This weekend was epic for me. I always love my pre-Christmas visit to my daughter in Nottingham, but this year we did something very special. We visited Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, decked out in all its Christmas finery.
The presence of the poet, scholar and freedom fighter, not to mention lover, looms large in this beautiful historic house. Certainly he was “a bit of a character” and the library is full of texts and tributes to his many escapades. He lived at Newstead Abbey between 1808 and 1814, but debt finally forced him to sell. Since then it has been variously renovated and restored by its owners.
The pretty pink Pronto bus, en route from Nottingham’s Victoria Centre Bus Station to Mansfield, deposits you right by the entrance. The charming gatekeepers lodge is just a foretaste of what is to come, as the cheery attendant in the ticket booth is quick to point out. First though, quite a long walk through the thickly forested grounds. You can turn off the main drive to follow a winding woodland walk through the trees. Children would delight in the hide and seek potential of this, though I was concentrating on not upending on the leaves. In Spring the rhododendrons and camellias must sing with colour.
Just as you begin to tire you see ahead the drive’s ending, and soon an enormous lake. Ducks and geese squabble about, while a disdainful peacock awaits your admiration. On your left, proudly erect, the magnificent Abbey.
The West Front dates back to 1274, and is the original façade of the old priory church. Also intact are the lovely medieval cloisters. A more romantic setting would be hard to find. No wonder it inspired Byron’s poetry.
Step through the heavy door and your eyes are drawn to a grand flight of stairs. Heraldic painting enlivens the ceiling. If, like me, you’ve arrived on a Christmas opening day, you’ll be lured upwards by the sound of fine voices. A costumed young lady and gent perform everything from carols to swing, their obvious enjoyment bringing a smile to my face. The wood-panelled Great Hall is very grand indeed.
Reluctantly I move on, the voices following. A dazzling sequence of rooms present themselves. The handiwork of the college students who have festooned the Abbey with gilded flora and foliage is a beautiful addition to this festive season. Opulent and exquisite furnishings, Byron’s very own bed, each treasure follows the next. My favourite, the Japanese room, has stunning cranes gliding across the walls.
In the Gothic Revival Library a poet and storyteller invites you to linger. The cabinets are filled to the brim with Byron’s astounding past.
Finally there waits the most romantic of cloisters, and a peak into the chapel. Between duties, Santa is more than happy to chat, adding his own snippets of information to your knowledge. A quick turn in the bracing air of the cloisters garden and your visit is almost complete.
Naturally there is a shop full of temptation- chutneys, sweets, toys and all things Byron. Better still, around the corner the café waits. I was ready for my smoked bacon and brie Panini. My daughter chose the soup, mightily packed with mushrooms and chives, before indulging her sweet tooth with organic carrot cake. I resisted the tiny mince pies and a glass of sherry as we still had far to go. Bookings were being taken for Christmas Afternoon Tea, which sounded superb for £15, but any day of the week Traditional Afternoon Tea can be had for just £10.
300 acres of park and gardens are available for exploration, but the sun was low in the sky and I settled for a quick look through the waterfall. The grounds are open year round, 9am till dusk, and on Sundays, house tours are available April to September. For further details and special events www.mynottingham.gov.uk/newsteadabbey Two highly detailed videos will show you round the house if you can’t get there in person.
“Mad, bad and dangerous to know” he may well have been, but I truly enjoyed my visit to Byron’s former home.