Thursday Doors – San Sebastian Aquarium, Spain

Continuing with the aquarium theme from yesterday’s Wander, today’s door belongs to the San Sebastian Aquarium. Located at the very end of the old harbour, the Aquarium was built in 1928, when much of the area was redeveloped.

And it has a rather spectacular door, don’t you think?

As well as being a rather wonderful place to watch the sun set…

This is my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Plas Newydd, Llangollen

This week I’m wandering to a rather wonderful place tucked away on the hillside above Llangollen. This is Plas Newydd, once home to the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen.’

The two ladies in question were Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, who came from Ireland in 1778 to live in Llangollen, North Wales. Their story is a fascinating one. Both born to noble families, they met at school in 1768 when Sarah was 13 and Eleanor 29. Sarah was an orphan and ward of Sir William and Lady Fownes, while Eleanor came from the Ormonde family and lived at Kilkenny Castle. Lady Fownes was friends with Eleanor’s mother, and Eleanor was asked to keep an eye on Sarah while she was at school. The two became close friends, corresponding for several years until, both unhappy in their home lives, they decided to run away together. Eleanor was under pressure to enter a convent, while Sarah was enduring the unwelcome attentions of Sir William, who had decided she would make a perfect second wife (even though his first wife was still alive!).

The two women first attempted to escape in March 1778. Dressed in men’s clothing and armed with a pistol, they made it as far as Waterford before being apprehended and brought back to their families. Despite further pressure, Eleanor managed to escape again, running to Sarah. Faced with such devotion, their families finally relented and they were allowed to leave Ireland in May 1778 to start a new life together.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Manfred Heyde (own work)

They moved into Pen Y Maes cottage, as it was known then, in 1780, renaming it Plas Newydd (welsh for New Hall). They extended and renovated the cottage, including the addition of stained glass windows and extraordinary wood carvings on the interior and exterior of the building, many of which were salvaged from old churches and furniture. You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the interior, but I did manage to find this image of one of the staircases, just to give you an idea of what it looks like inside. The details around the exterior doors are also extraordinary, and it must have been a magical place to live. The Ladies lived there for almost fifty years, in what they called ‘a life of sweet and delicious retirement’, until Eleanor passed away in 1829, Sarah dying just two years later.

During their lifetime the ladies were figures of curiosity, well-regarded and attracting many famous visitors, including Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, William Wordsworth (who composed a poem while staying with them) and Madame de Genlis. Their relationship was seen to embody romantic friendship, a high ideal much sought after at the time. The true nature of their relationship is still unclear – they shared a bedroom, sleeping together in the same bed, and referred to each other as ‘Beloved’. They also dressed in men’s clothing and powdered their hair, as can be seen in the few portraits that survive.

Whether The Ladies’ relationship was simply one of platonic love, or something more, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they were both strong enough to live their lives outside the conventions of the time – yes, they both came from privilege, but this was still a time when women were reduced to ‘wife of’ once they were married, no longer allowed to hold either property or their names. I love the story of the Ladies because it’s a story of love, of friendship, and the desire to live life as they pleased. The house in its in green gardens, ruined castle on the hill beyond, stands as a beautiful memorial to life, to the Ladies, and to love.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#Monday Motivations – The Bench

Esther Newton does a great writing prompt series called Monday Motivations, and her latest prompt is this lovely photograph. When I saw it a little story came to me, and so here it is:

She remembered when he’d put the bench there. He’d been young then, and strong, muscles firm against his skin, his flesh sweet against hers in the night.

Together they would sit, gazing through the trees, dreaming into the darkness, her head on his shoulder. Sometimes they would bring the radio and dance, holding each other close and swaying like the treetops above. Other times they would talk, making plans of family and home and love so strong it still left her breathless at his loss.

She still went to sit there every day, leaving the house they had built together, her old knees creaking as she negotiated the steps from the back porch. Sometimes she would take a handful of nuts for the squirrels or seed for the birds, especially when winter held the land in an iron grip, her breath misting the air.

Through the seasons she sat, as leaves turned and the evergreens dropped green needles that turned slippery brown under foot. And she would talk to him. ‘Come back to me,’ she would say, tears cool on warm cheeks, or hot against frozen skin. She would tell him her plans, tell him of the family, of all that had passed since the dark day he had left. Eventually, she would stop talking, and lose herself in a dream of summer darkness, of his arm strong around her. She would return to the house and sleep well that night, as though all the hard years since his passing had never been.

There was joy still, in her life. She brought their first grandchild down to meet him, small hand waving from the warm bundle in her arms. Then the second, and the third, speaking their names so he would know them, and they him.

Her family had tried to get her to sell up, to move on. To a place further south where the sun shone all the time, where old joints could feel young again. But she couldn’t leave their special place and, in the end, they came to understand.

And so it was, on a night toward summer’s end, while fireflies danced and the air still held the warmth of the day, that she made her way down to the bench once more, her breath catching as she negotiated the slope. It was silent under the branches, twilight sweeping the sky like soft wings.

She sat down. ‘Come back to me,’ she said, half smiling at her fantasy, dreaming of his touch.

‘I have never left you,’ she heard him say. She looked up, tears in her eyes, to see him standing just a little way down the slope. All at once lights were strewn through the branches, as though the fireflies had been bottled and shaken out along the leaves, glimmers of gold lighting his face, his dark hair, as he smiled at her, holding out his hand.

She stood, and it was as though she shed her skin, all the things that had weighed her down leaving her, so she was light as a soap bubble, rising through the air. She half ran to him, not slipping on the dry needles, her footing sure. She took his hand. ‘Oh!’ Her exclamation was soft, a whisper in the night, as she felt his warm fingers around hers once more.

‘I have missed you,’ she said.

‘And I you,’ he replied. ‘Even though I could see you, and hear you, it wasn’t the same. But now…’

‘Now?’

He said nothing, just looked past her, back to the bench. She turned and, when she saw the slumped body there, like a pile of old clothes, discarded, she understood.

And there was lightness all through her and around her, a thousand fireflies in the night, as she danced with her love once more.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Thursday Doors – The Bishop’s Door, St Albans Cathedral

IMG_3166A little while ago I posted about a set of doors at St Albans Cathedral, which someone commented ‘were probably the oldest’ set of doors to appear in the Thursday Doors Challenge. Now, I know I have an advantage, as I live in a country where buildings can be a thousand years old. However, this week, I have an even older door.

Also in St Albans Cathedral, the Bishop’s Door is thought to have been made around 1396, and the Great West Doors I featured previously, made around 1420-40, were based on the design of this earlier door. On the top right-hand side of the doorframe is the crest of St Albans, and on the other side the crest of Richard II, king at the time the doors were made. The timber has been well maintained over the years, so is in better condition than the Great West Doors, and the quality of the carving is just beautiful.

IMG_3167And here is some more carving – two hundred year old graffiti, scratched into the wall at the left of the door, just above the stone plinth. There are even older examples to be found in the cathedral, some dating back to medieval times, proof that people always like to leave their mark.

IMG_3169This is my entry for Norm 2.0’s weekly Thursday Doors Challenge – for more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link 🙂

 

Wednesday Wander – Andorra-La-Vella, Andorra

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Hidden in a valley, walled by high mountains, Andorra is built from wood and stone, houses perched on cliff edges and peaks, the main road following the path of the river that rushes from the mountains, carving the land. When I told a friend that I was going to Andorra last year, he commented that he’d always thought of it as a made-up place, one of those mythical European kingdoms you see in movies.

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The capital city of Andorra-La-Vella does have a bit of a fairytale feel, especially in the old part of town, though beyond there are shiny modern office buildings as well as lots of excellent tax-free shopping. Located between, and jointly governed by, France and Spain, Andorra is an ancient Principality steeped in history, with the capital city founded by Charlemagne over a thousand years ago.

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The Casa De La Vall, above, was built in the sixteenth century and is still the state’s parliamentary house, though a new modern building nearby now houses much of the administration.

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I loved the way the mountains felt, like a wall against the outside world, embracing and protecting the towns running along the valley. Apparently it can feel quite shut in during winter when the snow is high and travel more difficult, but the increasing popularity of the many ski resorts mean that there is plenty to do all year round.

When we left Andorra we followed the rushing river, which became wider and lazier as it headed towards Spain. As we crossed the plains I looked back, and all I could see were mountains, Andorra hidden from sight once more, as though it were never there.


Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week!

Thursday Doors – Silves, Portugal

IMG_0376This week’s door photograph was taken in the town of Silves, Portugal. Carved wood and curved metalwork make this quite an ornate door, yet the flyers casually shoved underneath add a prosaic touch, as do the jumble of wires overhead.

Located in the south of Portugal, Silves was a Caliphate from the 8th to 13th century,  and one of the most important cities in the region. Now it is still a prosperous town, with shops, cafes, and one of the best preserved Moorish castles in the country. Winding streets slope towards a curving river – you can see the slope of the street in the door photo, cobbles descending while the doorstep is set straight into the wall.

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One of the cobbled streets, flaking paint and soft colours adding to the texture of this ancient town.

IMG_0383A view from the 8th century city wall, looking over the rooftops.

This is my entry for this week’s Thursday Doors, courtesy of Norm 2.0. Head on over to his blog and see more doors, or add one of your own!