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Brideshead Revisited: A trip to Castle Howard

Brideshead Revisited

“I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.” – Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

One of my favorite things about living in the UK is having the opportunity to visit so many stately homes. I love buildings that are steeped in history. We don’t really get that in America – not on the same scale, anyway. The British have a thing for preserving their heritage and that makes me happy because there are so many beautiful stately homes and other architectural wonders here to photograph.

Last Monday, my friend Ali and I traveled to York to visit Castle Howard. Literature and film lovers probably know it best as the setting for the fictional Brideshead Castle in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Both the 1981 Granada mini-series featuring Sir Laurence Olivier in an Emmy Award-winning performance as Lord Marchmain and the 2008 feature film starring Matthew Goode and Ben Whishaw were filmed here. In 1940, a fire broke  out and destroyed the dome and the East Wing of the castle. Although it has been restored on the outside, the East Wing remains gutted and tourists are only allowed to walk through the West Wing.  In 2008, Julian Jarrold transformed a few of the rooms into sets for his Brideshead adaptation. These rooms are now a permanent exhibit about Castle Howard’s involvement in the Brideshead films.

In real life, Castle Howard is home to one of the oldest aristocratic families in England. Charles Howard, the 3rd Duke of Carlisle, commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh to build his stately home in the countryside outside of York. It was constructed between 1699 and 1712 and is still occupied by the Howard family today. Everything about the house and grounds is lavish. From the ostentatious interiors to the beautifully landscaped grounds and the giant Atlas Fountain in the south-facing courtyard, Castle Howard offers no shortage of photogenic beauty. Like Charles Ryder in Brideshead, I had been here before, years ago. This time I came armed with a sense of nostalgia and improved photography skills, or so I like to think!

This is Castle Howard through my eyes.

All photos © Kendra Bean

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photography travel

Destination: Hastings

Hastings Town and Beach, East Sussex

This week, summer finally decided to come to England! Planning ahead for trips in the UK is difficult because the weather is always unpredictable. But with temperatures in the high 80s yesterday, you can bet all I wanted to do was be somewhere near a beach. Brighton is the usual hot spot, but last time I went there, my friends and I had to stand in the aisle the for the entire journey because the train was so jam packed with beach-goers who had the same idea that we did. I wanted a beach without the crowds and a little variety as far as things to do and see.

East of Brighton, along the coast between Eastbourne and Dover, is the ancient town of Hastings. Hastings dates back to the 6th Century, although it’s claim to fame was the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when William the Conquerer invaded from France and killed the last Saxon King, paving the way for the Norman Conquest of England.  There are still remnants of the Normans’ time in Hastings, most notably the ruins of Hastings Castle overlooking the sea. In the early 1800s, it became a smuggler’s port, with natural and hand carved caves in the cliffs below the castle where smuggled goods would be hidden. The caves also served as an air raid shelter during WWII when the town took hits from German bombs. Although not as industrious as it once was, Hastings is still an active fishing town with a  seaside full of carnival rides and other tourist attractions.

I went with my friend Robbie. Our three goals were to eat seafood and visit the castle and smuggler’s caves. It turns out that even on a Saturday in August, Hastings’ two biggest attractions close at 5pm. The most happening seafood restaurant was also booked out for the evening. So we made do with pints in the Pump House pub and a walk along the mostly empty beach at sunset, and you know what? It was a damn fine substitute if I do say so myself. A wonderful way to spend what has surely been the hottest day this summer.

Hastings can be reached on the Southwest train services from London Victoria and London Bridge.

All photos © Kendra Bean and are linked to my Flickr account.

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Exploring London: Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens

I realize that this is only the second post in my “Exploring London” photography series. There are reasons for this: time and rain, rain, rain. The sun has chosen a few scattered days to grace us with its presence, but on the whole, this summer has been wet and miserable. I’m definitely missing the heat back in California right now. Needless to say, I haven’t had many opportunities to take my camera for a spin.

Two Saturdays ago, however, I went out to west London for a long walk around the famous Kew Gardens. It’s a bit pricey (£14.50 for an adult), but you only live once, as they say. I was armed with my 50mm f/1.4 lens, which is brilliant for photographing people and nature up-close. The extremely high f-stop lets in an abundance of light and throws out the background. It’s by far my favorite lens to use.

Kew Gardens, or The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, is a large open space out by Richmond that contains the world’s largest collection of  living plants. There are various greenhouses scattered across the expertly landscaped park that house a variety of plants from different climates. Also in the park are several beautiful, historical buildings. I found Kew Palace to be the most impressive, aside from the fact that you have to pay extra to go inside, which I chose not to do. The 17th century architecture reminded me much of Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, which my friends Maggie, Kasia and I visited as part of our Gone with the Wind roadtrip through the South in 2009. Other notable features at Kew include the Japanese Pagoda, Victorian Palm House, the Orangery, and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, a 16th century garden retreat complete with thatched roof. Sadly, my lens was fixed-with, making it difficult to photograph buildings.

While I was in Kew, I had hoped to take a photo of the Q Theatre where Vivien Leigh made her first-ever stage appearance in a play called The Green Sash. Alas, it was torn down in the late 1950s and replaced with a block of flats.

Kew Gardens can be reached via the London Overground and the District Line trains to Richmond.

*Photos © Kendra Bean, all rights reserved. Links take you to my flickr account.

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A Canterbury Tale

Canterbury Cathedral

Admittedly, I don’t pay much attention to the goings-on of the British Royal Family, but I won’t hesitate to give HM The Queen a royal salute for having her Diamond Jubilee this past weekend. As a result, we got two bank holidays in a row, and the four-day weekend was most welcome, indeed. When in the moment, I feared I wasn’t getting much done during this block of free time. But looking back on it, I accomplished quite a bit: a trip to Colindale to find some long-lost newspaper articles for book research; an interview with Australian actor Trader Faulkner, who told of some memorable weekends at Notley Abbey in 1955; arranged for tea with 97-year-old actress Renee Asherson; went to a screening of Prometheus; and finally, got out of London for a day!

With the seaside in mind, I boarded a train bound for Canterbury yesterday morning with my friend Anthony and his partner Tony. Canterbury is a lovely, medieval walled city famous for its massive cathedral, Chaucer’s stories and Eric Portman putting glue in girls’ hair during the blackout. After lunch at a little French cafe, we went to visit the site of many a religious pilgrimage before boarding a bus to Herne Bay.

The countryside was lovely, but Herne Bay is one of those seaside towns that looks much better in photos. The horrible weather didn’t help the already slightly depressing ambiance. What was once a bustling Victorian beach resort is now little more than beach-front ice cream shops, a shopping centre and a really ugly pier (the remains of the burnt-out Victorian pier are isolated out at sea). Rather disappointing, but all in all it was a fun trip and I managed to get some decent photos armed only with my camera phone.*

*This post is image-heavy.

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Vivien Leigh’s Tickerage Mill

photo essay photography travel vivien leigh

Vivien Leigh’s Tickerage Mill

**Warning: This post is image-heavy

I woke up this morning with every intention of going to the library and studying. Instead, Sammi Steward and I took an impromptu trip to Sussex to snap some photos of Vivien Leigh’s final resting place. The weather was perfect: 65 degrees and sunny. What better thing to do on a sunny spring afternoon than go to the countryside?

We met up at Victoria Station and boarded the next train to Croydon where we changed (and missed the hourly train to Sussex by literally 30 seconds) and headed to Uckfield. Sussex is a beautiful area. I remembered how I’d loved it when I did a summer abroad in Brighton my junior year in college. How time flies! On the train down, Sammi and I were having a discussion about Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier something or another when suddenly, the man in the seat across from us said, “I take it you’re going to Tickerage Mill?” How did he know? Apparently our indoor voices aren’t that quiet. He introduced himself as Duncan, the mayor of Uckfield. He said his in-laws very nearly bought the house next door to Tickerage Mill, and was very kind in not only telling us the easiest way to get out there, but arranged a little meeting between us and his friend who runs the Picture House cinema in town–apparently it’s one of the oldest indie theatres in England. Duncan also told us a lovely story about his friend’s claim to fame: Said friend had been up in London for work and had had a few drinks before catching the train back home. As Uckfield is the end of the line, he was roused out of his nap by a shake on the shoulder and a man saying, “I think you’re getting off at Uckfield.” The man was none other than Sir Laurence Olivier on his way to visit Vivien Leigh (conveniently, Uckfield is just between Brighton and London), and he offered Duncan’s friend a ride home in his hired car. We knew Larry went to visit Vivien on occasion!

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