Not Kansas

I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore when my friend Carla told me that her new boyfriend had hired a cherry picker so he could have the gargoyles’ ears cleaned.

There seemed no proper response to that, other than to say ‘what’s a cherry picker?’

After we established that it’s a machine to lift people up to things, she went on to tell me that the gargoyles with dirty ears were attached to Treberfyyd, David’s neo-Gothic Victorian pile in rural Wales. Think Downton Abbey, but slightly smaller, and Welsh, and without the staff. Or Maggie Smith. Sadly.

Seems she could have led with that.

One of the gargoyles…

You may actually already know Treberfydd, at least you might do if you are a Dr Who fan. They filmed an episode there, with a schoolmaster, and scarecrows and a little girl with a balloon. I have to admit, the house looked nice, a bit scary what with all those exploding aliens, but nice.  Click here and you can see for yourself.

Watching that, however, did not prepare me for the first time I saw it in the flesh, as it were. It looked enormous. And imposing. And grand. We arrived early one Saturday and were guided to our rooms, before having lunch on the lawn. The very extensive lawn. Designed by someone famous that I had never heard of. A few hours later, a tour group arrived. Honestly. And so, I joined it and heard all about how the house was built, and had been in the same family for a zillion years, and how every window was in a subtly different pattern, and how the gargoyles got cleaned, but not often. Next thing I knew, the tour had moved up the sweeping staircase and into my daughter Kimberly’s new bedroom. While the group learned all about the social hierarchy of Victorian Wales and about governesses and something possibly involving religion, I was trying to unobtrusively shove Kimberly’s  toothbrush and underwear under the bed. Unsuccessfully.

… and what he is attached to.

It’s funny to think back on that, when the house is so familiar to me now. Still, it took a bit of getting used to. For a start, there was all the new terminology. The kitchen was the kitchen, but other than that it was a total mystery. All of a sudden we had the Little Drawing Room and the Billiards Room and the Library and the Servants Hall and the Oriel Room and the Turret Room and the School Room and the Lamp Room and the Companion’s Room and the dozen or so other rooms. No one ever said, ‘I left my belt in my bedroom can you run up and get it for me?’ No, every room has a name, which was, as far as I was concerned, totally random and had to be learned. Like a foreign language.

It was, I will admit, a bit intimidating at first. Ok, it was more than that. It was very intimidating. But that was before I realised that Treberfydd was more than a neo-Gothic Victorian pile. It was a home. To a very nice family. And so, over the past several years, we have been there often enough to know what all the rooms are called, more or less. And where the frequently-used things are kept. And to know that if someone decides an hour before dinner that we should all show up in fancy dress, that there is an enormous dressing up box which will allow us to become a chimney sweep, or an Arabian princess, or a lion tamer, or Captain Hook, complete with crocodile.

Just a typical evening in Wales

Being in the middle-of-nowhere Wales, as it is, you might think that life at Treberfydd would be a tad slow, or lonely, or perhaps even boring. I know I did. But, I have to admit, it’s a surprisingly buzzy place. There is always something going on. People seem to wander about quite a bit.

Just the other day, the stone masons were in the hallway discussing the merits of Bath stone over something else that was presumably not Bath stone, while  a very nice lady was jumping up and down on ladders hanging curtains in the Drawing Room and chatting about fleur-de-lys and Victorian colour schemes. I have absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but she seemed happy enough. Meanwhile, in the scullery, an unidentified elderly woman was dropping off eggs and picking up newspapers, although it could have been the other way around. It was hard to tell. She had a big basket and she wasn’t saying much, but she seemed to know her way around, which has to be a good sign. Yet another meal was being organised in the kitchen, a tour was being given of the cellars, a painting was being searched for in the attic, and a PhD student from Cardiff was knocking on the front door. Apparently he is doing his dissertation on Welsh Gothic Revival architecture and had come on his own because he had missed the Victorian Society’s bus trip earlier in the year. Yes, seriously.

It takes a certain skill to be able to sit there in your bathrobe, eating your cereal, while random people walk past to stare at the architraves. I certainly haven’t acquired it but everyone else seems to take it in their stride, so I suppose practice really does make perfect. After all, they get a lot of practice. In addition to the visiting Victorians, the house and gardens are  open to the general public several times a year. There is also an annual art exhibition, a music recital or two and something involving poetry, and candles. I think. It’s hard to keep it all straight, but if you are interested you can visit their website ( They’ll like that. Tell them I sent you.

While all of that is very enjoyable, none of it can compare to the event that was held there this past weekend – the Blessing of our friends’ marriage.  Now that really was special. Carla and David are a lovely couple who are making Treberfydd an even more beautiful and welcoming place than it already was and, more importantly, making each other happy. So, everyone was absolutely delighted to be there, and to be able to share in their occasion. Even the gargoyles were smiling.

Either that, or they were just waiting to have their teeth brushed.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

This entry was posted in About Me, Friends, Humour, Lifestyle and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Not Kansas

  1. Carla Rapoport says:

    And you tagged this to Downtown Abbey! I’m honoured. As is David, the lady on the ladder, the stonemasons, the PhD student and our adorable gargoyles.

  2. Sarah Milner-Barry says:

    Such a great blog Eileen!
    p.s Time for another murder mystery soon I think…

  3. Are you in the picture, my eyes aren’t what they used to be! Fantastic blog, what an exciting life you lead!

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Do you mean in the picture of the gargoyle? No, not in that one but in the other photo I am in red, standing next to the man with the wine glass. Naturally. That’s Tom behind me in the hat and, unbelievably, Christopher wearing No. 7.

  4. publikworks says:

    Terrific blog, I love the way you write. I especially liked the one about clicking Publish by mistake. Not to brag, but I did that just last weekend. Three times. To the same post. I stopped computing when I was asked, in a round about way, to knock it off. The blush is finally now beginning to fade.

    Oh, and I share your preference for Thanksgiving. It’s everything a holiday should be.

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