2011 – Devon & Dorset
AT A GLANCE
Welcome to pastoral England, little changed since Thomas Hardy's day...
The depths of Devon and Dorset are about as bucolic an English idyl as it gets. It would be rude, indeed untrue, to say that these two neighbouring counties are at all backward, but one does have a sense that it could be 1954!
We have been enjoying Devon a lot recently, but we haven't been to Dorset for a number of years, and we are looking forward to our return. The captivating rural landscape and the stunning coastline provide the most wonderful scenic backdrop to this tour, which takes you to the very best late-summer gardens in the southern half of Devon and throughout Dorset. We take in a day traversing Dartmoor, and all its delights, two days of coastal gardens and plenty of rolling pastures in between, plus visits to historic Dartmouth, to the unique Swannery at Abbotsford, the ancient Giant Man at Cerne Abbas and to see the magnificent Perpendicular Gothic fan-vaulted ceiling of Sherborne Abbey. All this from two excellent establishments – one inn and one hotel – both of which we know well, and two fabulous restaurants again, both of which we know well.
Devon & Dorset
Devon, and its much smaller neighbour, Dorset, share a great deal in common, but enjoy their differences too. Both counties are deeply rural, with agricultural pedigrees dating back centuries,
Devon is England's fourth largest county, and is undoubtedly one of its most rural and most beautiful. Bounded to the north and the south by two wonderful coastlines, Devon's lush rolling countryside is dominated by Dartmoor, a landscape of stunning views, awe inspiring granite tors, deep wooded valleys with fast flowing rivers, and rugged, wide open spaces. It is a stunning county of great contrasts, with two beautiful coastlines, two National Parks and five official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In the absence of motorways and any major centres of population, other than Bournemouth, Dorset is bypassed by those continuing on, to visit Devon and Cornwall and remains much as it has since the days of local author Thomas Hardy.
Devon and Dorset are blessed with many wonderful gardens, especially along this coastal strip, where they are warmed by the mild air of the Gulf Stream. We will visit a selection of the very best of the gardens, from The Garden House, nestled in the foothills of Dartmoor, and Forde Abbey, on the borders of Somerset, to three coastal gardens, at Coleton Fishacre, Overbeck's and Abbotsbury, which are either right on the coast, or a five-minute walk from it.
Dartmoor is a National Park and much information can be gleaned from these two websites, Dartmoor National Park and Visit Dartmoor, both official websites of the National Park Authority. Its history is fascinating and is littered with the evidence of human habitation and activity from earliest times. Amongst other things, it is famous for its prison, which housed both Napoleonic prisoners-of-war and American prisoners-of-war, and famous too, as the eerie setting for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Sleeping & Eating
We return, yet again, to the award-winning, family-run Rock Inn, a traditional Dartmoor Inn in the lee of the moors, for the first three nights of the tour, and, after an all-too-long interval of several years, we return too, to the Castleman Hotel, a fantastic restaurant with wonderfully comfortable rooms, for the second three nights of the tour.
Although their settings couldn't be more different, the Rock Inn nestled into the side of Haytor and the Castleman the centrepiece of one of England's quaintest villages, both establishments are noted for their superb food and homely comforts, and both establishments are listed in the independent Good Hotel Guide, here and here.
We will dine-in twice at the Rock Inn and twice at the Castleman Hotel, and dine-out on the middle evening of each of the three-night stays, firstly at The Old Library, in Ashburton, and secondly at The New Inn, in Cerne Abbas.
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18 – 24 September 2020 | 7 days
DAY 1 – FRI 18 SEPT
Tim will collect you from either Stansted Airport or from the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, immediately north of Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport and, once we are all together, we drive south west to the world-famous gardens at Stourhead for lunch and a walk around these wonderful, eighteenth century landscape gardens.
Stourhead is a fraction more than half-way on our journey, and is about a ninety-minute drive to The Rock Inn, where we will arrive in good time to check-in and relax, before we gather for drinks and dinner at the Inn.
Today's driving is about 250 miles/400 km from Stansted and about 185 miles/300 km from Heathrow
DAY 2 – SAT 19 SEPT
We spend today along Devon's stunning south coast, starting with a visit to Coleton Fishacre, the luxury 1920s country retreat of the D'Oyly Carte family - they of Gilbert & Sullivan operatic fame. The Arts & Crafts style house is imbued with 1920s' elegance whilst exotic and tender plants thrive in its wonderful garden. Leaving Coleton Fishacre, we descend into Kingswear to cross the River Dart by ferry to Dartmouth, where we will have lunch and a little time to explore this famous historic naval town.
Our next coastal garden is Overbeck's, the seaside home of scientist and inventor Otto Overbeck, whose subtropical garden is tucked away on the cliffs above Salcombe, and is filled with exotic and rare plants from around the world. Although born in England, Otto Christoph Joseph Gerhardt Ludwig Overbeck, a research chemist by profession, was descended from a distinguished Dutch family.
We will dine at the The Old Library, Ashburton, en route home to The Rock Inn.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
DAY 3 – SUN 20 SEPT
We cross Dartmoor, stopping for photographs of the magnificent scenery and the semi-wild Dartmoor Ponies, for a morning visit to The Garden House, an elegant former vicarage purchased in the 1940s by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue who, over the next 40 years created a garden which is held to be one of the finest gardens in Britain. The 10 acre/4 ha garden is now in trust for future generations and in the care of head gardener, Nick Haworth, who arrived in 2013 and has begun a major refurbishment of the original Fortescue garden.
The Garden House has a very decent Tea Room, where we can enjoy an early lunch, before re-crossing Dartmoor, to Chagford, one of Dartmoor's ancient market towns, for a brief exploration, before the remainder of the afternoon at Castle Drogo, an Edwin Lutyens designed country house and mixed-revivalist castle built between 1911 and 1930 for Julius Drewe, the hugely wealthy founder of the Home and Colonial Stores. Alas, it was never watertight. Its medieval-style flat roof leaking from the outset, and has been undergoing a six-year conservation project to save the very fabric of the building and make it watertight – a not inconsiderable task involving the removal of some 2,355 granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes, and removing, refurbishing and resealing each of the 913 windows!
We will enjoy the garden and discover how the renovations are going, before we return to the Rock Inn for dinner.
Today's driving is about 60 miles/100 km
DAY 4 – MON 21 SEPT
We start the day in east Devon, at Burrows Farm Garden, a 13 acre/5 ha garden set in idyllic countryside. The garden, created by Mary Berger since 1960, started life when Mary asked her dairy farmer husband for a small plot on their farm, which she could garden. John presented her with a small, disagreeable plot in the least productive part of the farm. In the succeeding 60 years Mary not only transformed this undesirable plot into today's stunning garden, but, behind John's back, she moved the fences and, year-by-year, added a little more to her garden! There are now several gardens, from the Woodland Garden to the Anniversary Garden – created in 2010 to celebrate their 50 years at Burrow Farm.
We'll have lunch at Burrow Farm, before crossing into Dorset, for the afternoon at Forde Abbey and their award-winning gardens. The park and gardens at Forde have evolved over the past 900 years, from the early Cistercian monks, who founded the abbey, and who would have farmed the land and grown seasonal fruit and vegetables, in accordance with a strict vegetarian diet, to today's owners, the Roper family, who, in their eighteenth-century landscape, have established the Bog Garden, the Park Garden and a Rock Garden, and planted more than 350,000 trees on the estate.
If time allows, we will stop briefly to visit Sherborne Abbey, en route to our new home, the Castleman Hotel, in good time to check-in and relax, before drinks and dinner at the hotel.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
DAY 5 – TUE 22 SEPT
We return to the coast, to spend the morning above Chesil Beach at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, created originally for the monastery that once dominated the village, the gardens have undergone several recent restorations, in the 1960s and the 1980s, and a major restoration in the 1990s, made necessary by the damage from the Great Storm of 1987. The garden is a mixture of formal and informal planting, and world-famous for its Camellias and Magnolias.
Abbotsbury is also famous for its Swannery, a unique colony of nesting Mute Swans established by the Benedictine Monks who built Abbotsbury in the 1040s, and we cannot leave Abbotsbury without seeing them.
Moving inland, we spend the afternoon at Athelhampton, one of England's finest Tudor manor houses, its Great Hall largely unchanged from when it was built in 1485. Bought and sold by a succession of families, Athelhampton has connections with Thomas Hardy, who was a frequent visitor, and was a fellow Magistrate with the then owner, Alfred Cart de Lafontaine, who restored the house and created the Victorian gardens we see today. The Arts and Crafts garden, designed by Reginald Blomfield and Inigo Thomas, it is one of the best examples of the style, and the walled gardens include roses, magnolias, clematis and lilies.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
DAY 6 – WED 23 SEPT
We stay close to home, starting with a visit to neighbouring Cranborne, the home of Viscount Cranborne, the eldest son of the 7th Marquess of Salisbury, a direct descendent of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth I and James II. The original Manor house was built as a royal hunting lodge for King John in the 12th century – Cranborne Chase was a royal hunting ground from at least the time of William the Conqueror until the 17th century. At the beginning of the 17th century the garden was laid out by Mounten Jennings and John Tradescant who supplied many of the original plants.
Cranborne is a complete estate, and we'll take a stroll around the village and have lunch in its excellent garden centre café, before spending the afternoon exploring the gardens at Larmer Tree, the name of a magnificent landmark tree that stood on this site as early as the 10th century. It is hard to think that in 1899 these gardens were attracting some 44,000 visitors a year, and were one of the foremost Pleasure Gardens in late-Victorian Britain with picnic areas, music and entertainment. In the evening the gardens were illuminated with thousands of Vauxhall lights and there was dancing in the open air, “Quite the prettiest sight I ever saw in my life” is how Thomas Hardy described it in 1895. In 1900 the gardens closed, until, in 1991 Michael Pitt Rivers, the original owner's great grandson, set about restoring them.
We return to the Castleman Hotel for a relaxing evening and our end-of-tour dinner!
Today's driving is about 60 miles/100 km
DAY 7 – THU 24 SEPT
Our final garden is a garden we have not visited for some years, but it's not the sort of garden one easily forgets, West Green House is a stunning garden and will provide a fitting close to the tour. The gardens surround one of the prettiest manor houses in England and were created over two decades by Marylyn Abbott a renowned Australian garden designer, whose twin passions for English Gardens and International Opera have created a unique environment. We will have lunch in their Courtyard Tea Room before returning to the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, en route to Stansted Airport, where the tour ends, and where we plan to be in good time for evening flights home.
If you are staying on, in the UK, and don't need, or wish, to return to Stansted Airport, then please let us know your onward travel plans, so that we may assist you in getting to your next destination.
Today's total driving is about 110 miles/180 km, for those of you leaving us at Heathrow, or about 175 miles/280 km, for those of you returning to Stansted
We endeavour to be as faithful as possible to our published itineraries, but changes do occur occasionally, either necessarily or unavoidably.