In and around Dorset

Thursday, 2 September 2010

I enjoy watching Mary Queen of Shops and the episode of Cleall's of Corfe Castle inspired me to visit the place. The TV series portrayed it as an idyllic and quintessential Dorset village with lots of interesting characters. Of course when we did get there, to use my husband's phrase, 'there were more tourists than you can shake a stick at'.

As my Mum and sister were visiting, we decided its probably best to rent a cottage rather than go camping. We also decided to break up the journey there and make good use of our National Trust memberships along the way. were offering some great hotel deals so we stopped at Hilton Newbury en-route. While its certainly not the best Hilton we've stayed at, it was pretty good. My mum has always wanted to visit Oxford and so that was first on the itinerary with of course the mandatory shopping.

En-route we also stopped by Mottisfont Abbey and Gardens in Hampshire. The history there dates back to the 1200's where it was originally an Augustinian Priory. It was eventually converted into a house by Lord Sandys. According to the Nation Trust Handbook, in the mid 20th century the final private owner, society hostess and patron of the arts Maud Russell, used the Abbey as a base for her racy and intriguing life. The property is built adjacent to the River Test which is supposed to be one of the finest chalk streams in the world. You will now ask what the heck is a chalk stream and I had no idea until I looked up good old Wikipedia. According the Wiki' Chalk streams have characteristics which set them apart from watercourses associated with other rock types.Aside from those with an interest in the geological and ecological disciplines, the term chalk stream is most widely used among a small group of fly fishermen (who fish for trout on these rivers utilizing a specific type of artificial fly and their attendant techniques), as the ecology of the chalk streams creates an especially entertaining variation on the general theme of fly fishing. My sister was fascinated by the fish and fed them most of our leftover lunch. The gardens were also quite impressive and my mum was especially taken by the rose gardens.

The cottage we stayed at was a very old thatch in a village called Shroton which is not far from Blandford Forum. The low ceilings were a bit of a struggle sometimes for my 6.4" hubby but everything else about the place was tranquil. There nearest shop was over 3 miles away and there was nothing touristy about the place which was refreshing. The village pub was right next to the cottage which was also a bonus. Corfe Castle did not fail to impress but the village was teeming with tourists due to the August Bank Holiday weekend. We also visited Studland Beach and Nature Reserve which is not far from Swanage which had some impressive views of the coast. As the weekend traffic was a bit horrific we missed out on Brownsea Island near Poole. We will be back gain sometime to do things we missed. Britain's first classical music festival Seranata and the Dorset Steam Fair were also on in the neighbourhood that weekend, all of which adding to the busy feel and traffic.

As part of our National Trust mission, we visited nearby Stourhead. its 18th century gardens are supposed to be one of the finest in the world and according to one of the volunteers, the garden often gets more attention than the house itself. My sister took a special interest in the history of the house and was full of questions. The house was owned by the Hoare family and one of the family members still uses an apartment within the house. One of the most important exhibits there was the 16th century Pope's cabinet which was originally built for ope Sixtus V. A couple of years ago, the cabinet was restored at a cost of £50K. However, no one knows how much was paid for the original purchase. You could spend hours and hours around this property and gardens and its yet another one that we will come back to.

Ed had not visited Stonehenge before and that was to be part of our itinerary. However, the traffic was an issue and we decided to give it a miss. We managed to get a good look at it on the way though as its right next to the A303. I visited the site a few years ago and must say that I bit a bit disappointed-the road next to it certainly kills any other worldly aura the site may have had.

Another important stop for me was to be Waddesdon Manor which is home to the Rothschild collection. However, by the time we got there, the tickets to the house had all sold out. Its an unusual property where you need to book a time ticket and there are only a limited number of visitors allowed in to the house during a day. I was gutted but as its not a long way away from where we live, we will be back one weekend. The grounds and gardens were one of the biggest and most impressive one of I've site. The architecture of the house reminds me of a Disney castle. According to Nation Trust 'This renaissance-style ch√Ęteau was built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to display his outstanding collection of art treasures and to entertain the fashionable world. The 45 rooms on view combine the highest quality French furniture and decorative arts from the 18th century with superb English portraits and Dutch Old Masters.' The grounds also house an aviary which gave my sister-the wildlife lover an awful lot of joy.We'll be back for more. Ann x



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