you are out walking try Greys Court especially near the car park/maze and at the back gate, Dunsden church, Swyncombe

Farewell to Red Kite

Huge wrench to leave but lots of good memories and off to pastures new. Hopefully left in good hands with a young couple who will build on what we did
and enjoy it.

Bluebells in the Chilterns

The Chilterns is arguably one of the best places in the UK for these beautiful native plants and this year has been amazing. We were so lucky to be allowed access to some private bluebell woodlands where not only were the flowers spectacular but the peace and tranquility lifted the spirits even more.

The images speak for themselves and I am grateful to my walkers for their photography skills

Farewell to Patrick of the Hills

What an amazing achievement to get to nearly 91 with hardly any illness and still have a twinkle in your eye and a huge circle of friends from all walks of life.

Patrick Thomas Gordon-Duff-Pennington written by Peter Frost-Pennington
Born 12 January 1930 (Patrick Gordon-Duff) Died 9 January 2021

Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington, aka “Patrick of the Hills” who has died aged 90 was the booming voice of Muncaster Castle in the Western Lake District and the hard-working hill farmers of Scotland and Cumbria for many years.

Patrick was a brilliant communicator who could talk to anyone and bring a smile to their faces. He loved to be controversial and would say the most outrageous statements with such a charming twinkle in his eye and his tongue firmly in his cheek that most recipients thought he was joking. Usually, he was deadly serious. An amazing memory and fierce determination were gifts from his mother and his education mainly taught him that “diplomacy is the art of telling plain truths without giving offence.”

Patrick delighted in standing up against any government or those in authority, firing off letters or calling politicians of all persuasions on the telephone to bend their ear to the plight of whichever dispossessed group he was fighting for at the time, usually those with an agricultural or rural agenda. Emails, social media and smart ‘phones he never understood and he has now achieved his long-held ambition of dying without ever having turned on a computer.

Patrick grew up in Moray in the northeast of Scotland and was educated at Eton and Oxford before National Service in the Cameron Highlanders. He carried the Regimental Colours at the Queen’s Coronation Parade in 1953 through the rain. His parents disapproved of him becoming a shepherd in the wilds of Scotland and in 1955 he married Phyllida, adding her surname of Pennington to the two fine Scottish surnames already in his possession. Many years later he made the mistake of accepting a reverse charge call at 3am in the morning from a rather drunk Scottish gentleman residing in Fort William who had been reading the telephone directory and demanded to know what right he had to three surnames? Patrick couldn’t answer him but ever after refused to accept reverse charge calls.

His marriage produced four highly independent daughters who he brought up on a mixed hill farm in Dumfriesshire before moving with his beloved wife to her ancestral home of Muncaster Castle in the Lake District in the early 1980’s. While Phyllida and their daughter Iona made an excellent job of turning it through sheer determination and hard work into one of Cumbria’s leading tourist attractions he promoted it brilliantly in between working in the gardens and travelling throughout Scotland and Cumbria working for various agencies.

Patrick has been at various times Hill Farming Convenor of the Scottish National Farmers Union (NFU) Convenor of the Scottish Landowners Federation and Chairman of the Deer Commission for Scotland. Somewhere in between he was County Chairman of the Cumbrian NFU and for many years an appointed member of the Lake District Special Planning Board. He wrote to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 just after the Chernobyl disaster deposited clouds of radioactive dust on the Cumbrian Fells but the Russian Embassy refused to accept his letter as they didn’t believe anyone had three surnames and thought it was a hoax. Nevertheless, Patrick persisted which resulted in a long association with the British Soviet Friendship Society and a tour of collective farms in Siberia followed by a return visit with two Russian farmers to Cumbria who spoke no English. No matter; Patrick drove them round the Cumbrian Fells introducing them to various farmers, laughing and singing all the way.

Patrick also had a lengthy connection with another family concern, Ardverikie Estate in Scotland, serving for quite some time as Managing Director. Ardverikie starred as Glenbogle House in the BBC TV series “Monarch of the Glen” and stood in as Balmoral in the film “Mrs Brown” and more recently “The Crown” TV series. Along with Factor Geordie Chalmers in the 1980’s Patrick was instrumental in installing an hydro-electric scheme at Ardverikie which saved the Estate.

Patrick would light up any room he entered with his amusing tales and irreverent outlook on life. His brilliant memory and party tricks of ambidextrous mirror writing ensured guests forgave his usually shabby apparel. He was especially proud of an ancient coat held together with orange binder twine and with more holes than tweed. He even once became the centre fold in one edition of Japanese Playboy fully clothed in this dishevelled coat standing with the magnificence of Muncaster behind him. Although worried that his father-in-law would have disapproved of finding his castle’s photograph surrounded by tasteful pictures of naked oriental ladies, Patrick was more concerned that he had been described as an “English Eccentric” despite his Scottish Heritage.

Regardless of his prickliness in dealing with those in authority he was awarded the MBE and later the OBE for services to agriculture and served for many years as a Deputy Lieutenant for Cumbria. All a bit at odds with some of his profuse poetry which he resolutely took every opportunity to sell to unsuspecting Muncaster visitors whom he enjoyed ambushing while thinly disguised as a hard-working gardener. For example, in “The Home of Lost Causes” he ends;

“It clings to me tenaciously,
The wish to dig a pin
In any set establishment
Which thinks it’s sure to win.
I do not like the Tories,
Dislike the Labour Left,
The SDP & Liberals,
Of policies bereft.

So because I’m always guaranteed
To say what can’t be said,
I think I’d better stick to being –
An anarchist instead.”

Patrick always had a boyish enthusiasm for life and an interest in people which never left him. He worked hard for crofters, farmers, artists and tourism. He was a wonderful communicator particularly with young people, advising them to be true to themselves, treat others as you would wish to be treated yet always to stick two fingers up at those in authority and keep them on their toes. Patrick did much to bring people together and made a lot of peoples’ lives easier. A commonly held view of those he met was that they were lucky to have known him and he brought light and laughter to many.

He will be fondly missed with a smile on their faces by his four daughters, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren and a myriad of folk all over the world and far beyond the bounds of his close family and friends.

Dream on, Patrick of the Hills. Whether in Heaven or Hell you will be entertaining once more those who have gone before you and will now be glad of your company again. Bless you and thank you.

Beannaicheadh Let
(Blessings upon you)

Tetsworth and the Malvern Hills

A trip to Tewkesbury for a late birthday celebration for Tim. He was brought up in Broadway and wanted a trip down memory lane – Malvern Hills, Cotswolds etc.
we found a lovely little cottage on the banks of the Avon at Tewkesbury, overlooking the Severn Ham

The cottage was tiny and beautifully restored with the owners living next door
It was once home to a family of 9 children – unthinkable to us who all need ensuite and creature comforts.

We were blessed with dry weather and, although pretty cold especially on top of the Malverns, with the lovely fire in the cottage we had a lovely time.
Everywhere was eerily quiet due to the pandemic and it was not tempting to go to restaurants except for a lovely farm shop at Chadbury for lunch and restocking
Tim was able to visit Broadway – home for much of his childhood and reminisce about those days so all in all a very good break.
Plus Eileen kindly looked after Jock so not dog walking required!

The Walk in the Malverns started from Beacon Road car park where co-incidentally a group from Worcestershire Nordic Walking led by Carolyn were setting off on a walk.
We walked up to the beacon and the Queen Victoria Memorial and back via St Anne’s well and Earnslaw Pool – so many people happy to be in the wonderful ‘green gym’ of nature – dog walkers,
runners, mountain bikers, Nordic walkers and everything in between.

At Earnslaw Pool we met a wonderful woman who told us that because of the pandemic she had lost her job and therefore her home so was homeless and sofa surfing until the council could find her somewhere to live. She was so accepting and sure that everything will be Ok – very humbling

Views from the top were worth the climb and the mist cleared so you could see across the vale of Evesham and over towards Worcester

Another Chapter opens for Glynis

On a beautiful sunny day in September we ended our walks with coffee and cake at the farm Kitchen at Swiss Farm in Henley
It had been a challenge to find somewhere with outdoor space that could be covered if the weather was inclement, could accommodate us
and we trusted to be following the Covid rules. It turned out to be a good choice with the added benefit of introducing some of the group to
Bosley Patch farm Shop – recently featured in Countryfile with Mary Berry
They sell mainly organic produce grown in the nearby ‘patch’ so completely fresh and their shop is open 24 hours a day – self service.

It is our loss that after 5 years Glynis and her husband have left the area to pursue a housebuilding dream and be more involved in the care of their new grandson but we are hoping that they
will be back occasionally, join us on some of our long distance walks when circumstances allow these to resume, and join us in Austria in 2021.

Photos are courtesy of those present who are all far better photographers than I am so thank you to those contributors