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Visiting the Montacute House in Somerset, England
The wind is just a bit too cold for me as I wait for our neighbors to meet us in the driveway. It is our last week in the Somerset and our wonderful neighbors wanted to show us one of their favorite places in the area. I silently hope this place is indoors. Their car pulls up and we slide into the back seat. We are off.
I don’t know where we are going, but the scenery is beautiful. Somerset is known to be one of the most beautiful regions of England. Our view alternates between ancient-looking village houses with tiny, medieval doors and sweeping countryside panoramas. The farmland is divided by brown hedges like a big green lumpy quilt with white lint “sheep” stuck to it.
The Montacute House
We arrive at the Montacute House and part ways with our neighbors. They have been many times and choose to visit the farmers market in town instead. We follow the map to the front of the three story mansion that totally looks like it could be a Disney princess castle. Of course, we have to go play in the guard tower first.
The grounds are as impressive as the house. The hedges of the garden have a wacky shape from a heavy snowfall in the early 1900s. The snow warped the bushes but everyone kinda liked it, so they didn’t bother fixing them. I totally get it.
As we walk through the impressive estate, we learn about the history of the house. The house was completed sometime in the late 1500s-early 1600s. The Phelips family lived in the home until the early 1900s, and almost every wall has a portrait of one of the Phelips family members. A helpful guide told us that the furniture was correct to the period but not original to the family.
After the Phelips family left in the early 1900s, Lord Curzon rented the house with his mistress. They added lots of modern luxuries like a bathtub in an uncomfortable looking cupboard. Soon after, the house was acquired by the National Trust. The National Trust cares for the house today.
When you walk through the Montacute House, you walk through another era.
My favorite room in the Montacute House is the library. This room was originally an entertaining and dining room, but in the 1800s, one of the Phelips gents decided it would make a splendid library and converted it. I agree. The stained glass windows look out over the gardens and sun comes in from all sides. It is warm. It smells like old books and wood. The bookshelves are lined with classic volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica and original works in Latin.
The top level of the house is one long gallery that was once used for parties and indoor exercising. But probably not at the same time. Now, it is used as a gallery space for prominent British portraits. This long room is almost entirely lined with windows, which would have made it quite perfect for running laps by day and watching celebratory fireworks by night.
Trying my first British scone.
It started to rain was we took one more lap around the gardens at the Montacute House. We met our neighbors in the cafe for a hot chocolate and I decided it was time to try my first British scone with clotted cream and jelly. It is on the menu basically everywhere here, but somehow I had yet to try it. Until now. It was delicious. My neighbors taught me that putting cream on before jam is the “Devonshire” method and jam before cream is the “Cornish” method. I found I am a “heavy on the cream, light on the jam” type of gal, but there is room for lots of artistic license when it comes to dressing plain scones.
I’m so thankful that we spend the day with our neighbors. Without them, we would have stayed in this town for a whole month without ever realizing there was a historical mansion practically in our backyard. When you aren’t sure what to do in a new place, ask a neighbor!