A very formal Victorian Garden

As my eyes slowly opened I realised the whole world had turned into milk. I glanced at the still visible clock – it was 7:30am. I once more looked out into the milky world and went back to sleep.

Today we returned to Abbotsbury. A village we have discovered, with more tea shops than is really decent. Today we visited two. One for lunch and the other for dessert. Both of them were better than the one we didn’t have a roast in the other day.

Sadly the coffee shop at the Sub-Tropical Gardens was not open. This is a repeat of the Swannery behaviour and is surely the time of year rather than a lack of coffee and tea in Abbotsbury. Unless the multitude of tea shops have cornered the market. This is entirely possible. But, despite this, we ventured into the gardens anyway.

In the late 18th century, a big mansion was built for Elizabeth, Countess of Ilchester. It was her summer residence. Her main home was a tiring 22 miles away. The mansion was called Abbotsbury Castle and the walled garden at the Sub-tropical Gardens is all that survives. In her portrait she resembles a milk maid.

Monk's hood, sub-tropical garden, Abbotsbury, Dorset

From a very formal Victorian Garden, we followed the helpful white arrows around the massive place. Up a very steep hill there is a wonderful viewing point that scans the Jurassic Coastline in both directions. Chesil Beach is visible for it’s entire length. I could even make out the hotel viewpoint on Portland where I snapped the opposite photograph looking west a few years ago. The artillery sheep made it clear we were not exactly welcome. We left before they’d turned the cannon all the way round.

The whole garden is a pretty amazing place if you ignore the gunneras. And quite popular. There were lots of identical old people – always one with a stick – in beige anoraks walking very slowly.

Mirinda had fun feeding the carp and the duck. Somehow I think the duck knows when people pop 20p in the machine that it’s going to get some fish food. We also saw a Quercus nigra which wasn’t black.

Mirinda wanted to buy one of the sculptures in the Jubilee Sculpture Trail but we decided against it as it wouldn’t fit in the car.

Back in Abbotsbury we parked the car in one of the tiny non-car roads and wandered over to the teashop we didn’t go to the other day. What an excellent decision. Not a cranky person in sight and no-one was told off.

As I’ve already mentioned, Abbotsbury is a small village that looks like it just popped off the lid of a biscuit tin. It is idyllic. It is the sort of place you dream of living in until you visit a couple of times and realise it just simply heaves with tourists at all times of the week. The streets are narrow and choked with cars and the pedestrians out number the sheep. And there’s lots of sheep!

It’s understandable why there’s so many tea shops! The height of summer must be awful in Abbotsbury. Luckily for us, this is October and quite chilly. We wandered the streets admiring the olde worlde charm and making our way to the church.

Interior of St Peters Church, Abbotsbury, Dorset

St Nicholas’ church once stood beside the much larger St Peter’s that was attached to the Benedictine Abbey which is now just a bit of wall. It is all tower and low body. Quite odd from the outside but inside is all light. No need for a flash – very rare!

Two wonderful things spring immediately out at the visitor. The magnificent reredos inserted in 1751 and the plaster ceiling installed in 1638 showing three dimensional cherubs and angels. Two other things that don’t exactly jump out but are a reminder of the civil war, are the bullet holes in the back of the pulpit.

From the church we wandered down to the Abbey House Tea Shop for a cream tea in the sunny garden overlooking the very old tithe barn which hopefully we’ll see on the weekend. While there, I watched a poor old woman hobble down the steps on her two sticks. Some strange relative of hers was snapping photographs around the bottom garden but as she started to mount the steps back up, was mysteriously standing behind her, mumbling something about his photographs. As she tried to climb the first step she started saying how it was too steep for her and how she hadn’t realised going down. She asked him to stand really close to her as she went up in case she fell backwards.

None of this was particularly remarkable except that he never stopped talking about his photographs while she never stopped speaking about the steps. Neither of them heard anything either of them said. Most curious. Eventually the old woman made it to the top garden with much relief at the assistance her relative had given her…while standing a good ten feet away. As she continued into the tea room to pay, she continued discussing the size of the steps, though there was no-one there.

Back to the car and off up a very steep back lane on a quest to see the Grey Mare and her Colts. No, this isn’t a horse and her off spring. It’s a burial mound topped with a load of big stones. At some point in the distant past, the stones were somehow arranged in a significant way but the years have toppled them and so they lay in disarray.

Grey mare and her colts, Abbotsbury, Dorset

A little (read a long) way further down the path there is a stone circle. Mirinda wisely went back to the car to read while I traipsed off to see it. It wasn’t very big and nothing was sticking up out of the ground. Still, it was a stone circle.

The weather was lovely today and our fingers are crossed for another just like it tomorrow.

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