Its the first of April, do you know what that means? It means that all those monuments, castles and stately homes having closed for the winter, open again today..YAY!
When we walked through the doors of Sherborne Castle at 11am we were the first visitors of the year!
Sherborne Castle is an Elizabethan mansion built by Sir Walter Raleigh within sight of Sherborne Old Castle. He built it to replace the old one when he finally got fed up of trying to live there, as it crumbled around his ears. Still in private ownership; the Digby Family have lived here since 1617 when the property was sold to them by James I, only one year before Raleighs execution in 1618. Sir Walter only actually enjoyed this mansion for less than nine years before it was seized and he was placed in the Tower of London for treason.
You can pay to visit the gardens only, which are Grade I listed, or both the gardens and the house, the choice is yours. Pay to enter from your car at the entrance to the estate, they take both cash and card and parking on site is free once you are in. The parking is located on the grass lawns at the front of the house and from here you can see the views across to the deer park.
Created by Capability Brown the gardens really are the jewel in the crown of the estate with extensive walks around the lake and beautifully maintained planting from a full battalion of skilled gardeners. Even this early in the season the spring flowers are extensive, and on a sunny day like today, the views are far reaching and photo worthy.
During the month of June the castle plays host to an annual country fair which has grown in size since its inception in 1996. The fair now exhibits local crafts, dragon boat racing, falconry displays and heavy horses and rare breeds, just to name a few of the interesting offerings, and definitely entices us to a return visit.
We spent a full hour prior to the mansion opening wandering the grounds and every little twist and turn in the footpath revealed another beautiful vista punctuated by swathes of flowers. Follow the path and you will come to the river Yeo as it meanders through the gardens on its way into Somerset and beyond. A lovely little waterfall and a stone built bridge sit next to Sir Walters seat, a stone built platform and sitting area where he would watched the local traffic from Dorchester pass his estate.
Sir Walter is reputed to have brought smoking to the masses, and the story regularly told is that he was sat on his seat one day watching the world go by and enjoying some tobacco in his pipe. A servant who was passing, seeing the smoke, panicked thinking his master was on fire and threw a flaggon of ale over him to douse it out. I’m sure Sir Walter was not very amused, a complete waste of ale.
The mansion itself has been substantially extended over the years and internally it represents a multitude of architectural styles from Tudor, Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian. It opened its doors to the public in 1969 but photos are not permitted in the house which is a shame, and I am not sure the reasoning behind this. We did manage to speak sweetly to a couple of the volunteers and explained that they would be published on a blog, so I did manage to get a few to give you a flavour of what to expect.
The house is absolutely beautiful, filled with antiques, fine plaster ceilings and historic paintings. The staff will tell you wonderful stories of intrigue and history if engaged and there are small laminated sheets in each room with snippets of facts to keep you entertained. The house smells of well polished wood, freshly painted walls and newly cleaned upholstery, nothing dusty and dreary here.
Even if you don’t like history, I defy you not to find one thing that stuns you or pleases your eye in a visit to Sherborne Castle. There are flowers, lakes, deer, frolicking lambs, antiques, architecture, a gift shop and a tea room full of cakes, do you need anything else for a pleasant day out?
Website: Sherborne Castle
Location: New Road, Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 5NR