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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
Church
North Front, Port Eliot
North Front
Round Room & North front
Round Room & North front

Featured

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.

Corsham Court, Wiltshire

House front Privately Owned
Corsham Court dates from 1582, and was bought by Sir Paul Methuen in the mid 18th century to display his celebrated collection of 16th and 17th century Old Master paintings. A second collection was added through inheritance in the mid 19th century. The house was extended to accommodate the paintings using as architect Capability Brown, who also designed the gardens and park. The interiors retain many original features including plasterwork, wall hangings and furniture by Chippendale, Thomas Johnson, etc. The paintings include works by Van Dyck, Carlo Dolci, Fillipo Lippi, Salvator Rosa, Reynolds and Romney.
Surrounding the park today are the impressive gardens designed by Capability Brown and including a Gothic bath-house, a 13 acre lake and a ha-ha.
Bath Spa University uses parts of the house and grounds.
Free parking is available outside the house next to the church. The house and gardens are opened frequently throughout the year, in the afternoon. A curator and room guides are available to answer questions.

Surviving Nash outbuilding
Surviving Nash work
Gardens
Gardens
Peacock in garden
Peacock
Bath house folly
Bath house

Thorn house & gardens, Devon

Thorn house front
Unassuming frontage

Historic Houses Association, privately owned, limited access
Access to Thorn is mainly by the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme.
Thorn is near the village of Wembury, on a spectacular site on the banks of the river Yealm. The estate has had a variety of owners. The Corys added a ballroom and billiard room (now vanished) for their royal and noble guests. In 1920 the estate was bought by William Arkwright, former owner of Sutton Scarsdale Hall in Derbyshire, who renamed it from South Wembury House to ‘Thorn’.
The present building at Thorn dates from the 19th century and the Corys but a much older building once stood on the site as evidenced by the Tudor cellars.
Arkwright started development of the gardens, and this work was continued by the next owner, Mrs Sebag-Montefiore. The present owners have lived here since 1981.
The house has three grand rooms downstairs, with interesting furniture and art. The gardens are terraced and extend along a steep hillside. They contain many trees including rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and eucalyptus. The gardens are well worth seeing.
My visit was hosted by the enthusiastic owner, Eva Gibson, and was very enjoyable, lasting for around four hours. Details of how to access the property were provided on booking via ‘Invitation to View’.
Surprisingly, the house is listed on Air B+B.
More pictures are on the Thorn website.
View from front yard
Amazing view

Caerhays Castle, Cornwall.

Castle front Privately Owned
Caerhays Castle is situated near a beach not far from the village of St Michael Caerhays, south of St. Austell. The castle was designed by John Nash and built in the Georgian period. Its owner went bankrupt and to pay creditors the contents of the house were dispersed in a great auction, and even the lead from the roofs was sold, leaving the building derelict. Some decades later the wreck was bought by the Williams family who restored it, giving it Victorian interiors and starting to create the gardens. The gardens contain plants imported from various parts of the world, including rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas, which make a fine show in the spring.
From a distance, the castle looks as if it contains a vast number of rooms, but Nash’s castellated design conceals various service courtyards so the number of habitable rooms is in fact more modest.
Parking is in the beach car park and there is a stiff walk up to the house (except for disabled, who can park at the house). Caerhays is accessed through a maze of minor roads.
The house contains some fine interiors, including a circular (tower-shaped) drawing room. Admission to the house is by conducted tour and as numbers on the tours are limited, booking well in advance by telephone is advised. The gardens are a major attraction and well worth a visit. Note that the house opening dates and garden opening dates are not the same.

Flowering shrubs
Gardens
Flowering shrubs
Gardens
Flowering shrub
Gardens
Flowering shrub close-up
Gardens

Launceston Castle, Cornwall

Castle from below
English Heritage
Originally a Norman castle, the castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century, and substantially rebuilt by Richard of Cornwall from 1227, including a high central tower inside the circular wall on top of the mound.
Richard’s son moved the administration elsewhere and the castle became partially disused and ruinous. Parts continued to be used for assizes and a prison. It was occupied during the civil war and afterwards stripped for building materials. Parts were used as a prison till 1842, and the site was used as a base during WWII.
The outlines of buildings in the lower bailey can be seen in the grass. Parts of the keep and walls still stand, and the inner tower can be climbed.
The castle is well worth a visit if you are in Launceston.
The castle is on an elevated site in the middle of the town. Parkng is available in pay car parks.

Lawrence House Museum, Cornwall

Lawrence House front The museum is housed in an 18th century house owned by the National Trust and leased to the Launceston council for a local museum. It contains a variety of exhibits on three floors. Exhibits range from paintings through a model of the former railway station, the Victorian kitchen, a room about the astronomer John Couch Adams, period dresses, a toy room, to a polyphon, a forerunner of the jukebox.
Well worth a visit. Free admission, donations welcomed.

Lacock, Wiltshire

South front of abbey
National Trust
The pretty village of Lacock is managed by the National Trust. On it edge is Lacock Abbey and gardens. The Abbey was the home of pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot, who is jointly credited with the invention of photography. The Abbey was built as a nunnery, housing a community of nuns led by Ela, countess of Shreswbury. After the dissolution, it came into the hands of William Sharington, who demolished the abbey church but retained the cloisters, converting the upper part into a dwelling by adding partitions. Despite later alterations, various medieval vaulted rooms and walkways still survive, notably in the lower parts of the building.
The Hall, built in a Gothick style, dates from the 18th century and contains terracotta statues set in niches on the walls.
The kitchen dates from the medieval period, with later alterations and fittings. Also downstairs can be found original encaustic tiles, and the only manuscript book to have survived from a pre-dissolution English abbey.
The service court houses an interesting Tudor brewhouse.
Beside the reception building is a museum of photography.
Well worth a half-day visit.

vaulted Warming House
Warming House
Original tiles
Original tiles
Cloister vault
Cloister vault
Cloister
Cloister
Kitchen cabinet with list
Kitchen cabinet
Table support figure in tower
Table support
South Gallery
South Gallery
Dining Room
Dining Room
Hall with statues
Hall

Sutton Scarsdale Hall, Yorkshire

Back of Hall
Back of Hall
English Heritage
The house stands at the edge of the small village of Sutton Scarsdale, on top of a hill.
The present house, the fourth to stand on the site was built in 1724-29. It contains elements of the earlier houses. In 1919 the house was sold off and bought for architectural salvage, being stripped of all moveable parts including the roof. Some room interiors ended up in America and were used as movie sets.
Before 1919 the house, as shown in surviving photographs, had impressive interiors and plasterwork. Today it is a sad-looking ruin in need of stabilisation. None of the internal walls retain plaster other than a few fragments of fine moulded plasterwork in the principal rooms.
No trace of the gardens remains.
A church stands a few feet from the house. Apparently the church is still in use.

Visiting – you can park behind the house after driving down a lane. There is no charge, but when I visited the house was surrounded by Heras fencing and there was aluminium scaffolding inside the walls, restricting views.

Nostell Priory & Parkland, Yorkshire.

Nostell east front National Trust
Nostell Priory was built in the 18th century on the site of an earlier house. Nothing of the medieval priory now remains. The house has a symmetrical plan with a colonaded extension to one side. The kitchen block is set back and connected by a link corridor. Entry is into the lower hall, dimly lit and filled with dark furniture. The formal rooms are all on the floor above.
Outside, a large stable block houses the usual visitor facilities. Passing through the stable block you can access the rose garden and the former walled garden, and the lakeside walks. The lakes are beautiful. Note that the paths do not allow a complete circuit of either of the lakes. In front of the house is extensive parkland.

Visiting – there is a £3 parking charge for non members of the National Trust. There are entrance charges for the house and rear gardens. There is no charge for entry to the parkland or stable block.

Stable block
Stable block

Upper lake
Upper lake
North end with extension scar
North end with extension scar
Lower lake
Lower lake
Rose Garden
Rose Garden
Stairwell
Stairwell
Top Hall
Top Hall
Crimson Room
Crimson Room
State Bedroom
State Bedroom

Lindisfarne/Holy Island, Northumberland.

Village street, Holy I
Village street, Holy I
The full name of the place is, apparently, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
The low-lying tidal island lies just off the coast of Northumberland, and is connected to the mainland by a causeway that is flooded by the tide twice a day.
The island is most famous for its priory, founded during the dark ages and abandoned during the dissolution of the monasteries. St Aidan, St. Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels are associated with the Priory.
There is also a castle (National Trust) on a rock forming the highest point of the island. It was built after the dissolution of the priory. After becoming disused as a fort, it was converted into a holiday home in the 1900’s by the architect Edward Lutyens for magazine owner Edward Hudson. The castle is interesting and worth a visit. If you have time, walk out to the Gertrude Jekyll castle garden, and the nearby lime-kilns.
The ruined priory (English Heritage) is in the village and can be visited (chargeable). Entrance into the churchyard is free, and it is worth looking inside the adjoining church. Among other things, it contains a striking wooden sculpture of six monks carrying a coffin.
There was another fort next to the harbour, but only a few fragments of wall now remain.

Visiting – there are boat cruises to the island, or you can drive there. Beware the tides, which restrict when you can come and go. Be aware also that the police and coastguard take a dim view of people who ignore the warnings and get themselves trapped on the causeway by the incoming tide. There is a village on the island, with the usual amenities.

Castle entrance hall
Castle entrance hall
Boat Room
Boat Room
Cattle from garden
Castle
Gertrude Jekyll garden
Gertrude Jekyll garden
Priory ruins
Priory ruins
Priory ruins
Priory ruins
Priory ruins map
Priory ruins map

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Castle and curtain wall Privately owned
Alnwick Castle is a large and imposing castle with a curtain wall and central keep, and adjacent to it are impressive gardens which have recently been reworked at great expense.
The original castle was founded by the Normans and has been extended and altered several times, the last two phases of alteration giving it Gothic interiors (designed by Robert Adam) succeeded by opulent Italianate interiors which replace Adam’s work in the State Rooms open to the public.
The castle has a complex history of sieges and occupations, and since 1309 has been in the hands of the powerful Percy family, and the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland.
The outer parts of the castle contain several towers with small exhibitions which are all worth a look. The keep contains the State Rooms which should not be missed. The carved and gilded wood ceilings are exceptional and the furnishings are luxurious. Don’t miss the pair of fine pietra dura cabinets, adorned with pictures worked in stone and supported on animal legs. Their value is unknown, but unless you are a Russian oligarch you could not afford them.
If you are into period china, don’t miss the China Gallery, a long narrow gallery at the exit side of the state rooms, lined with hundreds of fine pieces.
The castle conforms to the popular idea of what a castle ought to look like, and has been even more popular since its use as a location for some of the ‘Harry Potter’ movies.

The Gardens are a separate attraction, established fairly recently at the eye-watering cost of £42 million. They do boast an expensive-looking computerised cascade, a pleasant walled garden with flowers, an interesting Poison Garden, as well as nine stainless steel fountains which produce curious effects with water. There are also arbors, round pools with fountains, tea rooms, and a maze. I found the Poison Garden tour of particular interest.

Visiting – there are separate prices for the Gardens and Castle, and combined tickets. Prices are high, but one inside you probably will not be disappointed. HHA members may get into the Castle free while English Heritage members get a discount (Castle only). If viewing both, allow time for at least a half-day visit.
Click on images to enlarge. Photography inside castle was not permitted.

Fountain pools in garden
Fountain pools
in Walled Garden
in Walled Garden
Cascade in action
Cascade in action
plant in Poison Garden
in Poison Garden
Castle keep
Keep