I first visited Dunster Castle some years ago but this account is from April 2019. Dunster Castle is a former motte and bailey castle, now a country house, in the village of Dunster, Somerset, England. The castle lies on the top of a steep hill called the Tor, and has been fortified since the late Anglo-Saxon period. After the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century, William de Mohun constructed a timber castle on the site as part of the pacification of Somerset. A stone shell keep was built on the motte by the start of the 12th century, and the castle survived a siege during the early years of the Anarchy. At the end of the 14th century the de Mohuns sold the castle to the Luttrell family, who continued to occupy the property until the late 20th century.
The castle was expanded several times by the Luttrell family during the 17th and 18th centuries; they built a large manor house within the Lower Ward of the castle in 1617, and this was extensively modernised, first during the 1680s and then during the 1760s. The medieval castle walls were mostly destroyed following the siege of Dunster Castle at the end of the English Civil War, when Parliament ordered the defences to be slighted to prevent their further use. In the 1860s and 1870s, the architect Anthony Salvin was employed to remodel the castle to fit Victorian tastes; this work extensively changed the appearance of Dunster to make it appear more Gothic and Picturesque.
Following the death of Alexander Luttrell in 1944, the family was unable to afford the death duties on his estate. The castle and surrounding lands were sold off to a property firm, the family continuing to live in the castle as tenants. The Luttrells bought back the castle in 1954, but in 1976 Colonel Walter Luttrell gave Dunster Castle and most of its contents to the National Trust, which operates it as a tourist attraction. It is a Grade I listed building and scheduled monument. (source: Wikipedia).
The interior of the house is interesting and various rooms on the ground and first floors can be seen. The gatehouse and other castle parts remain, but if you are expecting a medieval castle, look elsewhere!
The site has a number of pleasant walks curving around the hill. The top of the hill (above the house) is flat and laid as an open lawn. Below the hill is an old watermill to the south and the village of Dunster to the west. A folly tower tops a nearby hill to the north-east.
There are foot entrances from the village, but if arriving by car, the car park entrance is on the A39 north of the village.
I visited Holdenby some years ago but have no record of the details. The recent visit was in April 2019. The core of the house is the remains of the kitchen wing of a vast Elizabethan palace, restored and extended in the Victorian era. Two unusual arches, once part of an entrance court, stand in the grounds. The house is open to the public on only a few days of the year. The tour includes the entrance hall, the boudoir (sic) the piano collection room which contains a number of antique pianos and other instruments, the Pytchley Room (with sporting pictures), the Ballroom, the Inner Hall, the Library and the Dining Room.
The grounds include smaller areas of formal garden, a kitchen garden, a primitive-looking replica wattle & daub cottage and a falconry.
Below the house is an interesting church, now in the care of a preservation trust.
Mottisfont was originally an Augustinian priory. After the Dissolution the monastic buildings were largely dismantled or incorporated into a large Tudor mansion with two courtyards. Little now remains of the Tudor mansion. In the 18th century most of the Tudor buildings were demolished and a three-storey south front constructed, giving the building much of its present-day appearance. The Stables were rebuilt in 1836.
Successive owners made changes to the interior. in 1934 the house was bought by the Russells who repaired and modernised the house, changing the function and fittings of many of the rooms.
The principal rooms on the ground floor are open to visitors, and some upstairs rooms are open as exhibition spaces, and maids’ rooms can be seen on the attic level. The ground floor contains a collection of paintings, notably the Derek Hill collection. The Russells converted the original entrance hall into a grand saloon with spectacular trompe l’oeil murals by Rex Whistler.
At basement level, vaulted cellars and other features from the old priory can be seen. One cellar contains a poignant sculpture of estate workers disappearing into the wall, a reference to WWI.
Outside the house is a 20th century parterre. Further afield are a walled garden, a winter garden, the river and other features. The Trust manages an estate of over 1600 acres.
Mottisfont is well worth a visit, which could extend to over half a day.
The Rosemoor Gardens are situated in a valley near Torrington, spanning both sides of the A3124. Most of the garden sections are devoted to flowering plants, but there are also some fruit and vegetable sections. If you want to see all the gardens, it is suggested that you start in the ‘far’ section at the other side of the road through the tunnel. This is the original part of the gardens and contains the original house. The house is not interesting and is converted into holiday lets.
Plants are mostly labelled so that you can identify them and maybe buy a specimen in the shop. The gardens contain both formal and informal plantings. On arrival you will probably be handed a leaflet with a numbered trail to visit interesting plants in bloom. This is a way of touring the garden if you don’t want to look at everything.
The gardens are well worth a visit if you are a serious gardener.
Parking – the car park is on the left as you arrive, but if you have a problem with going there, note that the ‘Accessibility’ parking to the right includes spaces that can be used by the non-disabled as required.
Kedleston Hall has a long frontage with a centre block and two semi-detached wings. The family still lives in the left hand one, which was always intended as a family home, the centre block being for display rooms.
The lower hall is a forest of columns supporting the heavy floor and columns above. The State floor of the central block has an series of rooms on two rows (front and back). The centre front houses the double-height Marble Hall with Roman theme decor. At centre back is a round hall, Pantheon like with an oculus, and black iron stoves to warm the room a bit. There are lots of paintings in various rooms by minor artists.
The lower floor has a museum of Indian relics (one past Curzon owner was Viceroy of India). The exhibits include a howdah. The grounds are mostly open grass land, with some bits of garden border and garden buildings at back.
The interesting church contains some fine family monuments. Click to enlarge
A house was built at Chatsworth by Bess of Hardwick, and the house was rebuilt and extended by her descendants, the earls and dukes of Devonshire. In its present form it is not so much a house as a ducal palace. The house is built around a central square courtyard, on three principal floors. On the first floor is a series of opulent staterooms. The grounds are large and contain a variety of features from a cascade to a long pond with fountain, a maze, greenhouses, lakes, woods etc.
When I visited most of the main rooms were occupied by a costume exhibition, and the objects restricted the view of the interiors in places. The North Wing with sculptures was very dimly lit by electric candles. Seemingly this mimics a past Duke’s preferred way of showing it after dinner. Elsewhere was an exhibit about an 1897 fancy dress ball in London, with aristocrats dressed up as nobles from pre-1815. It must have been amazing.
Many of the rooms are extremely ornate, with tromp d’ oeil paintings applied to walls and ceilings and lots of decorative carving.
The greenhouses in the gardens have limited access. The prominent hunting tower is a holiday let.
It took me two hours to walk around the house, and some more time just to walk to one extremity of the gardens and back. If you want to see everything Chatsworth has to offer and have a lunch break, I would suggest an all-day visit.
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.
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.
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.
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.