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.
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.
Someone – I don’t know who – has described Stourhead as ‘the most bewitching and beautiful of this country’s landscaped gardens’. I met Mary off the train at Castle Cary Station on Wednesday in lovely autumn sunshine. By the time we had driven to the National Trust property, had our obligatory coffee and lengthy natter, the sun had disappeared. But it remained very mild, and dry, and grey – sometimes very grey – for the rest of the day.
We walked to the Palladian house, built by the son of the founder of Hoare’s bank, and passed this gate and lodge on the way.
We spent an hour or so looking round the house, full of treasures, and still inhabited by the members of the Hoare family, though gifted by them, along with the garden and half the estate, to the National Trust in 1947. I have to commend the help of the room guides – two of them especially since by total coincidence I had made their acquaintance in an entirely different context just two days previously!
But it is the landscaped garden for which Stourhead is famed. And the best time to visit is the autumn as the leaves are turning. Or the spring when the flowers are in bloom. Here are the best of the photos I took, in poor light conditions sadly. There in person, we scarcely noticed the light, since the views and the colours were so wonderful.
The Pantheon. Many times seen on chocolate boxes.
Not a washed out photo, but truly pastel shaded
The Temple of Apollo
The Temple of Apollo
Looking back to the Pantheon
It was the grandson of the bank founder who oversaw the creation of the garden and the building of its classical follies which we so enjoy today.
We drove back to the station as it was getting dark, and as we emerged from a road which went across the remains of the Hoare estate, still in private hands, we caught a glimpse of the sun again.