bath 2010 banner
Sunay 16 May 2010

I once again awoke to the smell of bacon and we wandered down to the breakfast room where I indulged once more in a full English while Mirinda decided to go all continental with croissants. She regretted her decision as they tasted like cardboard. Her assumption was that they came, frozen in boxes and the boxes had somehow infiltrated the pastry.

And so, off to Castle Combe. It is advertised as the prettiest village in England. We've seen a few of these. Actually Shere, not far from us, is also the prettiest village in England. The day was gloomy so we hoped the prettiness would cheer it up a bit. We parked in the carpark, which already had a big coach in it, and started to walk down the road. Yes, road. Not a footpath, not through a stile or two but down a tarmac road. We dodged a few cars as the road plunged down.

We walked by the seat dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II in 1977 on the occasion of her jubilee. It was once a stone pen used for keeping stray animals in which the owners would have to pay for their release. It is an odd place for a seat. Apart from being on the side of the road without a footpath, cars whizzing by, it faces the opposite side of a sunken lane. Not a view of by any stretch of the imagination. Unperturbed, we continued down the hill.

We reached the museum (closed most of the time) and Mirinda asked how long before we found this prettiest village in England. Looking ahead, it was obvious how much further we'd have to walk. It needs to be understood at this point that Mirinda is not that keen on hills. Slight gradients up rolling heathland are fine, the hill in Farnham Park is also ok. Steep roads diving into dark wooded lanes is generally not ok. The problem is not going down but the need to retrace the route back up. It was at a point, a few yards passed the museum (not open very often and once a blacksmith's shop, telephone exchange and school, when I assume it was open more often) that the decision was made to walk back to the car.

We drove through the prettiest village in England. It is quite pretty. All thatch and Cotswold stone. We also spotted the tourists who were presumably from the coach. They were Japanese. A lot of Japanese. They roamed the village looking like sole, bemused visitors to and English version of Australiana Village.
Small villages in England (particularly the pretty ones) have very narrow footpaths. The houses tend to open directly onto these footpaths. There are no front gardens at all. Most people have their living room at the front of the house which look directly out into the main street. Curtain twitchers must have a grand time, alert to all the happening of the village from the comfort of their armchair. Sadly, when one lives in something labelled The Prettiest Village in England, one has to expect wizened old Japanese gentlemen who peer into the gloom, noses pressed to the glass, hoping for a glimpse of the natives. Not somewhere I'd like to live.
Back at the car park, which I should have mentioned, was free, we had a look at the A-Z and found a National Trust property we had not visited before and decided to set out for it.

dyrham park, bathDyrham Park is a wonderfully situated manor house, set in a valley, grassy hills rising on all sides, tree lined avenues radiating out from it. Like Petworth, you walk along the drive and suddenly you see the house. It is a wonderful view down a steep valley, the Cotswold stone shining on the damp, cloudy day. I also forgot to mention that the weather has been a bit see saw-ish. Sometimes gloomy, sometimes sunny, occasionally wet.

As we strolled down to the house (secure in the knowledge that there is a bus to take you back to the car park if your legs so desire it) we wondered whether some great landscape gardener like Capability Brown had had a hand in the construction of the views. It looked, for all the world as if man had moulded the hills and vistas but, no, apparently not. At least not as far as the guidebook is concerned. It seems the only architects of this landscape (ignoring the trees which were obviously planted by someone) were the deer. Dyrham, you see, means 'an enclosed valley frequented by deer' in Old English.

Regular readers will know how we feel about stately homes built on the back of piracy or the slave trade or by the wealthy not paying the masons and carpenters who did all the work. Sadly, whenever we visit a stately home, this is foremost in our minds. Dyrham is different. It was built by a civil servant. A dull and boring man called Blathwayt. I say 'dull and boring' because he didn't really aspire to anything great. He was, however, not stupid.

He married a woman called Mary Wynter in 1686. Mary's dad whose memorial sits large in the church next to the house, owned a tumble down Tudor house on the present site. Blathwayt inherited it on his death and the subsequent death of Mary and he transformed it to the house that stands there today.

Down through the ages, a succession of Blathwayts have happily lived at Dyrham making very little difference to the original building. This is a good thing as we now have an excellent example of a Dutch influenced 17th century manor house, almost perfectly preserved.

We had to wear plastic overshoes as we wandered through the house due to the inclement weather. They were not particularly fetching but, as everyone was wearing them and they were all green, no-one looked any different to anyone else so we soon forgot we were wearing them at all. Strange how that happens.
There is an odd painting hanging in the dining room. Actually, that's not exactly true. There are two strange paintings hanging in the dining room. They are both exactly the same. One is a copy. The painting is called An urchin mocking an old woman eating polenta and was originally painted by Bartolome Murillo, a Spanish artist who specialised in this sort of thing. It's an amazing painting with the urchin seeming to include us in the mockery of the poor old woman who is almost afraid, guarding her bowl of polenta. The second version of the painting, hanging on the opposite wall is a copy made in around 1765 when the grandson of the first Blathwayt had to sell the original to pay his creditors. It looks remarkably identical. A short time later, the guy's brother stepped in and purchased the original back and so they now both hang in the dining room.

We wandered around the various stately rooms that were not quite as stately as the normal run-of-the-mill stately rooms are, gradually making our way back to the entrance, grasping our talking sticks as we went, listening intently to little tidbits of information on the wonderfully prosaic Blathwayt family.

skull at the foot of the wynters tomb, st peters, dyrham park, bathOur next visit was to the church of St Peter which stands next to the house. It predates the present house and possibly the Tudor house which preceded it. Bits of it date from about 1280. Even the tower was built in 1420, before the Tudor building.

There is an amazing 400 year old brass, which is the churches most prized possession. It is of Sir Morys Russell and his wife and is safely ensconced beneath a plastic cover. This makes it difficult to photograph. Sadly. Personally I prefer the seemingly winged skull at the foot of the tomb of the Wynters. Deliciously ghoulish and easier to photograph!

We had decided to lunch at the tearoom but, one look inside at the heaving masses of tourists, decided us against this. Hopping on the bus, we made our way back to Sidney then drove to Bath University so that I could see where Mirinda has been hanging out for the past (and next) week.

We wandered the grounds, taking in the vast amounts of green and trees spreading throughout. Apparently, when the idea of a university in Bath was mooted, the city fathers said it had to be far enough away that it couldn't be seen from the city. When the present site of Clavendon Down was decided upon, the city fathers once more stepped in and said big trees would need to be grown around the edge of the university in order to hide it away. What this means is that, not only is it well hidden from view but it also has lots of green spaces. Thank you, city fathers of Bath!

After last night, we decided to eat at the Moon and Sixpence, a restaurant not far from Yo! Sushi, which looked nice. We were told there'd be a wait of 15 minutes. A look around the restaurant showed many empty tables. It was suggested we wait in the bar. The back door is by the bar. We walked out the back door and decided to once more play at Yo! Sushi. We love that sushi!