Scenic and spectacular Somerset
PUBLISHED: 11:42 14 July 2013
Mark Whitchurch takes this month's Great Drive from wonderful Wells
A majestic feel for this month’s Great Drive; we start in Wells, travelling the scenic route to a spectacular late 17th-century mansion, garden and deer park in neighbouring Wiltshire.
The city of Wells is the smallest city in our land.
Nestling beneath the southern slopes of the Mendip Hills, Somerset’s little kingdom boasts some of the finest English architecture of the 12th to 14th centuries.
Many will be initially drawn to the magnificent cathedral, with its west front featuring more than 300 detailed carvings and statues. The medieval engineering that must have gone into the inverted scissor arches of the nave particularly captures my imagination.
Visit on a Wednesday or Saturday to experience the bustling markets that are held in the main square.
I can also recommend a stroll around the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace and an amble up Vicars’ Close, which is claimed to be the oldest complete medieval street in Europe.
Leave Wells via the steeply climbing A39 to cross the Mendip Hills, winding up through the trees and past the Mendip TV transmitter on the left hand side.
Pass over the B3135 at Green Ore, continuing on the A39 through the hamlet of Bathway and the charming village of Chewton Mendip, the road rising up out of the village and through a series of fields lined with dry stone walls, which the children said looked like Postman Pat World!
Join the A37 and turn left, heading for Temple Cloud, where we turn right to re-join the A39 heading for Bath with an opportunity to pop into ‘Book Barn’ which suggests they have millions of books on thousands of subjects!
Amble along this relaxing road through the hamlet of Hallatrow and then High Littleton to the junction with the A368, turning right at the traffic lights to remain on the A39 towards Marksbury and Corston, where the A39 merges with the A4.
At the roundabout join the A4 for a short stretch of dual-carriageway then turning left at the traffic lights to follow the A4 into the centre of Bath.
Why not pause to enjoy the wonders of this beautiful city; maybe a stroll around the Royal Crescent and the gardens below, which were full of spring colours on our visit.
Back on the A4, continue through the city centre towards Bathampton, turning left and up the steep incline onto the A46.
Once at the top of this hill, the A46 presents some wonderful views into the countryside beyond as it hugs a natural ridge in the landscape, with a captivating patchwork of fields and hedgerows stretching into the distance.
Cross the A420 after the hamlet of Nimlet and then drive through Pennsylvania with the signposts for Dyrham Park appearing on the left shortly afterwards.
However, continue onwards to our lunch stop at the Crown Inn situated half a mile along the road on the right hand side in the sleepy hamlet of Tolldown.
Serving a superb Sunday roast with locally sourced produce, the friendly staff were very accommodating of our children, a very relaxing prelude to exploring the wonders of Dyrham Park.
Set in 270 acres this ancient parkland with its historic heard of fallow deer, Dyrham Park has been owned by the National Trust for over 50 years. Parking is at the top of the estate, just off the A46 with either a gentle walk or short bus ride down the hill that presents some enchanting glimpses of the impressive mansion with the sun reflecting off the sandstone façade.
William Blathwayt, the Secretary at War for King William III and Whig Member of Parliament for Bath employed an otherwise unknown Huegenot architect named Samuel Hauduroy to construct the majestic west front in 1692. With the Blathwayt family living in the house until the mid-1950s, they amassed a rich collection of superb Dutch art and ceramics, which remain in the house today. Whilst the house is fascinating to explore, complete with ‘hidden’ rats for the kids to find, the gardens are a delight, complete with floral borders and relaxing running water, which used to be part of an extensive formal garden. And there completes our ‘Trans-County’ Grand Architectural Great Drive. Until next month!