Taunton to Barnstaple

What’s the one thing you should always pack when coming to Great Britain? An umbrella, especially if it’s spring! Thankfully having been caught before we did just that, and today they served us exceedingly well! All night we listened to the rain pitter-patter on the roof and trickle down the guttering before hitting the streets in great pools only to be syphoned off into bigger gutters, the traffic making that lovely ‘whoosh’ noise each time someone drove through one of the larger puddles. There’s something charming about a good downpour, whether it’s the cleansing nature of the rain, or that it brings with it life, I’m not sure, but when your first glimpse out the window is of a day that’s glistening in the sunshine you can’t help but feel the day is full of promise. We set off a bit later today, having spent an amount of last night and this morning rearranging our bags to make things easier, since today was the first day of our adventure where we didn’t have any specific deadlines or appointments. Our first stop was Axminster, not for anything specifically, just to have a sticky beak and perhaps pop into the River Cottage shop, but of course, it’s Sunday, closed. *frown* Nevermind, the town had other bigger things to worry about, namely a cordoned off main street with emergency vehicles including a Fire Rescue truck and a ladder extended up to a second floor window. We didn’t hang around to see what was happening!

From Axminster we headed to Killerton (Kill-Ert-on) House and Gardens, I had hoped to see the part of the estate that produces cider, but given it’s still mid spring there was nothing happening at the moment and no signs anywhere to indicate they were operating elsewhere. The house itself, whilst technically quite attractive, was rather plain, the owners obviously had grand ideas and this ‘temporary’ house which was built in the late 18th century was only ever intended to be a stepping-stone – the grandiose house never happened, in case you wanted to know. The gardens too seemed tired and lacklustre, given the size of the house I was expecting something more inviting or entertaining – given that was the whole idea of these properties – but was left feeling empty. Shrugging our shoulders we returned to the car and prepared to move on to our next destination – Castle Drogo.

Castle Drogo (Drog – O) is a rather peculiar place, if the drive there doesn’t thrill you, the views probably will. The approach to this property are… invigorating… it’s only access is by hedge-lined single-lane roads that even one car is pushed to get through – to say there was a bit of breath holding would be a gross understatement – but it is worth the white-knuckle driving, the driveway sweeps up to the left before dropping down in front of the reception/visitor centre that welcomes you to the property. The ‘castle’ itself was built as a late Victorian folly for Julius Drewe, renowned for his ‘Home and Colonial’ stores, from 1911 to 1930 and designed by famous architect Edwin Lutyens, currently though it’s under huge renovation/restoration. By huge I mean almost the entire castle is under a giant tent as the National Trust fight against the elements to repair the roof as it has become perilously close to falling apart – there in lies the interesting story. Lutyens on designing the building for Drewe originally designed it with a pitched roof, but Drewe was determined to build a traditional castle, refusing to accept that a flat roof would weaken the building and demanding that it be built to his specifications regardless of Lutyen’s design. Nearly 100 years later however and things have transpired exactly to Lutyens warnings, the building has sustained severe damage and without this intervention would have very soon been closed permanently. Despite this the property is rather magical, and it’s easy to imagine the fantastical childhood his four children (Adrian, Basil, Cedric and Mary) would have enjoyed there (the eldest boy being killed at the end of the Great War, and their daughter never marrying), and I especially enjoyed discovering the ‘Bunty’ or ‘Wendy’ house in the garden as we were leaving. Given the incredible amount of work being done to the property at the moment it could be viewed as being unattractive to visit, given you can’t even see the castle at the moment.

However, the Trust have done a magnificent job of incorporating the restoration work into a semi-exhibit, asking visitors to use their imaginations as though they’re attending the construction of the castle in 1911, there are plans available as per Lutyens/Drewe’s designs, little snippets of detail on the furnishings etc, and of course personal items from various family members. It may not be to a lot of people’s tastes, given it’s a faux, but I really enjoyed our time there and have taken away some great ideas to incorporate into my own home and garden.

From Castle Drogo we ventured into the single-lane roads and made our way bravely towards Barnstaple as our final destination, absolutely exhausted again but more than happy with our day’s wandering. Tomorrow we slowly start working our way north, but not before we get a bit closer to the Bristol Channel, take in the sights of Exmoor and pop into another writer’s home. So until next time…

 

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