November 15 – A day out to Montacute House gardens

A walk up to the tower on St. Michael's Hill and a couple of church micros on the way home

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

When we were in Montacute a few days ago we thought that Montacute House and gardens were open from Wednesday to Sunday each week so we went back to visit this National Trust property. When we got there we found that only the gardens were open, so we went to see them. Being winter there wasn’t a lot of note but they do have some pretty unusual hedges in strange shapes. I thought it was a hedge trim that was meant to depict a certain theme but I couldn’t make it out. Later we realised that the hedges had buckled under the weight of severe snow storms in the 1940s and that accounts for the odd shapes. Hence they are known as the Wibbly Wobbly hedges. There was quite a team of gardeners at work tidying the flower beds and also a team of arborists trimming some tall trees with chainsaws.

Montacute House was built in about 1598 by Sir Edward Phelips, whose family had lived in the Montacute area since at least 1460, first as yeomen farmers before rising in status. Built in the English Renaissance style, the east front, the intended principal façade, is distinguished by its Dutch gables decorated with clambering stone monkeys and other animals. The windows of the second-floor Long Gallery are divided by niches containing statues which depict the Nine Worthies dressed as Roman soldiers. Its Long Gallery, the longest in England, serves as a South-West outpost of the National Portrait Gallery displaying a range of old oils and watercolours.

We were going to climb St Michael’s Hill to the tower on top but part way up we came to a stile which was completely blocked for dogs so Honey and I could not go up the hill. I was quite relieved but Honey was distraught as she watched Mike disappear and would not budge from the spot until Mike reappeared when she was quite mad at him for leaving her behind. Michael got some great views from up there.

On the way home we went to St Mary’s Church, East Stoke, Stoke-sub-Hamdon. The original 11th-century Norman church has had considerable additions made to it over the course of time so that the church had a strange mixture of styles built up through the centuries, and all kinds of strange carvings around the outside, corbels, gargoyles and sheela-na-gigs. There was an early 14th century tomb of Reginald de Moncketon, first provost of the chantry at West Stoke and also his coat of arms. There was an effigy in the chancel north wall of Thomas Strode from 1595 and a headstone of John Strode from 1725. Particularly special was a 19th century painting in the tympanum over the north door.

The church of St Mary the Virgin in Norton-sub-Hamdon had 13th century origins but was rebuilt around 1510. It is a Grade 1 listed building. Restoration was undertaken by Henry Wilson in 1894 and 1904. The five stage tower dating from around 1485 which rises 30 m (98.5 feet) was damaged by lightening and fire on 29 July 1894 but was restored within the year preserving the origonal design. The tower door was restored and coloured in 1981. Inside is an alabaster font made by Henry Wilson in 1904. It is a circular tub with twist fluting set on a square base with large fish in each corner. The open ironwork chancel screen was very beautiful and the highlight for me. There was a dovecote in the churchyard which dates from the 17th century.  I really wanted to do the church micro at Norton-sub-Hamdon but I could not find the the date I needed anywhere.

So having not collected a single geocache for the day we headed home where Honey kept us entertained. She has a long red and yellow snake with squeakers all the way down the length of it. She gets it out of her toybox and squeaks it madly until we are in fits of giggles. Most of her other toys she manages to pull apart after some vigorous chewing but the snake is made of sterner stuff and is still in one piece.