Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Stately homes of England (a very occasional series)

We had agreed to meet up at midday at Buscot Park, with a view to proceeding up the road to Kelmscott Manor for our picnic, as Buscot didn't open until two.  In the event, although Buscot House and gardens themselves (the bits you pay for if not a NT member) were not yet open, the car park and picnic area were; so, as we were both starving, events were reversed.  We scoffed the picnic, luxuriously seated on sets rather than camp chairs or the ground (and invaded by only two wasps), then drove the long way round to Kelmscott to kill a little time until two o'clock. 

I had no expectations at all.  My experience of so-called stately homes resides mostly in the North and West of England.    We parked ten minutes' walk away, opposite the church, and strolled up to the Manor, past an enticing pub (I don't know my friend well enough yet to suggest stopping off for a swift half).  But the walk up through the village was delightful.  Dry-stone walls are an art form created by craftsmen. (Hey, there's a buzzword -  Arts and Crafts.)  I could have stood and stared at them for tens of minutes. 

Kelmscott is not National Trust, so can charge what it likes: £9 in this case.  We didn't intend to visit there anyway - "I've had enough of Pre-Raphaelites", said my companion - so we made our way back to Buscot.  (Mind you, Buscot charges £8 to non-NT-members, but I think you get a bit more for your money.)  But what a fantastic place!  I use that adjective carefully - there's a lot of fantasy in there.  You wander into the next room and are confronted by a Gainsborough or a Rembrandt juxtaposed (in your mind) against an intimate Faringdon family portrait.  Futuristic glass sculptures sit next to genuine Egyptian godesses and Rossetti houris.  Eclecticism was possibly the crowning glory of the Victorian age; I was reminded of the Burrell collection.

So, having achieved cultural saturation, we wandered around the gardens and the park.  The water garden with its wide lake reminded me of Stour Head; mock temples around the edges.  The Swinging Garden (which I had been informed was for adults) was a disappointment; I'd expected it to be full of swingers behaving badly.  But I think I was too tired for that by then.

And I haven't even mentioned the terracotta warriors.


  1. I was mildly disappointed when I clicked on to The Saloon. Not quite what I expected. Not a drink in sight.

    I enjoy the casual placement of fabulous items in stately homes where families still live, particularly when they are coolly unlabelled.

  2. Didn't the Victorians invent the Eclectic Lightbulb?

  3. Z - you were disappointed not to get a virtual drink at 08:44? Surely you could have raided the cupboard for a surreptitious real one?
    I agree about the casual placements. They made this house seem like a home rather than a museum.

    Rog - much more of that and I'm gonna start throwing trees around.

  4. According to my feed this post was originally called Get Off Or Own Up, so you can understand the problem I've had reconciling title with substance, searching the while in vain for an illuminatory sub-plot. You did appear to leave the Swinging Gardens in a bit a hurry...

  5. Coincidence postscript: I read the Guardian today. Well, somebody's got to do it. On page 12 of the Review there was an interview with Fiona MacCarthy, who is publishing a book about Burne-Jones, whose 'The Legend of the Briar Rose' is Buscot's star turn. For some reason, reading this made me think of Richard Dadd, the allegedly mad fantasist who predated that bunch by a decade or two, and whose work I used to love thirty years ago. So I turn to page 16, and find an article about ... well, I don't need to tell you, do I?

  6. I love the Scottish NT - I don't want to ruin your day, but our membership rates are about half of the English ones..and we get into your places for free too!