One of the farmers at Eastnor has reintroduced pigs onto the farm. Until 1939, most of the farms and cottages here had pig sties. Whereas farms would have had quite a few pigs grunting away in brick-built accommodation, there would only be one or two pigs at the back of a cottage, but they performed a useful function consuming food left-overs , potato peelings, excess apple crops etc so that the sort of food waste that today gets recycled or simply buried in land fill was avoided. It was an efficient and thrifty approach.

Simon & Sophie Blandford have decided to bring the pigs back. They have plenty of space at Netherton Farm, and the pigs seem pretty content. As they are woodland animals, they like the freedom to wander amongst the trees and grub about in the shade. We haven’t quite organised the waste food from our catering to go to them yet, but that is the next logical stage.

In the meantime, we are able to offer our guests home-grown bacon and sausages, in the old fashioned way. Herefordshire is proud of its food and drink and we are delighted to be able to offer the real thing to our visitors too. Come and try them! J H-B 26/3

We have hosted the Big Chill in our Deer Park since 2002, and it gets better every year. The image shows what it looks like from the top of the castle, mostly camping on the left and mostly event on the right. The full details are all on the Big Chill website: www.bigchill.net and images of this year’s event from the site and there are highlights on www.youtube.com

Before the festival got going, there was an opportunity to take part in an attempt to make the largest zombie movie ever, called I spit on your rave, led by Noel Fielding of Mighty Boosh fame, and produced in a collaboration between Warp Films and Film4. Early arrivals dressed up and had their faces painted and then followed directions from the film companies on site, with the first rushes being shown at the end of the festival.

Our works team have the stressful job of ensuring that drinking water, which arrives in huge road tankers, and supplies for the showers reach all the areas of the camp sites. The Big Chill prides itself on providing good services to its ticket holders, and the same standards apply in the main arena as far as food and drink are concerned. Organic, exotic, local, hot & cold refreshment is all available, as are Thai massages and a Victorian funfair. It is a family-friendly mixture, which this attracted record numbers in sunny weather. We love having it here.   JH-B     11th August

We have just had a bug hunt for visitors in the castle grounds. The hunts were organised at hourly intervals and led by a team from Herefordshire Nature Trust. They provided nets and special plastic boxes with magnifying glasses incorporated in the lids, so successful hunters could more closely examine their catches. The hunts took place in a grove of redwoods and at the outflow of the lake by the weir.

Looking for bugs in the long grass involved sweeping the nets through the top of the grass. Inevitably, a lot of grass seeds were collected. But amongst this unintended haul were several bugs and the odd butterfly, which the hunt leaders were able mostly to identify from sheets illustrating various species that we were likely to come across. We also scoured the ground around the base of the trees, where there were plenty of woodlice: one father triumphantly captured a stag beetle, which we all admired. No-one was stung or bitten.

The water hunt proved slightly less rewarding. There were a few water boatmen and leaches, but no newts or frogs. But most of the fun was in the chase, and the participants got a good idea of what they could do next time they were I long grass or near a stream. Even if we did not catch much, it was amazing how much life there was in apparently uninhabited places.      JH-B     13 July 2009

Last weekend we hosted the great 24-hour mountain bike race, Mountain Mayhem.  Hundreds of competitors camped on site and took part in an endurance race on a ten mile course around the woods and hills within the Park and beyond. The weather was mostly dry, and not too hot, a relief for the mountain bikers if not the cold drink salesmen.

The race runs through the night, and you could see the lights traversing the slopes after dark. As the Park is not open to mountain bikes normally, this event was a good chance for riders to compete on the slopes that are reserved otherwise for walkers, deer and Land Rovers.

The organisers and sponsors did a great job, leaving the site undamaged and giving everyone a good time. It was amazing to see the range of equipment for sale and diversity of the competitors. One year, but I did not see them this time, one or two monocycles competed. When we were children, my brother and I used to ride our normal bikes in the park, with the Sturmey Archer three-speed gears. I now see why we did not get very far…           JH-B   1st July 2009

Armouritis

24th – 25th May

Over the Bank holiday weekend we welcomed 4 medieval groups, ‘The Levy’, ‘The Hartley Household’, ‘The Kynge’s Ordinaunce’ and the ‘Bowmen of Gwent’ to camp for two days on our valley lawn and show the public aspects of the medieval way of life.

We have hosted a medieval weekend for more than 3 years and it has always been a great success. In the event the public were shown re-enactments of medieval archery contests and sword-fighting, the art of the medieval pewter casting trade and the history and making of medieval battle and armour. Throughout the weekend, visitors enjoyed the activities produced which included trying on some authentic armour, an activity much loved by the younger children.

The Hog Roast went down well with everyone, with any scraps being tidied up by visiting and resident dogs, and although the forecast promised otherwise, the weather was good with only a few spatters of rain. Meanwhile down on the lawn, the four visiting groups ate a warming lamb stew with bread and cheese cooked simply over an open fire, without any of the electrical conveniences enjoyed by the public who were catered for in the courtyard.

All in all, the weekend was very successful; we are now open every Sunday until September with the near future events being:

* 6th & 7th June
Land Rover World Show – Deer Park

* Sunday 7th June
Morris Dancing

* Sunday 14th June
Gun Dogs & Ferret Racing

* 20th-21st June
Mountain Mayhem 24hr Bike Endurance Race – Deer Park

* Sunday 21st June
Pirate & Princess Day

We also welcome pre-booked guided tours on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Nancy Hervey-Bathurst

Last Bank holiday weekend, we hosted a fund raising zip-wire event where supporters of the Noah’s Ark charity were sponsored to take off from the top of our north-east tower, cross the lake and arrive, luckily quite safely, on the far bank. The zip wire, which is reputed to have a breaking strain of 20 tons, was set up by D3, otherwise known as Outside, who are now based at Eastnor and organising a range of challenging activities for their clients on the estate.

The event was well supported and Noah’s Ark raised over £7,000.00 to support their work. No-one lost their nerve, although getting through the trap door onto the top of the tower proved a serious challenge for some as the opening is rather narrow. The ride on the wire is great once you have recovered from the nasty moment of stepping through the parapet off the top of the tower. The wire is the longest of its type in the UK, and we will be using it again later in the summer.

Meanwhile, below the wire and on the route back to the house from the landing point, there is a great display of flowering shrubs and wild flowers, including azaleas, rhododendrons and wild garlic, looking their best in the spring sunshine and helping to calm the nerves of the riders.

It was a great event, and we hope others will put this challenge on their agenda.   J H-B

After a very busy winter season everyone at the Castle has been working flat out Spring cleaning and ensuring the grounds were in the best possible condition for our first opening to the public of the season.

As I watched the weather forecast leading up to the weekend I was feeling very nervous as the predictions were for a very wet weekend.  Everything in the UK seems to revolve around our unpredictable weather and as our first weekend was on the Easter Bank Holiday we were almost guaranteed a bad weekend.

However, Friday morning arrived and we were blessed with the start of a fantastic sunny spell.  Due to all our staffs hard work over the last few weeks the castle and grounds looked magnificent.  The shop was well stocked, the ice cream parlour gleaming, and even the portcullis office and toilets looked virtually new after their recent re-paint and clean.  Our visitor numbers were up by hugely on last year and walking around the grounds there was a wonderful relaxed friendly buzz about the place.

The weather was a great help along with the mountains of chocolate eggs and bunnies given away.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the Easter Bunny Hunt and we had thousands of entries to sort through to award a winner of the giant chocolate egg each day.

If this is what the rest of the season will bring I think all our visitors will go away happy and our staff can be extremely proud of Eastnor Castle.      DL

Our house keeper, Rosemary and her regular team, Sue, Ness and Emma who have been reinforced by Janet, who helps in the office, and Sue, who does our internal catering, have just about finished the spring cleaning of our rooms open to visitors.

Although these rooms get a thorough clean every week and some are cleaned daily, there is no substitute for the annual treatment they receive when the house is closed. Furniture and brass are polished, chandeliers are dismantled and cleaned, chimneys swept, carpets lifted and vacuumed and stone floors are scrubbed. It is hard work, but Rosemary says she welcomes the chance to do a really thorough job, and the results are evident, with everything looking bright, with a good smell of fresh polish permeating the atmosphere. Occasionally, when in doubt, Rosemary refers to the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping:   which has most of the answers we need.

My job is to arrange to have a few things repaired. This year, we have had two lampshades relined, some door panels off a wardrobe re-lacquered, a chair re-caned and the two huge sofas in the Great Hall re covered with a material chosen by my wife Lucy, who luckily is an interior designer. We have also taken the chance to improve our emergency lighting in the public areas so the painters have been in, making good in the places where the electricians have been working.

It all looks very good, and I hope the visitors will come and appreciate when we open at Easter.   JH-B

After nearly three months of hard, painstaking work, Chris James and Dale Allen have completed the rebuild of a major section of the Courtyard wall, under the watchful eye of Alan Smith, our Clerk of Works. This section had been leaning badly since it had been hit by a falling tree after a great wind storm in January 1976 and it had also been attacked by ivy from the back.

Chris & Dale dismantled it yard by yard, marking all the stones so that they could be replaced in their former positions. The middle of the wall consisted of a rubble infill, giving no structural support, so our architect, Ian Stainburn, recommended using small sheets of stainless steel expanded metal laid on each course to make it more solid. We have removed the ivy from the back of the wall and plan to spray it annually in future to stop it renewing its attack. We also replaced some of the worn-out coping stones with new ones cut in the same quarry in the Forest of Dean as the originals.

It all looks very smart, and we must now plan to complete the next section before it gets any worse. Mending a wall is not the most rewarding way to spend money, but it is better to do it before the wall collapses…    J H-B

At the end of the 19th century, Virginia creeper was planted around the walls of the castle. It grew so well that much of the east and south faces of the castle, the Porte Cochère and Portcullis were shrouded in a lattice of branches, with leaves which turned a wonderful red in the autumn. The bad news was that many of the leaves were blown onto the roofs and had to be swept and bagged up ideally before but occasionally after they blocked the drains. The branches also damaged the stonework, although less so than ivy would have, and one architectural historian commented, with obvious disapproval, that it looked as if Eastnor had a beard.

It was not hard to decide to kill the creeper. It was harder to work out how to remove it. First, the late Fred Dibnah, came to the rescue. On one of his visits to Eastnor, he suspended his bosun’s chair from one of the turrets and scraped the growth off as he lowered himself down. He was very effective, and there is a photograph of him at work in the Octagon Saloon. Sadly, he could not stay to finish the job.

We are now using Wallwalkers, a local firm, who specialise in accessing awkward parts of buildings. They are using a similar approach to Fred, as the attached image shows. We are looking forward to putting pour appearance back to the look originally intended by my ancestors for visitors to enjoy at our Easter opening.

 JH-B

Eastnor is very much still a family home, so our visitors come across our pets as they wander about the house and grounds.  I am fond of cats as we always had one here when I was a boy, so when Rosemary, our housekeeper, suggested it might be a good idea to get a couple of cats to patrol the cellars to keep the mice away, I readily agreed.

Here is an image of one of them, Nutkin, relaxing in the February sunshine on the bonnet of a car.  She is very much not on duty, but I assume she is building up her energy to do so later.  She is a good mouser, at least outside, and I fear the owls may be short of food as a result of her activities.  Although we clearly understand why she was recruited to the house team, she often misses the point herself, bringing mice into the house rather than driving them out!  We keep her away from the soft furnishings in the public rooms, otherwise she scratches the material as she stretches her claws, but she and her sister are very welcoming to our guests and enjoy their company.

In the winter, when the sun is not shining, which is most of the time, Nutkin likes to come into my office and sit on paper that we want to file or put her wet paw marks on letters we are about to send.  When my back is turned, she will sit on the relatively-warm keyboard of my computer (if it is on), which is not conducive to productivity and modern working methods.  Until I swapped my monitor for a flat screen, she would sit on that, her tail occasionally flashing across the screen.  So far, she has left the mouse alone.
J H-B

This year’s Big Chill was the biggest and best yet, with over 35,000 attending and great acts from Roisin Murphy, The Mighty Boosh, Camille and Leonard Cohen ensuring everyone had a great time.  Altogether, there were 400 artists performing across 7 arenas over three days.  There was a small traditional fun fair for children.  Even the weather was kind, despite some rain, and the festival had excellent reviews.  More day tickets were available to local people, which proved very popular.

 The Big Chill is booked again to take place in the Eastnor Deer Park on 7, 8 & 9 August 2009, and the first big acts have been announced.  They will include: Orbital, Basement Jaxx and Pharaoh Sanders.  More space will be available, and the site should work even better, with shorter distances between car parks and camp sites.

The festival will continue to be family friendly and relaxed, with a high-quality mixture of music, art and culture.  The Art Trail, which winds through a grove of ancient oak trees, will continue to be an important feature, with the chance to see the work of some of the finest young artists in the country.

We love the Big Chill.  It is exciting and fun, and it is great to see so many people having a good time at Eastnor.  Only 230 days to go……more Big Chill news to follow as it breaks.         J H-B