Thursday, December 11, 2014

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 11: Askham Hall

Heya, Adventurers!  This is J.K.’s friend Beth, reporting from England, where I had many culinary adventures and remembered to take pictures of some of them.

Wednesday in Cumbria meant my long-anticipated visit to Askham Hall.  This involved taking a bus to the Lowther Estate Office stop and walking a mile through beautiful English countryside studded with grazing sheep.

Askham Hall is a major Sandford site.  A Sandford and a Lowther show up as witnesses to a grant of a priory in 1186.  Before that, who knows?  William the Conqueror never conquered this far north, so no Domesday Book references.  My Sandfords lived in Askham Hall for one generation, when it was basically a pele (“peel”) tower that kept them safe from raiders.  Given that animals lived on the ground floor, Sir Edmund and Idonea L’Englys Sandford had about as much living space as I do today in my house in Oakland.  They had more “housemates,” too.

Edmund and Idonea bought the “starter” Askham Hall from the Swinburnes in 1373, and Sandfords lived there into the early 18th century, when the line “daughtered out” and the Lowthers came into possession of it.  My Edmund Jr. set up in Yorkshire with wife Katherine Ughtred (and that powerhouse castle-owning family tree).  A Sandford down the line built it out into the size and shape it is today.

The Lowthers have a family history in this valley of literally a thousand years.  They are the last major family left standing, and in addition to sheep and cattle they own attractions.  Nearby, they are rebuilding Lowther Castle and the gardens trampled by military training in World War II, as a tourist attraction.  The brother and sister team of Charles and Louisa opened Askham Hall as a hotel a year ago, and it’s become a major wedding destination.

And good for them!  Charles was gracious enough to meet me and give me a private tour.  There aren’t Sandfords around there anymore, and he was happy to meet one of the rare migratory ones returned to the nest.  He’s happy to be able to share a lovely place with the public, and he and Louisa have replaced great-grandfather’s portrait gallery in the main staircase with one of Louisa’s paintings and modern light fixtures to make the visuals more comfortable for a new generation.

One of the original (narrow stone) staircases is just off the room that was the first floor of the pele tower.  The chapel room has some of the original early 15th century paneling, which has been matched.  It’s now a dining hall in which Prince Phillip has eaten annually for 30 years (kathunk!  … sound of a dropped name).  Two degrees of separation now?

Charles is a cattle breeder who likes to run the fells, and, after a chat on genealogy, he left me in the café’s capable hands to head off for lunch and a run.  I said if he ever gets to Northern California, he might want to time the trip to do the Dipsea Race.  I wandered the gardens after enjoying this lovely ham and cheese toasty in the garden.  A raptor (looked like a redtail hawk without the red color) soared overhead, possibly from the nearby birds of prey centre.  It was a really happy family history day.

So, the 8th Earl of Lonsdale’s family (kathunk!) is well represented by a gracious and visionary modern man who didn’t even know he was in the California cuisine groove:  locally grown and sourced organic food and seasonal menus.  I’m glad I could not only hang, but represent my family well.