A couple of weeks ago, I took another friend to visit The Newt in Somerset. Peter was down from Manchester to lead a singing workshop, which I was organising for the South West Early Music Forum the following day. Three times postponed because of you-know-what, initially from April 2020, but that’s a whole other story.
Apples are always the principal theme at The Newt, but especially so at this time of year, as the display in the Threshing Barn illustrated.
They featured in the window of the farm shop as well. Their apple juice is delicious.
(Given that I have already posted so many pictures taken at The Newt in Somerset, I have limited the number posted here.)
We learned that the Japanese Garden would be opening a week later.
Next we walked up the Mound, where we saw a few Shaggy Inkcaps.
Still plenty of colour, though we’re well into the autumn.
Peter noticed the curious ‘steps’ in the chimney stack.
Into the Scented Garden.
The mischievous frogs were disappointed that there were no small children around to squirt water at, though clearly some adults have been by, setting off the sensors.
Access to the (very) luxury hotel, Hadspen House, is prevented by the gate out of sight below this image. Actually they’ve just opened another luxury hotel, called The Farmyard, adjacent.
We were impressed by the great variety of cucurbits growing in their tunnel. Over the year, I have seen these grow from tiny unidentifiable plants, into large flowering ones, and now fruiting ones.
I wonder if the tunnel will be used for the same purpose next year, or for something different.
After an excellent meal in the Garden Café, we walked though the Deer Park.
Walking back through the woodland, we did get a fleeting glimpse of a couple of fallow deer. This is the best I could do, photo-wise.
Back to the entrance/exit via the old Marl Pits.
Another happy visit to The Newt in Somerset. We had to leave – we had things to do relating to the following day, written up here for those interested.
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.
Firstly, a note for non-England* readers. Since early January we have been in lockdown, which has meant we have had to stay at home other than for: work, where it cannot be done from home; essential shopping; local exercise, by household/’bubble’, or with one person from one other household maximum; and medical appointments. From 8th March: the outdoors meet-ups as described could include sitting down for, say, coffee or a picnic; schools have been back (though are now on holiday); and those in care homes can receive one named visitor.
*For non-UK readers: Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all have their own regulations, but some English live in those countries, so I couldn’t write ‘non-English’.
As of last Monday, 29th March we have been able to meet up outdoors in groups of up to six (or more, as long as this only includes two households) and outdoor sport has been allowed. The definition of ‘local’ has now explicitly been left to discretion. I have had a happily rich week as a result of these small relaxations, (though some of the ‘activities’ would have been permissible earlier, including, obviously, those happening on Zoom.)
Much of last weekend was spent assembling four garden dining chairs, in time for Wednesday. Given that the instructions came entirely with illustrations, and no words, they were not too difficult to understand. The quality of the chairs was good, all the parts were there (with four Allen keys because the lot was of four chairs!), but assembly was very fiddly, and it took me a long time and some sore fingers.
Monday evening I attended a Zoom meeting of the local (Mendip) branch of the European Movement. These have been monthly for some while. Not much campaigning is possible at present, but it is good to be in touch.
It had been lovely weather all day, and a friend, Linda, had told me during an afternoon phone call that she and her husband had just been to The Newt In Somerset, and among other things had much enjoyed the Snakes’ head fritillaries (of which there is one stray in my garden!). On an impulse late that night, I ordered myself a picnic lunch from The Newt for the next day, and, once my organic fruit and veg box had arrived in the morning, I made my way there, not having visited since October.
As I start writing this, it is my intention to write one consolidated blog post for the entire week, but I have so many reasonably decent photos that this may not be possible. Anyway, here are some of those I took at The Newt.
I picked up my pre-ordered lunch from the Cyder Bar, and moved to avoid the crowds around and at the tables nearby. I was pleased to see that there was plenty of empty seating in the Parabola, looking bare at present as its hundreds of apple trees are not yet in blossom.
The vegan spring vegetable pasty was divine. Really. I have never had pastry like it, and the copious filling, of which I could just identify the spinach, was delicious. I can really recommend the apple juice as well, a blend of James Grieve apples and another I can’t remember.
I did not linger, but moved on to an area that was inaccessible the last time I was there, next to the Garden Café.
It overlooks the Kitchen Garden. I wonder what is being developed beyond.
Then I went in search of the Snakes’ head fritillaries, which come in mauve,
I then went a bit mad taking photographs of reflections of trees in various watery areas.
I can’t wait for the Museum of Gardening to be allowed to open. I’m told it’s good for a two-hour visit.
I strolled into the Deer Park, but sadly saw no deer, unlike Linda and her husband the day before, who saw both roe and fallow deer.
I had not been able to venture down this slope previously as it had been shut off as too muddy and dangerous. There is now an easy, sandy, gravelled pathway – I’m sure there’s a technical name for the substance.
Plenty of quirky seating.
Oops, another one.
I felt I deserved an ice cream after all that exercise.
I limited myself to one scoop of the lemon curd flavour, enjoying it on the way back to my car.
And on the way home took care to avoid this leaping horse. I’m sure that wasn’t there before the pandemic…
Hmm, I can see this is going to be a bit long. Part 2 will follow…
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.
I wasn’t planning to visit The Newt in Somerset again this month, but the meet-up rules had been relaxed, and I was due to pass over my previous camera to my bridge partner, Daphne. It had been she who had told me about The Newt when it opened in 2019, but my one planned visit there in August had been thwarted by bad weather (which led to my London friend Mary and I going to the nearby Haynes International Motor Museum instead).
Daphne and I had not seen each other since 5th March, the last bridge club meeting before my Morocco trip. Greeting each other with a socially distanced hug, we exchanged carrier bags via the boot of my car, and started up the entrance path.
The Newt is now charging again, but Daphne and I were already members, so we were able to bypass the ticket building to get in.
Near the top of the path to the ‘Threshing Barn’, it was sad to see that a magnificent beech tree was being removed. It was diseased on the inside apparently.
There is still a theoretical one-way system, and we were channelled through the barn.
Along withe the charges have been restored the gift shop, and the ability to buy beverages and ice-cream.
We partook of neither, and indeed our intention was to avoid the most frequented parts of the gardens. We turned off left therefore to the Marl Pit and the Marl Pit Copse.
On a day that was to become very hot indeed, it was wonderfully fresh, with the sunlight trickling down through the trees. I hadn’t explored this area on my two previous visits.
We continued into the deer park with no real expectation of seeing any deer, but we did just get a glimpse.
We went on to the walkway to Museum of Gardening, itself closed of course. In any case I’m told you must allow at least two hours to do the museum justice. It has a refreshment area to keep you going.
From the museum, we walked to the end of the grounds of the Newt, though beyond is still part of the whole estate. I do not recall this dovecot (if that is what it is) beyond the boundary being there in January. It is built in the same style, stone and roofing as the rest of the new build at the Newt.
We ambled back. (Ambling is now allowed as ‘The Rules’ no longer require that you be outdoors only for essential shopping, and exercise.)
Returned from the Deer Park, we ventured a little into the more crowded ‘pretty’ areas, but did not plunge in.
Finally there was the ‘Woodland Walks and Mound ‘ area, which I had not seen on previous visits.
We climbed The Mound, of which I forgot to take a photo. It’s basically an upside-down pudding bowl with a gentle spiral path to get to the top.
It was time to go – once I had bought my Newt in Somerset cyder (sic) – leaving by the one way system exit, which meant passing the diseased beech on its other side. It had lost a few more branches, which were being removed one by one. No ‘Timber….!!!!’ was to follow i was told when I asked. It might have been worth staying to watch if so!
Daphne and I had had much digital and telephone contact in the twelve weeks since we had seen each other, but there is nothing like actually being with a friend and together doing something you both like. And now restrictions are to be relaxed further as from tomorrow, another bridge friend is immediately taking advantage of that and has invited three of us round to her garden, not of course for bridge – which would not be within guidelines, sensible, or practical – but for a good old chinwag, socially distanced of course. We will even each take our own beverages.
When I bought my season ticket for The Newt in Somerset late in January, I had intended to go every month or so to see how things changed through the seasons. The month of May should have brought me to my third or fourth visit. However, in present circumstances, I had just assumed that it was not open now. But a few days ago, something prompted me to look at their website. To my delight, I found that the gardens were open, but not the house. (Given that the house is a luxury hotel, charging at least £450 a night, this would be no great hardship to me.) No other buildings, including the gardening museum, were open either, except the farm shop. And the website informed me that they were limiting numbers of visitors.
Imagining, with a lessening of lockdown in the air, that shortly the place would become very popular, especially as they were not charging for entrance, and that I might have to queue unless I arrived early, I decided to be at the gate at opening time the very next morning. And so I did, after a bit of a drive, (permitted under the police guidance given a week or so previously that any driving for a walk must be less than the time taken walking). At 10 a.m. there were just 5 other cars in the car park and I had the vast place almost to myself for a while.
The meeter-and-greeter explained that they were (able to?) open because of the farm shop, so I felt obliged to patronise it (no hardship, wonderful stuff). Because she had said there was a one-way system, I bought things at the beginning of my walk, which put me under some pressure for the rest of my time there because I had bought some soft cheese. Having suffered food-poisoning a long time ago through something not being adequately refrigerated, I have been acutely concerned ever since not to repeat that experience. As a result, I did not spend as much time in the gardens as I would like, anxious to get my cheese home and into the fridge! (In the event it was still nicely chilled when it found its chilly refuge.)
Having shopped, I took a peek into the cactus house whose outsize plants had inspired me at the beginning of the year to compose – with the help of the expert who sold its elements to me and planted them – my own little windowsill cactus garden. (I knew that old unused casserole would come in useful sometime.)
As I stepped through the gap in the hedge into the Victorian Fragrance Garden – and I know these are emotional times – my eyes welled up at the sight before them. Hitherto, the supermarket had been the furthest I had ventured from home.
Seeing a socially distanced staff meeting going on brought amusement and dried my eyes. The woman is holding a laptop and apparently explaining things.
I next entered the vast Parabola, devoted to the apple, which alone contains 240 varieties, and there are more elsewhere.
It was another French gardener, Patrice Taravella, who designed these gardens on behalf of the South African billionaire who bought Hapsden House (the hotel) and its grounds in 2013. Here is an informative 2019 article from the Financial Times.
I left the Parabola (named for the shape of the walled apple garden) and found myself back near the entrance. But I did not want to leave before 11.00.
There is much, much more to see at The Newt. The parkland has yet to be opened at all, scheduled for ‘the summer’ but who knows now. There are other parts of the gardens and woodland I have not yet seen, and I hope that it will not be too long before the History of Gardening museum is re-opened, though it may be a while before, whatever the regulations at the time, I feel confident enough to go into any building unnecessarily. Perhaps that’s a pleasure for next year.
They had set up a temporary alternative exit to maintain the one-way system, which seemed to involve walking down the tradesmen’s drive. I diverted to take a peek at just a little woodland first.
That permitted walk really did my soul good! Back in a month or so’s time, all being well, and perhaps then I’ll buy some Newt cyder (sic) – but at the end of my walk.