My cultural education continues with a visit to Killerton, one of Devon’s great estates. Killerton is famed more for its gardens than its house. But my favourite story concerns the summer house, built in 1808 for Lady Lydia
It is a rather fabulous little house with each of its three rooms lined with different materials, from various woods and deer skin, to matting and pine cones which cover one ceiling
One floor is made from “cobbled” deer knuckle-bones while another from sliced sections of tree trunks and branches
But in 1860 it became a bear hut. A young man named Gilbert, who was the 12th Baronet’s brother, being somewhat at a loss as to what to give the Baronet for his wedding present, decided a black bear imported from Canada and named Tom, might be just the thing. A perfect gift for the couple who has everything.
The poor bear was housed in the summer house, a perfectly delightful summer house for the Baronet and his wife, but perhaps not for a bear. I have been unable to find out how long the unfortunate creature was held captive there, or how the summer house, including a stained glass window, remained intact. But presumably it had something to do with a lot of restrictive chains
But all in all, I think Gordon will be pleased with my noticeably improved cultural education.
Killerton House itself is not nearly as interesting, which even the National Trust recognises, as they fill the rooms with various exhibitions in an effort to attract customers. The particular exhibit that has been staged for our arrival is the story of women getting the vote as told from the point of view of two women from Killerton who had wildly different views on the subject. It is a rather dull exhibit saved, from my point of view anyway, by some rather wonderfully acerbic and totally politically incorrect quotes from famous men of the period,
To my loyal women readers – please don’t send me hate mail. I was entertained by the quotes, but not swayed by them.
Far more spectacular than the house were the gardens which were full of well nurtured rhododendrons in full bloom
and children growing wild
But why is it necessary to pay good money to see gardens, when England is just full of the most beautiful scenery. The English, as you are no doubt aware, are a modest lot, unwilling to blow their own trumpets and unable to accept a compliment. When William Blake described England as “this green and pleasant land”, he was correct about it being green, but calling it pleasant is taking modesty to extremes. England in the spring has to be one of the most beautiful sights, with its trees, meadows and wildflowers
Then of course there are the country cottages, many of them centuries old, some beautifully thatched and most of them with lovely gardens
Even the roads themselves are beautiful
England, like Ireland has had a long cold winter and it is only in the last couple of weeks that the sun has come out and the temperatures have warmed. The spring flowers have been waiting patiently for this moment and have embraced it with enthusiasm. Gardens are full of blooms, but even more impressive are the hedgerows, fresh and vibrant and bursting with color.
They look perfectly manicured although they are wild, with tiny drops of diamond like water from the morning shower held delicately in the leaves.
Above the hedgerows are the mayflower trees, looking spectacular in full bloom, the crowning glory of the English countryside
All of this presents a buffet of delights for the birds and the bees. Huge bees buzz from flower to flower, while the birds are in full song. Flashes of black and white announce the swooping magpie, blackbirds with their bright yellow beaks sit on rooftops surveying the scene, the occasional thrush sings its wonderful song while the hedgerows are full of smaller finches and tits. And all these birds are singing together, like an untrained choir in a cathedral. It is so much more than pleasant, it is a dazzling assault on the senses
Our rental car comes with a GPS system. Presumably it is made in England as it is extremely eccentric and has a strong aversion to main roads, let alone motorways. We frequently find ourselves in tiny little country lanes, unable to turn round. It is as if we pressed a button asking to go the scenic route. The lanes may be beautiful but it makes for slow going
When we meet a car coming the other way, one of us has to reverse until we find a spot wide enough for two cars to squeeze by. When the lane is lined with vegetation it is not so hard, but when lined with walls it is quite a different proposition.
And then, occasionally we come face to face with a vehicle that should never be allowed on these narrow roads
These buses never have any intention of reversing. They drive right up to our car and virtually push us backwards until they can pass
It seems that most journeys consist of two steps forward and one step back. But we are in no hurry. There is so much to see, and we just go with the flow