The Newt in Somerset, to be precise. I hadn’t seen my cousin Mary, who lives in Croydon, for several years, so her love of gardens and gardening, along with the fact that I had a garment to hand over that I had knitted for her, gave the perfect pretext for us to get together last Friday, 20th August, in one of my favourite local places.
South West Trains brought her in perfectly on time to Templecombe Station, which is about 15 minutes’ drive from The Newt (also served by GWR to Castle Cary, just five minutes’ away). We started with the obligatory coffee, bought from the Cyder Bar, and studied the plan of the grounds.
By then, we had just 30 minutes or so before our lunch reservation at the Garden Café, and Mary opted to visit The Parabola, which features hundreds of varieties of apples, and I suggested that the kitchen garden would nicely fill the rest of the time.
Not only apples are grown in The Parabola, so named for its shape.
To get to the kitchen garden, you go past the huge wildflower area,
and through a tunnel, which I’ve seen develop from not there, to there but plantless, to supporting small nameless plants,
to producing many different varieties of gourds.
It was time to make our way to The Story of Gardening. No time to wait for this deer to lift its head.
We could have just walked down the slope to the entrance, but instead went the slightly longer way round on the slightly vibrating walkway,
from which we saw these deer.
I think this selection of photographs does not too much replicate the visit I made with my friend Mary four weeks previously!
Mary was very envious of the Victorians for their greenhouses.
Four weeks ago, I assumed that these smell horns would not (because of Covid) be working. This time they certainly were.
On the long Tool Wall, I was attracted to these many balls of string, all apparently made by the same company.
It was time to move back to real plants, mainly flowers, once we had visited the cactus house.
The Cottage Garden
The Victorian Fragrance Garden
Mary pointed out toxic Monk’s Hood to me.
Part of the White Garden, near to the Red and Blue Gardens
The beginning of The Cascade
Hadspen House, now a luxury hotel
The view from the same spot 180 degrees round. The far pool retains its historic name of the Bathing Pool, though I think paddling would be all it enables, now anyway.
The Fowl House, within the Lower Egg
Back through The Parabola,
where Mary got the joke before I did.
After a visit to the farm shop, where we bought freshly ground coffee, and bottles of the pink cyder of which we had been given small samples at lunch, we made our way to the Cyder Bar, where we enjoyed glasses of The Newt’s delicious chilled fresh lemonade.
A final look round the tropical greenhouse, and it was time to take Mary to my place, from where her brother (a third first cousin – I only have five! – met within 11 days!) picked her up from her to spend the night of his and his partner’s house.
The celebrated garden writer and designer, Penelope Hobhouse, (b. 1929), at one time married into the family and having had a great influence on the restoration of Hadspen House’s gardens in the 1960s, wrote a book called ‘The Story of Gardening‘. Was it in tribute to her, in ignorance, or for some other reason that the museum in the grounds of what is now called The Newt in Somerset bears the same name?
Last Friday, my friend Mary and I, as part of our visit to The Newt (see previous post), spent the best part of an hour looking round this museum. Its external setting is well described here. Inside it consists, on the left-hand side, of a long, very wide corridor, with a wall of tools and including central island exhibits, and on the right-hand side a series of nine rooms, with a further, much narrower corridor, fully glazed, beyond them on the right, so that you have access to the rooms from both sides.
When you arrive you are given an audioguide, for one ear only. It works on the same principle as a satnav/GPS system, except that it’s a Building Positioning System. It knows where you are and offers you various options to learn more, relevant to that very point, referenced by the little numbered trowel indicators that are discreetly everywhere. If you listened to all of them you’d be there for hours, and I fully intend to do just that (well, perhaps not all of them) before too long.
Here are some of the pictures I took, in order. You start in the entrance hall, and we missed the commentary on the short initial film because we hadn’t quite twigged at the very outset, despite being told by reception, how the audioguide worked.
The (his)story started with classical times,
and moved through the time and geography.
This island was about scent. In normal times you would put your nose up to the cone, and squeeze the puffer. I didn’t try it, and my assumption in any case was that it would not be in operation in present circumstances.
This island, the theme of which was ‘colour’ was a real curiosity. This is roughly how the human eye saw it, all the time.
But as I was taking my eye away from the viewfinder of my camera, which showed the picture I had just taken, I noticed that the image captured was this:
So I took another…
Only on my fourth essay did my camera faithfully reflect what my eye saw, and shown first here. I expect there’s some scientific explanation about white light being made up of the spectrum of colours, but I’m intrigued.
The last area in the museum concerned modern gardens and gardening, and featured what is going on in Singapore a lot.
It was time to return to the entrance, taking the long, wide corridor, passing its islands on the left this time.
It is nearly two years since my London friend, Mary, and I tried to visit The Newt in Somerset together, but in August 2019 the weather was so awful that we diverted to the Haynes International Motor Museum nearby instead. And, as I vaguely recall, that itself had been a second attempt. Then of course along came you-know-what.
Last Friday was the first time I had seen Mary since February 2018, when, given the time of year, our estate visit had been to see the daffodils of Stourhead, (National Trust). So at last we made it to the Newt last Friday.
The timing of Mary’s train was such that we had only time to check in and brush up before the very early lunch I had had to book, all later times having been taken. As we stood on the terrace of the Garden Café,
we noticed a helicopter parked in the field.
My guess is that this belonged to a guest at the very up-market hotel that is now Hadspen House, former seat of the Hobhouse family. Or possibly the billionaire South African recent purchaser of the estate, who has turned it into the present attraction, was visiting.
Lunch was delicious. The cuisine is superb. This is just our starters – Mary has yet to pour the cucumber soup into her bowl.
It was a long time before we emerged and started to explore how The New expressed itself in July. As ever, I took an enormous number of photos, of which this is a small selection.
We had a reservation for the recently opened ‘Story of Gardening’ for 2.40, so started making our way towards the deer park where it is situated. This involved going past this wildflower bank (and picnic area), which is very new. I had not seen it in flower before.
We were nearing the deer park, when I heard my name called from behind me. It was Daphne, my bridge partner, and her husband, Andy. I was thrilled to be able to introduce my friends to each other, and to stop for a short chat.
We did not take the high walkway through the trees to get to the museum entrance, but a short cut down the mound
Here is the other end of The Viper, as I now know the walkway is known, for its sinuous shape.
One side of the museum is glazed, the other set into the steep bank, so windowless.
The Story of Gardening needs a whole post to itself, so that will follow. Mary and I spent the best part of an hour there, and then made our way back to the entrance area.
En route we saw two roe deer. There are two herds of deer in the grounds, and it is a treat to see any of them. These two individuals were quite unperturbed to have visitors walking close by.
A little sit down in a woodland area …
… was followed by a long sit-down over glasses of iced coffee as we continued putting the world to rights, (though perhaps a more accurate description might be marvelling at the stupidity of those whose task it is to do so). We heard a noisy noise. I leapt up to see:
The helicopter we had seen earlier had been joined by a second, but was leaving alone.
We had another 30 minutes or so before throwing out time. Mary wandered off at one point to take some more photographs, while I ventured into the greenhouse, which was also a coffee bar the first time I had visited, and then sat watching human and avian life go by.
It’s nice to do something special on a birthday, and it had been a while since I had been to The Newt in Somerset. Even booking eight days in advance, it had only been possible to get a table for lunch in the Garden Cafe for 2 o’clock, so I decided to get me and my camera to the gardens an hour earlier.
The car park was alarmingly full when I arrived. But it was a Saturday, with lovely bright sun, even if it was accompanied by a chill wind. (I put gloves on for the first time this autumn, but then I do feel the cold.) The familiar boardwalk up to the entrance had a distinct autumnal feel to it.
Once through the Threshing (= entrance) Barn, with the Cyder Bar to my right, I was again alarmed by the number of people, but I soon realised they were queuing (sort-of) to pick up their picnics. The Newt does not allow people to consume their own picnics there. It was interesting to see washed apples emerging from underground on a conveyor belt. I look forward to the day when it is possible to observe the full workings of ‘cyder’ production there.
The farm shop and coffee bar areas also looked quite busy.
But past there, as I walked into and around the Woodland area, there were few people.
Back from the Woodland, I took a new (for me) way into the cottage garden…
… of and from which I took the following and many more pictures.
Into the Victorian Fragrance Garden (not much going on here at this time) and the Cascade, the bottom of which attracts children young and old, even though they know they will have water squirted on their ankles, in this chilly weather, randomly by frogs of various sizes.
I didn’t join them, for more than one reason.
Instead I went down another way to the kitchen garden.
The parkland remains sadly inaccessible for now.
Now into the Parabola, an interesting, probably unique, designed orchard, and its literally hundreds of apple species. In the main, only crab-apples now remain on the trees.
Two o’clock approached, and I had a rendez-vous to meet with two friends who were joining me for a delicious lunch, served in impeccably Covid-sure conditions, in the Garden Café. All photography was forgotten from then on!
No, this is not a newt, nor a toad, but a small frog. It’s what greeted my bridge partner, Daphne, and me as we walked up the boardwalk to the entry of The Newt in Somerset a week back. We stood still until it had leapt off the side of the boardwalk, to spare it from the clomping feet of the people behind us.
Daphne and I, having met up in the car park, were planning to be very brave. We were going to take advantage of the August ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, (subsidised of course by the taxpayer, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer), and have a meal in the Garden Café of The Newt, this my fourth visit this year to the gardens. The bravery was that for both of us it was to be the first time that either of us had been nearer than two metres to anyone for more than a fleeting few seconds since lockdown (with the exception of her husband in Daphne’s case.) For me that last time had been breakfast in the Premier Inn at Gatwick Airport on my way back from Morocco, on 15th March.
It was very, very hot, and we had asked to sit outside in recognition of our nervousness. Sadly the area in the shade of the building was not being used as it was part of the café’s one-way exit system. So we got very hot indeed, as there was no shade. (I have suggested they provide table umbrellas in my review of an otherwise really excellent experience.)
They went out of their way to meet Daphne’s dietary needs, and we both very much enjoyed our meals, the ingredients of which were largely grown not far from where we sat. I particularly enjoyed the beetroot and dill butter which formed part of my starter, though it’s invidious to pick anything out.
Daphne, suffering from sciatica, was not in a position to go round the gardens afterwards, but she lives only a few minutes away so can visit any time she likes. We arranged to meet up in her own garden a little later, with another bridge friend.
Here is the view, left to right (a panoramic photo didn’t do it justice,) from the terrace on which we ate.
This edge to a step caught my eye as I left the café.
I walked round the Parabola with its countless varieties of apples.
And left the Parabola though this gateway.
I now went into parts of the garden I had not previously explored.
Now I walked though the red, white and blue gardens. Or should I say blue, white and red, in a nod to the national flag of Patrice Taravella, the French designer of these gardens? What was his intention? Whichever, I don’t seem to have a representative set of pictures!
I wanted to visit the cottage garden before I left, and to do so had to skirt round this area clockwise, in order to avoid not only getting too close to the children, but also displeasing the stone frogs, large and small, who squirt water at the unsuspecting passer-by. I thought I had succeeded, but a tiny one got my left ankle. In that temperature, that was most welcome.
A look back at part of the Parabola and the Garden Café.
Past the Threshing Barn on the way out,
whose big window was too tempting. Explanation: there is a matching high window the other end, doors at either side, and waving strip lighting in the roof. All the rest is reflection.
Last November/October, when my friend Mary came down from London for the day, we had planned to visit The Newt in Somerset, but the weather was so appalling that we went to the Haynes International Motor Museum instead, and a fine time we had there too. This Sunday, the forecast being reasonable, I decided to try again, and take advantage of a promotion whereby I could get a year’s pass for the price of one entry.
Hadspen House (back history here, but not updated since 2007) was the home of the Hobhouse family from 1785 until recently. In 2013, South African billionaire, Koos Bekker and his wife Karen Roos bought the place, including its very extensive grounds, and reportedly spent £50 million pounds on refurbishing it. The complex now comprises a hotel (£350 B and B a night) the Gardens, a small farm, and a cyder (sic) plant. (The Newt’s website does not give the story of the conversion as such, but its The Press gives links to many articles, the most informative, in my view, being those of the Telegraph and the Financial Times. The other accounts seem destined more at those, including the international market, who might be interested in staying at the hotel.)
Having bought my ticket near the car park,
I was directed to the Threshing Barn for further information and the ticket’s conversion into ‘membership’. I saw a modern building, but am now confused as to whether this has just been modernised out of all recognition, or is indeed brand new. The same goes for some of the other buildings.
Coffee was the first requirement, being served in the Greenhouse, it being too chilly for the Cyder Bar to be open.
Over coffee I looked at the plan, and decided to look at the gardens, nearby, before lunch, then take a walk in the more extensive grounds afterwards.
But first a peek at the Mushroom room.
Began my stroll.
Apparently the squirts of water from fish to toad are set off by movement sensors. I didn’t know this, and nearly got a shower on my calf from a small toadlet on a stone by my left ankle as I moved off! So that’s what the blurb meant by, ‘be[ing] careful not to approach the Giant Toad and her children: they have vile tempers!’
Time for lunch. All the dishes, whether vegetarian or not, are named for one of the vegetables grown in the gardens. I had ‘Kale’.
A heavy shower followed my lunch, and I thought I would soon be headed home, especially as every gate out to the parkland I had seen in the morning had been locked, and displayed a notice, ‘Parkland walks will be opening in the summer.’ But the rain stopped quickly and I found that a walk into the deer park, near the café, was open.
At the end of the walkway came this.
To begin with I thought, enviously, that it might be someone’s home. The building was on the plan, but without a label. A young employee emerged, so I asked him. It was the just-opened Museum of Gardening. And here was its door, just round the corner.
The young man asked if I’d seen the deer. I’d forgotten I might. He said I was unlikely now, as they would have departed way over there from their morning hangout near here.
The Museum is to be investigated another time. I went on.
Beyond here was a big gate, with some machinery beyond. I wasn’t sure that I was allowed, or indeed wanted to go on this time. A woman, of about my own age, was approaching from the other side. Did I want to come through? She could let me. I said I was not sure, was thinking of turning round at this point anyway. We chatted, as she clearly knew a lot about the estate. She also asked if I’d seen the deer. There were two herds, red and fallow, the latter very shy indeed. I was bold in my questioning, and found that she was a Hobhouse. My departing ‘Really lovely to have met you’ was heartfelt!
Nearly back at the beginning of my walk, I saw this. On the way out I had assumed it was a bit of fencing due to be placed somewhere. But I now realised it was the top of the Museum of Gardening, a safety precaution!
I looked up, and was surprised to see these does springing up the bank.
They were joined by a buck.
And then by a big buck!
Who wanted me to see his antlers in all their glory!
I took a slightly different route, through some woodland, back to the courtyard.
The Cyder Cellar was not open, but I looked in.
The farm shop definitely was open, and I bought bread, tomatoes and beans.
I shall be returning before long, and plan to follow the gardens and grounds through the seasons. Next time I will get there by 10.30, so that I can do the Garden tour, and have some more questions answered. Another time I will do the Cyder tour.