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Friar Lane + New Street + St Martin’s West Leicester Leicestershire


“‘I like everything old fashioned,’ said Eleanor; ‘old fashioned things are so much the honestest,’” Anthony Trollope scribes in his 1857 classic Barchester Towers. And there’s nothing so old fashioned – in a good way – than a cathedral close, something he captured in words better than anyone else in his series of six novels about the fictional cathedral town of Barchester.

The first issue of Country Homes and Interiors magazine was hot off the printers in April 1986. The August edition of that year featured an article by Moira Rutherford called Close Encounters about clergy living in cathedral quarters. Archdeacon Michael Perry who lived in Durham Cathedral Close summed it up: “Someone once said clergy consists of middle class people living in upper class houses on lower class incomes. That’s certainly true here. All the canons have at least two jobs.”

Dean Richard Eyre who lived in Exeter Cathedral Close said, “It’s not difficult to heat a big old house like this; it’s simply difficult to pay for it. The guest room alone measures 30 feet by 18. It’s lucky the house only has three bedrooms not including attic rooms.” The immediate area around Leicester Cathedral has the appearance of a close (lots of substantial period houses) but is actually a legal quarter known as Greyfriars. Handsome Georgian terraces line several streets including Friar Lane and New Street; the latter heading northwards frames a view of the cathedral.

One of the best Georgian houses in Greyfriars is 17 Friar Lane. It’s one of 30 buildings which have received restoration funding from the Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative. This was a restoration programme set up by Leicester City Council and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. In 2016 the sash windows and ornate timber Doric entrance doorcase were restored with a £50,000 grant.

Built in 1750 for banker William Bentley, 17 Friar Lane has a sophisticated three storey façade vertically divided into three by quoin pilasters. The central portion of the symmetrical brick elevation is particularly well handled with a Palladian window over the entrance door and a Diocletian window on the top floor. A pediment over the cornice completes the geometric arrangement. Whoever the architect was had a strong grasp of ornament and proportion.

The half timbered wholly jettied 14th century Guildhall on St Martin’s West next to Leicester Cathedral is a rare survivor predating the Georgian redevelopment of the area. Old fashioned indeed.

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Campbell-Rey + The London Edition Hotel Fitzrovia London

Club Fenderland

The multi use lobby of The London Edition was a popular concept when it first opened. A decade later, the vast space is still buzzing. It encompasses workspace, a bar, a lounge area next to an open fire, reception, billiards and – from tonight – a Christmas tree designed by Campbell-Rey. The design studio founded by Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey takes a seasonal bow to Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s 1816 set design for The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with its oversized Murano glass baubles in colour and mirror finishes dangling between decorations hand painted to resemble lapis, onyx, marble and malachite. The gilded star atop the tree comes straight from one of the artistic Prussian polymath’s Queen of the Night’s Hall of Stars drawings. To celebrate the unveiling of the Christmas tree, guests are serenaded by a haloed cappella choir while devouring canapés and downing cocktails.

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The Londoner Hotel Leicester Square London + Hale Zero

You’re Driving Us Crazy

“Would you like Champagne?” proves to be the perfect entry to the perfect party. This is gonna be epically crazy – we can tell already. Do you remember when the festive season started in December? Or when Christmas trees had red and gold decorations? And the weekend began on a Friday? Well deep breath. November is the new December. Black and white is the new red and gold. And tonight, Monday is the new Friday.

Fashion designer Huishan Zhang dreamt up the most monochromatic Christmas tree imaginable for The Stage (isn’t that the world?) bar of The Londoner Hotel, Leicester Square. The black and white party dress code has been mostly adhered to with a few notable exceptions. Glam squads have been busy. Lady Elspeth Catton (played brilliantly by Rosamund Pyke in Emerald Fennell’s baroque comedic thriller Saltburn) with her “complete and utter horror of ugliness” would approve.

After black cod lime and Bloody Mary avo tartare entrées, Yasmine and Yuzu Margaritas, Lychee Rosé and Monte Velho Branco are pumped into us and before we know it we’ve been swept up to Eight (the height’s in the name) bar. What fresh heaven awaits? Celestial socialites and power creatives Pippa Vosper and Susan Bender Whitfield are getting ready to fill that penthouse dancefloor. Troops! You have your marching orders! Get to it!

Hale Zero is whipping up an absolute musical storm. Fresh from playing at the Beckhams’ Netflix party, the trio is always raring to go. The brilliant Brixton brothers get to the remixes, the grooves, the mashups, all the tunes with that vigour of tonight we are all “forever young”! And then without warning the whole floor erupts into synchronised dancing to Beyonce’s Crazy in Love. “Would you like more Champagne?” For the first time ever, no, we’re too busy dancing! As Lady Elspeth likes to say, “How wonderful!”

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Nate Freeman + The London Edition Hotel Punch Room Fitzrovia London

The Second Age of Umber

“You must not ever stop being whimsical.” Staying Alive by Mary Oliver, 2016.

When New Yorker Nate Freeman, ArtTactic podcaster and Vanity Fair writer, comes to town where does he go and what does he do? Why, he fills the Punch Room in The London Edition with 100 of the capital’s brightest. Punch and conversation flow while supper is served. Gruyere and thyme tartlets and tuna kimchi seaweed canapés to be precise. Waving goodbye to Nate and the revellers, the following morning it’s the Sheraton Grand Park Lane Hotel for Women Leading Real Estate. And for breakfast? Canapés of course.

“And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility of your life.” Still Staying Alive by Mary Oliver, 2016.

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Stapleford Park Hotel + St Mary Magdalene Church Melton Mowbray Leicestershire

Making a Splash

It was 35 years ago and there was no escaping Stapleford Park in the print media. American entrepreneur Bob Payton knew how to make a splash. Instead of hiring only interior designers to decorate the bedrooms of his newly converted country house hotel, he threw a shirtmaker, a porcelain company and a perfumier amongst many others into the mix. It caught the press and public’s attention. Eight years later, another media savvy entrepreneur, this time Englishman Peter de Savary, took over Stapleford Park and opened it as one of his Carnegie Club outpost adding not least the Knot Garden in front of the main entrance door. Cue double page spreads in the supplements once more. Skibo Castle in Dornoch, the home of the Victorian philanthropic industrialist Andrew Carnegie, continues to be a Carnegie Club. His portrait hangs in the gents’ bathroom at Stapleford Park. Just when we thought life couldn’t get any more glamorous, we find ourselves pottering about the Wedgwood Room of the hotel, weighing up a walk in the Capability Brown designed parkland of heaven verging fields versus tea on the terrace. Happy camping. We do both.

Bob Payton bought the house and its 200 hectare estate from Lord Gretton for £600,000 and spent a further £4 million rejuvenating and opening it as a hotel and leisure resort. We’re privileged to exclusively share his last recorded interview before he died in a car crash in 1994: “I first saw Stapleford Park from the back of a horse riding nearby in rolling countryside. Stapleford has been for many centuries a sporting lodge with riding, shooting and lavish entertainment all part of its heritage. It is our endeavour to keep that same style for many years to come. So interesting is the history of Stapleford Park and fascinating its architecture that the house was open to the public for several decades. Walking through the house and around the grounds is like going on a magical mystery tour. Through each and every doorway, there is another adventure. Set in 500 acres of woodland and parkland, the house provides breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside from every room.”

“Our approach to life in the country is that of a relaxed, comfortable, casual existence. We’ve replaced the servants and butlers if the old days with a team of people who are dedicated to making sure you enjoy our home and all it has to offer. We hope you like our approach to hospitality. To complement the eclectic architectural style of this most unusual house I invited several famous names to design bedrooms based on their own image of life at Stapleford Park. Signature bedrooms have been created by Tiffany, Wedgwood, Lindka Cierach, Lady Jane Churchill, Crabtree and Evelyn, Nina Campbell, Liberty, Max Pike and many others. We’re thrilled that these folks found Stapleford Park such an exciting challenge.”

“The dining room is decorated with ornate and intricate woodwork accredited to the most famous of all English carvers, Grinling Gibbons. In these luxurious surroundings, we serve traditional English cuisine with the occasional flair of old fashioned American cooking. You can enjoy the food that Stapleford’s guests have enjoyed over the centuries and much much more. As for sport, the surrounding Leicestershire countryside is most famous for its equestrian links. We offer most kinds of equestrian pursuits including carriage driving and riding instruction. There is clay shooting on the property and game shooting can be arranged. You can fish on the lake in front of the house or at nearby Rutland Water. If that’s not enough, there’s tennis, croquet and basketball, as well as walks through and around the property in this most lovely of settings.”

“Come and discover a truly great undiscovered part of England. Stapleford Park is in reality most people’s fantasy of the quintessential English countryside. Let me tell you about Edward Prince of Wales. His mother wouldn’t let him buy Stapleford Park because she felt that his morals might be corrupted by the Leicestershire hunting society. Well that was 100 years ago. Fortunately the Royal Family settled at Sandringham so that all of us may now enjoy the pleasures of this most idyllic estate.” The Royal Family are still happily ensconced at Sandringham and we are even more happily enjoying life at Stapleford Park.

The house glows a golden hue in afternoon sunshine and shimmers a mysterious grey in morning mist. Poet Mary Oliver writes in her essay Wordsworth’s Mountain (Upstream Collected Essays, 2016), “This is to say nothing against afternoons, evenings, or even midnight. Each has its portion of the spectacular. But dawn – dawn is a gift.” Every elevation and wing is a piece of architecture in itself and together they form a visual whole in material only. Crunchie the ginger cat (technically the neighbour’s but wise enough to hang out on the estate) matches the ashlar stone. One minute Stapleford Park is a Jacobean manor house; turn a corner, the next minute it’s a Queen Anne stately home; turn another corner, a Jacobethan hunting lodge; one more, a Loire château. As for the entrance front facing the quiet waters of the lake, the nine bay string coursed perfection is as symmetrical as a supermodel’s face. No big name architects are recorded (unlike the landscape and panelling!) but two owners have added their name for posterity in stone carvings on the exterior of a wing: “William Lord Sherard Baron of Letrym Repayred This Building Anno Domini 1633”. Underneath there’s a postscript: “And Bob Payton Esq. Did His Bit Anno Domini 1988”.

Indoors the eclecticism continues thanks partly to the layering of six or so centuries and partly to the aforementioned cohorts of dreamers and designers let loose on the fabric and fabrics. The main block is laid out around two vast double height top lit spaces: the Staircase Hall and adjacent Saloon. Public and private lounging and dining ebbs and flows throughout the ground floor. The Morning Room (with its mullioned bay window). The Harborough Room (crimson Gainsborough silk wallpaper). Billiard Room (converted games table). The Orangery (windows galore). The Grinling Gibbons Dining Room (festooned panelling by his namesake). The Old Kitchen (stone vaulted ceiling). Formal dinner is served in the Grinling Gibbons Dining Room: Baron De Beaupre Champagne; pea, goat’s curd, mint pistou tartlet and crispy onions; butter roasted cod, fennel and leak cream, new potatoes, sea herbs. Stapleford Park is a bread roll’s throw from Melton Mowbray and its Stilton Creamery so a generous cheese board offering is called for: Beacon Fell, Bingham Blue, Pitchfork Cheddar, Ribblesdale Goat’s, Tuxford and Tebbut Stilton. Five tall sash windows frame the descent of darkness. Mary Oliver again, “Poe claimed he could hear the night darkness as it poured, in the evening, into the world.”

The first floor is filled to the ceiling roses with the Grand Rooms: Savoir Beds, Crabtree and Evelyn, Wedgwood, Lady Jane Churchill, Baker, Turnbull and Asser, Flemish Tapestries, Amanda by Today Interiors, Campion Bell, Sanderson, Eleanor, Lyttle, Lady Gretton, Zoffany, Warner. We’re in the Wedgwood Room, one of the very grandest, with views across the green pastures. Below a Waterford Crystal chandelier and over a Wilton carpet everything is iconic Wedgwood blue and white from the wallpaper to soap dish. Life and Works of Wedgwood, a book by Eliza Meteyard (1865) in the library, praises the entrepreneurial potter, “His name lives in the industrial history of the country he loved so well, and so enriched by the bounties of his art and the example of his worthy life.” Ah, on the table that’s just what we like: a handwritten welcome note. And sash windows that open fully.

The second floor is filled to the rafters with the Slightly Less Grand Rooms: Panache, Wishing Well, Haddon, Treetops, Bloomsbury, Savonerie, Sanderson, Molly, Peacock, Lake View, Game Larder, Burley, Early, Green Gables, Melody, Max. A row of servants’ bells in the corridor reveals the more prosaic original room names, “First Floor: No.1 Bedroom, No.1 Dressing Room, No.2 Bedroom, No.2 Dressing Room, Bathroom, No.3 Bedroom, No. 4 Bedroom, No.5 Bedroom, Bathroom, No.6 Bedroom, No.6 Dressing Room, No.7 Bedroom, No.8 Bedroom. Second Floor: No.1 Bedroom, No.2 Bedroom, Bathroom, No.3 Bedroom, No.4 Bedroom, No. 5 Bedroom, No.6 Bedroom, Dark Room, No.7 Bedroom, No.8 Bedroom, Front Door, Luggage Room, Tradesmen.” Windows are open to the sights and sounds of birdlife: cooing pigeons, flying geese, scarpering pheasants.

Beyond the exquisitely manicured formal and semiformal and informal suite of gardens, the former stable block turned spa matches the house in both material (ironstone rubble with ashlar dressings) and style (baroque revival). There’s a named architect and exact construction date: Peter Dollar, 1899. The Oxfordshire born London based architect Peter Dollar is best known for his Majestic Picturedrome on London’s Tottenham Court Road. In contrast to the historicist appearance of Stapleford stable block, the cinema was an Edwardian looking brick and rendered four storey with attics building. Opened in 1912, it was demolished just 65 years later. His fine stable block has fared rather better. The stalls are occupied by beauty treatment salons and are labelled after racehorses: Apple-Jack, Black Beauty, Red Rum and so on. There’s also a thatched roof theme running through the estate secondary buildings from the gatelodge to cottages and contemporary houses for hire.

The parish and estate church, St Mary Magdalene, is an architectural and acoustic marvel. Again there’s a named architect and exact construction date: George Richardson, 1763. Ashlar with ashlar dressings retains the material theme but the style is high Gothick. The architect trained as a draughtsman under James Adam. Across the west end of the nave is the galleried family pew. A chimneypiece kept the chills at bay in winter.

Lord Nelson’s Prayer at Trafalgar dated 21 October 1805 is framed and nailed to a post in the nave: “May the Great God whom I serve grant to my Country, and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in anyone tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature in the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just case which is entrusted me to defend.” At the afar end of the nave, on the pulpit lectern the Bible lies open at Psalm 23.

It’s a family church. Literally. Or rather families church. Heraldic shields are displayed on the elevations between the windows and buttresses. On the long south facing nave elevation: Cave, Hill, Noel, Verney, Pedley, Faireax, Denton, Calverly, Christopher, Bennet, Bury, Brow, Folville. On the gabled east facing chancel elevation: Branchester, Bruley, Danvers, Bisett, Mosley. On the long north facing nave elevation: Brabazon, Woodfort, Burges, Fitz-Maxilion, Consull, St Hillary, Clare, Lacy, Verdon, Hauberk, Eyton, Melville, Woodville. And on the west facing towered entrance front: Roberts, Hearst, Sherard, Reeve. It is Sherard that takes pride of place: this family owned the estate for half a millennium.

But it is a servant’s gravestone which is positioned closest to the entrance pathway: “Sacred To the Memory of Mary Carnaby who departed this life the 13th Day of January 1799; aged 59 Years. The daughter of Mrs Drake of Woolsthorpe, and Granddaughter of John and Ann Peele of Cockermouth in the County of Cumberland. She was Housekeeper to the Earl of Harborough for 17 years, which employment She discharged with uprightness and fidelity, becoming the imitation of posterity. Earthly Cavern to thy keeping, We commit our Sister’s dust. Keep it safely, softly sleeping, Till our Lord demand thy trust. Erected by her Aunt Tarn of Cockermouth.” Bless Aunt Tarn.

The sense of family intensifies even more in the chancel. Facing each other are impressive monuments. In the northern recess is a memorial to the 1st Earl and Countess of Harborough (in 1719 they were upgraded from 3rd Lord and Lady Sherard by George I) and their young son (all wearing Roman clothing) in white marble by the Flemish born sculptor Michael Rysback in 1732. A Sherard family memorial predating this church occupies the southern recess: effigies of Sir William and Lady Abigail and their 11 children. An even older memorial salvaged from the demolished church on this site is a brass engraving dedicated to Geoffrey and Joan Sherard and their 14 children dated 1490 and set in the nave floor. All three memorials highlight the commonplace nature of the once infant mortality.

The inscription on the plinth of the Harborough memorial reads: “To the Memory of Bennet 1st Earl of Harborough, only surviving son and heir of Bennet Lord Sherard of Stapleford, Baron of Letrim in the Kingdom of Ireland. By Elizabeth daughter and coheir of Sir Robert Christopher of Alford in the County of Lincoln Knight. He married Mary Daughter and Coheir of Sir Henry Calverley of Ariholme in the Bishoprick of Durham Knight. By whom he had issue one son, who died an infant. He was many years to the time of his death Lord Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of the County of Rutland, Lord Warden of Justice in Eyre North of Trent. He died the 16th day of October in the year of our Lord 1732, aged 55.”

A plaque on the wall over the Sherard memorial reads: “William Lord Sherard, third Sonne of Francis Sherard Esquire, Had Issue seaven Sonnes, Bennet, Philip, George, Francis, William, Henry, John, foure Daughters, Emelin, Abigail, Anne, Elizabeth, By his Wife Abigail eldest Daughter of Cicil Cave Esquire, third Sonne of Roger Cave of Stanford, in the County of Northampton Esquire. And this hee most affectionately dedicated to his Memory for him, herselfe, and their Children.” Doesn’t “seaven” look better spelt to emphasise it rhymes with “heaven”? Another inscription is set into the plinth below: “Here lies interred the Body of Sir William Sherard, Lord Sherard Baron of Letrime in Ireland, His most singular. Piety, Bounty, Courtesy, Humanity, Hospitality, Charity, Crown’d his mortall life, which (after he had enjoyed LII years) he changed for that which is immortall, the first day of April in the yeare of our Lord God MDCXL. Whose coming he here expectes.” During our stay we come across several spellings of the Irish county of “Leitrim”.

Australian entrepreneur David Fam, CEO of Dreamr Hotels, has owned Stapleford Park since 2022 and is instilling his expertise in “wellness, healing and ancient wisdom” into the hotel. “One can roam all day, constantly finding new works of art and hidden rooms in this labyrinth of style,” wrote Luc Quisenaerts in his guide Hotel Gems in Great Britain and Ireland, 1997. We do, we do. Mary Oliver one final time, “How wonderful that the universe is beautiful in so many places and in so many ways.” We could dwell in this house forever.

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McCausland’s Hotel + Malmaison Hotel Belfast


Two decades ago Belfast’s first boutique hotel disappeared. McCausland’s – the scene of lively lunches for a few years – may be missed but thankfully from its ashes arose the phoenix that is Malmaison. But hey, halcyon days are back to stay, today’s the future’s heyday. Malmaison’s trademark extensive use of black allows the architecture to speak. And speak it does. Dropping a consonant (remember the amusing Lost Consonants cartoon in the Saturday Guardian when it used to come with a shelf load of supplements?) between editions, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society published Marcus Patton’s Central Belfast A Historical Gazetteer in 1993 and 22 years later Central Belfast An Historical Gazetteer. Going with the earlier version:

“1867 to 1868 by William Hastings with sculpture by Thomas Fitzpatrick. A pair of four storey stone warehouses built as a pair but with varied detail to suit the two clients: the rival seed merchants John Lytle and Sons and Samuel McCausland. Lytle’s warehouse has a five bay ground floor with arches springing from columns with varied capitals and standing birds at the springing of the arches; a massive rope moulding forms a cil course to the second floor windows, which are grouped as a triple light flanked by duples, with red granite colonettes and freely carved almost Celtic arches and keystones; over the third floor windows, grotesque heads with long tongues form corbels for the cornice brackets which are interspersed with strapwork panels; at the centre of the parapet is a little pediment over a crown and harp (Lytle’s trademark).”

Malmaison is really a pair of semi detached warehouses forming one architectural composition. Looking up from Victoria Street, the lefthand five bays are Lytle’s; the righthand six bays, McCausland’s. Round the corner on Marlborough Street, over a carriageway entrance into Lytle’s warehouse is a carved Chinaman stone head. Complete with coolie hat, drooping moustache and pigtail he is very Fu Manchu. An African stone head rescued from nearby demolished sugar stores forms an unusual talking piece in Malmaison reception.

But it’s McCausland’s warehouse which really goes to town, shouting out its international credentials. Peering over the top of the five ground floor piers along Victoria Street are carved stone heads placed above clusters of fruit and vegetables. They represent the five continents, a conscious and highly visible display linking this business to the great trading houses of the past, demonstrating global trading connections and pride in the Empire. Africa has wavy hair and wears earrings. Asia is turbaned. Oceania is the only female. Europe is whiskered. America wears a feathered headdress.

For two decades before McCausland’s Hotel opened, Belfast’s loudest façade almost disappeared. It was blighted as part of one of the city’s many unexecuted 20th century road widening schemes.

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Luminair Bar Double Tree by Hilton Amsterdam +

Leef Met Je Kop Omhoog

We’re knocking it out of the park with Our Tribe. Here comes Missy ridin’ that train. Such a doll. Fancy illuminating Luminair? There’ll be a bit of sport on the cards with that offer. Multiplicity for the multihyphenates. Now we’re talking. Sometimes The Weekend really is plain sailing. We’re off to the boat races.

Soon, it will all seem so long ago.

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Moville Donegal +

Mary and Music in May

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland: Parishes of County Donegal I 1833 to 1835 record, “Principal market town: the town of Bonyfoble or Moville is situated in the townland of Ballynelly. It has a market on a Thursday, chiefly for grain and potatoes, being otherwise but badly supplied. The market place is a square space walled in with lean-to open sheds on two sides and a thoroughfare opening on the road. The shops are small and bad and few of any sort. The town is nearly new and is becoming more important every year as a bathing place for the wealthier inhabitants of Derry, who resort to it during the summer months.” Moville continues to be popular as a seaside resort.

Father Eddie Gallagher, Parish Priest of St Pius X Church in the heart of the town, explains, “The tradition of dedicating the month of May to Mary came about in the 13th century. Some say it was created to replace various pagan cults. The actual reason is that this month is the time when spring is at the height of its beauty. Spring is also connected with nature renewing itself. In her way, Mary gave new life to the world when she gave birth to our saviour Jesus Christ.”

The church is an unusual building balancing its design between historicist and modernist. This landmark was the last work by the illustrious Derry City architect William O’Doherty. The severe windowless modernist monochromatic entrance front is clad in rock faced ashlar granite and randomly coursed rubblestone masonry with concrete quoins and a granite cross. The other elevations are finished in roughcast render. The large side elevation transom and mullion windows are loosely Elizabethan; the rear elevation sash windows are loosely Georgian. The dodecagonal copper clad timber lined roof lantern over the balcony seating is vaguely Victorian. A sycamore St Pius statue greets worshippers in the entrance lobby. Beyond, a Turkish delight rose and lemon hued floral arrangement in front of the altar matches the double height stained glass windows.

A few doors down from St Pius X Church is The Cosy Cottage which gets its name from a garden mural rather than the building itself. It’s a ground floor café with five guest rooms on the upper two floors of a three bay three storey gaily painted townhouse typical of the town. Owners Declan and Sadie Carey relate, “We first opened The Cosy Cottage as a café in 2003 and built up the business to add bed and breakfast and self catering accommodation just 10 years later. Friendly, welcoming, helpful and with everything from food and accommodation to adventure and exploration, that’s The Cost Cottage.” Old postcards show how little Moville has changed since Victorian times.

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Dress + Stair

A Flirtation with the Baroque

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Lord George Augustus Hill + Bunbeg Harbour Donegal

Catsup and Waistcoatings

Salmon leap where the River Clady flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s early evening in Ireland’s smallest harbour and the last of the fishermen are tying up their boats. Up on the high street, Milky Chance’s Living in A Haze is blasting from Caife Kitty’s just before closing. A winding lane connects the harbour up to the village. At the village end of the lane past the hilltop lookout tower there’s a petite Anglican church and hall on one side and a cemetery on the other. Alastair Rowan writes in his 1979 Buildings of North West Ulster, “Gweedore Parish Church: tiny tower and hall built as a dual purpose church and school in 1844. Restored as a church only in 1914, when the tower was added. Miniature two light Tudor windows in wood.” The standalone hall was built at the same time as the church restoration.

Séamus and Ann Kennedy run The Clady bed and breakfast. Like most of the buildings at the harbour, it was erected by Lord George Augustus Hill. This Anglo Irish landlord gets a mixed reception from locals to this day, from educating the populace to ripping them off with rent hikes. The Clady was the manager’s house of the adjoining store. Seamus’ family once owned the whole block. The store was sold to a hotel developer last century but nothing came of it. The grain store opposite is also a bed and breakfast. So are the former soldiers’ cottagey quarters. Another lookout tower on top of a hill overlooking the harbour has been extended to form a new house. Harry Percival Swan writes in Romantic Stories and Legends of Donegal, 1965, “’World’s smallest harbour’: this claim has been made for the small harbour of Sark, Channel Islands. But Bunbeg Harbour, Gweedore, is a toy by comparison.”

Lord Hill published a didactic travel guide in 1846: Facts from Gweedore with Useful Hints to Donegal Tourists. It contains a wealth of detail – his Lordship did the granular. “In the year 1838, and subsequently, Lord George Augustus Hill purchased small properties, situated at Gweedore, in the parish of Tullaghobegly, County Donegal, which in aggregate amounted to upwards of 23,000 acres; the number of inhabitants therein being about 3,000; nearly 700 of whom paid rent. The district extends for some miles along the northwest coast or corner of Ireland, and the scenery is of the very wildest description; the Atlantic dashing along those shores in all its magnificent freshness, whilst the harsh screeching of the sea fowl is its continual and suitable accompaniment. The coast is studded with numerous little islands, and when the ocean is up, or ruffled, it may be seen striking against opposing headlands or precipitous cliffs, with a force and effect that is grand beyond description; the waves forming into a column of foam, which is driven to immense height, and remaining visible for many seconds, until the feathered spray becomes gracefully and gradually dispersed.”

“It is now 15 years since Lord George Hill commenced the attempt to ameliorate the condition of the people of the Gweedore district; during which period he has been on the most friendly terms with them; and although the changes made upset all their ancient ways of dealing in, and parcelling out, land, they seemed, very early in the transaction, to have understood that Lord George’s object throughout, was to endeavour to put them in a way of doing better for themselves, and not with a view of taking their land from them, or driving them out of their own country. These innovations, however, alarmed the neighbourhood, and an appeal was made by a tenant to his landlord, ‘Not to bother his tenants as Lord George Hill had done!’”

“The land is never let, sold, or devised by the acre, but by a ‘cow’s grass’. This is a complement of land well understood by the people, being in fact the general standard; and they judge of the dimensions of a holding by its being to the extent, as the case may be, of one, two, or three cow’s grass, although a cow’s grass, as it varies according to the quality of the land, comprises for this reason, a rather indefinite quantity. Thus the townlands are all divided into so many cow’s grass, which of course have been cut up ad infinitum.”

“In 1839, a corn store, 84 feet long by 22 feet wide, having three lofts and a kiln, was built at the port of Bunbeg, capable of containing three or four tons of oats. A quay was formed in front of the store, at which vessels of 200 tons can load or discharge, there being 16 feet of water at the height of the tide. A market was thus established for the grain of the district, the price given for it being much the same as at Letterkenny, six and 20 miles distant. There was much difficulty in getting this store built; even the site of it had to be excavated, by blasting from the solid rock, and there were no masons or carpenters in the country capable of erecting a building of the kind.”

Lord George Augustus Hill’s store, Bunbeg, Gweedore, is now supplied with the following articles for sale at very reasonable prices: ironmongery, drugs, groceries etc. Awl blades. Beams. Bellows. Bridles. Brushes. Candlesticks. Canvas for sails. Cart chains. Combs of every kind. Delft of all description viz cups and saucers, jugs and mugs, basins, dishes, plates, pots and pans. Files of every kind. Fishing hooks. Fishing lines. Funnels. Glass viz window, looking glasses, bottles. Heel ball. Hemp. Hinges. Iron viz horse shoes, nail rod, hoop, pots and pans, kettles, saucepans. Italian irons. Knitting needles. Knives viz dinner, pocket. Leather of all kinds. Locks of all kinds. Nails of all kinds. Oakum. Plaster of Paris. Pickles. Raisins. Rice. Rhubarb. Redwood. Rotten stone. Resin. Slates in variety. Sugar viz moist, loaf, candy, barley. Molasses. Manna. Nutmeg. Oils viz boiled, raw, sperm, castor. Ointment. Paints viz black, white, green, red. Pitch. Pepper viz cayenne, black, white. Plasters viz blistering, adhesive, diachylon, cantharides. Salt. Saltpetre. Senna. Shumac. Spermaceti. Spirits of hartshorn. Spirits of turpentine. Sulphur. Tar. Teas viz bohea, congou, hyson. Treacle. Turmeric. Umber. Varnish. Vinegar. Whiting. Barley. Scotch. Biscuits. Coffee. Flour viz American, Sligo. Split peas. Bath brick. Blacking. Blue stone. Candles. Congreve matches. Soap. Soda. Starch. Mustard. Tobacco of all kinds. Tobacco pipes. Servant’s friend. Account books. Children’s books. India rubber. Ink. Lead pencils. Sealing wax. Writing paper. Wafers. Reaping hooks. Ropes, new and old. Sandpaper. Shoes. Shoe heels. Shoe hairs. Shovels and spades. Shot. Spouting. Timber. Wheelbarrows. Allspice. Alum. Arrow root. Bitter aloes. Brimstone. Camphor. Carraway seeds. Cassia liquor. Catsup. Cinnamon. Cloves. Comfits. Copperas. Cream of tartar. Epsom salts. Fuller’s Earth. Fustic. Ginger. Glue. Indigo. Madder. Lozenges viz peppermint, cinnamon. Liquorice. Logwood. Blacklead. Lampblack. Lint. Meal. Woollen and drapery goods viz rugs, quilts, sheets, drawers, flannels. Calicos plain and printed. Moleskins. Fustians. Cords. Chambray. Checks. Shirting. Merinos. Orleans cloth. Jeans. Handkerchiefs. Muslins. Shawls. Laces. Ribbons. Hats. Caps. Pilot cloths. Waistcoatings. Stocks. Unions. Cravats. Bodkins. Tapes. Threads. Pins and needles. Cottons. Buttons. Twist. Sewing silk. Spools. Pipings. Stay laces. Scissors. Thimbles. Knives.”

On a wall in the staircase lobby of The Clady is a framed 2018 article from The Guardian newspaper by the late great journalist Henry McDonald. “Mornings in Donegal can be so beautiful they take the breath away. National Geographic Traveller concluded at the start of December that Donegal was the ‘coolest place on the planet’ to visit. The magazine predicted big things for a county often overshadowed by better known counties such as Kerry, and cities such as Dublin. 10 miles west of Killybegs – on the Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal strip that runs for 1,600 miles along Ireland’s western seaboard – the narrow coast road passes homes where sheep wander into front gardens. There are stunning vistas of rugged, bucolic coastal inlets. In the 6th century, Irish monks sailed from here to take Christianity to Iceland.” Donegal continues to inspire writers down the ages. And disco boys too.

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Bunbeg Beach Donegal + Sunset

The End of Day at Magheraclogher Bay

Thinker John Mack begs this question: “One may enjoy the beach from one of three positions: feet dry on the shore, where one observes the ocean’s current; standing in the water, where one feels the current’s tug; floating in the water, where one is oblivious to the current. Given today’s currents, where might you be positioned with regard to see level?” Overlooked by a deserted hotel, the wreckage of a boat on the neverending golden strand of Bunbeg is like a beached whale carcass one moment, a drowned one the next. Fast waters. The sea level is deep. So is the Mackian see level. Soon it will be time to meet on that beautiful shore.

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Perambulation + Rocksalt Restaurant Folkestone Kent

Sans Sourcil

It all started with St Eanswythe, daughter of Eadbald King of Kent, founding a nunnery on the white cliffs headland in the second half of the 7th century. Folkstone was granted a Charter of Incorporation in 1313 although it was never one of the Cinque Ports of the south coast. This is a potted history and random tour of the town informed by the perambulation down from Folkestone West railway station to Rocksalt restaurant overlooking the harbour for lunch, taking in the air and the sights and the food and the wine. Pevsner Guide in hand. Salty samphire and seaweed butter to come.

The Parish Church is dedicated to two female saints: St Mary and St Eanswythe. This millennium old place of worship forms a focal point for the old town and adjoining artists’ quarter slipping down to the sea. The hidden relics of St Eanswythe were discovered in 1885 when masons were preparing the sanctuary wall for alabaster arcading. The Prayer for the Feast Day of the saintly princess is, “Almighty God, the source of all holiness and the author of all charity; grant that we may so follow the footsteps of blessed Eanswythe, our patron; that encouraged by her example and strengthened by her prayers we may ever show forth the same spirit of holiness and love, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rendezvous Street is a nod across the Channel although being Franglais doesn’t go the whole hog, not le cochon entier, like say