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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Swimming in the Stanway Fountain

As a result of the current contest on my website, I've had a number of enquiries from readers about the fountain that features in my book, Unmasked. What did it look like, how deep was it and is it really possible to swim in a fountain? Karen B referenced the wonderful water gardens at Alnwick Castle (pictured) and asked me if that was my inspiration. It wasn't, but now that I've seen them I am very keen to re-visit Alnwick. It looks wonderful.

The inspiration for the fountain in Unmasked comes from Stanway, a beautiful Jacobean manor house in the Cotswolds. I visited Stanway a few years ago and fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. Not only is it stunningly beautiful from the outside, all rich yellow stone and extravagant design, but it has a lived in feel to it, packed full of ancient furniture including a wonderful shuffleboard table dating from the reign of Charles I. And it is the only historic house I've visited where they allow you to take your dog inside, presumably because there are so many family dogs lying about the place in the patches of sunshine!

But it was the gardens at Stanway that provided my inspiration for Mari's garden designs in Unmasked, in particular the fountain in which Nick caught her skinny dipping. The original water gardens were created in the 1720s and included a formal canal on a terrace high above the house, the longest cascade in England, eight ponds and a fountain, all set amongst green lawns and avenues of specimen trees. The Stanway fountain was restored in 2004 and is now a spectacular single jet rising to over 300 feet, the tallest fountain in Britain and the tallest gravity fountain in the world. On the day we visited it was very hot and a dip in the water was extremely tempting but I resisted for fear of being thrown out! (I do my "wild swimming" in a Scottish loch each summer instead!)

Stanway is a must-visit if you are ever in the Cotswolds. Not only is it packed with hands-on quirky historical artefacts but it is peaceful and relaxing - and it has a marvellous tearoom! Do you have a favourite historical place off the beaten track? And for that matter, have you ever swum in a fountain, or somewhere other than a swimming pool?


Carol Townend said...

I can see why you fell in love with house, Nicola. You've inspired me to to put it on the list for next time we got to the Cotswolds. Gorgeous. The trouble with us is that it's hard enough to find time to get round all the National Trust houses, and the ones that aren't NT (and I am guessing this isn't) sometimes get missed. Clearly, must try harder!!

Jan Jones said...

Cor, what a lovely place!

Sometimes I think I need to take a couple of years off just to see everywhere.

Thanks for the post, Nicola.

Nicola Cornick said...

Yes, I totally agree. There are so many places I'd like to visit given unlimited time and maybe a chauffeur as well!

NinaP said...

Stanway is beautiful! Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

"Wild swimming" has never made it to my bucket list, but my favorite nearby historical place is Gettysburg (the turning point of America's Civil War). I often sit on the hill of Picket's Charge at sunset, watching the shadows lengthen over the open field.

Should I ever get to England, I'm looking forward to finding many historic places like Stenway to enjoy (though I’d rather do it in a time-machine) :-)

Where would you go if you had a time-machine?

Nicola Cornick said...

Nina, that sounds extremely atmospheric and inspirational!

Time travel - oooh, that's a whole new blog topic, isn't it. I must pose that question and see where and when people would choose to alight.

My top time travel moment is a bit macabre. I would like to be in the room (hiding but with a good line of sight) when whoever murdered the Princes in the Tower arrived to do the deed. I don't want to witness the actual murder, just settle the mystery of who was responsible.

NinaP said...

Princes in the Tower... I just got back from reading about this. First I'd ever heard of it.

But goodness, what a bevy of story plots! My mind won't stop spinning. (Maybe the Princes didn't die at all. Maybe what you would see from that room's dark corner is a time-traveling Templar appearing to rescue them from murderous hands. Or maybe what you really saw was a time-traveling member of the Illuminati Ring intent on using the royal blood to rewrite the near future.)

Thanks Nicola!

Nicola Cornick said...

Gosh, Nina, what a fascinating blend of plot ideas! Must admit that when I was much younger I did write a time travel/ghost story with that premise. A shame I can't find it now. It was probably dreadful, but lots of fun - and of course as a Yorkist I exonerated Richard III!

NinaP said...

Thanks Nicola! My brain churns 'em out faster than my fingers can type. Maybe if I had a clone, I could get something done. :-)

Uhm, what's a Yorkist?