I was hoping to get to halfway by the end of 2017 but fell a little short with my 21 visits taking my total to 123, with 143 remaining on the list. I think it’s time to up my rate of travel and perhaps take two longer holidays a year.
There was perhaps even more variety in my experiences this past year than in any other, with castles, gardens and stately homes joined by a couple of mills, some smaller municipal buildings, a visitor centre for a peninsula and even a bridge. My week away took me to North Wales, staying in a lovely self-catering cottage on Anglesey and heading back across the bridge to mainland Wales most days. The trip involved much research into pronunciations(!) and covered some vastly different locations. One of the highlights of this trip – and of the year in fact – was Rex Whistler’s amazing mural at Plas Newydd, my one visit on the island of Anglesey itself. I started and ended the year with other traditional stately homes, including Hanbury Hall and Mottisfont (itself home to a Whistler mural) early in the year and West Wycombe, Coughton Court and Blickling Hall towards the end of the season. There have been no visits since mid-October as I like to steer clear of the Christmas festivities, which can involve room closures and decorations that – while lovely – can sometimes hide the things I want to see.
North Wales was as far north as I ventured during the year, with Aberconwy House just coming in as the northernmost visit (by a couple of hundred yards from the Conwy Suspension Bridge!). Furthest south was Mottistone Gardens on the Isle of Wight, again challenged closely by the Needles Batteries a few miles away. The Blickling Estate in Norfolk was my most easterly visit during the year, while the Porth y Swnt visitor’s centre on the Llyn Peninsula was the most westerly.
County coverage in 2017 was complicated by what actually defines a county or unitary authority. But for my own sense of achievement, I’m going to count seven completed counties this year, including Gwynedd (4), Anglesey (1), Conwy (3) and Isle of Wight (4), all of which were both started and finished during 2017, plus Surrey, West Sussex and Essex, in all of which I ticked off the single outstanding property. Other counties covered – all by a single visit – include Worcestershire, Hampshire, Shropshire, Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Norfolk.
It was perhaps less of an educational year as I didn’t buy any biographies or associated books to build on my visits. Mind you, I did follow up on my interest in Rex Whistler by visiting Mottisfont during its special exhibition of his work and by my trip to see the mural in Wales, while my trip to Coughton Court came just before the Gunpowder Plot was dramatised on the TV so that was a timely coincidence. And of course I had previously read the National Trust book about Ferguson’s Gang; in 2017, I visited two of their most important acquisitions: Shalford Mill and Newtown Old Town Hall.
And so into 2018. I am lining up a possible trip to Yorkshire this year so will be venturing a little further north again, while I have also found a friend who is willing to head down for a weekend break to Kent so I can get the South Foreland Lighthouse off the list – it’s very remote from any other properties so requires a special trip all to itself. I could also be breaking into the Northern Irish list, so that will be exciting, although it wouldn’t technically be my first trip overseas as both Anglesey and the Isle of Wight must count in the most literal sense!
There are no major changes to the list between 2017 and 2018, but it does appear that there will be one in and one out.
Sadly, George Stephenson’s Birthplace in the North East has been closed for the time being as the Trust reassesses how best to use the property so that comes off the list. Meanwhile, though, Edward Elgar’s Birthplace – The Firs – in Worcestershire is now open for visitors so I have added that on.
I had a momentary sinking feeling after seeing a new property popping up on the map of North Wales in the handbook. Having just ticked off the entire region during 2017, I had visions of a long drive back to Snowdonia for just one visit. Thankfully, though, it appears that the new addition is simply a shop that has been opened in an old Grade II listed cottage in Beddgelert so it doesn’t justify inclusion on the list. Another new addition to the Handbook is Wentworth Woodhouse, a magnificent stately home in South Yorkshire. I have not added this to the official list as the Trust does not own the site but is simply working with the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust over the next five years to help them establish the property as a viable visitor attraction in the long term. That is not to say that I won’t visit if the opportunity arises, it just doesn’t qualify as part of my challenge.
And so, into 2018 with the same number of properties left to visit – 143 out of 266.