Wednesday, 6 May 2015
I get out and about . . .
This past Monday was a Bank Holiday over here in the UK. A Bank Holiday is a day when no Banks, Post Offices or other Government buildings are open, and often a lot of other businesses as well. It is a day off. The day was brilliantly sunny and warm and so we took ourselves off on a wee bit of a road trip with our friends Audrey and Peter and we ended up in Wales, which is right on our doorstep. Both Todd and I got to see a few things we had not seen before or even know existed. This photograph is of a place in Llangollen (pronounced Clan-gock-len). It is called Plas Newydd and is most famous for having been the home of "The Two Ladies of Llangollen" back in the 1700's.
Theirs is a very interesting story indeed . . .
It is the story of two aristocratic ladies who eloped together to Wales in 1778 and lived happily ever after in a cottage ornée, surrounded by gardens full of Gothic follies. Their names were Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, but they were better known together as the Ladies of Llangollen, "the two most celebrated virgins in Europe".
Although they had wished to live in a delicate retirement . . . reading, writing, drawing and gardening . . . their personalities were such that the fashionable world soon beat a path to their cottage door, with some of their visitors including the Duke of Wellington, Lady Caroline Lamb, Josiah Wedgwood, William Wordsworth, Thomas de Quincey, Prince Paul Esterhazy and the Duke of Gloucester! Wordsworth even wrote a poem about them. Some of their pen-friends included Queen Charlotte, Lord Byron and Louis XVI's aunt. There were many days when the Ladies had up to 20 visitors in relays, entertaining literally morning, noon and night! They were very busy girls indeed!
Eleanor was the youngest daughter of the de jure Earl of Ormonde, of Kilkenny Castle. Eleanor's brother, Robert, paved the way for restoration of the Ormonde earldom by converting to Protestantism, and he made a brilliant marriage. Eleanor's sisters married well, too. But for Eleanor . . . clever, bookish, satirical and already 39 . . . there was no such hope. What better way, then, to make amends to God for brother Robert's apostasy, than by putting Eleanor in a nunnery? It would be a cheap way to dispose of her, too.
Twelve miles away, at the mansion of Woodstock, her orphaned 23-year-old friend Sarah Ponsonby was suffering the unwanted attentions of her middle-aged guardian, Sir William Fownes. His wife, Betty, whom Sarah dearly loved, was still alive, but her health was failing and Sir William over-eagerly anticipated the day when he could take pretty Sarah as the second Lady Fownes.
Both women felt trapped in an unbearable situation. Clandestine correspondence flew back and forth between Kilkenny Castle and Woodstock, and they decided to elope to England together (elope did not have the same marital connotation that it does today, it just meant run away). Dressed as men, carrying a pistol and Sarah's dog Frisk, they rode through the night to catch the ferry at Waterford, but it did not sail and they were forced to hide in a barn. They were caught and taken home.
Sarah fell seriously ill with a fever, but Eleanor, faced with imminent incarceration in a French convent, ran away again . . . this time to Woodstock, where she hid in Sarah's bedroom and a housemaid, Mary Carryll, smuggled food in to her. When this was discovered, the Ormondes declined to collect their errant daughter and after 10 days the Fownes family caved in. Sarah and Eleanor were free to go.
And this is where they ended up . . . their little cottage, sitting atop a rise above the river Dee at the edge of the village of Llangollen in North East Wales.
The Cottage itself (which was rather large to be a cottage by our modern standards) was very fascinating. It was almost entirely carved inside, with every wall, railing, etc. being hand carved of oak and filled with intricate images of gargoyles and other things. Very Gothic. The ceilings throughout were also dimensional, most being in the image of the tudor rose.
The windows were gothicised and old stained glass panels inserted into them. A library was filled with finely bound books and curiosities of all kinds, including a lock of Mary Queen of Scots' hair.
The nature of Sarah and Eleanor's "romantic friendship" has naturally excited curiosity over the years. They referred to each other as "My Beloved" (or "My B"), then later as "My Better Half"; were certainly as devoted as any married couple; slept in the same bed; cropped their hair into short curls and habitually wore riding habits with mannish beaver hats.
Whether they were actually romantically involved or not remains a mystery and will never truly be known, but they did live together in a delightful companionship for 50 years together, both dying within a short time of each other. I don't think it really matters.
The house itself is said to be haunted, and was featured on the telly show, Most Haunted. I don't think I would like to spend a night in it by myself in all honest, as it was rather dark and somewhat creepy. But that could just be me. In any case we really enjoyed walking through the house and gardens with Audrey and Peter, and I would like to go back at another time when the gardens are in full bloom. I picked a buttercup and a little wild daisy to press in my journal.
We also visited the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which was located nearby. This aqueduct is a navigable aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee. Designed by William Telford and completed in 1805, it is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain. The views from the top are stunning, totally stunning. You can walk all the way across it if you like, but it is quite a hike and not for the weak stomached as it is really, really high up, and quite narrow. I only went out on it about ten feet and then came back because it was making me feel quite queasy!
It was a great day however and we both really enjoyed it. I was quite tired when we got home and slept like a baby on Monday evening!
Mom continues to improve and there is hope that she will soon be released to come home. They just want to be sure she will be alright without being on the Oxygen. The visitors ban has finally been lifted and so my sister was allowed to spend some time with her last evening. I am sure my mother was so very glad to see her and spend some time together. With any luck she will be home for Mother's Day this weekend. Here's hoping! Thank you so very much for all of your prayers! They are very much appreciated!
Guess who is turning nine years old today!! My grandson Jonathan! Or Jon as he is affectionately known! It is hard to believe that he is nine already. It seems only yesterday he was a wee babe in arms . . .
(That's him in the middle!) It's hard to get a photo of him on his own. He's quite shy and somewhat sensitive it seems, also very artistic and creative. I think all of my grandsons are special, each in their own way. So, Happy Birthday Jonathan! I hope you have a wonderful day all the day through! Your Grammy loves you!
A thought to carry with you through today . . .
To say I am made in the image of God,
is to say love is the reason for my existance,
for God is love.
Love is my true identy . . . love is my true character.
We're talking the Great British Fry Up over in the Kitchen today. It's a traditional British Big Breakfast and what you would be offered at any B&B for breakfast here in the UK.
Have a great day . . . . Don't forget . . .
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And I do too!
PS - Don't you just love the new Princess's name? Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, Her Royal Highness the Princess of Cambridge. So sweet.