Two Houses in Dorset and Somerset
This month I have been lucky enough to spend some time in Dorset and Somerset, intriguing counties which are wonderfully unspoilt and which also contain some of the most spectacular country houses and delightful gardens in England. Of course, it helped greatly that the weather was perfect.
The first house and garden I saw was Montacute House in Somerset, built in 1601 and described by the National Trust as “a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design. With its towering walls of glass, glow of ham stone, and its surrounding gardens it is a place of beauty and wonder.” I agree! One interesting fact accumulated during the tour of the house was that each length of rush matting used on the floor of the Long Gallery, the longest Long Gallery in England at 52 metres or 176 feet, cost over £3,000.
It takes five of these to cover the floor. Another indication of the extraordinary indulgence of the Elizabethan age is the ‘Pudding Houses’ set at each corner of the East Court. Guests would eat dinner in the Dining Room as usual, but then stroll across the lawn to a completely staged interior within a pavilion where they would eat their pudding. These pavilions were also used for picnics and informal teas in inclement weather; a perfect blend of great style, opulence and practicality.
Contrasting splendidly with the Elizabethan splendour of Montacute was the fifteenth century (1475) Athelhampton House in Dorset. This little-known gem contains the Great Hall which is the Tudor heart of the house with its linenfold panelling and stained glass windows; from this, the house has been added to over centuries as external conditions became more stable and the house became more domestic. It is also home to a very good restaurant serving locally produced delicacies.
The gardens at Athelhampton are quite simply some of the most beautiful in England. Centred around the magnificent Coronet Garden, so called because of its circular plan and delicate brick piers, a number of contrasting gardens may be explored, each one a sheer delight in scale, composition and planting. If at all possible during the summer, I heartily recommend a long weekend in the counties of Dorset and Somerset, they contain some of the finest interiors and gardens available to view.
The Long Gallery at Montacute House http://www.aboutbritain.com/MontacuteHouse.htm Accessed 30/07/14.
One of the pair of Pudding Houses set at each corner of the East Court at Montacute House http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/531869 Accessed 30/07/14.
The Great Hall at Athelhampton House with its fine linenfold panelling. Available from: http://www.athelhampton.co.uk/ Accessed 30/07/14.
The Topiary Lawn leading to the Coronet Garden. Available from: http://www.gardens-guide. com/gardenpages/_0024.htm Accessed 30/07/14.
The Coronet Garden at Athelhampton House. Available from: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/48954462 Accessed 30/07/14.