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England: Somerset & Dorset – Montacute, Cerne Abbas, Stourhead

England: Somerset & Dorset – Montacute, Cerne Abbas, Stourhead

map cerne

06.07.2015 – 08.07.2015

The wildcamping test-run done, we hit the road on our official second motorhome tour heading for Montacute House.

Montacute House

Montacute House

This was a lovely spot, one of the first the National Trust picked up back in 1934. The National Trust of the UK was originally set up to preserve land, so getting this house in a land package was something of a problem to them. The only reason it’s still there is because it cost too much to tear down, and one of the former owners paid for its preservation! In 1952, a grand country manor was being demolished every week, they were a dime a dozen and old money was failing fast.  How times have changed, the place is a gem:

Montacute

Montacute

Gardens at Montacute

Gardens at Montacute

Inside, the furnishings didn’t come with the property – they’ve all been donated far after the fact. So there are some sparse parts of the house, but it made it more interesting to me. We were able to see the place as it might’ve been as an unloved, derelict mansion. The plus of the spartan furnishings is that with all that space, the National Trust were able to use it for other stuff – in this instance, a portrait gallery with paintings on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in London. It was a bit like Wray Castle, with the freedom for creative, modern use of the spaces – pretty special.

Kate in library

Kate in library

After Montacute we went off to a camp site to do more van-maintenance things. I find the camp sites over here such sad, sterile, lifeless places – this one was no better. Just a paddock in the middle of nowhere, gravel pitches spaced at the minimum legislation-mandated distance, all looking to a central toilet block – the hub of the community. Beside us was an Irish traveller family with a caravan and the best stealth-camping vans I’ve ever seen. A lady walked her small dog nearby. The traveller chap asked “How much for the dag?” no less than three times.

Then he tried to sell me a petrol generator. “£2,000 value – for you, £300.”

When I finally escaped the sales pitch, his wife was at our window trying to sell Kate a knife set – “£140 value – yours for £20”.

I’m sure there are camp site rules against on-site selling, but it was the only life to be seen at the place!

After the camp site we headed south to visit Kate’s friends at Cerne Abbas – home of the Cerne Abbas Giant.

cerne-abbas-giant3

The Cerne Abbas Giant. Being without aircraft, I have stolen this from the internet.

After a muscle building 9-pt turn we got Dotty on to our friends back paddock. We were treated to such lovely hospitality, a delicious soup lunch followed by a personal tour around Cerne Abbas with the pups in tow.

Old houses, Cerne Abbas

Old houses, Cerne Abbas

In the past Cerne Abbas had a monastery. The Abbott’s gatehouse now sits in gardens behind someone’s house:

Abbott's gatehouse, Cerne Abbas

Abbott’s gatehouse, Cerne Abbas

We were keen to stretch our legs, and we had great chats while walking up around the top of the Giant’s head. Our host told us we’d see nothing from that angle – and she was quite right.

The side of the Giant

The side of the Giant

Strolling home we got a better view.

We wanted to get Kate fondling his balls, but we couldn't get it together.

We wanted to get Kate fondling his balls, but we couldn’t get it together.

Local beers and a Thai green curry saw the evening out before we headed to the van to sleep. It’s nice visiting people with a camper van – hosts don’t need to worry about bedding you!

Our campsite for the evening

Our camp site for the evening

In the morning we walked the pups, said our fond farewells and headed for the neighbouring National Trust property of Hardy’s Cottage. I understand Hardy was a writer of some note, however we had a very Hardy time finding a park – impossible time actually – and had to depart without visiting. The nature of these rural spots is tricky – if you can’t park in the actual car park, you can’t just go park up on the main road since it’s hedgerow city. I hadn’t read any of Hardy’s stuff (philistine) so wasn’t too bothered, aside from performing the necessary 5-pt turn surrounded by zombie-like shuffling retirees. Besides, nearby was Hardy’s other house – Max Gate. We headed there instead, also finding no park: but within a residential area, at least you could park down the road. Hardy was a prolific writer, which inspired Kate.

Max Gate

Max Gate

Heading north we arrived at Sherborne Old Castle. These were certainly ruins, the castle completely dismantled after the Civil War (as so many were unfortunately). We enjoyed a quick look around, but I wouldn’t include it on a speed-tour of the country!

Sherborne Old Castle Gatehouse

Sherborne Old Castle Gatehouse

What's left of the castle

What’s left of the castle inside the gate

Sherborne not-so-old castle over the walls

Sherborne not-so-old castle over the river

Onward we travelled, to Stourhead – another country house. What sets this one apart is its gardens – a lake with a bunch of monuments built around to impress visitors. It was a lovely walk, so peaceful, varied and picturesque – to come in autumn must be gorgeous!

Lake

Lake

Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo

Stourhead

Stourhead

As we departed for the van, Kate spotted a sign – ‘£10 overnight parking’. We got on that. We’re so impressed with the National Trust – they are awesome in pretty much all ways.

After dinner I went for a wee dusk walk and discovered an old WW2 airfield on the estate. You never know what you’ll find on random wanders in Britain, but it’s always something cool!

Old WW2 airfield at Stourhead. Used to fly Hurricanes

Old WW2 airfield at Stourhead. Used to fly Hurricanes

It was nice to stay at such a peaceful and lovely NT property for the evening. We had some whiskey, played some cribbage and hit the sack.

 

Larry's a 30-something chap interested in travel, being a dork and changing the world via less boring training.

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