Last month we went on holiday for a week. It has taken me over a month to write it up.
We set off south on a nice sunny day. As usual, the holiday starts when we leave home, so we planned a stop for lunch somewhere interesting. This time it would be Avebury and a nice walk around the stones, before continuing. Unfortunately the weather didn’t agree with our plans, so after a bite to eat, we visited Avebury Manor. This National Trust property featured in a TV series last year (The Manor Reborn), when it was given a “makeover” by Penelope Keith and Paul Martin. Rooms in the house have been recreated as they would have been at different periods of the house’s occupants. The unusual thing about this property is that, unlike other NT houses, you are allowed, even encouraged, to touch or sit on the furniture. You can have a game and read the books in the Billiard Room, or do a bit of embroidery in the Queen Anne suite of rooms. I can recommend the Chaise Longue in the latter – I always felt my life should be spent draped on a Chaise Longue! Well worth a visit, although I noticed no-one had been tempted to do the washing up in the Victorian Kitchen.
Avebury – the ditch and stones
A quick look at the Avebury stones in the drizzle and we continued our journey. Eventually the sun came out again and I noticed on the map that we would be passing Woodhenge, so we stopped to have a look. (Can you see a theme developing here?). Not as spectacular as Stonehenge, a few miles away, but the positioning of the original wooden posts is marked by concrete markers, so you can see the layout.
Woodhenge. The edge of Durrington Walls can be seen on the horizon (left hand side).
There seemed to artificial features in the nearby landscape and then we noticed a NT sign nearby and discovered that we were looking at Durrington Walls. This is a 500m diameter neolithic bank and ditch. It is crossed by two roads, but archaeologists have found other wooden henges and several huts here. It is thought to be the place where the builders of Stonehenge lived. For more information and theories about the site see here or here. After wishing we had done a bit of research beforehand, we continued to our destination, the village of Damerham. We had booked a room at the pub there, The Compasses.
The Compasses in Damerham
Damerham is a small, quiet village, a few miles west of Fordingbridge. There is a bridge over the river Allen which runs through the village, a church and the pub and that’s about it.
View of the River Allen from the bridge in Damerham.
All Facilities in the centre of Damerham!
The next day the sun was shining, so we decided to explore the area, with a walk from Damerham to the neighbouring village of Martin. Eight miles there and back.
Going off-road near Damerham
View of Tidpit Down from prehistoric Grim’s Ditch
The village green in Martin, with welcome bench for eating our packed lunch.
Looking back at Martin.
Row of three prehistoric barrows. At the base of the pylon, the nearer clump of trees and on the right. The large clump of trees behind is just a hill (I think)
We returned to the pub with sunburn and blisters!
The next day, Sunday, was still sunny. I couldn’t face any serious walking, so looked for a garden to visit. The NGS has produced a useful phone App to find open gardens and we found there were a couple open in Tisbury (Wiltshire). What is more they opened at 11am and served lunches (as well as “glorious teas”. What to do in the morning though? A look at the map and the English Heritage handbook and we decided on Old Wardour Castle. We had a lovely drive, spoilt only by having to dodge cyclists on narrow roads (Bradley Wiggins has a lot to answer for!)
Old Wardour Castle is a beautiful ruin, set in trees and overlooking a lake. It was built in the late 14th century by Lord Lovell and damaged in the Civil War. The family eventually built a new house and the ruins became part of the 18th century landscaped grounds. The grassy slopes surrounding the castle were covered in daisies and it being a warm and sunny Sunday, by the time we left, it was gradually filled up with picnicking families.
Relaxing at Old Wardour Castle
The gardens, at Tisbury, were North Cottage and Woodview Cottage. As expected, the lunch (quiche and salad) was very good and after visiting the gardens; a small but packed cottage garden and a small holding with wood, ponds and animals, we had tea and cake as well.
Colourful border at North Cottage, Tisbury. Tea tables scattered amongst the flowers
The forecast for the next day was not good, so when we got back to Damerham we decided to make the most of the lovely weather. We had a route for a short walk along the river. Only 1.5 miles, so I thought my blisters could manage it – the gentle exercise during the day had obviously been good for them! The route went via the church, near which there was an idyllic view back towards the pub. It backs on to the local cricket pitch and there was a match in progress.
Typical English scene. Village cricket on a Sunday afternoon. (The Compasses pub is just behind the pavilion)
The walk was supposed to be through water beds and fishing lakes, but the route alongside the river was shut off by a locked gate – it was not so pleasant walking along a hot road! There was more bad news later in the evening, when we came down for our evening meal. It turned out they didn’t serve meals on Sunday evenings and no-one had bothered to tell us! We ended up with fish and chips from Fordingbridge.
That was the end of the perfect weather. We woke the next day to dull skies, but it wasn’t actually raining, so we set off to Winchester. We had passed through the city many years ago, but I couldn’t remember much. This was a bit of a research trip – I have started writing a novel set in the tenth century and since Winchester was the Anglo-Saxon capital I wanted to get an idea of the topography. It turned out to be completely different to what I had imagined, so just as well I haven’t written much yet!
After a tour of the back streets to find a car park, we visited the City Mill (National Trust) This is an interesting example of an urban corn mill. They have otters which visit the river beneath the mill and they have set up CCTV to watch them.
The City Mill at the East Gate of Winchester
We then walked along the river to the old Bishop’s Palace (English Heritage) and then to the Cathedral, which was closed due to setting up a floral display. A brief visit to the Anglo-Saxon gallery at the City Museum and then a walk up the main street to the Great Hall and King Arthur’s Round Table. I have seen it so many times on TV that it was nice to see it for real.
The Round Table in Winchester Great Hall
By this time we were getting a bit peckish, so headed for the nearest NT tea room, at Mottesfont. The garden here is famous for its roses and since it was June we expected a treat. Of course, with the season being so delayed we were a bit early for the main display.
Some roses at Mottisfont
Who needs roses when there are Irises like this?
We also had a walk along the river at Mottisfont and drove back (with a rose bush wedged behind my car seat!)
Bridge over the River Test at Mottisfont
By the next day the weather was even worse – a steady downpour. At last – I could relax with a book! Unfortunately, by early afternoon it stopped and I was forced out of the room. We hadn’t visited the coast yet, but where to go? I suggested that we discover where our local river reached the sea and go there. It turned out that it flowed into Christchurch harbour. We had never been there before so we studied the map and headed to Hengistbury Head and a walk.
The road to Hengistbury Head
The weather had not improved greatly, but there was an interesting pre-historic bank and round barrows to look for. I’m sure the view from the top to spectacular, but we could see very little.
The banks and ditches that cut off Hengistbury Head
Can you see Christchurch yet?
The cafe at the car park did very good cakes, which we ate outside (the weather was improving) and watched a family of young starlings.
Starling chick and parent – they’re after the cakes!
Of course, once we’d taken off out walking boots, the weather improved, so we decided to have a look round Christchurch on our way back. It looked lovely (in the sun)
The sun comes out at last – in Christchurch
Once again there were no meals served at the pub that evening. The electricians had been and there was no power in the kitchen! At least we had a warning this time and went to the Augustus John pub in Fordingbridge. I can recommend the food there, although a bit more expensive than the Compasses.
Next morning , our last full day, was again dull with the threat of rain. We decided to visit another National Trust property, Kingston Lacey. As the house didn’t open until midday, we stopped at Wimbourne Minster first.
Wimbourne Minster, looking rather grey.
There is much to see in the minster church of St Cuthburga: an astronomical clock (for those interested in such things) and several tombs – “the man in the wall” and “the man with two left feet” and for anyone watching the TV series “The White Queen”, the Beaufort Tomb.
The Beaufort Tomb – parents of Margaret Beaufort and grandparents of Henry VII
Then it was on to Kingston Lacey and straight to the cafe. One of the reasons for coming here was the mention in the NT handbook of “prize-winning scones”. We had not yet had a cream tea on this holiday, so we made do with a cream lunch. There was a steady drizzle by now but there were a few tables outside, under cover. We attracted a strange avian trio of a chaffinch, a bluetit and a nuthatch!
Cream Tea with wet chaffinch
As it was wet, we went round the 17th century house first, hoping the weather would improve later. There was a magnificent display of paintings by Rubens, Titian and Tintoretto etc and at the end a collection of Egyptian artefacts.
It was still raining a bit when we came out, so we thought we’d risk the gardens. There was a Fern Garden which looked very lush in the drizzle and borders with more Irises. There was a walk lined with Acers (I particularly liked one called Acer palmatum ”Shindeshojo” – not sure if I could find room for one in our garden though!) and a Japanese Tea Garden. Of course, the further we got from shelter, the heavier the rain got. So it was a quick look around the kitchen garden and a swift walk back through some trees and colourful azaleas. Despite an unbrella, we were soaked by the time we got back.
White Iris in the rain
The Acer walk. I rather liked the pink one on the right.
By now we’d had enough so returned to Damerham for the last time.
Next day was dull again, but not raining. We decided to complete the circle, as it were, and stop for a break at Stonehenge. We thought it wouldn’t be too busy, but it was packed! Lines of parked coaches and people everywhere – it was chaos. Perhaps the tour companies knew that the local road and this entrance to the site were due to close two weeks later. Perhaps it’s always like that, but whatever happens next can only be an improvement.
The entrance to the tunnel under the road to Stonehenge ….
…. then the shuffle round the stones
The journey continued via Swindon. (Memo to self: next time try and avoid Swindon – it doesn’t seem to believe in road signs!) and a scan of the map to find a NT property we hadn’t visited before. We found Chastleton House, near Moreton in Marsh.
This is a small Jacobean country house. It’s set in the middle of the countryside and was a bit of a walk from the car park, but we needed to stretch our legs by then.
Entrance to Chastleton House
Impressive Long Gallery at Chastleton House with plaster ceiling
There was no NT tea room at this property, although there were plants for sale and a second-hand bookshop. Refreshments could be found in the church next door – delicious home-made cakes.
As we hurried back to the car, black clouds were starting to gather. Not far to go now. However we got caught by a very heavy storm on our way up the Foss Way.
Black clouds and sun on the Foss Way
So the holiday was over. We had seen grand houses and churches, lots of history and a lot of weather (and cakes). Must start planning the next one.