Saturday, 10 May 2014

springtime in somerset

We spent last weekend in Somerset (my spiritual home - the county in which my ancestors lived), exploring, resting and enjoying the early May sunshine. We came down from London on Saturday via Wilton House, the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years. This is the impressive two-storeyed gallery, designed by James Wyatt in the early 1800s to display the Pembroke collection of classical sculpture. We were pretty amazed, especially when the light began streaming through these huge windows - it was my favourite part of the house.


We'd come to Wilton, first and foremost, to visit the newly unveiled exhibition of never-before-seen photographs from the archive of Cecil Beaton, a close friend of the 16th Earl and Countess of Pembroke. Beaton first visited Wilton in 1927 and found it 'unfailing in its beauty'. He spent the next four decades photographing three generations of the Pembrokes, often in costume for the regular fancy-dress balls hosted by the 'bright young things' - that notorious gang of bohemian young aristocrats and socialites.

Stephen Tennant, William Walton, Georgia Sitwell, Zita Jungman, Rex Whistler, and Cecil Beaton at Wilsford, 1927. See more images from the exhibition via Vanity Fair.

After lunch at The Beckford Arms, we made our way further west and on to Bruton. We'd booked a room for two nights at At the Chapel - one of our favourite West Country haunts. We'd stopped here for lunch on several previous occasions; it turned out to be the perfect place to stay too. Our bedroom was simple and very comfortable, with Gothic windows looking out over the 12th century Saxon rooftops of Bruton and a huge, gorgeous marble bathroom. Bliss. Rather excitingly, Hauser & Wirth will be opening a gallery complex in renovated farm buildings nearby this July. The Wirths are regular diners at the Chapel (they curate the artwork on show in the restaurant and bedrooms) and the Chapel team will in turn be running the restaurant at the new gallery. Read more about Hauser & Wirth Somerset here.

We rose early on Sunday, and after a breakfast of croissants, coffee, sausages and eggs (we were on holiday, after all), ventured over to nearby Montacute House. Before our trip, I spent some time looking at local houses to visit and came across this Elizabethan Renaissance gem. It didn't disappoint. In fact, it was one of the most incredible country houses I've ever visited. With its towering walls of glass and glow of ham stone, the whole place seemed to be glittering in the spring sunshine. A highlight was the Long Gallery, which houses over 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

Inside the house, I loved this tapestry. I think I want a tapestry.

Back outside, I loved this fountain. I really love a fountain.

D. taking a quick pit stop on the front lawn lawn.

Perfect wisteria creeping up the outer walls of the estate.

We headed over to The Talbot Inn in Mells for a long, lazy Sunday lunch. I had salt cod croquettes, a pea, mint and goat's curd pithier and a lemon posset - fresh, delicious, full of springtime joy. The Talbot serves the same great food as its sister pub - The Beckford. They both have wonderful gardens too; I highly recommend. We noticed this wild garlic on a post-lunch walk through Mells - so beautiful. We spent the rest of Sunday hauled up at the Chapel with newspapers and pizza (straight from the restaurant's custom designed floor to ceiling wood-fired oven). Heaven.

On Monday we reluctantly left the Chapel (clutching loaves of bread from their excellent in-house bakery), and made our way over to Longleat. I had fond memories of Longleat from childhood (although, admittedly, memories based more on the attached safari park than the stately home). We took a tour around the house, and whilst some parts were of course very impressive, I was left feeling more than a little uneasy after seeing several of Lord Bath's private rooms, fitted out with his own enormous murals... Alas, each Lord to their own. This ceiling on the other hand, based on an original in the Doge's Palace, was magnificent to behold.

I adored this wallpaper, found in a tiny bedroom somewhere up high in the house.

I love this view of Longleat by Jan Siberechts. Pure Grand Budapest Hotel, no!?

We sped over to Babington House for lunch, and seeing as the weather was still so wonderful, spent the rest of the afternoon floating around the grounds with glasses of pale rosé. Seen here is the Church of St Margaret, which sits opposite the main house. It's a Grade I listed building - I've always thought it quite perfect. We were on the road by early evening, bound for London, feeling very much inspired and revived, which is surely all one could hope for after a quiet weekend in the country. We'll be back soon, Somerset.

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