Port Eliot, Cornwall

Entrance front, Port EliotPrivately owned
A grand house and grounds near the Saltash estuary. Parts of Port Eliot are extremely old – there are fragments dating from the 4th, 9th, 10th and 13th centuries, but most of the house dates from a makeover by Sir John Soane in the 18th Century. It was previously known as Port Priory. The estuary water used to be closer, but was diverted by a dam in the 18th century.
A notable feature of the contents is a series of family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. They belong to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, having been accepted in lieu of death duties, but remain in the house on condition that they are available for viewing on 100 days per year. There are a number of fine rooms with contents including valuable furniture – the Morning Room, Drawing Room (library), Big Dining Room and the Round Room. I don’t recall seeing the Conservatory annex.
The Round Room was designed by Sir John Soane and is considered one of his outstanding achievements. It is painted with a 20th century mural by eccentric artist Robert Lenckiewicz, which is regarded as his masterpiece. It depicts dozens of people known to the Eliot family and is an outstanding work. In the same room is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, restored and presented like an art exhibit.
A look on Google Satellite makes the house plan, with its two almost separate blocks, clearer.
I found that all the house guides (stewards) were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The house is still a family home, and visitors may see family possessions lying around – and the family dog. There are extensive grounds, which I did not have time to fully explore.
Visiting – the house is about 200 yards north of St Germans village on the B3249. Approaching from this direction you will come on an entrance with gateway and lodges forking to the right, at a small car park. The pedestrian entrance is here. You could park here and walk down past the church, as the house (behind the church) is much closer than it looks. I’m still not sure what they expect car-borne visitors to do – apparently there is another entrance and car park 1Km further on, to the west, which you’d come on first if approaching from the A38. I visited on a day of low visitor numbers (they do have an annual literature festival), and not finding anyone to ask, I drove through the gate and parked in front of the house. There was plenty space and nobody objected.
Important Notice: The owner of Port Eliot is in negotiations to sell the house to a trust run by Prince Charles. The implications for visitor access are unclear, but the interior will no longer look like a family home. As with privately owned mansions in general, the message is: Visit It While You Still Can.
For interior photos see Port Eliot website.

East Front, Port Eliot
East Front
Church from house grounds
North Front, Port Eliot
North Front
Round Room & North front
Round Room & North front


Bradley, Newton Abbott, Devon

View of house exterior and lawn
Bradley Manor
National Trust.
A white manor house sits in green meadows surrounded by woodland. The L-shaped house, with many gables and tall chimneys, retains most of its medieval features. The dining room (former kitchen) has a fireplace opening formed of four tons of Dartmoor granite. The hall is the only spacious room. On the walls of an upstairs room is preserved a late medieval pattern of stencilled black fleur-de-lys. Also upstairs in a panelled room is some fine seventeenth-century plasterwork in high relief, looking well preserved. There is a collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Arts & Crafts furniture. Much of the furniture is 18th century and listed on room cards. The chapel, which has an array of carved wooden bosses on the ceiling, should not be missed.

The interior was interesting. Outside, one can walk round with the guidebook and look at when each part was altered. Extensive woodlands surround the house. I finished my visit by exploring these, and found a back exit which eventually leads into a housing estate.

The house is half a mile from Newton Abbott town centre, on the Totnes road. The opening dates and times are somewhat restricted. The signs on the main road are inconspicuous. Note that there are no toilet facilities or tea room on site.
Good news: you can park at the site from 1.30 for the opening at 2:00 pm. It’s possible to get there by train, but I found that, unless you figure out the bus routes, it’s rather a tedious walk from the station and you need to know what foot route to take. Leave the house grounds on foot the same way you came in, if you don’t want to get lost in a housing estate.

Royal Marines Museum, Portsmouth.

Museum hallThe Royal Marines Museum is housed on part of the former Eastney Royal Marines barracks at Southsea. The museum is housed in the former officers’ mess at the eastern end of the complex.
The exhibition is in three parts: the entrance floor has displays about the history of the Royal Marines, the floor below has a series of audio-visual displays about present-day training of RM recruits, and the top floor has more historical material relating to WWII, collections of medals, RM musical bands and also has the ornate function rooms.
The museum is linked to the Historic Dockyards and admission is included in the all-attractions ticket. I found my visit to the RM Museum far more interesting than I expected. Recommended.
Visit time: allow at least 2.5 hours if you want a good look at everything. There is a car park in front of the museum. Sat-nav may deliver you to the back of the former Eastney barracks – the entrance is on the sea front so if you can’t see the sea you are in the wrong place. :-)
Southsea Castle and the D-Day museum are also in Southsea.

Fort Nelson & Royal Armouries, Portsmouth

Fort nelson frontage Fort Nelson is one of a group of five Victorian forts positioned along a ridge overlooking the town and dockyards of Portsmouth. Construction was ordered during a Napoleonic invasion scare. This fort, and the others in its group, was intended to protect Portsmouth from an attack by land, and prevent invaders seizing the ridge, which, as you will see when you get up there, is an ideal place from which to rain artillery shells on the town and dockyards.
The Victorian fort is substantially intact, and visitors can explore the 19-acre site, including gun emplacements and some tunnels. A 64-pounder gun of the type originally installed is placed on one of the gun positions.
The Royal Armouries collection is housed in part of the original barrack building and also in the permanent, tented Artillery Hall, and on the parade ground. There are lots of artillery guns, from medieval cannon through to World War II types and beyond. The biggest exhibit is a 200 ton railway gun dating from 1918. The collection includes parts of the Iraqi Supergun.
Don’t miss the huge mortar and the 14″ naval gun out front which are not visible while walking from main car park to reception.
The fort and armouries are well worth a visit if you are interested in forts and big guns.

Nelson Monument
Nelson Monument
Fort nelson road frontage
Officer's mess display
Officer’s Mess
Parade Ground with guns
Parade Ground
18" Railway Gun
18″ Railway Gun
Mortars in vault
Guns on parade ground
Guns on parade ground

Tiverton Castle, Devon

Tiverton Castle, mansion Private
A castle was built on the site in 1106, and passed through various owners. In 1645 it was captured by Fairfax during the English Civil War. Subsequently the castle was partly demolished, and a mansion build on the site. Parts of the old castle are incorporated into the current buildings on the site.
Today, the visitor can see some pleasant gardens in the grounds, a ruined tower, views down to the river Exe, and a number of rooms mostly in the ‘Castle Barton’ wing with the round tower etc. Some interesting arms, armour, paintings and 17th century furniture can be seen.
The Castle website rather talks up Tiverton Castle, but don’t plan a half-day visit: I was able to see all of the public parts in one and a quarter hours.

Ruin in castle grounds
Ruin in grounds
Castle Gardens
Older (Barton) wing)
Old wing

Prideaux Place, Cornwall

South front Private (HHA)
The house lies on the outskirts of Padstow. The Prideaux family has owned the house and estate for hundreds of years. The house is Elizabethan with 18th century and 19th century additions. In the 19th century a Drawing room, Hall and Library were added, decorated in a Strawberry Hill Gothic style. The tour of the house includes the dining room, panelled in dark oak, the Morning Room, the part-circular Drawing Room, the green Grenville Room, the Library with stained glass window, the hall and cantilever staircase and the Great Chamber with its newly discovered and restored plaster ceiling depicting Susanna and the Elders.
Prideaux Place is still a family home and has interesting furniture and contents. Some items are new and made on the estate.
Outside are various outbuildings to the rear. The stableyard has an exhibition. The attractive gardens have been restored in recent years and contain formal and informal areas. Across the road is the deer park. If you are around at feeding time, you can see the fallow deer run up to get fed. They are very used to the keeper and you may see them lie down and even start dozing off next to the fence.

Formal garden
Formal garden
Deer and keeper

Pencarrow, Cornwall

House, E&S fronts Private (HHA).
Pencarrow House and Gardens lie in countryside near Bodmin. The house lies at the end of a valley and was built in the 18th century. Internal alterations were made in the 19th and 20th Century. The Inner Hall contains a cantilevered staircase and a large stove with hidden flue. The tour includes the Music Room (so-called), Entrance hall, Drawing Room, Inner Hall, Pink Bedroom, Nursery, Corner Bedroom, Bathroom, Boudoir, back staircase, Dining Room and Anteroom.
The house remains a family home and contains many furnishings and contents of interest.
The extensive grounds contain a number of features of interest. A walk from the house to the lake via the gardens and returning along the entrance drive with its interesting tree planting takes about an hour. Note the rockery of Bodmin granite and the Mole’s Garden along the stream.

Insect wood sculpture
Insect wood sculpture
Creepy trees along drive
Creepy trees

Lydiard Park, Swindon

House front Swindon Borough Council
Lydiard Park is a grand house standing in extensive grounds to the west of Swindon. The estate was the home of the St John family for several centuries. The house was remodelleded to its present form in the early 18th century. The house was sold and in 1943 was bought by Swindon Borough Council. By theis time the house was in poor condition. Town Clerk David Murray John lobbied to preserve the house and park. Over the years most parts of the house have been restored and important contents and furnishings bought back.
Visitors today can see a series of ground floor state rooms, freshly decorated and with contents that are either original or typical of the period. There is a Hall, Dining Room, Library, Drawing Room, State Bedroom and Dressing Room.
Outside, the extensive grounds, which have grassland, tree plantings and a large lake, have also been restored. Note the interesting castellated dam wall at one end of the lake. A church lies immediately behind the house and contains interesting monuments and fragments of medieval wall painting. Note the life size gilded cavalier statue, the St John Polyptich and the stained glass.
Also visit the Walled Garden which contains borders filled with attractive perennials. (Access via the café). The Conference Centre is also said to serve coffee and light refreshments.
Lydiard Park is well worth a visit. Nearest junction off the M4 is J16. You may see signs for Lydiard Park or Lydiard Park and House – the latter takes you close to the house (and conference centre).

Hall fireplace
Dining Room
Dining Room
Drawing Room
Drawing Room
Dam wall
Dam wall

Benington Lordship, Hertfordshire.

Garden with house and folly Private.
Benington Lordship has seven acres of gardens which are opened to the public. There are several sections of formal garden at different levels, plus a large pond, and expanses of lawn.
The substantial house – Queen Anne with early twentieth century extension – is not open to the public. It features a striking attached folly in the form of a ‘Norman’ gateway and arched window. In the garden are the tumbled remains of a castle which once stood on the site.
The gardens are worth a visit if you are in the area. When there, do not neglect to visit the centre of the village containing a number of old cottages, and the church.
Teas are usually available in the village hall nearby.

Folly Norman archway
House and garden
House and garden
Red Garden flower
Garden flower
Village houses
Village houses
Church interior

Montacute House

West & South fronts National Trust
This great Elizabethan mansion was built about 1590-1600 by Sir Edward Phelps, a Member of Parliament and courtier. In the 1780’s Edward Phelps V extended the west front between the projecting wings to provide upper and lower corridors. The new work was done in the same style as the old, using decorative stonework rescued from Clifton Maybank House, near Yeovil.
The house, like the nearbu village, is built of yellow Ham limestone. It forms a massive block when viewed from the grounds, and the east front, the original approach front, is ornamented with statues at third floor level.
The house was acquired empty in 1931 and the rooms have been refurbished and furnished by the National Trust. The third floor houses a collection of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery.
The grounds around the house are mostly laid to lawn, with tall hedges.
A visit is highly recommended. There is enough to see to justify a half-day visit.

Drawing Room, Montacute
Drawing Room
Library, Montacute
East Front, Montacute
East Front

Pevensey Castle, Sussex

Inner bailey wall English Heritage
Pevensey Castle was founded around AD 270 as a Roman fort called Anderida, defending the Bay of Pevensey. After the end of Roman rule in Britain, the walls sheltered a settlement until at least the fifth century.
In 1066, the ruinous Roman defences were refortified by William the Conqueror, and a great Norman castle developed in one corner of the Roman enclosure. By the early sixteenth century, the castle was abandoned.
The site was briefly remanned in Tudor times, and also in World War II, in response to threatened invasions.
The size of the Roman enclosure is impressive, and the walls stand to nearly their full height over much of the perimeter. The walls and towers of the medieval inner bailey mostly stand, but the keep is very ruined and little remains of the upper floors.
The castle was besieged four times in the medieval period and the keep underwent substantial alterations in the 14th century.
The machine-gun nests and the refitting of several towers for accommodation as carried out in WWII can still be seen today.
A basement room near the gate can be entered by descending steps. It was used as a prison. Another can only be accessed by a hole in the roof and may have been an ‘oubliette’.
The castle is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Access to the outer bailey is unrestricted, but entry to the castle inner bailey is chargeable. If you have time, walk or drive around the outside of the outer wall.

Roman East Entrance
East Entrance
Inner bailey tower
Inner bailey tower
Outer Bailey
Outer Bailey
Inner Bailey view
Inner Bailey view, keep

Observatory Science Centre

Thompson 26" refractor, Dome E
Thompson 26″ refractor
The Observatory Science Centre occupies part of the site of the former Greenwich Obeservatory at Herstmonceux. It includes the six domes and other buildings of the ‘Equatorial Group’. The prime purpose of the site is as a science centre for schoolchildren but, with six large historic telescopes in the domes, the site is obviously also of interest to adults with an interest in astronomy.
The empty dome of the 98-inch Isaac Newton telescope is nearby but not open to the public.
As well as the six domes and ancillary buildings, the site has various indoor and open-air science exhibits including the actual original 98″ mirror of the Isaac Newton telescope, a granite ball supported by water pressure, the aluminising tank, sound dishes, water park, and Discovery Park. See also the ‘Domes of Discovery’ exhibition in Dome F.
This is clearly a good place to bring an inquisitive child. It should be of interest to adults too.
It may not be immediately obvious from the publicity what telescopes you can see when. You can visit three of the domes (B,E,F) in the course of a day visit. There may be guided tours on the day of your visit, to two of these.
On an open evening, all six domes are open and (weather permitting) you have a chance to look through three of the historic telescopes including the 10 inch in dome D not exhibited during the day. There are around two open evenings a month. The site will be very dark, so bring a red-light torch with you.

You are advised not to use postcode navigation to find the site. Instead, navigate to Wartling Road, Wartling or to Bradley Road, Herstmonceux. The only public entrance to the site is off the Wartling Road, which runs north from the A27 at Pevensey. Parking for the Centre is at Wartling Road adjacent to the entrance. Herstmonceux Castle is on the same estate (same entrance). If you want to visit the castle grounds and gardens, I suggest parking at the castle which will involve slightly less walking, and purchasing a joint ticket at the castle ticket hut opposite the Science Centre.

Thompson 26" Refractor, Dome E
Thompson 26″ Refractor
Yapp 36" Reflector, Dome B
Yapp 36″ Reflector
Yapp 36" Reflector, Dome B
Yapp 36″ Reflector
Yapp 36" Reflector, Dome B
Yapp 36″ Reflector