Driving back from Devon I: Barrington Court

Barrington Court 4Barrington Court is a splendid Tudor House and garden in Somerset, now owned by the National Trust. National Trust membership may seem a lot when you join, but as long as you visit five or so houses within the year it is well worth it; my trip to Devon covered three houses in a single journey.

When the National Trust acquired it in 1907 there were orchards of cider apples and pears and over the years, these have been added to, so that there are now 9.5 acres of orchards, with almost 400 apple trees. They are a mixture of cider, culinary and dessert, with some trees old and gnarled, while others are young and sprightly.

Crucially, there is a good cafe, with seats overlooking apple trees. There is also a proper restaurant, but I’ve never tried it. Not far off the A303, it makes a perfect ‘motorway stop’. Although, for those in less hurry, it is only minutes away from Montacute House, Lytes Cary Manor and Tintinhull Garden which could almost justify a membership card in one go.

Depending which route you choose, you can get to the house via the Kitchen Garden. The most striking feature here is the arches over the central path, which are bedecked with ornamental gourds; large orange pumpkins hang at eye level, seemingly fairly secure. Either side of the Barrington 2path the garden is divided into quarters, with flowers, fruit and vegetables neatly laid out. Here there were lovely combinations: espaliered apples with scabious, powder blue ageratums with either deep red or lemon yellow snapdragons and airy cornflowers everywhere.

Near the house are Gertrude Jekyll-inspired gardens. She was in her seventies, and almost blind, when the gardens were being planned, but biscuit tins of the limy soil were sent to her. Just by feel, she was able to recommend the most suitable plants. There is a rose and iris garden, a formal pool with lily pads and white garden. On the day I visited a stray pink cosmos had invaded the white plantings, it looked rather good. The path to these gardens goes past the old Bustalls or calf pens, festooned with roses at this time of year.

The house itself is a typical Elizabethan E-shape, built of softly weathered stone, now a gentle yellow colour. Next to it is the contrasting red-brick Strode House, converted from the grand seventeenth century stables. Little of the interior of Barrington Court remains, but my favourite room is the panelled Long Room, which runs the length of the house, looking out over the gardens. Here you can easily imagine Elizabethan ladies, in their long dresses, walking up and down, discussing the matters of the day.

There are apple trees wherever you look. The area I like best is the East Orchard, which is beyond the house. To reach it you go through a pair of splendidly ornate gates, old and worn, but still imposing. The orchard is rather higgledy-piggledy, with twisty trees of various ages, contrasting with the neat rows of the orchards by the main entrance.

Also at Barrington there is a large area of (quite good and very cheap) second-hand books and an excellent patchwork shop. I sometimes come here simply for fabric. Jane

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