A visit to Stourhead not forgetting Compton Pauncefoot

This post is coming incredibly soon after the previous one, about our visit to Cornwall, because Battleaxe is so busy with other things for the Coronation weekend (not, I assure you, that we are having anything whatsoever to do with the jingoistic Royal business). Sigh. A blogger’s work is never done. Anyway, on the way back from Cornwall we stayed a night near Wincanton and went to  the glorious Stourhead. We also visited the actual village of Compton Pauncefoot – more about that at the end of the post.  Here is the classic Stourhead view – across the Palladian bridge and the lake to one of the many classical buildings in the grounds – the Pantheon.

Initially, we planned to visit Stourhead after our drive up from Penzance, but would you believe the National Trust currently closes it at 4pm. Given that the drive takes nearly 4 hours, it would not have been feasible to go the same day. So, we stayed the night in a rather down-market place just outside Wincanton – the Hunter’s Lodge. Don’t get me wrong, it was OK, but the original pub had been expanded into a huge Family Friendly enterprise, with adventure playgrounds, pygmy goats etc, and the eatery was like a Harvester… So, we went to Stourhead the next morning. It opened at 9, we were there on the dot. For the first hour we had the place to ourselves, which was lovely.

Stourton is a village inside the estate – here is the Bristol Cross
The Gothic Cottage

Stourhead is reputed to be one of the most beautiful, the most famous and the most-painted gardens in the country.  I won’t go boring on about English eighteenth-century panoramic landscape garden design, suffice it to say that this one was commissioned by Henry Hoare (of the banking family), based, like so many of these gardens, on his European Grand Tour. Hence all the classical buildings etc. The walk round the lake is based on the journey of Aeneas to the underworld, and the design inspired by a painting by Claude Lorrain. Those garden designers certainly thought big – the lake at Stourhead is entirely artificial, made by damming up a valley. They must have also thought very long-term – the full impact of the created landscape would not have been evident until the trees had grown up. So unlike the ‘instant results’ thinking of our time.

We had a peaceful walk round the lake, which took over an hour in itself. There was a very good grotto – you had to have one of those in C18,  and massive old trees which were planted by another Hoare in the 1790s – still going strong. Unfortunately the weather turned a bit dull. It was sunny when we first arrived, but then clouded up. But it was beautiful, Battleaxe would totally recommend.

We briefly visited the house. A handsome Palladian villa from the outside, quite modest in size.  Don’t forget the Hoares, although they were obviously incredibly wealthy, were not the aristocracy.  They were mere bankers, in trade, dears. For really over-the-top aristocratic flaunting of wealth, think Chatsworth, or Blenheim…  Hundreds of years later, the British elite carry on the same, bankers and all. Anyway, we were not at all impressed by the inside of the house. For one thing, it was far, far too dark. Ridiculously dark. Given that most of the art the NT were seemingly over-concerned to protect, with very low lighting and blinds at all the windows, was heavy, dark and murky anyway, the result was that you could scarcely see a thing… Frankly, I wouldn’t bother.

So, back to Compton Pauncefoot. Whatever is that about, you say.

Well, people who know about the novel I am writing will recognise the name. It inspired the idea for the plot and the characters – but of course, in the finished version, I will have to change the village’s name. In the old days, we’d drive down to Cornwall in one long day, via the A303, and would pass the Compton Paucefoot sign. I always liked the name and fantasised about life there, but we never visited. Now, I think I have got far enough through writing not to be influenced by the real thing. So, off we went. First disappointment, there wasn’t a village sign. I wanted a picture of me beside it for my novel writing group colleagues. So, had to make do with these.:

The actual village is much smaller and more affluent than the fictional version, all beautiful stone cottages etc. No pub, no school, no Spar Shop, no council houses.  Probably, not even a village hall for WI meetings… But it has a lovely church, and a  pretty little stream. Look at the blue sky… sadly missing when we went to Stourhead.


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