Wednesday, June 28, 2017

UK Day 7–In Which There is a Cabinet of Curiosity and We Downton Abbey Around the Place


Zoe, bringing back Victorian fashion with style.

We have been averaging about one stately home per day on this trip; fortunately none of them so far have been duds and today’s was no exception. Stourhead House and Gardens is renowned for its gardensand they didn’t disappoint. It helped that we arrived early before the throngs of Kev and Pams and June and Tonys arrived with their sensible footwear and Nordic walking poles, bless them. We started with a tour of the house which was slightly boring although I did love all the tiny little men and woman who were in each room just waiting to regale us with exciting little known facts about the room. I think being short is a requirement of the job. Anyway they did know their stuff, especially the woman in the Cabinet Room, Marjory, which, you may be surprised to learn, is full of cabinets (the room, not Marjory).


At first glance they looked a bit on the cheap side, but Tiny Marjory quickly dispelled that by explaining that this particular cabinet was commissioned by Pope Pius VI to store valuables in the Vatican. It was purchased by the owner of Stourhead, Henry Hoare, for “far too much money” after he found it languishing in a convent in Rome. The rumour goes that it was sold to an Italian family and then inherited by a young woman who became a nun and had to give up all personal possessions. The story does not reveal how Harry came to be in a dusty corner of a convent in the first place but I guess what goes in the convent, stays in the convent…

At any rate, he bought it and it was shipped, in several pieces, back to England to Stourhead where it remains today. At 13 ft high and weighing an imperial ton (2200lbs) and covered in semi-precious and rare stones, it is anything but cheap. Btu the really interesting thing about this cabinet is that is houses over 150 secret compartments, two of which, claims Tiny Marjory, have yet to be found and opened.


Sorry about the terrible photo…

There were one or two other interesting things in the house including this note, that was obviously written by Travis:


We went downstairs after touring the house to watch a short movie on the restoration of the cabinet where they show how the compartments are hidden. This was very fascinating, but not as fun as what we found in the kids play room downstairs:





We did short a re-enactment of a scene from Downton Abbey where Anna (Terra) presents Lady Sybil (Zoe) with a drink, while Captain Bowels-Apples (Travis) writes his memoirs. You’ll have to wait for that though as it is still in editing. The four of us did take a short turn round the grounds in our period costumes, posing for several pictures before coming back inside to change. Except for Travis who prepared for bed:


Escapades over, it was of course time for a picnic and a walk through the extensive grounds.



The Gothic Cottage, which I feel sure is where the tiny little man in the photo below lives, has a place where you can leave a message about pretty much anything.



I tried going through the hole to another universe but I was too short.

After churning up the grounds, we left Stourhead and drove to Salisbury where I was determined to see the Cathedral, view the Magna Carta (as one does) and see the town even though it was pouring. The Cathedral was very impressive and cathedral-like with all sorts of amazing features like housing the world’s oldest working clock and things like that. But what was most impressive was this art exhibit Dispersing the Night by Brazilian Ana Maria Pacheco:




I felt like I was in the middle of a myth or a story in the making. Very moving.

There is also a beautiful font in this cathedral where the water, still like a sheet of glass, slides off the corners in four columns that drop to the floor and disappear.


Salisbury Cathedral is one of four locations where original versions of the Magna Carta are still held and on display for public viewing so we did our duty and stared at the tiny letters that crowd each other into words, all to say that it really is better to be good to each other than horrible and that those in positions of power should not abuse that power. Duh.

We rounded the day out with a spot of shopping, and then drove home. I will admit to spending the evening watching my guilty pleasure, English trivia quiz shows, The Chase in particular.

We are leaving the cottage tomorrow for London, but not before spending two hours at Highgrove House, the home of Prince Charles and Camilla.

Spanks for bleating,



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