Calke Explore

This summer Calke Abbey is introducing Calke Explore, consisting of a huge outdoor play area and a trail for all the family to get stuck into.  The grand opening is on the 12th July and will run for 8 weeks, just ask at the parkland pay point for information and they will guide you in.

It has been a busy time for the National Trust team in preparation for this event.  The ranger teams weekly volunteers have been helping out each week with getting the play areas in place, and this past week a working holiday has been with us to help construct the paths through the woodland.

Our working holiday volunteers constructing the edge boarding for our paths.

Our working holiday volunteers constructing the edge boarding for our paths.

The chip bark was then wheelbarrowed in and spread along the path.

The chip bark was then wheelbarrowed in and spread along the path.

Huge bits of timber have been transported across the estate for destination fun!

Huge bits of timber have been transported across the estate for destination fun!

At the entrance of the play area is a huge tree archway in a similar fashion to Whitby's whalebone arch.

At the entrance of the play area is a huge tree archway in a similar fashion to Whitby’s whalebone arch.

Here the tree had been sawn in half so that it could be opened up to form an arch.

Here the tree had been sawn in half so that it could be opened up to form an arch.

...and then finally lifted into postion with our working holiday volunteers.

…and then finally lifted into postion with our working holiday volunteers.

Sir Vauncey's Hut was constructed at Home Farm by our gardener volunteer Alan and then transported to the site.

Sir Vauncey’s Hut was constructed at Home Farm by our gardener volunteer Alan and then transported to the site.

Mind out cows!

Mind out cows!

The hut was finally moved into position underneath the archway on rollers stonehenge style

The hut was finally moved into position underneath the archway on rollers stonehenge style.

Make sure you come along and have a play on the various obstacles and play features that we have put in place...

Make sure you come along and have a play on the various obstacles and play features that we have put in place…

...as well as the spectacular nest and eggs constructed by willow weaving.

…as well as the spectacular nest and eggs constructed by willow weaving.

Orchids In The Limeyards

The limeyards, an area once devoted to industrial limestone quarying for the production of quicklime has since been left to re-wild and consists of some fantastic grassland and woodland interspersed with tranquil ponds. The grasslands were created by the National Trust’s ranger team 16 years ago by clearing some of this wooded area, and due to the areas underlying calcareous geology has given rise to a valuable chalk grassland habitat. This habitat is maintained with the help a small flock of Hebridean sheep, which graze these areas and help keep vegetational succession from returning these areas to woodland.

A trip through this area at the moment is rewarded with an abundance of flowering orchids that include common spotted orchid, fragrant orchid and common twayblade.

Chalk grassland with orchids in flower.  (Photo: James Woodcock)

Chalk grassland with orchids in flower. (Photo: James Woodcock)

The common spotted orchid is the UK’s most common orchid, identifiable by their pink flowers and dark spots that occur on their leaves and give rise to their name.

Common spotted orchid (Photo: Susan Guy)

Common spotted orchid (Photo: Susan Guy)

The fragrant orchids are less numerous, and have a deeper pink/purple colour, although can vary through to a lighter pink/white colour. As its name suggests, a strong scent emenates from this orchid, a floral smell to my nose, but often described as a sweet orangey smell by others.

Fragrant orchid (Photo: Susan Guy)

Fragrant orchid (Photo: Susan Guy)

The other orchid found here is the common twayblade, so named because it usually has two leaves at its base from which the flower spike arises. The flowers are a green colour and resemble a tiny little person.

Since the creation of these grassland areas, each year the number of orchids has been carefully counted, showing us how the habitat is responding to the management that is carried out. The count started in 1998, with a count of 253 common spotted orchids. This gradually rose to 1727 in 2006, at which point the numbers really took off increasing to 4018 in 2008 which included our first recording of a fragrant orchid. This year’s count took place just a few days ago giving us 5125 common spotted orchids, 316 fragrant orchids compared to last years 62, and one orchid which we have deemed to be a cross between fragrant and pyramidal.

Maticulous counting of orchids.

Maticulous counting of orchids.

Calke’s Table Talk

Aside

Our room guides tell us that visitors often show a particular interest in certain objects in the house. One that sparks questions is a semi-circular table in the Dining Room. We know it as a Wine Table (sometimes called a Social or Port Table or even a Hunt table), but what was it used for and how old is it?

Semi-circular Wine Table now displayed in the Dining Room

It’s made of mahogany and dates back to about 1800 – 1830. The tables come apart and can be used as two quarter-circles. We know that the tables would have been wrapped around pillars and used as serving tables for important meals – including a dinner for Repton School Governors.

There’s a bit of debate as to what other uses the table had.  One of the intriguing answers was for serving port. Gentlemen guests would return to the House after a ride on the Estate. They’d come in by the fire to find the table in front of the fireplace. Port was served as a well-earned refreshment!

The brass rail topped by finials at the back of the table would have held a curtain which we think would either have protected the faces of the Gentlemen from the heat of the fire or even been used to regulate the temperature of the port.

Look out for the table on your next visit.

THE CURTAIN FALLS………….

Image

In large country houses it was the fad in the 18th century to have auricula theatres to display these flowers at their best. As tastes changed they fell out of fashion and houses removed the theatres. Calke Abbey has the only original auricula theatre in the country.

For decades the Calke Gardeners worked with a nursery who would supply us with the auriculas to stock the theatre. We brought over a collection as they came into flower and returned them when we had finished with them, just like a library book. Circumstances change and this year we went solo, hoping that our visitors wouldn’t see a dramatic decline in the standard of display!Auriculas April 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In preparation for growing our own auriculas the gardening team constructed a new greenhouse in autumn last year and it worked as well as we had planned allowing us to control the amount of shade and ventilation for the growing plants. We used a peat free potting mix which hit the spot and having the auriculas here on site at different stages of growth meant it was so simple to replace a fading plant with a fresh. The theatre looked its best for all our visitors at all times and we managed an extra week of display.

Well, it has to be said that five weeks later we are pretty pleased with ourselves! Things have gone so well. Already we have about 140 different varieties in our collection and we hope to build upon that.Rows of Auriculas

The auricula display is now complete and the theatre is displaying pelargoniums. So the curtain falls on this years’ auricula display and we can now start thinking about next years’ flowers.

Bluebells – The Epitome Of Spring?

Around Calke park the bluebells are now in full bloom, carpeting the woodland floors with their brilliant blue.  Here at Calke we are lucky to still have our native English version dominate (there is one small patch of the non-native Spanish bluebells hybridizing that we are keeping a close guard on).  It seems that we are slowly losing the fight nationally, with each year the spread of Spanish bluebells increasing.  The Spanish and hybrid versions can have a varied appearance, with pale blue, pink and white flowers; a more upright stem; and flowers falling from the stem in all directions as opposed to the natives tendency to all fall on a single side.

A carpet of bluebells in Calke's Serpentine Wood.

A carpet of bluebells in Calke’s Serpentine Wood.

It is thought that the two species developed their individual genetics after the last glacial period, having previously shared a common ancestry allowing for their current ease of hybridization.  This resulting hybrid is a highly fertile version which could lead to the loss of our native, or at least a dilution of the native bluebells genetics over time.  The British bluebell has a deeper shade of blue and more prominent nod of its drooping flower, along with a distinctive sweet aroma.  There is certainly character to be cherished with this sovereignty, lets hope that our native bluebell remains strong in the years to come.

A spanish bluebell with white flowers and upright stem.

A spanish bluebell with white flowers and upright stem.

Most people have a particular springtime indicator that for them truly shouts “Spring Is Here”.  I can imagine that for many people this could be the emergence of bluebells.  However, personally speaking I would have to say that it is the arrival of the chiffchaff with its querky jittery song.  Let me know in the comments what your personal springtime indicator is.

In times gone by the bluebell's sap was used as a glue for book spines and arrow feathers.

In times gone by the bluebell’s sap was used as a glue for book spines and arrow feathers.

In the mean time make sure that you get yourself over to Calke to see our particularly good bluebell display.  A good spot to visit is the Serpentine Wood.  Another great way to see them is along with our fantastic park guides.  Join them on tuesdays, fridays and saturdays at 1130 and 1430 from the ticket office.

Whilst taking my photos with my little point and shoot job, I saw many others taking shots with much superior cameras and I’m sure greater knowledge of how to take decent shots.  To all you budding photographers, please get your photos of Calkes bluebells uploaded to our facebook site.

End Of Lambing

We are coming to the end of lambing here at Calke, with only a few stragglers left to lamb.

Fresh lambs in the lambing tent.

Fresh lambs in the lambing tent.

We have had two very successful weekends trialling out our new format of lambing, using home farm instead of the big gazebo near park entrance.  The new format has allowed a very intimate feel, especially when people get the opportunity  to observe the magical moment of a lamb being born a mere 10ft away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the end of our second weekend the tally stands at 63 ewes lambing 71 little cuddly lambs (awwww).

The lamb tally board.

The lamb tally board.

If you have missed out on catching the lambs, we shall be keeping them in the walled garden for the follwing week(ish) for you to see.  It’s great to watch them as they start to find their feet, form mischievous gangs, and run about discovering their new world.

Lambs in the walled garden.

Lambs in the walled garden.

Lambing At Calke

This weekend we’re hosting a lambing event at Calke Abbey.  The good weather has been booked, and the lambs have been pouring out with maximum awwww factor.  Saturday brought in a good steady stream of people all day, with families enjoying the sight of freshly born lambs, and then sitting down for a brew and a bite to eat at the catering van parked up at home farm (An area not usually accessible to the public!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Many people waited around for a number of hours yesterday, whilst one particular ewe showed signs of being on the brink of lambing.  It wasn’t untill after 4 O’clock, with a little help from the head ranger that the lamb was born to a very eager crowd.  This happening not a moment too soon, before we closed up for the day.  The lamb count as of Sunday morning is 47, with plenty more still due in our maternity ward.

A sheep eye view of the lambing event.

A sheep eye view of the lambing event.

If you’ve not been able to join us this weekend, we’ll be awwwwing all over again next weekend (5th/6th April), so make sure to join us.

A view of the maternity ward.

A view of the maternity ward.

The lambing event has altered from previous years, due to a much smaller flock of portland sheep that we now look after.  To find out full details for our lambing event please follow this link.