Young Days at Newstead Abbey
I do quite a lot of walking in my locality here in Nottinghamshire. I’m fortunate in that living in a suburb to the north of the city, the countryside is easily accessible to me. To the north of where I live much of that countryside is covered by several old woodlands, doubtless remnants in many cases of the original Sherwood Forest. These number the remaining few hundred acres of Sherwood Forest itself, Sherwood Pines. Clipstone Woods. Bestwood and others. They’re all lovely places to visit. Much nearer than most of them however, practically ‘on my doorstep’ at just five miles of so up the road stands the wonderful Newstead Abbey with it’s main drive heading through it’s stately gates on the A60 Nottingham to Mansfield Road at Ravenshead.
Whenever I pass through the Abbey’s grounds these days my thoughts invariably go back to Sunday visits as a youngster with my family. We all have our bouts of rose-tinted recall but my memories only stretch as far as the sunny days we invariably spent there in the environs of Lord Byron’s ancestral pile. After gaining the bus up the ‘Ramper’ as it used to be termed along the A60 main road travelling to Mansfield, the single-decker Trent bus would take a detour along the long main drive and up to Newstead Abbey lakeside and drop us among the throng enjoying a day out.
My thought were invariably drawn towards fish – the catching of them that is. Armed with a sixpenny fishing net on a bamboo cane and a jam jar on a string full of pond water ready for my prey I’d venture towards the little river running peacefully through the grounds – peaceful that is apart from four hundred kids paddling in the shallow waters. minnows were fine but those tricky sticklebacks were the main prize.
Newstead Abbey boasts fine Japanese gardens to this day. As a child I was absolutely fascinated by them with their twists and turns, caves and particularly the series of stepping stones through the shallow ponds and streams flowing through the exotic plants. Truly to young eyes this was an amazing place though I’m sure the average youngster these days would perhaps not be as taken aback as I once was.
Once in a while we would take the tour through the old Abbey itself. Being the inherited home of the romantic poet Lord George Gordon Byron, it was always special to be with mum in there as her great uncle Sylvester had been one of the small band of people to enter Byron’s crypt in St Mary’s Church in Hucknall Torkard, her home town to exhume the body. That was way back in 1938 but mum was especially proud of this and also the fact that the great poet was buried in the church she attended as a child in the market place just around the corner from her home. It wasn’t ever unusual to see my mum surrounded by a group of American tourists in the Abbey recounting tales of the great man.
Another source of some wonder to me were the various follies situated around the main lake. These small and strange buildings with their mock battlements were erected by a former Lord Byron who would use the lake to stage mock ‘sea’ battles!
I was always fascinated by the Monk’s Waterfall which lays at the end of the lake. Water runs over a small building with two or three chambers inside. We would step into the small ‘rooms’ with a large torrent of water over our heads.
There were always tales of ghost of course, of which Newstead Abbey was reputed to have many. The most notorious was undoubtedly ‘The Lady of the Lake’ and in my childish imagination I would ‘see’ her gliding across the lake in the silvery moonlight. It was easy to exercise your imagination in Newstead Abbey.
All too soon it would be time to join the queue to catch the bus home. the Eagle Pond had been visited, Boatswain, Lord Byron’s faithful Newfoundlander dog’s grave pondered over and a game of hide and seek in the Fern Garden completed. The sticklebacks had been thrown back to live another day and I never wanted to go home. There would always be another sunny afternoon in Newstead Abbey to look forward to though.
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