Archive for the Ruins Category

Mavisbank House, Loanhead

Posted in Edinburgh, Gardens, History, House, Ruins, Scotland with tags , , , , on October 9, 2015 by mysearchformagic

My last post featured a return visit to the lost gardens of Penicuik, a wonderfully wild park designed in the eighteenth century by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik. On the same day that I visited Penicuik, I also took the opporturnity to explore nearby Mavisbank, another house and garden created by Sir John which now lies in ruins. Just like Penicuik, Mavisbank is currently emerging from years of ruin and neglect, but still retains a remarkably magical atmosphere.

The easiest route to Mavisbank is along the river Esk, where a footpath has been created which leads from  the outskirts of the village of Polton along to the house and estate. The approach to the house itself leads up an old, overgrown driveway which is rather magical itself, giving just a hint of the faded grandeur to come.

The magical overgrown driveway leading to Mavisbank House

The magical overgrown driveway leading to Mavisbank House, Loanhead

Built (and largely designed) by Sir John during the 1720s, Mavisbank was once a beautiful country retreat, with one eighteenth-century visitor exclaiming that it was more like Tivoli in Italy than Scotland. Since the nineteenth century, however, the house’s fate has been less happy – sold by the Clerks in 1815, it later became an asylum. By the 1950s the land around it had become a scrap yard, and in the 1970s the house was gutted by fire. Now it is a sad and fragile, but undeniably picturesque, ruin.

The sad but picturesque ruins of Mavisbank House

The sad but picturesque ruins of Mavisbank House, Loanhead

You don’t have to be a structural engineer to see that the ruins of Mavisbank are in a pretty bad way. Subsidence caused by mining in the area has taken its tool, which huge cracks snaking across the house’s buckling walls. In fact, parts of the building looks like they are only being held up by the network of scaffolding that pokes out from its windows and roof. On the rather damp afternoon that I visited, the place felt lonely and abandonded, empty apart from me and the flock of noisy rooks that seem to have taken up residence in Mavisbank’s shattered shell.

A fragile wing of ruined Mavisbank House, Loanhead

A fragile wing of ruined Mavisbank House, Loanhead

A trust has been set up to rescue Mavisbank, however, and work has already been done to clear the land around it of bushes and trees and allow more public access. High on the hill behind the house can be seen the earthworks of what enthusiastic antiquarian Sir John believed to be a Roman camp, but is more probably some sort of medieval fortification. Out in front are the swampy remains of an ornamental pond that once sat at the centre of a carefully landscaped garden, and in the distance is a pretty pigeon house.

My favourite part of the house was the south side, which I suspect contained the service quarters. Featuing a deep basement, now filled with undergrowth but still retaining its wooden window frames, this wing was tantalisingly shadowy and eerie.

The gloomy south wing of Mavisbank House, Loanhead

The gloomy south wing of Mavisbank House, Loanhead

At one point it looked like Mavisbank would be lost forever, its ownership contested for years as it slowly crumbled. Now the Mavisbank Trust are working with Scottish Heritage and the local council to secure the future of the house and grounds, and preserve it for future generations.

In the meantime, it remains a marvellously evocative ruin with a uniquely magical aura.

For more details of the Mavisbank Trust and their work, click here.

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Return to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik

Posted in Castle, Caves, Gardens, House, Ruins, Scotland with tags , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by mysearchformagic

It’s been well over a year since I made my first trip to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik, but I have thought a lot about this wild and wonderful place since that visit. Last week I was able to visit again, and explore more of its magical corners.

First on my list of things to see was Knightslaw Tower. Although it may look medieval, the tower was actually built in the middle of the eighteenth century by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an enthusiastic antiquarian with a taste for the ancient. When first constructed the tower could be seen from miles around, and dominated the rest of the Penicuik estate. Since its heyday, however, the tower has fallen into disrepair, and the high trees which have grown up around it hide it from the outside world. The result is a rather melancholy, but definitely quite magical ruin.

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

Next I walked on past the majestic ruins of the huge mansion of Penicuik House, built by Sir John’s son James in the 1760s, and into the valley below. Here I found the river Esk, which babbles its way down from here to nearby Roslin Glen, another of my favourite spots. Once over the river I crossed a field, heading uphill until I reached the Hurley Ponds.

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds are another of Sir John Clerk’s creations, part of his ambitious plans to landscape his park at Penicuik. Once used as fishing ponds, they have now largely returned to nature, spookily quiet apart from the odd quack from the resident flock of ducks.

Sir John was obviously rather partial to a magical experience himself, and evidence of this can be found in his construction of the Hurley Cave, a rock-cut underground passage which leads from the side of the hills closest to the house into this secluded valley. The original entrance to the cave was over a bridge across the Esk, where a cascade waterfall was constructed to add to the sense of drama. Visitors would presumably have been guided through the cave with candles or burning torches, and half way down would have found a carved Latin inscription Tenebrosa occultaque cave, beware dark and hidden things. The other end of the cave emerges from a rusticated stone doorway in the hill, and can still be seen today.

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Unfortunately vandalism and structural problems mean that the Hurley Cave has had to be locked up. Its heavy metal door does, however, have a large gap at the top which allows a glimpse of the dark depths beyond. I couldn’t resist sticking my camera into the gap and taking a picture. It offers an enticing hint of what lies beneath.

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Much work has been done to consolidate and preserve Penicuik House and its estate in recent years, largely thanks to the hard work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust. Apparently both the cave and the tower are on their list of works for the future, but restoring both will be an expensive job, and fundraising is ongoing. In the meantime I was happy to enjoy the overgrown, rather sombre mood of the lost gardens, and imagine the dingy depth of the Hurley Cave. I like to think Sir John would have approved!

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

For details on how you can support the sterling work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust, click here.

Tintern Abbey Seen by Moonlight, Peter van Lerberghe

Posted in Art, Church, History, Museum, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , on May 5, 2014 by mysearchformagic

Today I’ve been to the Ruin Lust exhibition at London’s Tate Gallery. It was a bit of an odd hotch-potch to be honest, and despite its theme, was sadly lacking in magic.
I was however rather taken with this early 19th Century watercolour by Peter van Lerberghe from the Tate’s own collection. Created at a time when exploring romantic ruins was all the rage, the painting captures a group of brave tourists discovering the Gothic delights of Tintern Abbey by torchlight.

Tintern Abbey seen by Moonlight, 1802 by Peter van Lerberghe

Tintern Abbey seen by Moonlight, 1802 by Peter van Lerberghe

It all looks like great fun. I’d love to do it myself, although I might not be bold enough to teeter along the top of the ruins like some of these visitors. And to be honest, I don’t think Cadw, who now take care of the picturesque ruins of Tintern Abbey, would be very keen!

More Magical Doorways, Naples

Posted in Church, History, Italy, Ruins with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I was looking through some old photographs this week, and came across these images from a past trip to my favourite magical city, Naples.

These pictures brought back memories of my wanderings through the maze of narrow streets and alleyways that make up the city’s ancient Centro Storico. It’s a place full of intriguing surprises, with a beautiful baroque palace or crumbling church around ever corner.

An intriguing doorway in Naples

An intriguing doorway in Naples

I discovered a wonderful pink church on one of these strolls. I don’t know what the church was called, and to be honest I am not even sure I could find it again if I tried. The once-impressive building was in a bit of a sorry state, empty and boarded up, but I was particularly drawn to its magical old doors. All three were adorned with rather macabre carved skulls, a symbol of the Neapolitans’ strange fascination with death and mortality.

The wonderfully Baroque main door to an empty church in Naples

The wonderfully Baroque main door to an empty church in Naples

I love to imagine what lay inside, and while I feel sad to see historic buildings in such poor condition, there is definitely something magical about this city’s faded grandeur. I hope it won’t be too long before I go back to Naples, and do some more exploring of its back-streets in search of magic…and in the meantime, if anyone recognises this church and can identify it for me I would be eternally grateful!

A magical doorway in Naples

A magical doorway in Naples

The Lost Gardens of Penicuik

Posted in Caves, Edinburgh, Gardens, History, House, Landscape, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2014 by mysearchformagic

Nestled at the feet of the Pentland Hills not far from Edinburgh, Penicuik is a fairly quiet, unexceptional town, not the kind of place you would expect to find magic. But on its outskirts lies the estate of Penicuik House, a grand mansion which is now a stately ruin. The huge gardens which surround it were once some of the most impressive in Scotland, but since the house was gutted by fire in 1899 they have been slowly returning to nature. The result is a wonderfully wild and picturesque landscape now known as the “Lost Gardens of Penicuik”.

The stately ruins of Penicuik House

The stately ruins of Penicuik House

Penicuik House has long been the home of the Clerk family, and indeed they still live in the imposing stable block near the ruins of the late 18th Century house. Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, the famous antiquarian and politician who lived here until 1755, was responsible for much of what we see in the gardens today. A huge fan of ancient Rome, he littered the grounds with picturesque neoclassical fountains, and even built a dramatic cave leading to a lake based on the famous grotto at Pausillipo near Naples.

The view from Penicuik House towards the Low Pond

The view from Penicuik House towards the Low Pond

In the 18th Century the gardens at Penicuik were compared to the romantic landscape of Tivoli near Rome, famous for its huge waterfalls and rugged cliffs. Nowadays the place is rather overgrown, and on the day I visited the Pentlands were cloaked in heavy grey clouds, but this sense of brooding neglect only added to the magical atmosphere.

A picturesque gorge in the grounds of Penicuik House

A picturesque gorge in the grounds of Penicuik House

Some areas of the garden, including that ‘Roman’ cave, are still off limits to visitors, and in need of restoration. The opulent terraces are hidden in the overgrowth, the once proud gates are rusted and its crumbling walls covered in moss. The impressive ruins of Penicuik House itself are currently being consolidated, and a new project has also recently been launched to revive the large walled gardens which sit close by. It’s good to see the gardens of Penicuik being brought back to life, but I hope they still retain their wild, overgrown magic.

A neoclassical fountain with Latin inscription in the gardens of Penicuik House

A neoclassical fountain with Latin inscription in the gardens of Penicuik House

The inclement weather on the day of my visit prevented me from fully exploring the “Lost Gardens of Penicuik”, but you can be sure that I will be back there soon to soak up its unique, enchanting atmosphere of elegant, magical decay.

A lichen-covered gate in the grounds of Penicuik House

A lichen-covered gate in the grounds of Penicuik House

Forteresse de Largoët, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Castle, History, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by mysearchformagic

The entrance to the Forteresse de Largoët is to be found up a long, winding single-track road. At the end of this road stands a large gateway, a little house next to it decorated with carved rabbits. On the day that I visited the imposing gates were firmly closed. Luckily I spotted the small sign telling me that the castle was in fact ‘ouvert’, and when I rang the adjacent bell a man emerged from the shadowy doorway of the ‘rabbit’ house to sell me a ticket and let me in.

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

Next comes a long walk, past a beautifully dilapidated wellhead and along a wooded track.

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de  Largoët

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de Largoët

By the time you reach the ruins, you really will feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere. As a result, the huge scale of the castle’s towers comes as a shock as they emerge above the treetops – the main ‘donjon’ is immense, said to be the tallest in France.

The castle of Largoët

The castle of Largoët

A strange air of quiet surrounds the fortress. The atmosphere is disconcerting, rather sad, heavy with neglect and decay. As with many historic sites in this part of the world, the Forteresse de Largoët doesn’t get many visitors, its sense of abandoned isolation only adding to its magical aura. The lake which sits next to the ruins is odd, spooky even, with the bare branches of dead trees emerging from the dark water of its far shore. The castle’s donjon is now floorless, its damp interior thick with moss and lichen, but a spiral staircase inside one of the thick walls leads up, past many empty doorways, almost to the top of the crumbling tower. The views from up there are incredible, but definitely not for those who suffer from a fear of heights.

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

It’s only at the top of the stairs that you can really get a sense of the size of this place; in its heyday it must have been a Gormenghast-style warren of rooms, ante-rooms and corridors. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a legend that a secret corridor links the castle with the nearby town of Elven, although the location of the tunnel’s entrance is now long-forgotten. In the 1470s, the castle’s most famous resident Henry Tudor, later Henry VII of England, was held as a prisoner here by Jean IV, Lord of Rieux for two long years.

Once back on the ground, it is worth taking a look at the exterior of the tower, with its intricately carved machicolations and elaborate window frames. The walls look rather unstable nowadays, scarred with a delicate network of cracks and crevices.

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

Although the castle, which also goes by the rather Tolkienesque name of ‘les Tours d’Elven’, was probably first constructed some time in the 11th Century, this keep dates from the 1300s. The impressive gatehouse and adjacent round tower, which has been more recently re-roofed and restored, were built about a century later.

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

After my visit to the castle I decided to explore further and take a walk around the lake, through the pretty woodland which surrounds it. I spotted an elegant heron sitting on one of the tree branches which jut out from the water; stock still and quiet as I approached, it suddenly took off into the air as I walked away. Its wide wings flapping gracefully as it took to the sky, the heron finally broke the silence of the place with a single harsh craw as is disappeared over the treetops.

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

As a suitably magical end to my visit, I stumbled across the ruins of the castle’s chapel, now choked with bushes and grass, its foundations hidden beneath the undergrowth. Only one gable end remains standing to any significant height, its wall pierced with the elaborate tracery of a gothic window.

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

http://www.largoet.com/

The Photography of Amanda Hughes

Posted in Art, Photography, Ruins with tags , , on March 21, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I discovered these amazing photographs by Amanda Hughes in a recent exhibition at Bonhams the auctioneers in London’s New Bond Street. Her distinctive shots of deserted interiors are incredible, their glowing colours capturing the magical atmosphere of these intriguing, rather melancholy places.

Chateau

Chateau

I needed to find out more, so last week I spoke to Amanda about her work.
“I first started photographing derelict buildings in 2010, and often I come across the buildings by looking at images, or newspapers and articles describing how the buildings have fallen into disrepair. I enjoy reading up on the history of the buildings to see what’s happened there, and why it has come to be left forgotten,” she told me.

Solitude

Solitude

“I try not to reveal the locations of the buildings I photograph, many buildings have code names used by photographers to protect them from looters and people who may cause damage to them by smoking in the building, or graffiti. I have seen many buildings deteriorate through the intervention of people, not just nature taking its toll.”

Stronghold

Stronghold

“Most buildings I have visited are not creepy. A lot of images I see of derelict buildings try to give this impression, but that is not what my work is about. I want to celebrate the beauty of these lost buildings and give them a new lease of life through my work.”

Reflection

Reflection

I don’t need to add much to that – these beautiful pictures speak for themselves.

Passage

Passage

All Images Copyright Amanda Hughes
http://www.splashshotstudio.co.uk