I love to travel. Recently, though, I have also focused on rediscovering the beauty of England. It never ceases to take me by surprise… Last summer I went foraging on the Dorset seaside and I could picture forgetting all about London and living there. My adventures brought me back to the region, more inland this time, to Wimborne for a rather magical day at Dean’s Court, a magnificent mansion. The main part of the house dates back to the 8th century, imagine how much it has seen! Surrounded by a park with a lake, a marquee for weddings, cottages for holidays, it enjoys a quite exceptional setting – British countryside at its best. I arrived early, to have a chance to look around, sat in the little café, watching the locals share a pot of Earl Grey after walking their dogs, admiring fresh eggs in a basket… It set the tone wonderfully.
I walk up the road to the mansion. Not as big as Downton Abbey, but standing there by the stained windows, the antique furniture, soft light pouring in, an open hearth warming the room, cup in one hand and a lavender shortbread in another, it certainly felt like I was. The teas we are delighting in are by the Comins Tea House. Michelle explains how the adveture started with her husband, once a tea sceptic, when visiting the plantations in Darjeeling. Once back home, they decided to offer a more modern tea experience (at the time, Britain was still very much focused on Builders’ tea bags). Since then they opened their tea house (note the difference – not simply a tea room!) and you can enjoy a perfect brew along with, go on, a slice of cake. It’s all about the passion and the quality and you should see Michelle’s eyes sparkle when she describes the qualities of a green tea, how delicate a white one (basically the buds), the earthiness of a Pu-erh. It’s impossible not to fall under her charm. And yes, every sip tastes a hundred times better for it.
Shall we take a walk before lunch? The vegetable patch is remarkable. And huge! Artichoke flowers tower high, sculptural, the pumpkins fail to hide under the leaves, greenhouses shelter a large collection of heritage tomato plants bordered by fennel. Here and there are dahlias, cornflowers, raspberries, strawberries. A surprise awaits in the pear trees – the fruit are growing in bottles. Once ripe, they will be detached and the flask filled with brandy or vodka to become a rather magical pear liqueur. Close by is a gipsy caravan and cottages should you need an escape from your daily routine. Just picture stepping into a page of Country Living magazine. A soothing palette of white, a rustic stove, freshly cut flowers and a view of the meadows. I just want to spend a whole day there, walks in wellies or reading in the rocking chair with a teapot by my side. How about celebrations, anniversaries? The Gate House can welcome up to 14 guests!
Now – it’s time to put a suit on and learn more about Dean’s Court’s 20 hives. All white, netted hat, yellow gloves but not letting go of the cameras, we must indeed be quite a sight. First, a little smoke. Not for us, for the bees: fearing their home sweet home might be on fire, they rush back, gorge on sugar to possibly start a hive elsewhere. But like us after a festive meal, they suddenly slow down, the thought of stinging taking too much energy. Indeed, the buzz is getting more musical and, curious more than anything else, they stop a few seconds to sniff at sleeves and pockets. Look at the pictures below, particularly the 8th – can you see the tiny head in the front? It is a bee being born… And in the following the blue dot? That is the Queen. We take a look at too hives – in the first not much honey had been made yet and the frames were light enough but in the second, the texture had definitely changed and they proved consequently heavier. I left with great regret, finding this universe rather fascinating. Never once did I feel threatened nor anxious.
Meanwhile the in-house florist Kelly-Marie and Linen Works (who can give an extraordinary grace to any kind of textile) had been quite busy setting up the most theatrical table I have ever seen. It must have been a challenging room, the walls being a bright red, but a white tablecloth brings the gaze back to its heart. A line of flowers, apples, pears, berries and wild herbs crosses it as if a cornucopia had been emptied there, amaranths and dahlias towering in little fireworks. Admirable indeed. Each place setting had been delicately calligraphed and the linen napkins decorated with a wheat stalk and a few themed charms. The quintessence of countryside elegance!
We raised our glasses (prosecco with the pear liqueur I mentioned earlier) to the magic of Dean’s Court. The dishes started to appear and never had a vegetarian feast reached such heights (all credits go to Julia Rumsey – [email protected]): figs filled with goat’s cheese, potatoes / rosemary / onion / pine nuts gallette, extraordinary salads, courgette and parmesan bread and that is just a glimpse. The plate disappears quickly – as you simply cannot choose you take a little of everything and, well, there is a lot of scrumptious everything, you see. The same attention has been brought to desserts and the fruit look like gorgeous jewels on the tart. A real celebration of both terroir and autumn.
Spoon in hand we listen to the presentation of Pixieme – a company focusing on representing independent businesses, putting forward these little details that make them part of the community: the warmth, the smiles, the unique atmosphere that makes you feel at home even if you have had a terrible day. Have a look at their website to know more!
Next on the programme was a Farrow & Ball workshop and the opportunity to see their latest wallpaper collection which only Vogue had already glimpsed. Look at these dots, reminding me of pointillism. I had sworn to never have wallpaper in my house but they may very well have changed my mind: such a presence! We got to paint trays with some of their paint too, silky, a gorgeous finish and dry in an hour. I can’t wait to try a lichen or a slate colour next.
It’s almost time to leave this little paradise. In the garden, Kelly-Marie is preparing the flowers for the wedding taking place the following day – a harmony of lilac and mauve tints, which she places in jars and vintage bottles she has collected for years. She adds a little poetic dew to scabious blooms, a little volume with thistles. Watching her is pure therapy. The marquee is already setup by the pond, covered in lily pads, the swans reflecting in the water. Can you imagine a more romantic setting?
Don’t go without having a look at the shop, set where the squash court used to be – lots of ideas to decorate the house in there and a lovely focus on regional products too. I am still smiling, driving home. Glad to be coming back end of November for another memorable experience. A huge thanks to Dean’s Court for the extraordinary welcome and for everyone who made the day magical…