I’ll tell you a secret, I have a guilty pleasure….I love having a good old nose around other peoples homes. I unashamedly inspect their beds, baths, kitchens and sitting rooms, and try to take as many pictures as I can, I even fantasise about living there. No, I am not a dangerous stalker, I have a passion for visiting stately homes, and luckily Dorset, and indeed the whole of England, is full of them!
This one is called Athelhampton House, situated near Dorchester, Dorset. Described as ‘The Quintessential English Manor House’, £12.50 will gain you entry to both the Tudor style house and the Elizabethan gardens. It’s relatively small compared to other stately homes throughout the UK which are on my wish list to visit, I would set aside a morning or afternoon to explore both the gardens and house. I would also recommend visiting between March and October as the house is open Sundays – Thursdays instead of just Sundays throughout the winter.
We started with the breathtakingly beautiful gardens. The main feature is the stunning Great Court, dominated by Pyramid Shaped Yew trees. I could have spent hours staring at them just wondering which poor soul had the unenviable job of trimming them…and how!
I will at this point warn you that these trees are planted in a sunken grassy area down a relatively small but steep slope. If you are an avid photographer trying to get a good shot and happen to also be rather fashion concious and wearing completely in-appropriate shoes, there is a good chance that you could slip and fall flat on your face. That’s all I’m saying.
There is something beautiful round every corner at Athelhampton. The Private Garden is incredibly peaceful and beautifully kept, the Octagonal Pond is overlooked by a stunning stone statue and the boarded river walk takes you through the more natural areas which are just as gorgeous.
The house itself, although relatively compact compared to others, is still impressive. The Great Hall complete with huge fireplace makes you feel as if you’ve walked straight into Henry VIII’s country retreat and you can just imagine him striding in at any second – or Jonathan Rhys Meyer who played Henry VIII in the BBC drama series as he’s slightly more attractive!
The furnishings become more lavish, and slightly more homely as you walk through the library and The Kings Room in the East Wing. The West Wing houses a beautiful dining room, the Yellow Bedroom with a stunning period wedding dress on a mannequin stood in the corner. The State Bedroom is much more grand and features a gorgeous four poster bed straight from an episode of The Tudors. One day I will get to sleep in one with or without Jonathan Rhys Meyer. Moving on to the bathroom there is an actual copper bathtub which looks like it could be a bit chilly in winter, and the Dressing Room is full of mannequins displaying various types of period dress – absolutely fascinating if a little eerie, I could have sworn I saw one of them move!
After taking a few snaps of the front of the house we had a quick look around the well stocked gift shop. I would recommend combining a visit here with an afternoon tea from the on-site Topiary Restaurant which also serves a roast on Sundays, or a local pub lunch in the surrounding countryside.
Aside from a lovely day out, Athelhampton also caters for wedding ceremonies, receptions and evening parties with a menu created especially for you and what I imagine would be the most gorgeous photos in the grade 1 listed gardens. They also hold a range of events throughout the year including an annual MG Car Rally, open air theatre performances and a cosy cinema showing both classic and modern films throughout the Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter seasons.
Athelhampton House is the perfect place to while away the afternoon, whether you are a history buff or just appreciate a walk through exquisite surroundings – it’s well worth a visit when you are in Dorset.