In rural Cheshire there is a wonderful, albeit slightly psychedelic, slice of heaven. The quirky and topsy-turvy 15th century timber manor house of the de Moreton family is as fascinating as it is breathtaking. The stark contrast of black and white is the first thing that strikes you about the building; a monochrome explosion in the greenery of the estate. Once over the moat and through the gate, you’re welcomed into a stunning courtyard which boasts opulent Elizabethan bay windows competing for space in a compact, yet spacious, cobbled yard. The entrance into the quad is a genuine “stop and stare” breath-taking moment. And the as soon as you cross over the threshold and are welcomed by this surreal architecture, you enter into another world for the rest of the day: congenial, cultured and tranquil.
Taking the guided tour of the manor is highly informative about this minor gentry family who were voraciously on the make in Elizabethan times and seemed desperate to have their advancing social status and wealth reflected in their ancestral home, mainly by using as much glass as possible and by adding extra floors to a building with no foundations (sound idea…). As they add extra wings and long galleries, the staircases struggle to cope and the layout becomes confused, while the increased weight of the building and warping of load-bearing oak beams leads to the most bizarre, internally confounded notion of straightness. This house is a spirit level’s worst nightmare. But it’s precisely this quirky architecture which sets the scene for your visit, defying the concepts of level and ordered which dominate all our modern buildings, and creating a sense that you have left the real world behind.
Just as the rules of architecture no longer apply, so to the rules of normal social interaction are abandoned. People say “hello” to each other as they pass by, and strangers strike up conversation. And they’re not starting their conversations with the obligatory topic of the weather (which is a great ice-breaker to someone who you have not been introduced to), the place itself not only instigates this unusual friendliness between strangers but also provides them with a topic of conversation. Perhaps it is because people are so relaxed here – with leaving their real lives behind at the gate, they leave behind all their worries, which belong to the modern world. Here, people can just unwind.
The grounds which accompany the manor are also part of this surreal paradise. With lush grass and little trees to offer shade, chairs and tables are dotted around the sculpted landscape. And if you take your place there, then a helpful person will come and take your order and they will shortly return with afternoon tea, complete with home-baked cake. If this is heaven, sign me up.