Wednesday, 6 April 2011

If you go down to Burghley today...

Today I snuck along on a college arranged trip to Burghley House: a 16th century country home just inside Cambridgeshire. The building itself was used in filming both 'The Da Vinci Code' and 'Pride and Prejudice' (although sadly not the brilliant TV version, just the 2005 film with vacant Kiera Knightley) and is just as ostentatious as Harlaxton Manor, but a lot bigger and with an impressive collection of richly decorated state rooms. Theres a lot of bedrooms named and prepared for various members of Royalty who never visited, and you get to see servants quarters as well although sadly there's no photography allowed inside so I will do my best by collaborating with Google on this one.

I think that Burghley is best known for the 'Hell Staircase' and 'Heaven Room', both painted by Antonio Verrio (although only the stair ceiling is attributed to him). I've added some photos of the Heaven room above and the Hell staircase below: both paintings are huge and stuffed with figures from Roman and Greek mythology. Luckily there were plenty of guides there to explain who was there, as some of the figures were terrifyingly alien: in the Hell ceiling there was a woman whose body from the waist down consisted of the torsos of six angry dogs. I was glad to get into the heaven room and be confronted instead by the detail of a tiny painted slug, creeping up a vase just over the doorway: I like to think of being in a room of that size long enough to spot more details like that myself!

In the less decorous rooms the walls are crammed with some of the more beautiful paintings: I recognised a lot of the portraits from books on costume. It's hard to find a favourite but I was completely besotted by this carving of a dead bird:

I know it doesn't look like much (and also is a bit morbit, when you think about it!), but when you consider that it's carved entirely from one block of limewood, it becomes all the more amazing: even the string holding the bird to the nail is carved from wood! Look closely and you'll see a fly has landed on the birds head: literally every vein in every feather on this sculpture had been carved by someone. Could we do the same thing today, with modern tools? I highly doubt it!

ANYWAY, before I get carried away lets get outside and take a look at the Gardens of Surprise! That's the name of the water gardens at Burghley: literally so exciting they make you jump for joy!

Actually it's a pretty nice place to be on such a lovely day: there's lots of themed areas and fountains and to get out you have to run through a carefully times water gate: luckily it was a nice hot day! We also learnt how to play merrelles, which is a bit like extreme noughts and crosses. There's vast amounts of parkland to wander, clutching your icecreams and sorbets, and loads of fallow deer wandering around.

All in all, a pretty good afternoon out,a nd only a 45 minute bus ride from Harlaxton: it's amazing to think what our Manor would have looked like had it remained the property on a wealthy family like the Gregorys, but then of course it's unlikely we'd be living in it at all...

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