What Travel Writers Say


Plas Newydd, Wales

© By Mary Alice Downie
  Plas Newydd Home Lord Uxbridge, commander of the cavalry, was riding into battle at Waterloo beside Wellington, when a cannon ball hit him, smashing his right knee. "By God, sir, I've lost my leg!" Wellington looked down. "By God, sir, so you have!" It was amputated next day in Waterloo without benefit of anaesthesia. "The knives seem rather blunt," he supposedly said. The leg was buried in a garden beside the house where the operation was done, under a 'tombstone,' and it became a unique tourist attraction. Uxbridge (1768-1854) later as First Marques of Anglesey, didn't let his disability stop him, living a rich full life. He eloped with Wellington's sister-in-law, had 18 children and 73 grandchildren! He became a Field Marshall, Knight of the Garter and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (twice).
     "The Anglesey Leg," a splendid wooden prosthesis made of ash, with a knee joint, is on display at Plas Newydd, along with uniforms, medals and a bloodstained trouser leg for the ghoulish young.
     You enter the estate through a Tolkien-ish forest, sweep past a grand establishment of turrets and towers, which turns out to be the stables. The mellow ivy-swathed house, originally a medieval manor, was re-designed by James Wyatt in the eighteenth-century, with gardens inspired by Humphrey Repton. There are remarkable views on all sides, of the Menai Strait with Snowdonia beyond, an arboretum, acres of lawns and an Italianate terrace garden.
     The grand rooms include a two-storey "Gothick" Hall with regimental banners and portraits. Indeed, there's a virtual family album on the walls, only these images are paintings by Hoppner, Reynolds, Lawrence and Romney. They were a good-looking lot, who seem to have inherited their illustrious ancestor's vitality. The fifth Marques blew his vast fortune on such exercises as turning the chapel into a theatre. He had his own theatrical company with elaborate costumes and frequently played the lead roles himself. The present Marques is a military historian, which seems reasonable, considering his ancestry. His other passion is rhododendrons and the 5 acre gardens, reached by a woodland walk beside the Strait, are famous.

Plas Newydd Home  Menai Strait  Plas Newydd Stables  Plas Newydd Terrace Garden  Tolkien-ish Forest 

     The family rooms were remodelled in the 1930s with one spectacular addition, a vast mural painted by Rex Whistler. The painting is 58 feet wide on a single piece of canvas, covering an entire wall of the Long Dining Room, with real and imaginary Renaissance scenes.
     There's a mournful story attached. While the work was being done in 1936-37, Whistler and Lady Caroline Paget, daughter of the sixth Marques, fell in love, but in those days, class distinctions prevailed and they couldn't get married. Whistler painted members of the family and pets into the mural. He included himself as Romeo beneath Juliet (Lady Carolines's) balcony, and as a pensive gardener sweeping up fallen leaves with a broom.
     She married someone else; he enlisted in the Welsh Guards and was killed in 1944, cutting short a brilliant artistic and theatrical career. A collection of Whistler paintings, paint box, brushes and palette, illustrations and costume designs -and his love letters are on display.
     The house has been owned by the National Trust since 1976. There is the usual delightful tearoom - it was so popular we couldn't get in - and an extensive second hand bookshop, with lots of military history on its shelves and a coffee shop beside it. You can try your hand at free croquet or take an historical cruise along the Strait, running from the house. A small shuttle bus transports the tired or infirm up and down the hill and offers different views of the house and grounds - a living eighteenth-century engraving.
     There's another Plas Newydd, home of the Ladies of Llangollen, who also created quite a stir in their day, but that's a different story

Mary Alice Downie writes for Kingston Life Magazine and contributes to Fifty-five Plus, Good Times, Forever Young and many other magazines as well as a food blog, 'Edible Souvenirs' on the website www.kingstonlife.com. She is the author of 28 books for children and adults.

Photo Credits
Mary Alice Downie

If you go
Plas Newydd, Wales
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Wales Tourist Board: http://www.visitwales.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plas_Newydd
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Anglesey

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