Lyveden New Bield

One of the great things about being a member of the National Trust (oh yes, Lisa and I both very much feel as though we are that far into our twenties now) is the sheer choice of interesting places to visit.

Our first ‘proper’ visit – the one where we decided to take out a membership – was a very much anticipated trip to Snowshill Manor, home to the eccentric and wonderful Charles Paget Wade.

But our most recent came from me scrolling through their excellent app to find locations not too far away which seemed interesting. And so the app led us to Lyveden New Bield, between Northampton and Peterborough.

The building is situated off a minor country road and remains hidden from view until you’ve bumped and rolled your way along a rough path leading to the National Trust car park. But when it appears it looks most peculiar.

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A strong, solid outline of a building standing out on its own in beautiful rural scenery, although seeming not to have windows or a roof – surely a ruin? But no – this is a common misconception.

Although this Elizabethan ‘new build’ has the toothless look of a ruined castle or manor house, Lyveden was in fact never completed, after construction began more than 400 years ago.

And what a remarkable thing it is. Beautiful and very telling of the potential for how it could have been – and yet quite empty and heartbreaking. How rare to find not just a building of this age looking so fresh and sharp in places, but also to find one that was started, never finished – and then never demolished either. Just sat there, all lonely and… weird. But still no less beautiful.

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Lyveden cuts a lonely figure perched out there in pristine fields, although it is flanked by a nearby cottage and primitive visitor’s centre (quite literally a shed, although the cottage is being converted into a tea room).

Just over the way is its neighbouring manor house; Lyveden was designed by Sir Thomas Tresham to entertain guests. This primary purpose is evident in the building’s layout. Entrance for 21st century visitors is via a low doorway to the rear – originally for servants.

With no interior floors or features – just holes where floorboards and joists would have sat – it takes a bit of imagination to understand the upper areas. But a handy audio guide does its best to explain the situation of various features of the house, while large recognisable features like fireplaces and doorways stand out.

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The scale of the construction is also a bit tricky to get your head around. With no roof to close the space in, visitors are left to crane their necks up at the unusual framing of the sky, which is itself a remarkable feature of the place.

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Overall, Lyveden is fascinating from a historical perspective just as much as from an architectural one. The remote rural setting is lovely too, and we were treated to seeing it under a slate-grey sky full of cloud as well as in bright sunlight with blue skies in the space of an hour or so. The mind boggles as to how the place must look in other conditions such as snow or fog.

What a wonderful place. I know we will return.

Meanwhile, having driven us from Milton Keynes to pretty Oundle in Northamptonshire, Lisa, the ever-eager driver, decided that we simply must be closer to the sea than usual…

Despite my apprehension that we must surely in fact be about as far inland as it is possible to get in England, we decided to drive out to the Norfolk coast to see the beach at Hunstanton, overlooking the Wash.

But that’s another story for another blog post, I reckon.

A circular stroll from Stony via Passenham, Deanshanger and Beachampton

Beyond the top left-hand corner of the alluring and perplexing grid of Milton Keynes, there lies a scattering of small villages, old coaching towns and farms surrounded by rolling fields. One of the real benefits of living near Milton Keynes, and the flip-side to the convenient transport and amenities, is its proximity to beautiful English countryside.

So it is that it only takes a few minutes’ walk – and, ideally, an OS map – to stumble off the grid, beyond the high street and into lush, green fields and a network of public footpaths both ancient and new.

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Fields near Beachampton
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An old grave stone at St Guthlac’s, Passenham

 

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The pedestrian overpass near Deanshanger – a Milton Keynes public footpath

 

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Blown-out skies over Calverton

 

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Lisa navigating us home from Calverton

Exploring abandoned Milton Keynes by bike – WIF #1

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One of the things I’m loving about my time in Milton Keynes (and there genuinely are a lot – I’m just being lazy about writing them up) is its weird and quirky planning and construction.

There are so many interesting little factoids and trivia about MK that start to emerge when you glance at a map or history book (and I do that with alarming tenacity).

Since buying a bike recently (my first new and very own bike since I was about ten!), I’ve been absolutely loving getting out and about on it, as well as just using it to get to and from work. Amongst MK’s weird and wonderful transport systems is the fantastic network of Redways* – cycling (and pedestrian) paths which criss-cross the city and mean you can get from one point to almost any other without ever crossing a main road (and only rarely crossing minor roads).

map link – PDF

The Redways have opened up a sort of virtual landscape to me, and they’ve enabled MK to make sense to me, where before everywhere kind of just looked the same. It still does, of course, but I’m starting to get my bearings and I’m enjoying being able to correspond a point on a map with a place I can visit.

But where this process gets a little bit more intriguing than your bog-standard ‘navigating by map’ is when you go to a location on a map which… just isn’t really there in real life.

Milton Keynes was planned so precisely and so carefully that, inevitably, sometimes things didn’t go to plan. This results in quirks and oddities on the scale of whole neighbourhoods being paved, roads built and street names assigned… And then they are just left, as if abandoned.

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One such neighbourhood (one of several, actually) can be found surprisingly close to Campbell Park, the new city’s central recreation area. I stumbled on it by accident, following my nose along another ribbon of Redway.

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Suddenly, across the road from the park I found myself surrounded by roads that were laid, along with pavements and kerbstones, and lines of trees. But behind the kerb were no houses – no buildings at all. Just wasteland leading to another copied-and-pasted tree-lined avenue.

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It was actually quite eerie – and this was on a sunny Saturday afternoon, when a minute or so before I’d been whizzing past Campbell Park’s cricket ground. And yet, suddenly, here was windswept silence, with only a distant hum of traffic and the wind in the leaves.

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And what I might even love most about this whole weird place is that on all the maps that cover the area, the roads are all named. Above you can see down the length of Taymouth Place. Nearby turn-offs lead to Smithsons Place, Reliance Lane and Limerick Lane.

But nobody lives at these addresses, and there are no road signs. And yet they exist on maps and, presumably, in some sort of planning database. There is much for me to explore and investigate, clearly.

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As before, but in reverse, it took just a few turns of my pedals before I found myself cycling past flats and a busy road once more. Now that I’ve found this place by accident, I’m taking a more concerted effort to find more. I’ve seen a few that are easy to find, opposite huge supermarkets and similar. Then there are those almost stereotypical junctions with spurs to roads that never got built.

I need to be careful about the tools I use for this mission. Google Maps is pretty accurate, but using the satellite maps and Street View imagery often only tells half the story – or less. The ‘current’ satellite view of my workplace still shows a hockey stadium, for example. And there is an adjacent patch of land to the one I talk about above, which appears to be in the same condition according to Google, but has since been built upon.

So, it’s a mystery story with a few tools necessary – a handful of maps, my bicycle, and a curiosity to seek out some of MK’s more surprising hidden gems. I’ll let you know what else I find.

On the importance of overhead cables in a photograph

From the National Library of New Zealand‘s Flickr account, a rather striking shot of a building in Wellington, taken in 1940:

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Photographer: Gordon Burt, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: 1/2-036769-G

Here is the brand new MLC building at the corner of Lambton Quay and Hunter Street, photographed in 1940. It is from the negatives and prints of Gordon Burt, one of Wellington’s best-known commercial photographers. He was determined to show the building in all its art deco glory. In the real world overhead wires and cables criss-crossed in front of the camera, but on this print Burt has painstakingly retouched them out of existence.

I was interested to read that the ubiquitous overhead tram cables that run throughout downtown Wellington had been edited out of this image – if you click through to the Flickr page and view it larger, you can easily see where this has been done. And while I agree that it does make it easier to focus on the building’s proud frontage, I can’t help but feel slightly queasy about the removal of something so obvious.

But that’s just me; I love lines and silhouettes in photographs – and overhead cables bring a lot of that to an image. Often when I’m out and about, an image can be framed, or divided up, by some previously unnoticed cables. Other times, the unique arrangement of cables against a solid coloured sky can make the image itself. Even the latticed windows of my bedroom make for a beautiful composition against the right cloudscape.

I remember at least one example where I’d taken a photograph of a particularly nice sunset out of the back of my home in Manchester. Criss-crossing the image are the collection of telegraph cables that proliferate in such a densely populated residential area as this. For me, it made an image where the primary feature was swathes of colour a little more dynamic and interesting – the thick black lines against the bright colours of a fiery sunset made for a wonderful contrast.

Or so I thought.

The image ended up on my Manchester Daily Photo blog, and although I can’t remember it exactly, one of the comments left by a site visitor said words to the effect of “Lovely sunset, shame about the wires ruining it though.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. One man’s defining feature in a photograph can be another man’s distraction. And I quite like that.

Oddly enough, my mother was quick to jump in to the comments and defend the presence of the wires, saying she felt that they made the image. That must be where I get it from…

Incidentally, I’d show you the image I mean, but my Flickr account is currently in a somewhat dormant state as my subscription fees have expired for the first time in six years. This means my 12,000-odd photographs are ‘hidden’, with only the latest 200 showing. I will get around to renewing it when I can though, of course.

Donations welcome…!