Saturday, February 17, 2007

This time of year is one of great anticipation: from March onwards lots of the stately homes of England throw off the Holland covers and open their doors to the public. These historic buildings are an important source of inspiration to writers, the houses and castles are full of atmosphere, guides and guidebooks contain lots of interesting snippets to trigger a new storyline and many of the gardens are evocative of past times. Attingham Park (above) is now owned by the National Trust and is a beautiful eighteenth century mansion with (to quote from the guide book) Regency interiors: sheer bliss to wander through this beautiful house or around the deer park and let the imagination run riot. In contrast, one can take a trip to Coalbrookedale and experience the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution – in its own way Ironbridge is as picturesque and fascinating as any Georgian mansion, and sums up the achievements of the pioneering engineers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The area now is a beautiful leafy valley, but just in case one is minded to forget just how dirty and smoky the area used to be, there is a tar tunnel to be visited, where the natural tar still trickles from the walls. It's dark, damp and claustrophobic and yes, hard hats are compulsory for visitors!

Melinda Hammond

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