Sunday, October 31, 2010

Harry Potter Tour!

Just in case you aren't sick of my Harry Potter posts yet...

This afternoon our junior dean (i.e., R.A.) took a group of us out on a Harry Potter tour around Oxford, checking out many of the places used as sets in the movies - complete with Harry Potter trivia and plenty of chatter about the upcoming movie! How nerdy... and too fun!

Here's a sampling of "Harry-Potter-in-real-life" photos. (And, as a side note, I did not make it to Corpus's Harry Potter-themed formal hall on Friday; it ended up oversubscribed. So sad.)

Courtyard, New College - where Mad-Eye Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret in film #4

The Divinity Schools - aka Hogwarts infirmary

Corridors, Christ Church College - or, the hallways where Harry and his friends prowl

Great staircase, Christ Church - or one of the Hogwarts staircases (notably where Hermione descends for the Yule Ball in film #4)

The same staircase, looking down in a different direction - so Hogwarts!

Christ Church College Hall - aka the Great Hall

Chapel, New College - with the kinds of cloisters used for some classroom scenes

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween, Stanford-in-Oxford Style!

Some festive pumpkin carving and cookie and pie baking/munching certainly breaks up the tedium of studying.

And check out that jack o'lantern with the Stanford "S"! (Mine is the one on the left, inspired by Oxford towers.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Blenheim Palace

After a week chock-full of reading and studying, this morning I headed out with a group of other Stanford students for a well-deserved break - Blenheim Palace! This famous manor house (where Winston Churchill was born, among other things) is only half an hour's drive from Oxford, and is probably one of the most stunning estates I've seen so far in England.

The inventiveness of some of the exterior architecture, combined with the unique Baroque elements inside, all made Blenheim enthralling. The state rooms were very lavish, almost French. In particular, the grand library (thousands of bookshelves on two levels across a sprawling room with sofas and a piano) had me wringing my hands in longing. I only regret that Blenheim is one of those places that prohibits photography inside.

And - wow - the grounds were spectacular. Over three thousand acres in all, I think, all of it immaculately planned and groomed and manicured. The fall colors have gotten more and more gorgeous here, brilliant reds and oranges and yellows springing out from amidst the green. Our walk through the gardens and beside the lake was picturesque.

So am I tired of these English manors and estates yet? Nope!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Darkest Secret... that I cannot lipread in the dark. (Okay, so this isn't true deep-dark-secret material, but it's still a valid point.) Moving rowing practice back half an hour, so that it's almost pitch-black outside and I can't see the cox at the onset, is a major, MAJOR no-no. Fortunately the time changes this weekend, which might make my life a bit easier.

Also fortunately, the cox is starting to figure me out. She doesn't sign anything (and doesn't seem interested in learning, pffft), but certain meaningful gestures at pivotal times help a lot. Not that rowing terminology is that hard - oars flat, oars ready, stroke, easy there. It's all repetition and rhythm. And when the weather's not freezing cold, which it is more often than not, feeling the boat glide through the water, powered by our strokes, does get rather fun.

Today's random photo: courtyard at Magdalen College. I love all these magical old buildings. Though of course walking on the grass is prohibited - Oxford gets the prize for super-over-the-top grass protectiveness.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ben's Cookies and Other Munchies

To show that not all British food is awful, I give you Ben's Cookies! These legendary Oxford staples can be found in the Covered Market on the High Street, where (believe me) their sweet smell wafts out to tempt all passersby. They're especially amazing when they're warm and gooey out of the oven - yum!

Really, British food isn't terrible - just bland. And overly dependent on certain food staples. Like "chips" (french fries), which I swear the Brits are even more obsessed with than American fast-food chains. And strange pies and so-called puddings (not all of which resemble desserts). And things made out of potatoes. And gravy. It's all a bit too heavy and unvarying for me at this point, which is why I've branched out into cooking for myself most of the time - when I'm not out grabbing cheap paninis and different ethnic foods, that is. Cooking, I find, is a good way for me to unwind, forget my schoolwork, and bond with other Stanford house residents. It's true that the fastest way to the heart is through the stomach, especially where baking is concerned... I do like British sweets, though, for the most part. As well as the tea! Afternoon tea every day at my affiliated college is simply lovely (or splendid? or scrumptious? or what British-sounding word should I use?).

As another aside on the topic of food, I went to my first Oxford formal hall this past Sunday night - partially out of curiosity about the tradition, partially out of hopes that the food would be better. It was, but only slightly. (Lamb? Ehhhh, come on.) By far the most interesting part was the ambiance. I shuffled in with three fellow American students, all of us acutely aware that next to the Oxonians in their formal school robes we were painfully underdressed. Fine dinnerware had been laid out across the tables, and the lamps had been replaced by candles - both of which made the hall even more Harry Potter-esque than usual. As per tradition, we all stood before our seats, glancing awkwardly around until silence fell and the college president and the professors, also decked out in fine robes, filed in to sit at the high table at the head of the hall. Then the college choir sang and we sat down to enjoy our three-course meal. At the end, sudden silence again - conversation fell short as all the students stood and the occupants of the high table got up and filed out of the hall. It all felt so timeless, so... Oxford.

And in honor of Halloween, this Friday's formal hall at Corpus is set to be Harry Potter-themed! So expect a nerdy post on that in a few days' time...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Small Sampling from Tate Modern

I spent several hours yesterday afternoon at Tate Modern, London's gallery of modern art. Many works were, well, radically modern. They challenged my perception of what art could be, sometimes raising such strong feelings as infatuation or disgust. I just regret that I didn't get photos of the Dalis/Pollocks/Picassos!

Borrowing from everyday objects - some other works did this to much more extreme effect

This one made me feel sick in person - a little less so in photograph

A horse? It was very abstract, very futurist and mechanical-looking, but I liked it

Meditation on portraiture in an irreverently cow-wallpapered room

Saturday, October 23, 2010


View from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich - wow!
I feel like I've been to a cornerstone of the modern world: Greenwich, England. I still remember sitting in science class (in eighth grade, I think it was) learning about the prime meridian and being told that Greenwich was pronounced "Grenich," not "Green-witch." How fantastically strange, then, to see it with my own eyes, and to stand on the spot of the prime meridian itself.

 I ended up in Greenwich for an architecture class field trip, during which we saw several famous examples of 17th-century buildings designed by such architects as Inigo Jones,
One of the stargazing rooms and old telescopes
Christopher Wren, and John Webb, including the Queen's House and the former palace and sailors' quarters (now a naval school). But the highlight of the trip by far was the Royal Observatory. After class was adjourned, I went with a group of people up a hill to see the building, which was pivotal in the development of accurate star charts used for navigation - and which is also the site of the prime meridian, or 0 degrees longitude. It has since been turned into a museum, which in its displays of telescopes, maps, and intricate old clocks (designed with the aim of keeping accurate time with Greenwich Mean Time, which would assist in mapping one's exact coordinates while at sea) had me fascinated. Granted, I love old clocks already, but here I really got the feel of a challenging but exciting time in history, in which shipping, travel, and exploration all exploded and changed the world. (Some big names here too - Richard Halley and Sir Isaac Newton among them.)

After visiting the Royal Observatory, we did some window shopping and eating in Greenwich and then London before heading to see a play in the evening. It was called The Woman in Black and was very well done, with innovative uses of the stage and light and sound effects, but also rather scary. (Suffice it to say, I did not scream like some others in the audience did!)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Tutorial: Check

Today marks my true initiation into Oxford studenthood: I had my first tutorial paper this afternoon. Now, the tutorial system is the cornerstone of an Oxford education. Each week, students read, digest, and research an astonishing amount of material, then produce a polished 8- to 10-page essay on their chosen topic of study. While writing my paper I realized what a challenge this was! After spending a ridiculous number of hours composing and revising, I was beginning to feel like my argument wasn't that good, and was expecting my don to rip me apart.

What actually happened was quite refreshing. We both sat down, I handed her a copy of the paper, and she proceeded to read it aloud, pausing once in a while to make margin notes that I at the time found ominous. Having my labors presented and taken so seriously was both gratifying and intimidating.

Then we talked. I had expected her to pick apart the paper, to critique its flow and logic, and other writer-ly things. But, instead, she asked me questions - not just about what I'd written, but questions of greater philosophical import, launching from the ideas I'd developed in the paper into deeper theoretical conversation. It was literally a reenactment of the Socratic method. Some of her questions were almost too enormous for me to answer, both regarding the novel and my own personal experience: "How do social situations influence how we think and act?" "How can marriage be a moral choice?" With each one, I was uncomfortably aware of her eyes on me, waiting for me to articulate an intelligent answer. I was on the spot, expected to defend and elaborate on my stances, as well as raise new ideas. But she gave me her own insights in return, raising some striking ideas I'd never thought of before. I think it was the most intellectually stimulating conversation I've had on a book in a long time. On to next week!

And photo of the day: deer park at Magdalen College! (Yes, seriously - deer park. My affiliated college at Oxford, Corpus Christi, isn't nearly as expansive.) I've never seen this many deer all at once in my life.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Take It From Elizabeth

"What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing. We will know where we have gone - we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers, shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarreling about is relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers."

- Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Holed up in the library, grinding out my tutorial paper for the week, this seemed a particularly admirable way of expressing the vividness I'd like to achieve in my own travels. Even if I am spending rather too much time with Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy as of today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fields, Ponies, and My Lack of Hand-Eye Coordination

Steering a thousand-pound animal galloping full tilt toward a tiny ball on the ground, then swinging your arm to send it flying with a stick... Okay, so this wasn't exactly my level of expertise this afternoon, during my first time playing polo. I didn't gallop - at the most, I trotted, only to double back when the mighty slash of my mallet... connected only with the air. The whole time I kept worrying I would whomp my pony's head by accident. But it was still so fun! And the best part: I have now ridden a horse in England!

As different as polo felt from my usual equestrian bent, it was still a horse under me, and I could still gaze around to see the gorgeous scenery of the English countryside. The field where we practiced was massive, lined with hills and trees, and trotting around it to warm up I felt an overwhelming sense of content in being back in the saddle. Even if the skies opened and drenched all of us on the field, soaking through my breeches and matting the hair on the ponies' necks (ah, typical British weather). Hitting balls while on horseback was an interesting new challenge - I've never been known for my hand-eye coordination. My aim did improve by the end, and thankfully everyone that went out today was a total novice too, so we could all learn together. I kept marveling at both the cleverness and the patience of my pony: he would automatically make a beeline for any ball within twenty feet, and he put up with my erratic mallet-wielding skills. The silly human notions that horses tolerate.

I'd say more polo is in the cards for me, if it works out for my schedule. Hooray!

The best part - horses!!

Monday, October 18, 2010


Corpus Christi rowing, day one. Seven a.m. meeting time - gah, is it cold out. But the water is still and the morning is quiet.

Some hiccups, yes. Being a totally inexperienced rower in a boat of other totally inexperienced rowers, and feeling ourselves rock from side to side, our oars splayed. The oddity of being completely deaf out on the water and having to lipread the cox - fortunately they've put me in the stroke seat. Trying to figure out how the heck to work this oar.

But yet... The sun rising over the water. Joggers by the river, other rowers streaking by, the ubiquitous ducks watching. And, most wonderfully, the feeling of my body straining and pulling and building heat, from my legs all the way through my core to my shoulders and arms. That sensation of rhythm and tautness and muscle, even if it's not too well-coordinated yet. All of these make the early wake-up call worthwhile.

And no blisters... yet!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Putting the "Bridge" in "Oxbridge"

Yesterday I decided to get out of Oxford and travel to see its sister school (and, yes, friendly rival) Cambridge for the day. It ended up being a whirlwind trip (what with a three-hour bus ride each way and needing to be back early to do something for rowing), but well worth it.

"What is there to do in Cambridge?" a few people asked me upon hearing of my plans. "Isn't it just like Oxford?" Well, I wanted to say, isn't it worth visiting anyway? Just to have been there? And, I found, Cambridge isn't just like Oxford. Not exactly. Yes, in many ways the two universities are strikingly similar. Both operate under the system of many autonomous colleges within a single city, all with their own quadrangles and libraries and chapels. Much of the architecture is similar, with castle-like or Gothic buildings of stone, elaborate gates and gargoyles, and beautiful gardens and parks. Even the cities themselves feel alike, a mix of old streets and new shops and bustling crowds.

Yet - Cambridge gave me an entirely different vibe. In some ways, I think I liked it better. Its parks and open spaces were more incorporated into the city, and the sights alongside the river (with its many bridges and punters) were more stunning than those in Oxford. Also, it's a slightly younger university, so some of the buildings were more modern - that is, modern in the sense of 16th, 17th, and 18th century architecture (in addition to the medieval). Finally, the fact that there weren't many buses swerving down the narrow roads, and that many streets were completely closed to cars, made it a more pleasurable place to walk. There are some other subtle differences, too, that I can't quite put my finger on.

All in all, I wished I could have stayed longer, seen more colleges and maybe taken a walk by the water. But at least I have now experienced Oxbridge!

One of the many gorgeous bridges. Pictures don't do this place justice.

The beautiful architecture of Trinity College. There was sun! (after a torrential rainstorm at lunchtime)

King's College and chapel from the outside - with cows. How pastoral.

Inside King's Chapel. The screen and fan were stunning. Yes, I know - haven't I seen enough chapels/churches/cathedrals here already? 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Week One

The Oxford term officially started this week. Which means that, after two weeks of traipsing around the city streets and going fun places and snapping photos like a tourist, I'm finally settling down into some real work. (Oh yeah, coming to Oxford isn't exactly a vacation...)

My Stanford classes are in full gear with papers due already, as well as some pretty heavy reading. I had my first tutorial yesterday, in which we sat down and mapped out my readings for the remaining seven weeks. I'm lucky in this regard - lots of other students are already drowning in their tutorial work, with lengthy papers being assigned ahead of time. (With strange, seemingly inexhaustible general philosophical prompts like "Do human rights exist?" and "What is creativity?")

Still, my readings for my tutorial, on the 19th-century British novel, have involved lots of secondary sources, which results in me hunkering down in the library surrounded by stacks of books. Even though these books are only "recommended," I feel like I need the broader perspective they offer - and find them interesting besides!

Starting the Oxford term has brought about work of a different sort: that is, deciding which Oxford activities to get involved in. Last week was orientation week for the Oxford freshmen ("freshers"), and the Stanford students took advantage of the activities fair ("freshers' fair") that took place Wednesday through Friday. This was like the Stanford activities fair on steroids. It was almost too much for me: crowded booths, visual overstimulation, enthusiastic (slash aggressive) Oxford students jumping out with sales pitches for their clubs. Interesting but random activities aside (archery, outdoors club, wine tasting club, range shooting) I've narrowed my interest down to three candidates: rowing, riding, and polo. Or maybe even some combination of the above. It'll be nice to get out and get physical again. Not to mention see a horse, hopefully!

My slightly alarming busy-ness aside, here's the random photo of the day, from Oxford's University Parks - England can be stunning when it's sunny!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

York Part IV: Rievaulx

Our last stop on the Bing trip was Rievaulx Abbey, a stunning twelfth-century abbey that fell into ruin after Henry VIII dissolved it in 1538, upon becoming head of the English church and expelling all Catholic monks. Basically because he wanted to divorce his wives. (I keep seeing the physical consequences of the oddities of English history.)

So what's so special about a ruin? Well, let me tell you.

After only a 30-minute drive from Castle Howard, through which we saw some gorgeous English pastureland dotted with cows/sheep/horses, we arrived at a terrace where, after a short walk through some misty and beautiful woods, we could gaze down the hills and see the abbey's crumbling walls silhouetted against the countryside. This terrace was physically constructed as a manicured walk on which the gentry could look down at the abbey for inspiration. It was capped by two Ionic temples, both of which were used for (yet more) banqueting and guest-entertaining. Apparently the late 18th-century Brits liked to incorporate medieval ruins into their gardens, in order to capture a sense of the Gothic/picturesque/sublime. They'd even import ruins from another part of England, or reconstruct them, in order to attain the precise landscape they wanted.

Rievaulx, of course, is original (even if the garden high above it was contrived around its existence), and half an hour later we drove the short distance down to the abbey itself. There was no official tour, and so for an hour we were free to explore the crumbling walls, stunted pillars, and empty windowframes, climbing and snapping photos and feeling rather like kids on a giant stone playground. Many of the abbey walls were still intact, though in varying states of ruin, and some of the spectacular Gothic arches still stand, open to the heavens like an organic skeleton from the medieval world. A crowd of pigeons had nested atop the main framework of the cathedral, grass grew all around the ruins, some plants had poked out of cracks in high-up stone walls. Nature was taking back what man had made.

Especially after seeing York Minster, constructed in a similar style, I kept thinking of what the abbey must have looked like back before it was abandoned. It must have been spectacular. I felt it capturing my imagination and my wonder, as it must have done for the generations of British gentry that visited it. I found myself gazing up at its walls, pondering the ingenuity and the history of man, the forces of nature, and the inevitable march of time.

For this reason, in a way I found Rievaulx the most striking destination on our trip. I suddenly understand the Gothic and the picturesque (both of which have worked themselves into literary history) much more clearly...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

York Part III: Castle Howard

On Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel (in which I thoroughly pigged out on sausages and ham), we set off a little northeast of York for Castle Howard. This magnificent palace, built for the prominent Howard family in the 18th century, is set between two lakes, both of them man-made, but still beautiful. As we entered the extensive grounds, gazing across the lake to the grand house on a hillside, I think we all had a feeling of "wow." The weather was overcast and a bit misty and cool - typical English weather - but that didn't stop the lawns from sparkling, stretching out all around us.

After a stroll around the house, during which we assessed its architecture and imposing exterior, we set off along the lake at its rear, strolling on a beautiful manicured path flanked by Greek statues. The water was still and dotted with ducks, and soon we reached a little hill capped by an Ionic temple, in which the estate occupants used to have a spot of tea after a brisk walk over the grounds - talk about lavish! The temple, stoic and beautifully proportioned, was surrounded by a field of grazing cows, beyond which was another hill on which stood the family mausoleum. Our professor explained that the 18th-century Europeans were captivated by the scenic picturesque, and indeed this was an idyllic scene: classical architecture, with pastoral cows nearby, a bridge arching across a winding river, the mausoleum lingering behind trees and towering against the sky. Basically, this was a form of living, breathing, outdoor artwork, intended to inspire certain feelings in anyone who witnessed it. There's a reason the estate was designed and laid out as it was: to promote a picturesque aesthetic. And indeed, it was stunning.

After tramping through wet grass, passing right by some cute woolly black cows, including a massive bull who paid us no mind, we found ourselves at the mausoleum, beyond which we could gaze and see, for the first time, the full stretch of the walk we'd just taken, from the cows and Greek temple, then across the lake and back to Castle Howard itself. The pictures don't do the impact of this place justice. It was a view I could have contemplated for a while, probably one of the most grand I've seen so far in England, but soon enough we took the walk back to explore the interior of the house.

Now, this house was the complete opposite of Hardwick Hall. Open, airy, and filled with classical marble busts and colorful portraits and fresher landscape artwork, it reminded several of us of Mr. Darcy's Pemberley estate in Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, this was my first impression upon entering the house (I know, total English-lit nerd), and I wandered its halls dwelling on the descriptions and incidents from that novel. The house was lavish, sure, but in a transfixing and well-considered way. Most stunning of all was the dome in its center, flanked with dozens of Corinthian columns and lined with windows through which we could look out at the lake, garden, and distant hills. I can't say how much I loved this house and its spacious interior, which made me want to sit and read a novel or perhaps sit down at the grand piano, or just gaze outside for hours. Much different than the stuffy claustrophobia I felt at Hardwick!

One last detail: inside the house we found a painting of the grounds almost as we'd seen them from the mausoleum, framed after the fashion of a neo-classical picturesque painting. Talk about being idealistic in designing your estate! (These old-time British lords had too much time and too much money.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

York Part II: York and York Minster

After leaving Hardwick Hall just after lunch on Friday, we rode the bus up to the city of York itself. There, we all disembarked and walked as a group to York Minster - formally the Cathedral and Church of Saint Peter in York or something, but whatever, no one calls it that.

I've seen a lot of cathedrals since coming to Europe, but York Minster is one of my favorites so far. It's constructed in a Gothic style that reminded me of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, with its looming bell towers and ribbed ceilings inside, but it had a much brighter, airier feel - not nearly so shadowy. While it wasn't stunning in the same grand, soaring way as St. Paul's in London, the architecture was still intricately worked and beautiful. Unlike some other Gothic buildings, this one was accented with color and detail everywhere, from its ceilings to its floors and the memorials along the walls. I fell in love with one stained-glass window in particular, a complex and abstract mosaic of different-colored panes, a very divergent (and, apparently, short-lived) alternative to the "picture window" that was common at the time and for centuries after. Our tour guide told us that most onlookers tend to either love or hate this window - but what was there to hate? It was gorgeous!

Speaking of that tour guide, he was excellent, telling us many quirky/funny stories about the cathedral itself, the architecture and artwork we saw inside, and the people who have been part of the Minster's history. Apparently the cathedral has had an extensive record of fires and other disasters - I couldn't tell, it's been so well restored over the years. After our tour, we descended to the crypt below the main cathedral floor, where we found a fascinating display of excavated foundations and artifacts from Roman and Norman ruins. The place where York Minster now stands started first as a Roman basilica, then a Norman chapel, before being built in its current structure around the 13th century. Such an intriguing overlap of different eras.

It was about 4pm when we left the Minster, after which we headed out for a brisk walk around York's amazingly well-preserved medieval city walls. On top of the walls, behind the turrets, I felt like I was a sentry on duty! Plus the views back at the Minster, which towers over the whole city, and at the other historic buildings throughout, were wonderful. Especially with the fall colors bursting out on the trees.

Rounds on the fortress walls over, we wandered the city a bit, seeing old brick and Tudor-style buildings revamped to host more modern shops and restaurants, before heading back to the hotel for a buffet dinner and some R&R. Highlight of the York streets: the Shambles, a famous medieval street where the cramped buildings lean and (seemingly) almost tumble in on top of each other. It's where Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies was filmed. (I keep seeing so many Harry Potter places here in the UK... too fun!)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

York Part I: Hardwick Hall

Well, our Bing Grant trip took place this past Friday and Saturday, to York in northern England. For those non-Stanford people reading this, the Stanford Overseas Program is sponsored by Peter and Helen Bing, a generous couple who have endowed money for students from each overseas campus to participate in spectacular sightseeing, cultural trips, dinners, and other events - most notably the once-a-quarter Bing trip, an overnight foray to a place of interest within the host country.

There's no other word for it: our time in York was spectacular. I'm too tired to try and consolidate the jam-packed two days into a single post, so I'll break it down into a series of smaller entries. That way I'll also do the weekend a bit more justice!

After setting out early Friday morning from Oxford (I'm a morning person so the 8am departure time wasn't bad, but nearly everyone else was staggering), our first stop was Hardwick Hall, a great Elizabethan house in Derbyshire. In short, it was built by Robert Smythson for Bess of Hardwick, an obscenely wealthy lady who expected her granddaughter to ascend to the throne once Queen Elizabeth died - something which never happened, but which nevertheless drove Bess to build a house suitable for royalty and general swaggering. (The uses that rich people come up with for their money: this is a theme I'll return to.)

The house is huge, with towers at its forefront intended to invoke memories of a castle, each of them ornately worked with Bess's initials. Inside, it is filled with old paintings and tapestries that, I thought, gave it a dark and slightly medieval feel, even though the style is in accordance with the 16th century. The staircases are made of heavy, rounding stone slabs, and the walls (where not covered with musty, faded tapestries) are worked with family crests and crudely classical plaster scenes. Some of the pieces of furniture are beautiful, ornately carved wooden tables and chairs, and the great gallery on the second floor seems a breath away from guests and dancing. But, although the windows grant a pleasing view down onto the estate (including Bess's second manor house, now a ruin, nearby), the gardens, and the rolling green hills beyond, I found its interior oppressive - even though Bess Hardwick meant to impress. Overwhelm is more like it. Apparently the house was last inhabited by a solitary female heir in the 1930s, and I shuddered to think of how she must have felt, wandering those great empty halls and dark chambers alone. Intended royalty aside, this house was too dense, too much for me, and I left it relieved to breathe the fresh air outside.

But still, what an interesting insight into the lifestyle and pretensions of the time. The Elizabethan era was known for its frills and its grandeur - something which shows through even in the language and extended metaphors of Shakespeare. Hmm, this is something I'll have to contemplate...