A weekend in Wiltshire (Day 2)

 

We had arrived rather late at our B&B the night before. It’s easy to lose track of time in Wiltshire! Parking the car in the driveway, we quickly checked we had the right address. How grand, was this really Great Marshwood Farm?

Indeed it was, a 17th century house with a stunning interior, thick, luxurious carpets, beautiful vintage furniture (including a record player cabinet complete with its collection of vinyls), Victorian style tiled chimneys, curtain fabric that reminds me of William Morris patterns, lovely tea cups in the rooms…

What a place! We enjoyed our breakfast in a huge room with an impressive chimney. More of a Downton Abbey feel than a farm’s yet such a wonderful warm welcome. The eggs are from the hens, just outside the kitchen, the honey is from a friend so local and the jams are homemade. Fiona usually makes it from blackberries foraged nearby but the rain caught her short this year. Luckily, the plum tree gave plenty of fruit and a marmalade made with apple, grapefruit, orange and lemon also joined the collection. We noticed owl themed items in the decoration. There are, indeed, quite a few living around – in the barn, the forest – and closely monitored. And lovely stories and anecdotes to listen to around an extra steaming cup of tea.

Although the B&B has been running quite a while, Fiona explains this is first a working farm, with a 400 sheep flock, no less. You can imagine how busy the season is when the lambs are born… Her daughter (a landscape designer by trade) has joined in, asking for 5 Jacob sheep for her 30th birthday and you will glimpse them in the nearby fields. They do stand out with their black and white patches. 3 of them (2 sisters and their cousin) move around exclusively as a little group… Their fleece was sent to the Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall (who accept to do small batches) to be made into wool (the mix of colours bringing a lovely grey) then was knitted by the family’s grandmother into mittens, which you can buy onsite. We did get a pair each – they are so comfortable we’ve started wearing them inside the house too!

Part of the house is independent, serving as a holiday cottage for up to 4 people. The latest addition? A shepherd’s hut, a few minutes’ drive from there… Hills in the background, green all around and such peace! The space is perfectly organised – a stove in the corner, a small electric hob with a kettle, a cosy bed for 2 with storage underneath. Add to this a BBQ fire pit, deck chairs, picnic table: it simply calls for evenings walking and cycling followed by evenings around a camp fire… Breakfast wise, you can get a hamper delivered (continental type with fresh fruit, juices and farm style bacon butties) or go back to the house for a full English. Although best during summer when you can just sit outside enjoying the view, it’s a lovely little cocoon on a rainy day. You just want to stay under the duvet, read and drink tea while the rain drops play their little music on the windows. Perfect place to disconnect from reality. Or maybe this is what reality should be like.

We stayed quite a long time chatting, it was past 11 when we left, with a nice little surprise. Fiona’s daughter always makes mini Victoria sponge cakes to be given to the guests when they arrive. They had kept them for us to take along and indulge on as we discover Wiltshire. A family with a heart of gold…

 

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Our next stop in Wiltshire? Stourhead, managed by the National Trust. In this season, the house (think Regency library, Chippendale furniture…) is mostly closed to visitors but the hall with its impressive paintings, piano (everyone’s welcome to play and add to the atmosphere) and fireplace with roaring fire still welcome visitors. Most people, however, come for its world famous gardens although the word is deceptive: with its 1,072 hectares and a stunning lake at its heart, park seems more fitting. You could, of course, decide to spend just a couple of hours there. I doubt you will succeed – designed by Henry Hoare in the 1740s as his vision of an Arcadian world, it is dotted with fascinating architectural gems inspired by his European Grand Tour. The paths wander in a hilly way around the lake, slaloming between the many beeches, ash and holm oaks, sycamores, and Spanish chestnuts.

This season keeps a winter palette still, a mosaic of brown shades made by the leaves on the floor, the almost severe looking trunks tempered by vibrant moss like a blanket at their roots or ferns growing on the branches, the soft grey of stone walls with lichen here and there – mostly in a celadon colour with the occasional splash of bright orange. A dash of red too, robins flying around, looking at the visitors with a sense of pride – this is my place! Hints that spring is close by – rhododendron blooms starting to unfold bright pink petals, snowdrops showing by the bank. As you walk through, a view will suddenly appear, always beautifully framed by the foliage. Stourhead has been designed from a painting point of view, meant to enchant at every step. And of course, there are the many follies. A temple dedicated to Flora, another to Apollo, a grotto, a Pantheon, a Palladian bridge, a gothic cottage… Some of them were used, at the time, to host dinner parties. It’s like walking in a half Greek, half Italian fairy tale. Add a little mist on the surface of the lake and you can almost convince yourself you’re dreaming…

And if all this weren’t enough to guarantee a perfect day out, you will find a pub on your way out, right at the limit of the estate. And a farm shop, should you wish to stock on local cheese, ham, chutneys, cakes… (perfect if you’re coming in the summer and suddenly feel like having a picnic!)

And yet, although this is our third weekend break in Wiltshire, we have only seen a fraction of what the region has to offer…

 

Huge thanks to Visit Wiltshire for arranging this trip for us – Day 1 here!

 

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