Having used my car just for trips for Click and Collect and other essential shopping since the beginning of January, I decided yesterday to extend my definition of ‘local’ yesterday, my eyes so in need of some beautiful stimulation. And there is little more formally beautiful than the gardens of Stourhead, run by the National Trust.
I met a friend in the car park to hand over some knitting I had done for her, and we just marvelled at what we were seeing on the strictly socially distanced one-way walk round the grounds. From the, apparently newly presented, message from the Trust’s founder at the beginning, to the coffee in the Spread Eagle courtyard near the end of the walk, (where it felt really weird once more see people, just relaxing and enjoying themselves) I offer only photos and no further commentary.
Yes, that way round. Yesterday morning I had to take my car to the garage for its MoT. I was not looking forward to the walk back. Only 15 minutes, but at 8.15 it was cold and damp, with that chill that gets into your bones, as they say. So I took my camera with me, which made the walk pass more pleasantly, even though it also made it last 5 minutes longer.
They called me at lunchtime to say the car was ready, and I decided to take my camera with me again as I walked back to the garage, in case I regretted not doing so. I would have done.
The garage has a very small showroom for second-hand cars. This MG reminded me of the Midget I used to drive in the mid-1970s.
I looked up towards St Benedict’s.
But didn’t go that way, turning off right into a cul-de sac. ‘That reminds me – I must put my recycling out when I get home.’ The houses in the distance are on Wearyall Hill.
The panel says ‘Keep out. This area is liable to flood’. The squirrel was unconcerned.
Across Morrisons’ car park next.
From the car park I could see the top of the RC St Mary’s church, and its hall, which I know now has a lift and, it appears, perhaps a new roof as well.
Faced with the first of many inclines where I live. That feature was something I considered hard when deciding whether or not to move here ten years ago.
Many businesses round here use the word ‘Avalon’ or ‘Tor’ in their trade names.
A pretty corner on a very busy and noisy road.
The next incline, and the Globe Inn next to the park on the right.
I haven’t walked alongside the park for a very long time. I’m sure this wasn’t here before. But perhaps the whole tree was.
When I drove to the garage at 8.15, I noticed how little traffic there was. 20 minutes later certainly not the case. A misty Chalice Hill in the background.
At the top of these steps is…
… a small green space.
But I’m walking downhill now.
Fortunately I don’t need to turn left.
Instead I’m going to walk up a path between the houses.
Another reminder that it’s recycling day.
A once-in-two-hours chance to see the little bus which goes along the principal road through the estate.
As I walk through it, I have had various glimpses of the very misty moors, the Polden Hills beyond having totally disappeared.
Chalice Hill can be made out.
But much of Glastonbury Tor, including its tower at the top, cannot.
Because I have my camera in my hand, I take three photos in my garden.
The frog spawn is nicely turning from dots into commas.
And these ridiculous primroses have been flowering, though not this floriferously, since October.
As I set off to collect the car in the early afternoon, I was pleased to find that the chill damp had gone, (though it was still very cold), and that the tower had returned to the top of the Tor.
The Bristol Water people were still hard at work. I should try to join a gang like this to find out why it is that ‘work’ so often consists of just standing around.
What goes up must go down if you’re walking in the opposite direction.
The swings in the park were in use.
And the bird had not budged as I took a closer look. Ah, so it’s made of wood, not metal.
I took a more interesting route for the last part back to the garage, and had glimpses of the Abbey.
Seeing this mural on the side of the Globe Inn …
… and its signature, gave me an idea for a possible future blog or two. I found later that there are 26 murals on the trail.
I believe this water flows from Chalice Hill.
And that it used to be the source for the Pump Room on the other side of the road in its short life as such.
Now I could see the Abbey’s octagonal kitchen.
The citation on this plaque – the lost adult glove gives an idea of its size – says: “PRESENTED TO THE PUBLIC BY J HRY BURGESS ESQ RESIDENT SURGEON IN THIS TOWN 50 YEARS AND DURING HIS SIXTH MAYORALTY 1864…1865” And what is it decorating? Very appropriate for a surgeon – public conveniences, still, in ‘normal’ times, in use.
From a car park, an even better view of part of the Abbey. And another idea for a future blog.
I knew there was a Glastonbury community ‘fridge’ (not limited to chilled foodstuff) but not where it was, next to the Town Hall. (I am going out very, very little these days!)
This time I go past St Benedict’s church and the Mitre Inn.
And, very close by, The King Arthur.
Finally, a pretty row of houses opposite the entrance to the garage.
My car had passed its MoT with flying colours – but then it had only done 2000 miles in the last 12 months, and much of that was done in the two weeks before lockdown, as I drove to and from Gatwick Airport for my trip to Morocco, of blessed memory.
Christmas Day 2020, and for the first time in my life I was going to spend the whole day alone. Not a problem – but I did want to do something a bit different.
For months I had been wanting to take photos of and write a blog post on a beautiful complex of buildings a couple of miles east of the lovely cathedral city of Wells, and just 20 minutes from where I live. The sun god gave its blessing in the morning, and I drove to South Horrington, a village centred around a converted 19th century mental hospital. The hospital’s principal architect was the prolific Sir (George) Gilbert Scott, 1811-1878, known mainly for his ecclesiastical work, but who designed many workhouses and asylums in the early stages of his career. Reading Gaol, St Pancras station and the Albert Memorial all appear in his portfolio of more than 800 buildings, designed or altered.
Later known as Mendip Hospital, this complex opened as the Somerset and Bath Pauper Lunatic Asylum on 1st March, 1848. It soon filled beyond its capacity, attics were turned into dormitories, and its principal psychiatric function was transferred in 1897 to the Tone Vale Hospital near Taunton. But it continued to house long-stay elderly and mentally infirm patients, until 1991 when it was closed under the Care in the Community policy. It was then converted into ‘luxury’ flats and houses, which I discovered in 2011 when I was about to return from France and looking for somewhere to live. I did not pursue the idea of living there for a number of practical reasons, but aesthetic distaste was not among them!
I had driven round the grounds on a few occasions since, but this was the first time I had got out of my car. I parked in:
I have not been able to find the significance of the various colours, and indeed I have been able to find very little detail, historic or otherwise, about the buildings as a whole, apart from the links I have indicated. Given that Gilbert Scott designed so many such, perhaps this is not so surprising.
I walked clockwise around the complex.
I should love to know more about the arches below, and hoped to find that there was some society interested in the history of the place. All I have found is the Friends of the Mendip Hospital Cemetery.
The cemetery is a mile or so away towards Wells, and I did look in 2011 at a property, the back garden of which abuts on to it. I was tempted. To have a nature reserve at my back garden would have been wonderful. There was just a lovely low stone wall between the bottom of the sloping garden and the cemetery, and wonderful views beyond the it to distant wooded hills. But the house needed too much work.
Towards the end of my walk, I got chatting with this couple (with dog!). They had lived in South Horrington, at three different addresses, for 20 years. They loved it, and they particularly extolled the walks there were in various directions, including Wells city just 20 minutes away.
Completing the circuit to my car took me along a footpath and past Fire Engine Cottage.
Time for another visit to a National Trust place. When I booked, for last Wednesday, 10th November, the forecast was for a 14% chance of rain. By the time the day came it was more like 50%. But we were lucky. Driving though showers to get there, I feared another rain-sodden visit, as to Park Cottage, but not a drop of rain fell during our wanderings, (unlike the journey home).
Montacute House is the most splendid of houses to visit in the area, (paceBarrington Court, which runs it a close second, and whose gardens I also visited recently) much used as a filming location, including for the recent television version of Wolf Hall. While the house was not open to the public, under current lockdown regulations, the gardens were, and we had them almost to ourselves.
As you drive there, you have a tantalising glimpse from the road of the long drive and the house at the end, but cannot stop. Here it is from the other direction.
I had forgotten to pick up my camera as I left home, but am quite pleased with the service my phone gave me, and by the time Daphne and I met up at this point, I had already taken photos of the displayed map,
of the amazing house front,
and of the crest emblazoned thereon.
We ambled round the gardens together, looking inwards and outwards.
The back of the house is even more impressive than the front.
A gate entices you into the formal, walled garden,
of which I select just one photo.
We were soon on the other side of the wall once more.
Daphne could not stay much longer, with a delivery to receive at home, but found time to have a takeaway coffee bought from the café (I had to improvise a mask, my nearest being in the car). We sat on a bench, which was just long enough to enable us to be socially distanced, with the view at the top of this post ahead of us.
I was not in a hurry, and had never walked round the village before. The car park was not closing for another 30 minutes, so I took the opportunity to rectify that lack.
If the house at the far end of this row looks a little wonky, that’s because
I felt so good after that visit, and all evening. With all the electronic means of communication and entertainment that I have at my disposal, I had not felt at all lonely during this or the previous lockdown, but I had not realised how much good some real face to face conversation with a friend – enhanced by a beautiful setting both during and after – would do me. That was great!
Yes, there was another garden to be visited in September, last Sunday, but I didn’t think I had sufficient material for a blog post. So I didn’t even look at my pictures until a couple of days ago, and changed my mind.
Cannington Court was first known as Cannington Priory. For that was how it started life, in about 1138, home to a community of Benedictine nuns. Henry VIII put paid to that though, in 1536. He and subsequent monarchs subsequently granted tenancy of what became known as Cannington Court to various followers. In 1807, it reverted to its original purpose for about 30 years, when a body of French Benedictine nuns moved in, expelled from France following the French Revolution.
Since the mid-nineteenth century the Court has always been used for educational purposes, and for the last 100 years, in various guises, for agricultural and horticultural learning. Most recently it has been part of the Cannington campus of, and owned by, Taunton and Bridgwater College, who in 2015 leased the Court buildings to EDF. That company is using them as a training hub (Hinkley Point is very near), and has invested millions of pounds in their project, from which the Walled Gardens have much benefited. These had been approved in 2009 as a tourist attraction, and are maintained by students of Bridgwater College, part of their studies.
As I entered, I was little disappointed, and felt cheated of even the very modest sum I had been charged by the National Gardens Scheme. The walled garden was not large and was dominated by a plant sales area. There was no map this time, so I only gradually discovered just how big, how many, and how varied the Walled Gardens, plural, were.
There were masses of flowers!
Geologically/building stone-wise, Somerset is mainly known for its blue lias limestone, coveted for new house-building. It is in fact is a rather dullish grey. But there are many examples of buildings in a rather rich red sandstone. (I should know whether its Old Red or New Red, but I don’t. I’ll look it up one of these days.)
I looked for ferns in the plant sales area – none.
Why did I think I hadn’t enough material for a blog post? Was it that there had been a few shabby areas – autumn, possible neglect by absent students? Was it the two passing ladies who had moaned at me, exaggerating the neglect? Was it that I’d not been able to take a picture of a wicker dragon because there was someone taking his time doing so and blocking my way? That I felt pressed for time as they were closing shortly? That I’d not used the tea room because of my own uncertainty about doing so and in any case said shortage of time? Whatever the reason for my disgruntlement, it was reinforced as on leaving I saw these notices for the students (I’d had to give Track and Trace details as I entered the garden, because it had meant going through a tiny gift shop.)
I don’t know why, but in any case I was wrong, as this collection of photos has reminded me, and I must go back there again. As a tourist attraction it is open for most of the year under the auspices of the College, who had just made it over to the NGS and its supported charities for this day.
Having finished my lunch on the stile at Hawkridge Reservoir, I made my way south for some ten minutes to a National Trust property in Somerset that I had not previously visited, Fyne Court. I was planning just to explore the grounds of the 65-acre estate, as I knew that the house had long ago – 1894 in fact – burned down. For generations, the property had belonged to the Crosse family, including one Andrew Crosse, who had been one of the key people to experiment with electricity early in the 19th century. The property was left to the National Trust in 1967.
Once away from the remaining outbuildings, I chose the longest – 40-minutes – of the three short waymarked walks. Pond-dipping was available on one of the other two,
as was what I imagined had been the old kitchen garden.
It was for me to enjoy the next tree, just 50 metres on. The heavens opened when I was between the two, with more of the 3% chance of rain which had been forecast for the day.
I stayed perfectly dry and used the wait to study details.
The rain did not last long,
and when I emerged I found I was not far from my starting point, the outbuildings.
Having looked at the panels, of which this is one, about previous occupants of the property,
I improvised a face mask from an old shirt I had in my backpack (just in case I was cold – quite the opposite!) and went into the tea-room, which had just reopened that afternoon it seemed, and treated myself to a Magnum.
I didn’t fancy sitting around to eat it, but took it back to my car. Just as well – the heavens opened again just as I got there!
I was pleased to find that no roadworks held me up on my way home.
Having visited The Courts Garden in the morning, and as I was too cold to sit still for long outside, Daphne and I sat in our respective cars to eat our lunches in solitary splendour.
Quite a nice view.
Great Chalfield Manor is a 15th century house, much used in filming period drama, (including the BBC’s ‘Wolf Hall’) with an arts and crafts garden. At present, because of the virus, the house is not open, but the garden alone is worth the trip.
The National Trust had, as usual, done a very good job in setting out a one-way system, and we did our best to respect it. We took the long walk and added bits of the shorter one.
As soon as I turned the corner, I recalled my previous visit, which, my photographic records tell me, was almost exactly three years ago.
The ‘tents’ – here and elsewhere in the grounds – made by those four trees were characteristic.
Last weekend I visited two National Garden Scheme gardens. On Saturday it was to two adjacent gardens in the village of Benter, near Radstock, Somerset. Radstock celebrates Somerset Coalfield Life in its museum. Coal-mining flourished in Somerset in the first two decades of the twentieth century, the last mine closing in 1974. It is believed that mining went on in the area as long ago as when the Romans were here. The ‘Father of English geology’, William Smith, was working as a surveyor in these coalmines when he made his observations leading to the understanding of geological strata.
Apart from the occasional relic, you would never know of the county’s coal-mining past, though stone-quarrying still flourishes in some parts. The whole area is now almost entirely idyllically rural once more. And that is certainly true of the small village of Benter. These two lovely gardens were those of two generations of the same family, (and there was evidence of a younger third generation!) There was no clear boundary between them.
This flower bed is one of the first to greet you, and the picture also shows the two very different houses.
Another bed …
… tried to draw me into a formal area, but I was soon enticed away to the woodlands. The background in this first image is outside the properties.
This was quite a lengthy walk, and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to walk all the way back, hoping not as some of the path had been a little tricky by the stream. But no, after a while I found myself approaching open space again, and on my way to the planted gardens.
A pleasant hour spent in two lovely ‘domestic’ gardens. A pity the sky had been overcast all the time, but it had been warm. The next day’s visit was to a very different kind of garden – and the sun was out.
I’m not complaining, but there is just one problem in having to book a time in advance to visit a National Trust garden (because of totally reasonable social distancing precautions). It is that you can’t decide to go spontaneously, depending on the weather. But I was lucky last Friday. I had not been able to get a ticket for Barrington Court in the morning, when I had originally wanted to go, and the only spot available was mid-afternoon.
In the event it poured with rain in the morning, was dry, if pretty overcast, in the afternoon, and started raining as I drove home. As I say I was very lucky. Moreover, as a member of the National Trust, I would not have suffered if I had decided not to go, as my visit was free of charge. I wonder if they refund paying non-members who on the day choose not to go because of really bad weather?
There are two main buildings at Barrington Court, a sixteenth-century house, built to a characteristic Elizabethan E-plan, and, immediately beside it, a seventeenth-century former stable and coach block, in red brick, now Strode House, which normally includes, among other things, the restaurant. The gardens still show much of the influence of Gertrude Jekyll, in Arts and Crafts style. There are in addition various 1920s outbuildings.
After this I had to retrace my steps along the broad avenue. At this point I had an unfortunate encounter with a silly woman and her jumping up dog. ‘Don’t worry, he won’t hurt you, he’s very friendly.’ Never mind that he was indeed jumping up at me, obliging her to come close to me, that she still didn’t manage to control him and the only way he would remove himself (his name was Watson) from me was to point hard at his owner, who had by now withdrawn herself from my immediate space when I protested, and shout ‘GO AWAY!’ What is it about such owners who think it’s OK for their dogs to jump up, that you shouldn’t mind having your clothes mauled, and that you should love the antics of their dogs as much as they do?
I was quite discombobulated by all this and had to take myself in hand as I made my way to the formal gardens.
As a coda, I just have to share my huge pleasure at having been able recently to get together twice, with different sets of friends to make music, live. Not over Zoom, not joining in someone else’s recording, but actual live music-making as it used to happen BC. Well, not quite exactly as it used to happen, because this was al fresco. On Sunday we were five, that is two singers and three viol players. On Monday we were four singers, this time gathered in my garden,
It was a gentler day on Thursday 12th March. ‘Oh good’, thought I as I started this post, ‘Fewer photos to share.’ Fail!
It was back in the minibus today, as we headed off, making several stops as ever, to the Anti-Atlas mountains. An odd name, given by a couple of British geologists in the 19th century. The rock formation is extremely old, dating back 300 million years, linked with the Appalachian Mountains, but coming to the surface only some 80 million years ago as a result of the collisions of the African and European plates, and heavily weathered since.
Throughout the week, we saw far more than I was able to capture on ‘film’, but this time at our first stop I took:
Our next stop was for a drink at Ait Baha. ‘Ait’ means ‘tribe’ or ‘family’ in Berber, and appears in many town names. This one is best-known for shoe-making, and we wondered round a co-operative, some people buying. There was no aggressive hard-selling. I think this actually made one all the more likely to buy. The guilt I felt for not doing so would have been absent had I been pestered. (I would have bought if any of these lovely slippers and shoes had had supportive insteps.)
Moving on we saw, among other things:
We were heading for the hilltop village of Laatik, and its agadir. An agadir was originally a defensive grain store, but expanded its purpose to the storage of anything precious owned by villagers. Each family had one large cupboard/room in the agadir. This building was at least 600 years old, but there was apparently a more famous and larger one elsewhere dating back some 900 years. We were greeted by its guardian, though Mohamed gave most of the explanations.
It was intended that we should eat our packed lunch in that corridor, but in the event we had to beat a hasty retreat. Locals objected to our presence, for fear that we were bringing the coronavirus with us. At that point (I was keeping a very close eye on the national and international situation) only 2 cases had been declared in Morocco, each of those Moroccan residents in northern Italy, who had returned to Morocco for a visit. I don’t blame those local people in the least for wanting to be rid of us.
Our leaders found a lovely spot a few kilometres away on the way down for us to eat, including even a natural bench for those of us who couldn’t crouch on the ground. I was happy to be in the open air and not in that corridor.
We were then allowed 30 minutes to wander around at our will. I concentrated mainly on (those cactuses that weren’t cactuses, but) euphorbias. Hélène had told us the previous day that their local name was ‘Mother-in-law’s seat’. Some ‘humour’ is universal.
There were some beautiful trees as well.
Once we had moved on in the minibus, at last I managed to get a decent picture of a Barbary Ground Squirrel.
The sky had started clouding over as we had left the agadir, and we actually caught a glimpse of a shower in the distance at one point in the afternoon. This was the only hint of precipitation we saw all week.
Back to Ait Baha for afternoon refreshment. The kestrel was still there, but now on the windowsill.
The traditional method of building houses in Morocco is to plan for a next storey, should it prove desirable and affordable. So these houses are only unfinished in the sense that they may or may not grow in the future. Meanwhile, the floor of that next storey, with window spaces all ready, serves as a roof terrace.
These very modern apartment blocks on the outskirts of ever-expanding Agadir make no such provision.
Once we were back on the main dual carriageway towards Agadir, I was thrilled to see a woman in colourful dress driving a large colourful tractor, coming in the opposite direction. Unfortunately I had no time to capture the image.
Always good when our temporary hilltop home comes into sight.