Every day as Lord Byron dressed, he looked out the window to a view of the ruin which was his ancestral home. Such a Romantic view for one of the great Romantic poets has a satisfying congruence.
We had taken the decidedly unromantic bus from Nottingham to visit Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, which is now owned by Nottingham city council. It’s a mile or so walk in from the Mansfield road to the abbey, which is actually a priory. It is much restored since Byron hosted his mates for wild parties and shooting practice in the rain-riddled wreck of the old main hall.
The building fits the Romantic-ruin bill nicely, as of course does the mythical story of the rake himself. The priory was founded in the late 12th century, and became the seat of the Byron family in 1540. It was already derelict when the most famous Byron, the sixth lord of the family, inherited it from his great-uncle. He didn’t live in it long – although long enough to earn a reputation as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, as one of his lovers described him – before he headed to continental Europe and Anatolia to continue his libertine life and write gnarly poetry. He was living beyond his means in self-exile, and sold the priory to Thomas Wildman to fund his lifestyle. Wildman and subsequent owners, the Webb family, did it up. Many of those renovations are what we see today.
After a stroll through some of the abbey rooms – it’s very pleasing inside also, not too fussy and with nicely proportioned rooms – we enjoyed our pack-up (a Nottingham word for picnic) in one of the formal gardens.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself. As a child who read too much Famous Five and Robin Hood, I daydreamed wistfully about being in easy reach of ruined and preferably haunted castles. It seemed impossible. And here I am doing just that, within two hours of deciding to visit Newstead Abbey. I have to remember not to take for granted this easy access to this part of my cultural heritage.
It was such a beautiful day we couldn’t resist a seven mile (11 km) walk through the countryside. Perhaps the road we set out on was the path Byron took to meet Mary Chaworth, his first love, who lived at nearby Annesley Hall.
Walking is thirsty work, and we’d run out of water when, lo and behold, what should we stumble on but the Horse and Groom, in the pretty stone village of Linby. The pint (Dave) and a half (me) of Theakston’s Old Peculier went down very well indeed, and we continued on through pretty, low hills.
There are plenty of horses agisted on farms around here. Through the cropping fields bright with new growth, brown parallel lines marked the passage of tractors that run straight as a die on GPS coordinates. We crossed the River Leen on its way south to empty into the Trent River in Nottingham, and returned to our starting point through copses fat with bursting buds.
Our timing was perfect: the light was failing, and we had just enough time to enjoy a leisurely beer at the Hutt Inn at Ravenshead before our bus home appeared.