I think November might be my favourite time of year to run away to the countryside. It is so beautiful in a quiet, solemn way, as autumn slips into winter. Of course it will rain, but that just means spending all your evenings next to the fire with knitting and novels. And if it doesn’t, then you wake up to the stillness of a pale sunny frost, as though the gardens and fields are holding their breath.
As we’re going away next weekend, I’ve been thinking back to last November, when we stayed in an tiny converted bakehouse on the Chirk Castle estate (in north Wales) – the little building on the left in the picture below. The bakehouse is an outbuilding of a old stone manor house which looks out (over the heads of roaming geese, chickens and horses) across the Ceiriog valley. I’ve written before about the delight of staying in a converted building, and this one was no exception. I felt as snug as a loaf of bread myself, once we managed to get the stove lit (it covered an entire wall!). We went out and explored the hills and got wet, and then came back and got warm and made whisky cocktails.
In the next valley over is Chirk Castle. It is fourteenth-century, strong and sturdy – a grey stamp of English power on the Welsh landscape – a true fortress with commanding views, some five-metre-thick walls and a couple of murder holes for good measure. It has been occupied by the same family ever since they bought it from Sir Robert Dudley (Elizabeth I’s mustachioed favourite) in 1595. A couple of sparring knights kindly gave the central courtyard a fitting medieval air.
I wish I had more pictures of the castle itself but I got distracted, because in the gardens we met the groundsman and his cats. They follow him around the grounds, maintaining an aloof distance, occasionally stopping to pose (as below) or eat a mouse whole (not pictured). He explained to us that he sets out with them into the grounds when they are kittens, and they stick with him from then on.
Oh for the life of a castle cat – strutting around the gardens, pouncing through the piles of golden autumn leaves and curling up in the gatehouse at the end of the day.
p.s. I realise I should have mentioned, the bakehouse goes by its Welsh name of Popty Pennant.