Christmas at Upton House

Another Sunday, another day out to see a National Trust property decorated for Christmas: Upton House and Gardens, Warwickshire

‘If you’re looking for something a little different this Christmas, Upton House has the answer with a festive calendar of events and the chance to see first hand how the new owners in the 1920s created a Christmas family home perfectly in keeping with the arrival of the jazz era.

It’s 90 years since Lord and Lady Bearsted purchased Upton House near Banbury and set about turning it into a comfortable and desirable country home. This Christmas, you can follow the renovations they made and witness the before and after transformation as they set about creating a ‘made to measure’ Christmas.

Visitors to the house will be able to draw inspiration from 1920s house and garden experts with hints and tips cards placed in four of the main rooms. The partitions in the long gallery have also been removed to show how it would have looked once Lord and Lady Bearsted had settled in.’

From the NT website

I wrote about when I went to see a special war-time exhibition in 2016 if you’d like to see how the house looks from the outside and see a few photos taken during Summertime.

Upton house is looking particularly lovely with the 1920s and 30s style decorations. There’s always such a nice atmosphere there. It’s a house you can imagine living in; unlike some of the more palatial NT properties which can often be filled with too much ostentatious bling. Because of their vast size too, they often seem to have strange ghostly vibes in the echoing corridors and back staircases. Upton doesn’t feel like that at all. It exudes a cosy vibe, not a ghostly one, and still feels very much like a family home.

All along the paths were little clippings where people had been foraging for greenery to make this and other wreaths and decorations for the house. This one on Butler’s Cottage, which is adjacent to the main house, would have been awarded my prize for Best in Show, Christmas 2018. I really like the dried orange slices and bundles of cinnamon sticks with the gold ribbon and miniature baubles.

Those holly leaves look as if it they’ve been polished.

A couple came walking along the path when I was singing ‘The Holly and the Ivy’. She started laughing, which of course made me sing it a little more loudly. Join in! We’ll start a choir!

The Mirror Pool from right to left, with a final photo to illustrate why it has been given its name. See the clouds reflected? The terraces above will be full of kitchen garden plants, both fruits and vegetables, and it also has long beds of flowers come the  warmer weather. Upton holds the National Collection of Asters, it’s well worth a visit in early autumn to see these late flowering beauties.

I love winters like this, where it’s sunny and bright but with a really crisp feel to the air. Because Upton is on a hill when the wind blows, oh! You definitely find yourself wrapping your coat more tightly around you. In the midst of a cold winter, you would need a constantly refilled pot of tea and a stack of good books.

The wreath on the door to the cafe had such a variety of items that I photographed it in sections. Should I ever learn how to make my own, I thought I could return to these pictures for inspiration. (Now I’m dithering over the page up button as perhaps the Butler’s Cottage wreath isn’t my favourite? Could I award both joint First Place?)

Apparently the gingerbread men smelt gorgeously spicy. I feel the Entrance Hall tree was probably lucky to be left intact, but that was only because “They were all tied on!”

The golden tree at the end of the Long Gallery. This is very much a rich man’s country home, filled with an extensive private art collection, bought with some of the fortune made from Shell Oil. If you concentrated on looking at each painting you would need several days to spend on those alone. We spotted paintings by Hogarth, Gainsborough and Canaletto to name a few. If you are interested, you can read about the art here.There was lot more besides: more trees, more decorated rooms both upstairs and downstairs, but I make a conscious effort not to take hundreds of photos There has to be a balance between wandering and enjoying the atmosphere and not seeing it all through a screen. I’ve captured the look of the house and gardens, which hopefully gives you a flavour of the property.

Last night I bought my first Christmas fiction of the season. It’s lovely. I’m already half a dozen chapters in, the Kindle version is only 99p if you also want a cosy warming read. (No affiliate links here, just a nice book recommendation.) Of course it’s also worth checking out your local library catalogue, that way you can read it for free!

Have you visited anywhere that made you feel all Christmassy, cosy and warm, without lots of commercial hype and those ubiquitous Bratwurst Stalls? Upton House just won that award too.

Kitchen sink post

This is what I’ve always called a kitchen sink post; since it feels like everything’s included except the sink.

I keep glancing up, as I type, to look at the long line of beech trees across the road. Their leaves are gently fluttering down and across in a diagonal line to fall straight into our garden. Some are hitting this window with a real ting. They’re not incredibly close by but the wind always seems to blow this way. There’s a carpet of coppery leaves covering the grass now and they’re not even our trees! Pretty though.

Previously I would darn the ends in a blanket on several lazy weekend afternoons; semi-watching a film or listening to an audio book, while the rugby played out on the tv. It got them done and I didn’t mind it too much at all. Hand sewing of any kind has always been relaxing. But this Wave Blanket is not getting darned very fast at all, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Weekends have been busier lately (in a very nice way, no moaning here, or competitive ‘I’m the busiest person in the world’ boasts) and so no lazy afternoons to sit and focus. Today I’m meeting someone very yarny for lunch and when we were making arrangements last night she clearly instructed me to bring yarn. ‘Anything fibrous’. Does Stylecraft’s acrylic yarn count? Hmmm. Well, I don’t know that I can sit in a gastro pub and darn, that’s a step too far for me. I’m not entirely comfortable with knitting or crocheting in any public place, unless it’s tucked away on a bus, or as part of a knitting and crochet group. She currently carries a spindle and wodge of fleece in the depths of her bag, and thinks nothing of whipping out her knitting while queuing in the bank, walking up a hill or ….. I don’t have that kind of chutzpah, or obsessive compulsive behaviour around yarn. (Fingers and toes crossed she doesn’t read before this lunch. Could be embarrassing.)

So, the long and the short of it is that I’m beginning to feel awkward that this blanket isn’t done. I shall try to goad this feeling into determined action. Aiming for five ends a day would be something. It’s not huge after all, just fiddlier than my usual Ripple pattern. A dozen ends last week was clearly not reaching for the stars. That little baby Winnie needs her blanket.

I have been steadily knitting my Hitchhiker, adding a section at a time, and really like the different shades which are appearing. It’s Lang’s Tosca Light in Sapphire.

It’s all Christmas a go-go isn’t it? I did a double take when I saw the trees in the garden centre on Friday, but I imagine lots will be up and decorated from this weekend, as the first of December looms. I’ve only bought three Christmas presents, but feel quite pleased with myself. I don’t believe in rushing these things!

The Soup of the Week here has been tomato and vegetable, with that stunning bowl of plum tomatoes bought on impulse from the market. There were just over a kilo for £1. Bargain! It’s probably the ideal recipe for a summer glut of tomatoes when they’re at their tastiest, but it’s great with feta or blue cheese crumbled on top for added oomph.

~ Sweat onion, carrot and celery in a little rapeseed oil, then add 500g of ripe tomatoes, a 400g can of tomatoes, 500ml of stock, salt and pepper, a little sugar to take away the acidity of the tomatoes and a good handful of fresh basil leaves (or whatever fresh or dried herbs you fancy.) Add a tablespoon of red vinegar. Blend to a smooth consistency and enjoy.

I used up a vintage red pepper in my first batch a few weeks ago and that worked well. It’s a goodie for adding whatever you fancy. I’ve tried it with and without the red wine vinegar, it adds piquancy but is fine without too.

Reading: this week I’ve got four books on the go; one printed, one Ebook, and two audio.

1) I’m enjoying another Laura Ingalls Wilder from my childhood collection. A few chapters are good nostalgic reading late at night.

2) Yesterday’s 99p Kindle Daily Deal Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak reeled me in as I tried the sample and that’s almost certain to hook you into buying. I try not to download them, some days with more success than others! I’m really enjoying it and can almost certainly see a film being made from this one. It’s breaking my own rule about not starting Christmas books before 1st December, but whatever!

3) Bruce’s Born to Run audio book, read by him in that uniquely gravelly voice, which I will still be listening to in chunks next year because it’s over 18 hours long.

4) And finally, The Muse by Jessie Burton which I started on the way to Excel, London on Saturday for the Knitting, Stitching and Hobbycraft Simply Christmas show.

How much do you think I bought there by the way?

Answer…..a Carrot cupcake for lunch pudding! I was so restrained I nearly sprained something. Black Sheep Wools had bags of gorgeousness on sale, another seller had those Swirl cakes and Whirl cakes and all sorts of lovely wool blends. I resisted. Yes, I do deserve a medal, thanks very much, especially as my friend had told me to remind her she’s skint then bought bags of yarn and other fancies!

What are you making, cooking and reading this week? If you want to add your own Yarning Along link in the comments go for it. But tell us what you’re up to either way.

It’s a beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

I always feel excited about Christmas at some point in November but then sadly the excessive adverts, relentless songs and push turn me off until about this point every December. As a family we never put the tree up early, I don’t think most people did really. Decorating from the 1st of December seems a relatively new practice. The only thing we’ve always done was open an Advent calendar, or burn a little of an Advent candle each day. I do start buying presents and planning the who, what, where and how in November but then the rest waits till about the 18th/20th onwards. So….this weekend it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!
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Oxford Christmas market – traditional Bratwurst, Onion Bhajis and Mulled Wine?! There is a pretty good selection of stalls though, some very decent offerings. I have to admit that the Onion Bhajis were tasty!

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The Town Crier doing his thing admirably.

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My little cottage (fuzzy photos as it was raining!)

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Do you like my cosy fire? Pretty tree? Comfy chair?

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Perfect place to crochet isn’t it?

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Oh alright, busted! But isn’t it sweet?

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I’d love to buy a defunct red telephone box one day. I’d set it up as a free book exchange.

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Guess why we were at this plant nursery today?

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Yes…We went to buy Christmas trees but all got distracted by FREE hot chocolate! I wish I’d taken my marshmallows. HC & MM is my tiptop Winter treat.

It’s the Strictly final tonight. I’ve submitted my five online votes for the first round of the final, and now have to wait half an hour to see who goes through and wins. It’s been brilliant viewing this year – just perfect sparkly Winter TV.

How are you doing?