Yesterday, May 29th, 2013, my friend and I visited the home of Lord Byron, Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. It was a rainy, cold day and quite frankly, I was not dressed for it. I had only barely remembered to ask my friend to grab the umbrella as we left the dorm. The trip to Nottinghamshire by rail is costly and long, but worth it. The english countryside is magnificent; full of rolling hills, villages, rivers, farms, and open land as far as the eye can see. The city of Nottingham when it comes up is a city that appears to be built on a hill with a large cathedral in the middle and a castle to boot. Indeed, I couldn’t help but smile at my memories of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland that had made up my childhood. We didn’t stick around much, though, because we had come this far-two hours and thirty minutes-and the journey to Newstead wasn’t over yet. We had to then find the bus station from the railway, was simply another adventure and guessing game, as I am no where near accustomed to looking for small signs on buildings to tell me what street I’m on. My friend was able to manage there, though and to revel in the cheaper prices in food and alcohol as compared to that of London. I, on the other, loved the different accents that I heard here. I also appreciated the ‘small town’ feel, though I suppose Nottingham is hardly a small town now is it?
We got to the bus station via a mall (to my friend’s great pleasure) and later, when I was in a better mood, to my own amusement. Apparently, England has the same issue of scene and emo children gathering in the malls! a little reminder of home. The bus came quickly when we found it and we drove through the city littered with countless references to Robin Hood and Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, lovely tudor style homes, trees in abundance and simply the people. It was another fifteen minute drive and I requested that the bus driver inform me when we had arrived, as I did not wish to push the button too soon or too late. He was happy to oblige and extraordinarily helpful. Everyone has been thus far, and it’s utterly wonderful for someone who feels like such a hinderance BECAUSE I’m a tourist. I hate feeling like I might be a nuisance!
The adventure properly started when we walked past the gates leading up to the Abbey and were greeted by a man in the patrol booth. He had a marvelous Nottinghamshire accent, and a quirky yet kind way about him. Entrance cost 1 pound for those who were walking, so two pounds altogether for the two of us. He could not offer us any tickets because he was all out and from what I gathered from his difficult to understand speech, it was unnecessary anyway. No one would question us. He turned out to be right, later. We then began our treck up the woodland road to Newstead. Straight from the beginning we got a sense that this house might be a little unusual, a little apt for the Romantic poet. On our first left there was a closed gate that lead straight into Newstead, but of course-that was far too simple. The next left lead into a woodland path. No…not a woodland path-a WOODLAND path. Like a low tunnel of broken and leaning trees that protected you from the rain and yet filled you with a sense of mystery in the rain and cold. It was a sudden turn, too, carved right out of the green and trees, and it was quite long, actually, strangely long. Perhaps eight minutes were spent following the path inside this magnificent, mysterious path, where we felt that thrill of a gothic romantic story that only grew as the day went on. Tree’s pulled up from the roots, twisty branches, mud-lots of mud, green and little flowers. We literally stumbled out of the path, ‘I’ tripped and nearly fell onto the main road (I’m looking at you, leiniquitousmalefactor, this definetly happened because you suggested I stumble out of the woods like Heathcliff.) The road itself was even LONGER. Perhaps it took another twenty-twenty five minutes of walking to get to Newstead and we only got there through a fair share of guessing of where to turn and working out what one path was from another.
Our arrival felt sudden and the first thing we saw was a church with a courtyard inside that billowed smoke from something or other (nothing dangerous) and then a large lake with geese gathering outside. It was utterly magnificent and quiet and informal, on the wall of the church stood a peacock. A PEACOCK. It was just casually chilling on the wall! and later, another was to be found just strolling about squaking at us about the rain and the cold and we could only remind the fellow he was in England. I loved the many noises of nature and birds we only added to the atmosphere and the fact that animals and people were allowed to roam as they pleased. The Abbey itself was large, but not quite imposing, yet it was easy to see how legends may have cropped up about it being haunted…that gothic feel of being stuck in a Bronte novel never seemed to go away, especially in the rain and the cold. The house itself is closed on weekdays, which was a pretty serious disappointment as we had come all this way and spent so much, and I’d advise anyone else hoping to visit to make sure you remember to visit on the weekends to experience the house AND the gardens. Still, we made the best of it. We had the gardens all to ourselves and they were filled with niches and small gates and shrubbery and natural pathways. They were utterly beautiful, even in the bad weather and it was all tasteful and not extravagant.
By the time we got to this hidden lake, both of us were soaked to the core and I had given up taking pictures myself. My fingers were simply too cold and with my reynauds, my circulation gets thrown off. This meant that my friend had to huddle me up under her umbrella and we giggled and stumbled and made jokes and it turned out that this trip was exactly what we needed after the tension of three days of growing frustration and irritation. We sat together under a little wooden hut, etched with couples names in hearts (how fitting for a location in Byron’s home) and watched the rain pour down on the lake as geese played.
The walk back was one of drowning in mud and dirt and water and by the time we managed to get past the gates (after a proper wave goodbye to the gentleman from earlier) and home at 9:30 PM, we had to admit. It was just the adventure we needed.
The place is absolutely magnificent and I can’t properly describe it to you. It gives you that feel, as I’ve repeated countless times, that seems so suitable to Byron. Of tragedy and drama, of tasteful class, of romance and beauty and wildness. You can find boatswains monument as well as wandering peacocks and cries of birds that are quite unfamiliar to me, and winding paths, and niches, and gates blocked off by fallen trees and sometimes, when you look up at a window covered by drapery…you wonder if perhaps it’s Heathcliff or Rochester or Byron himself looking down on you.