My brother, lil ‘sis and I decided we’d celebrate Christmas early this year – I couldn’t get a cat sitter for the actual main event and I didn’t want to put the girls in a cattery. None of us is particularly religious and we are all agreed that Christmas is not the same without our parents so changing the day was not a big deal.
Bro came to pick me up on a Thursday, which was lovely, and saved me travelling by train. We didn’t do much when we got back, just dinner, a few drinks, Jay’s virtual pub quiz and a bit of TV.
The Newt in Somerset
I’d found out about cider from The Newt watching Saturday Kitchen a few weeks earlier and had ordered some of their cider so we could try it when I went down. We had it on the Thursday evening, and it was very good. I learned from Helen McGinn on Saturday Kitchen that cider is closer to wine than beer, which was exactly how it tasted. I reckon it’s a great drink for summer evenings. It’s a shame that they only deliver to a few post codes, but hopefully that will change as they expand.
Bro and Ali went there a couple of weeks before I went down and decided we should all go again on the Friday of my visit. It’s a huge place, with a 23-roomed hotel, restaurants, described on its website as a ‘country estate with splendid gardens, farmland and woodland.’ You have to become a member to enter, but you can use your membership for a whole year without any extra charge for entry.
It was originally Hadspen House, purchased back in 1687 by a London lawyer called William Player. The house changed hands a number of times until, eventually, in 1785, it ended up in the Hobhouse family. At the time that Henry Hobhouse bought it, the property comprised 717 acres and was described as being modern, with six rooms. The stables had room for 20 horses. Henry Hobhouse carried out much in the way of home improvements including raising the ceilings in some of the rooms, and built a new dining room, drawing room and library. This was the work that made Hadspen House into what it is today, although his descendants carried out extensions to the house and grounds.
Penelope Hobhouse transformed some of the gardens into a 20th century Arts and Crafts Garden. These gardens were opened to visitors in 1970. Sadly for her, when her marriage to Paul House ended in 1983, she left her home and gardens. Eventually, the property changed hands and has been owned by Koos Bekker and Karen Roos since 2013.
Since then, even more work has taken place, turning Hadspen House into the The Newt.
It’s a beautiful place to visit. Cultivated gardens, woodlands, a deer park, orchards. We were lucky enough to see some deer while we were there, although not close up. They have big plans for work there, hence the price increase, and I’m looking forward to going back there in the spring to see how it’s changed.
In normal times, they have cyder tours – they make cyder from the apples grown on site. The tours are £20 for two people, including cyder tasting.
You have to be a member to gain entry to the gardens. At the moment, adult membership is £17.50, but it’s going up to £30 with effect from 1 January 2021.
Stourhead is a National Trust property. I’ve visited before with the family, but this time it was Christmas at Stourhead. I was quite disoriented (somehow, somewhere, they’d made a massive car park that may have been there before, but I couldn’t get my bearings) when I got there and didn’t fully recognise it until we were on the final part of the tour, when we got to the pub and it all came flooding back to me.
The house and gardens were given to the National Trust in 1946, by the then owner, Sir Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare. It’s a Grade I listed building and houses a fabulous art collection. I think the grounds are stunning during the day, but this evening, the Festival of Lights and Music was beautiful. I’ve tried to capture it in the photographs below.
The highlight for me was our Saturday trip to Castle Cary for our treasure trail. I’ve mentioned these before, but we love them, and will definitely do more. They are a great way to get to know your way around an area. And the good thing about this was we got all the answers right without needing any clues.
Castle Cary is about 24 miles south of Bath, and not too far from The Village Without a Pub, where Bro and lil sis’ live. There was a castle there once, although there’s not much remaining. It’s believed to have a Norman Castle, made from wood, which explains the lack of remains. Another castle was started in the fifteenth century, but it seems that was abandoned in favour of a manor house.
One of the interesting things about Castle Cary is the Roundhouse, a very small eighteenth century prison, about 7 feet in diameter and 10 feet high, not far from the Market Hall. The Roundhouse was intended as a temporary prison, mainly for housing drunks or people who would be going to the local court the next day. One of the other interesting things about Castle Cary is that it is the nearest railway station to the farm where the Glastonbury festival is held. Must be great for business and awful for residents. No offence to anyone attending, but it’s much the same for residents of Notting Hill come carnival time.
Sunday Will Never be the Same
Sunday was very, very wet, so I went out for a short walk, and was terrified by the Dorset drivers and, even though I walked in the road. And I got very muddy. I didn’t stay out for long.
I felt the need to take a photograph of the boys in the field at the bottom of Bro’s garden – they were so cute. They’ve gone now, they’ve eaten all the grass in that field. I don’t want to think anything but that they were going to another field.
We had our Christmas dinner on Sunday, without the Queen’s speech. More eating and drinking, just like the real thing, and that was that. On Monday Bro brought me home, and thus, life returned to the new normal.
© Susan Shirley 2020