Those nice people at This Is Your Kingdom recently sent me a free admission pass to use at Dunham Massey in return for writing an article about my visit. I've blogged about Dunham before, as we're regular visitors to the deer park and village but I've never been inside the house or gardens.
So, while Joe went looking at the deer and ducks with his grandparents, I took my camera and pass and went inside those huge doors for the first time. I was excited to see the house, particularly as they've recreated Stamford Hospital - an auxiliary hospital opened during the First World War to treat soldiers returning from the Front - to mark the centenary of the start of the war.
It was actually very moving to look at the photographs and read the stories of some of those who worked and were treated there. They even had actors portraying soldiers sitting up in bed with newspapers, and nurses on duty (we were told not to try and talk to them as we wouldn't get a response - they were simply 'ghosts').
I had a look around the ward, the recreation room and the nurses' sitting room. The attention to detail was very impressive, and for a social history
anorak enthusiast like me the whole experience was quite something.
After the house I had a look in the kitchens (home to one of the biggest Agas ever built), the scullery and the huge, gloomy stores where cheese was pressed and game hung. I took plenty of photos but most were pretty dark; I don't like using the flash, and it wasn't allowed anyway.
I then had a wander around the gardens. So beautiful: wooded areas (carpeted with bluebells still), winding little paths, spectacular plants and shrubs and trees...
I'd only ever been on the other side of this gate until now. To be inside looking out was far nicer.
There was a lot of pink down one border. Rhodedendrons and azaleas of all shades: raspberry, cerise, bubblegum. I'm not generally much of a fan but always think of Manderley in Rebecca when I see rhodedendrons in a formal setting.
I've always wanted some of these fritillaries in my garden. They were almost finished but still worthy of photographing.
I went along on a weekday morning so all was quiet and peaceful. The views, the colours, the smell of the flowers and the earth were a wonderful pick-me-up. Places like this - much as I love wild walks - really do invite you to lose yourself and imagine romantic scenes from the past.
The rose gardens were very pretty despite the star attractions being not quite ready to bloom just yet. I did like the wilder fringes, though - and there's something lovely about traditional beehives.
I also came across some huge peonies. These pictures don't do them justice in terms of their sheer size; their heads were as big as dinner plates.
Tulips were growing in great swathes everywhere. I've always been partial to orange ones, and these were lit up wonderfully by the sun. The original Bagdad Ward in the Stamford Hospital overlooked this part of the gardens. A view like this must have been such a world away from the trenches of France and Belgium.
So, there you have it: a journey back in time to glimpse how the Great War impacted on country life back in England, and a hundred years on, a tranquil garden on a lovely spring day. Quite the contrast.