Here at HomeAway our travel experts bring all sorts of holiday ideas and inspiration to the travel blog. Over the last few weeks, and over the coming weeks, us wordy lot are looking at what’s on our very own doorsteps – and, as we are spread from Scotland to London, you are guaranteed some great home-grown stories spanning the UK.
I am based in Hampshire, just one of the counties that make up the beautiful south. I often feel inspired, as did the famous writers Jane Austen and Charles Dickens (although I do not purport to be in their league), by the rolling countryside and pretty villages that are abundant where I live. With its rich history, Hampshire is home to many important stately homes, all of which have wonderful stories and hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.
So this morning, with clear blue skies and straight from an early school drop off, I headed out through the village of Sherborne St John to visit the magnificent 16th-century National Trust property The Vyne.
I have vague memories of The Vyne from my childhood. One is of walking across the fields with my Dad and being chased by an angry bull! Clearly I wasn’t planning on repeating that experience today. These days we walk in The Vyne’s extensive woodland with our children and dogs, but it has been many years since I have been in the grounds or house.
On arrival my first glimpses of the house were across the lake through sun-dappled trees, and with it being fairly early, the only sound was birdsong. The gardens surrounding the house are of an informal natural style originating during the 18th century when the gardens were designed – the picture this creates is more stunning than any watercolour could ever portray and is truly idyllic.
Dotted across the lawns that peel down to the lake were deck chairs, and if I had had more time I would have made myself comfortable for half an hour or so. I did have a little time before my guided tour of the house began and I was keen to have a meander.
Winding paths and pretty entrance ways lead you on a trail of discovery; all are well signposted so it is easy to navigate around the grounds. I loved the Walled Gardens, super cute with fresh fruit and vegetables growing which are often available to buy. There were mini tractors on a lawned area that several little visitors were enjoying, giggling and playing in the morning sunshine.
Heading up to the main house I came across the Summer House which was intriguing; thought to have been built in the mid-17th century, I have wondered at it several times as it can be seen from the road. It was originally used as a place to take tea and then later as a dovecote. Looking up I was amazed at the doomed ceiling which is thought to be one of the first of its kind. Behind the Summer House is the much coveted 600-year-old ‘Hundred Guinea’ Oak tree, which has an interesting tale of its own, having been rescued from a watery end in the shipbuilding industry.
I arrived at the house a few minutes early for the tour and stood admiring the roses which line the pathway to the entrance. It really was the perfect summer’s day, but I can imagine an autumn or winter’s day would only bring a different beauty to embrace.
Trevor, our guide, welcomed us into the Stone Gallery and gave us a brief overview of the house and its long history. What is left today is a much reduced Tudor house that has been reinterpreted over the last five centuries, but is nonetheless magnificent.
To try and take you on a tour of the house room by room is impossible, but I would like to share my personal highlights. So where to start?
The chapel really sticks out in my mind – to have a chapel of this splendour outside of a royal palace in Tudor England was unheard of. The three stained-glass windows are breathtaking, the colour exquisite. I was particularly taken with them as they were originally commissioned for the Holy Ghost Church in Basingstoke which has close family ties for me.
In the Saloon our attention was directed to the veneered English rosewood piano c.1846, one of only six in the world. When the house is open to just wander freely around and you play piano, you are invited to have a go; I will definitely be going back and I’m determined to have a tinkle.
As far as stories and legends go this house has plenty. I recounted to my boys the story of Queen Elizabeth I visiting The Vyne at the same time as a French dignitary and producing the head of the Duke of Essex, who had tried to start a rebellion against the monarchy, the stark message: “this is what happens in England if you challenge the monarchy”.
The Vyne Ring has become a famous legend of The Vyne and garnered interest from around the world. This 4th-century ring has an engraving linked to a curse and is thought to be what inspired Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings novels. We didn’t stop long at this exhibition so it’s on my list for a second visit.
With stories of Jane Austen dancing here, Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn visiting, the Duke of Wellington being inspired to buy the Stratfield Saye Estate because he was so impressed with The Vyne hunt, and the Stone Gallery being used as a school for WW2 evacuees and tales of boyish high jinks, I could have stayed and listened for hours.
There are several other rooms, artefacts and tales I would love to share, but as I haven’t told you about the cosy tea rooms, the bird hide or the secret realm I must move on.
After the tour I had a quick chat with Trevor and asked him what else he thought I should see whilst visiting. He pointed me in the direction of the tea rooms, which have a mouthwatering array of yummy cakes and seasonal and fresh snacks, along with a selection of coffees, teas and cold drinks. I had a slice of Victoria sponge which was oozing with cream and jam and was absolutely delicious, washed down with a frothy cappuccino. I sat and enjoyed this in the courtyard in the shade of the trees.
The shop and the secret realm are also in this area. The shop I could spend equal amounts of cash and time in, as there are some lovely trinkets and kids’ things to take away with you; the secret realm is behind the shop, a small play area with a sandpit along with picnic tables and large sail-like canopies to provide shade.
After my naughty elevenses, having bumped into a wildlife photographer on my wanders, I headed down to the bird hide which has just been refurbished, although he did say the best time to spot is early in the morning when it’s quiet – as soon as I got home I looked out the binoculars in anticipation of my visit with the boys.
I wandered back across the lawn in front of the house and lake, and already picnic blankets were out, people were sunbathing in deck chairs, or sitting down by the lake watching the baby ducks and geese; I really didn’t want to leave. It was a lovely morning and a haven of peace in an otherwise hectic week.
Driving away, my first thoughts were that The Vyne is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, and is the perfect excuse to step back in time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
I will certainly return, and I hope that I have inspired you to pay a visit too.