Thursday 27th August 2015
We had a half lay day today first of all finding and using a laundromat in Chippingham and secondly negotiating with Europcar over the health of our Vauxhall Estate Car which had quite a high mileage for a rental (not that much due to us!). In recent days when the poor old Vauxhall was started up in the morning we had been receiving dire orange warnings on the desktop such as “oil pressure low” “do not drive” , “service car immediately” etc With my normal vast expertise in car mechanics I have been ignoring these warnings and still driving to Wales etc. because the signs seemed to disappear after a few seconds.
This morning as well as dire orange warnings we had all sorts of bells and whistles when we started it up. At first I thought it was the local bell ringers but eventually even I realised we shouldn’t keep driving the poor old thing so after some phone argybargy we drove to the nearest Europcar centre in Bath, the home of the Georgian circle and the perpendicular Bath Abbey not to mention the hugely chlorinated and very expensive Roman baths! After even more argy bargy (because of course no signs dared appear when a real mechanic was watching) I was reduced to threats of being marooned in the wilds of Scotland (we are going to Edinburgh!)
They agreed to change vehicles after seeing the look on Ann’s face and we are now the proud drivers of a pretty well brand new white Kia SUV! This is a huge embarrassment to me because I have been a long time critic of SUVs and their drivers’ arrogance predicated on size. Apart from anything else all the lanes in England our satnav keeps sending us down will have to be immediately widened as the Kia is a seriously wide vehicle!
By the time we sat in the vehicle to drive off it was teeming rain, the vehicle was parked on a seriously steep gradient with a brand new company van about a foot away in front, and a returning customer having parked a vehicle not far behind us. In addition I was back with an old fashioned pull up hand break instead of the flash automatic button on the Vauxhall which simply released when we took off. Pride would not allow me to take Ann’s sensible suggestion to ask them to move their vehicle so my first reverse wet handbrake start was not the greatest but did do the job and we emerged with all vehicles intact (phew!)
We tootled off through the glorious southern Cotswold hills and valleys over the amazing canal and boat systems and found the wonderful Red Lion pub in the hamlet of Wolverton where we felt we had deserved a baguette or two.
So it was 3.30pm when we arrived at our destination for the day, the wonderful National Trust property of Stourhead House and gardens in the tiny village of Stourton in Wiltshire. Aussie National Trust earned half its cost today saving us thirty one pounds entry fee which is over $60 Aussie in real money!
This property was built in the Palladian style by the Hoare family in the early C18th and is much newer than the other stately homes we have been visiting except of course for the neo-Gothic house at Cardiff Castle. The Hoares have accrued four generations of banking leadership and the Hoare Bank is the only bank still in private hands in London.
In 1902 the House was badly damaged by fire but much of its contents were saved. It was rebuilt in identical style from photographs. It is in some ways a sad story. The final heir Henry Hoare and his wife had their own property when they inherited Stourhead and reluctantly moved there to set it up for their son Harry who was heavily involved in helping to develop the property and loved living there. Unfortunately Harry was killed in action in World War 1 and the couple had to decide whether to keep living there which they did and ended up further developing the property for over 30 years, dying within six hours of each other on the same day in 1947. The House was donated to the National Trust with an allowance for an extended family member to continue living there.
The House includes an impressive art and library collection although key items from both were sold over the years to raise funds. There is also some significant furniture and the house itself stands impressively on a hill surrounded by a village, forest and beautiful pasture land.
The real gem of Stourhead however is the garden. Landscaped around a large man-made lake achieved by damming a small stream it is a vast forest of deciduous and evergreen trees of every shape, size and origin alongside vast areas of lawn and glorious herbaceous borders, a very effective green house, and wonderful tracks with vistas to the lake, to various temples and follies and to the hills beyond.
It is certainly a place to lose yourself in and in some ways it is reminiscent of the great Victorian gardens in Mt Macedon and the Dandenongs. There are literally forests of rhododendrons, maples, ash and liliodendron trees and all open to the village (which is a little remote) to walk in till dusk with their dogs.
The village also contains a more than useful pub, a wonderful small art gallery, St Peter’s 700 year old early Gothic parish church of Stoughton and many fine old village homes. This is a placee to seriously lose yourself for a day or a year! We loved it!