Since discovering the hidden treasure that is Newstead Abbey I remain enraptured by the Gothic ruin which as the ancestral home of Lord Byron influenced much of his wonderful poetry and I always eagerly anticipate any visit.
Excited by the promise of an ‘improved visitor experience’ and on a cold and pleasant day in April I was taken to Newstead Abbey for a Mother’s Day treat and with our place on the new guided tour booked for 2pm, we headed over to the ‘Cafe in the Abbey’ for lunch.
Duly assembled at the appointed hour, the 2pm tour should have been renamed the 2.15pm tour as our cheerful guide was having trouble locating the key to actually begin the tour but at last with the pesky key to hand – we were finally ushered inside Newstead Abbey and into the kitchen!
Before I continue, I have nothing against going into a kitchen, provided that I do not have to cook in it and the more contemporary the kitchen, the more my interest will fade in comparison.
However, I am rather amiable to an ‘istoric’ kitchen and having just created one in 12th scale for my other Lord Byron abode; I am sensitive to the various intricacies of copper pans, an open fire and hard work and if the under-cook working at Newstead Abbey in 1824 had been sent over to Fairfax House in York to assist the staff in their kitchen; they would not have found themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, for a kitchen is just that – a kitchen!
As our 2.15pm tour party included a number of visitors from Greece, the incredulity was already apparent and with the impatient cries of ‘Byron? Byron?’ we were quickly ushered out of the said kitchen and into the ‘House.’
However, as the tour moved on from this room and to that room with a ‘come along please, we have a lot to see’ delivered at an increasingly break-neck speed, I found myself longing for two things; one, a pair of running shoes and two, a growing desire to say to our rapidly cheerless guide ‘No thank you but I would prefer to stay in this room for a little longer.’
Having visited Newstead the previous year before the introduction of the guided tour, I was looking forward with eager anticipation to seeing several things that I had previously missed but on this visit, my eager anticipation had to remain, well, eager!
Into the Byron Exhibit Room we now sprinted and five minutes later we were herded out like sheep to the cries of ‘Come along please, this way…’ and now with the scent of rebellion in the air another guide was quickly drafted in as an additional enforcer.
There was a lot of informative talk from our guide about another former owner of Newstead and of his restoration of the old abbey but unfortunately, the efforts of Colonel Wildman were somewhat overshadowed by the guide’s endless chatter about the sexual exploits of Lord Byron.
Now, I accept that Byron was probably a randy creature but the impression left by the guide was of a man who did nothing else except shoot pistols, procreate and get pi**ed! and I was very tempted to raise my hand and shout out ‘Er excuse me Miss, but what about the other ‘P’ word? You know the letter ‘P’ which spells P O E T R Y!’ for with the endless focus on the ‘exploits of the Poet’ kindly shared by our guide, you could be forgiven for wondering how on earth the poor man found the time to write… anything!
And by now even my teenage son was starting to wince uncomfortably at yet another mention of Byron’s private life.
I should add that the most salacious exploits were shared while we were all huddled together in Byron’s Bedroom and I had to stop myself from laughing at the tut tutting aimed in the general direction of Byron’s huge, elaborate bed as the guide prattled on about his ‘penchants.’
We were eventually herded from this room of dissipation and into another bedroom…of dissipation and as we were regaled with the evil deeds of the other ‘Wicked Lord’ Byron and of his duel with his friend and neighbour William Chaworth and how the very sword that had been plunged into his opponent’s belly was preserved here at Newstead and sadly no, we couldn’t see it as it was time for another ‘Come along please…this way…’
I am far from proficient in the Greek language but I am pretty sure that by now, some of my fellow tourists were being far from complimentary!
And after another quick sprint into the drawing room and a very generous five minutes in which to appreciate ALL of the many paintings in there, I was now certain that I was hearing words in English I knew to be very far from complimentary.
At last and with the end in sight, we charged along the cloisters racing towards the finishing line when we were unexpectedly awarded five seconds of injury time so we could take a peek at Byron’s plunge bath! Oh joy!
We reached the winning post at 2.59pm and as we were pausing for breath outside the Newstead Abbey Shop, the curtain came down behind us, literally, I might add and the guide quickly went to ground far from the maddening crowd.
The bemusement was far from over when I spotted the jumble of clothing on top of a long table and I wondered for a moment if the coffers at Newstead were really that bad, but no, it would appear that having been denied the opportunity to see most of the Byron exhibits inside the house; our consolation prize was the chance to dress up in cute period clothing provided that you were stick thin and under five inches in height!
However, with his own unique ‘tinge of Dandyism’ my youthful son rose to the occasion and afforded me a wonderful Mother’s Day chuckle!
Thank goodness that the gardens at Newstead were in wonderful form that day as I spotted several familiar faces frantically walking off their post-tour aggression among the daffodils later that afternoon.
Bye for now!