What a delight it was driving through Somerset with trees in fresh new leaf and cow parsley lining the roads. Claire had it all well organised to include the weather – a perfect sunny day.
On arrival at Barrington Court we had to go on foot through the garden rooms, originally set out to Gertrude Jekyll’s designs and still planted in harmonic colours. The lily garden was particularly striking with rusty shades of azaleas and more than usual brilliance for early summer. The White Garden, inspired by Sissinghurst, was particularly pretty with unusual white forget-me-nots providing a froth between white tulips. The kitchen garden was exemplary.
Refreshments were served in Strode House where the Lyle family lived – a combination of a 1550s house with a stable block of 1674. Sitting in the sunshine overlooking parkland stretching away into the distance beyond the ha-ha was very relaxing. Then indoors to Court House to admire endless salvaged antique woodwork refitted by Colonel Lyle. Many rooms had a ghostly banner hanging, showing their use in the 16th century, e.g. storing barrels of cider – but the 1920s bathrooms with huge baths made me wonder if they ever ran out of hot water.
Neil, our guide, greeted us at the handsome front door surrounded by fragrant wisteria, shown off to good effect by the ham stone.
After earlier mentions of Dillington in an Anglo Saxon charter, and after the Norman conquest, Dillington passed through various hands before it came to the Bonville family. We saw more oak panelling dating back to the 1580s and a memorable Ice House. Sir George Speke increased the house to an E-shaped plan typical of Tudor architecture. The most notable alterations were by Sir James Pennethorne (designer of the ballroom at Buckingham Palace) and are what we see today.
In the Second World War, Dillington was a temporary HQ of the U.S. Army’s Airborne Division and casualties from Normandy recuperated there.
We saw portraits of the Malet family on loan to Somerset County Council. The present owner, Lord Ewen Cameron, has never lived in the house but his mother was born there. In 1949 a long lease was taken by Somerset County Council and it became Somerset’s residential centre for adult education with 40 en suite bedrooms. It now hosts civil ceremonies, and weddings too.
In 2009 The Hyde was built – a contemporary building which won a RIBA award in 2016.
Before leaving some of us explored the Wilderness, with over 40 species of trees, some of which are over 100 years old. Indeed, a few of us went home with cider from the orchard, planted in 2009.