With a week of annual leave and no overseas holiday booked, last week I had plenty of time to focus on art. I had originally planned to spend the full week in the studio. But after a couple of full days painting over the weekend I decided to take the opportunity to get out and about.
During a normal week I yearn to paint and find it frustrating that I don’t have the time. But if I just focus on just painting for more than a few days I find myself fiddling around with pieces and not making bold moves. The break of getting out and doing something different helps brings new perspective to my work.
So, this week, I thought I’d spend a couple of days exploring my local area. Northumberland and Country Durham have so many great places to visit and quite a few I haven’t been before.
I’m ashamed to say I’ve never actually been into Cragside, until last week! It’s a popular tourist site and whilst I have previously visited and walked around the impressive grounds I’ve never ventured into the house. Created by Lord and Lady Armstrong, the house is a wonderful example of innovation in the 19th century. Built into the rocks the it is surrounded by trees and greenery. But is most famously known for being the first home in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power.
It’s a bizarre combination of forward thinking innovation set in an arts and craft style home. William Armstrong was a visionary inventor and engineer. He built the Swing Bridge in Newcastle which is still in operation today. And he also built the hydraulic mechanism that operates Tower Bridge in London. His wife was equally impressive. A keen gardener, she transformed the grounds of Cragside and was at the centre of the entertainment culture of the house. The couple hosted kings, statemen and key business figures in the UK.
One of the rooms boasts an enormous and rather gaudy fire place wall (pic above) of carved marble which is spectacular, although I suspect difficult to live with.
My personal favourite was the first ever dishwasher!
The power couple were also great supporters of the arts. Although most of the valuable paintings were sold to pay inheritance taxes, the house is packed full of great pieces. My favourites were the beautiful stained glass windows designed by William Morris, Ford Maddox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
If you ever find yourself in Northumberland its definitely worth a visit.
My second outing was to the glorious Raby Castle. Still family owned it’s a cracking day out! The castle is steeped in history. It’s a medieval castle built by the Neville family in the 14th century. But as it is also a ‘lived in’ castle it has such a homely (if rather grand) feel.
The castle played a central role in ‘The Rising’, the plot against Elizabeth I, with the Neville family being found guilty of treason. It was then the Vane family that bought the pad and still own it to this day.
Like Cragside its packed full of art. But unlike Cragside still has many original paintings including Sir Joshua Reynolds, Van Dyck, Sir Alfred Munnings and Ben Marshall. Everywhere you look there is stunning pottery and art.
My favourite room in the house was actually one which is still very much in its medieval form – the kitchen. Despite being one of the oldest rooms it has a really modern feel. And it was fascinating to learn that the Tiffany’s turquoise colour it is painted in was actually selected because it wards off creepy crawlies.
The staff at Raby Castle are so knowledgeable and passionate about the castle and it’s history. Their commentary really made it a very special day out.
My phone reel is now full of photos some of which will be amazing inspiration when it come to future works!