Weekend wanderings and unexpected pleasures

4 May 2015
Ben Pentreath

Rain and mist swept across Dorset this weekend, but it didn’t seem to matter. We needed something to remind us it was a bank holiday, after all.

Charlie and I had our friends Lulu & (her) Charlie and Bunny and Xan staying. Lulu Lyttle runs the amazing shop Soane Britain on Pimlico Road.  And, I suppose, even more importantly, she introduced Charlie and me to each other… it was at supper at Lulu’s flat on a warm evening last summer that we first met; so she is responsible, I suppose, for even more than the nicest chairs and wallpapers in London.  Thank you Lulu.

On Saturday morning we decided to head to Lyme Regis. A grey sea-mist was blowing into the Parsonage garden.


But as we sped along the coast to Lyme, which regular readers will know is one of my favourite Dorset towns come rain or shine, but especially in a giant storm, the sunshine broke through.

Lyme was in the thick of general election fever.

I love the austere beauty of her grand Regency facades:P1050484

And gentle pink-and-turquoise, slate and gloss-white paint schemes in the town across the bay from the Cobb:P1050488

Fog rolled in to shore in one direction, but there was sparkling blue sky in the other:P1050490

And as the sun beamed down, it was the perfect moment to catch up on the news, or have a little nap.P1050495 P1050500 P1050505
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Election campaign posters were everywhere, and one suspects the town is in a grip of a battle between Mr Oliver Letwin (Conservative) and Ms Ros Kayes (Liberal).  Oliver’s haircut reminded me somewhat of Michael Heseltine in the glory days, or even, I began to wonder, of the Iron Lady herself.  A remarkable bouffant.

The blog is delighted to give a shout out to Mr Daryl Turner, campaigning for the Lyme Regis Ward vote. Go, Daryl.P1050525

You will be relieved to hear it was time to move on.
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At the far end of the beach we were thrilled to discover a huge marquee that turned out to house the FOSSIL FESTIVAL. Well, no one was more thrilled than Xan Lyttle (aged 10), but I confess I haven’t been somewhere so inspirational in a very long time.

It was packed:P1050543 P1050545 P1050547

The fossil-loving community is the nicest I think I’ve ever come across.  People were getting very excited by some rare specimens for sale.P1050549

Lyme Regis museum had a brilliant stall, where you could polish your own fossil:P1050551

And then we hit the part of the tent with the Associations.  WHO KNEW that all these groups existed?P1050552 P1050553 P1050554 P1050555

The degree of specialisation in the world of Geology is remarkable; but as The Shipping Forecast is to weather, so are some of these titles to stones. There is a poetry, a deep emotive longing, in titles such as ‘Fossils of the Chalk‘ and ‘The Jurassic Flora of Yorkshire‘. These names speak to me of the whole of eternity, time and material wrapped into one.
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Tantalising displays of geological maps (which have, of course, been a mainstay of the Pentreath & Hall offering for years) were set alongside actual stone specimens delineated by the colours.P1050565 P1050572P1050571

A completely new discovery for me is the superb maps of early 19th century cartographer and Geologist William Smith, which were works not only of great erudition but tremendous beauty.

Charlie and Lulu, meanwhile, joined my obsession of the Natural History Museum ‘observing orchids’ campaign, presented by a really knowledgeable, enthusiastic and delightful specialist.P1050579

This is a massive crowd-sourced effort to digitise the entire collection of the museum’s orchid Herbarium specimens.  Some original examples were on display.  We could not get over their beauty and poignancy.  If you are keen to take part you can visit their website here.P1050584P1050580 P1050582

Reluctantly we tore ourselves away from the Fossil Festival and made our way back up the steep hill that creates such a dramatic relationship between Lyme and the sea:

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At the top of the hill, almost revealed, the Landmark Trust’s beautiful restoration of Belmont – a superb, delicate late 18th century villa with beautiful Coade stone decoration.  It will be a wonderful place to stay when it is finished.P1050610

Election fever was bubbling out of control as we left town.P1050600

We returned home for a dreamy, delicious dinner of salads and roast lamb cooked by Charlie in the new sky-blue dining room – St. Giles’s Blue, by Farrow & Ball (if you were wondering).P1050616

This morning, we awoke a little bleary-eyed and after breakfast made our way to Mapperton, perhaps the dreamiest house of all in Dorset, with its softest stone and leaded-light facades, superb stables… and the ultimate of all Edwardian gardens, elaborately constructed in the fold of a narrow valley below the ancient house.P1050641P1050632 P1050635
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The north front of Mapperton is Georgian and faces an enormous croquet lawn. It is beautiful… but does live permanently in the shade.P1050655

The first glimpse of the garden is breathtaking.P1050656 P1050657

The orangery is a dream; we encountered a beautiful, ebullient white rose in full flower, with the most delicate scent.P1050667 P1050673 P1050679 P1050680

The dramatic climax of the garden is a vast outdoor swimming pool, green and murky and filled with tadpoles.P1050685

And the formality gives way to the most beautiful, mossy, early May-green arboretum.
P1050688 P1050690 P1050694 Mapperton is as close to perfection as you get in Dorset, I think; such a contrast to the seaside jauntiness of Lyme.  Clouds rolled in from the west, and as we returned to the Parsonage more rain swept through the valley.

It is raining still; a drenching, wet rain, and the garden is hungrily sucking up the water and stretching luxuriously after the dryest April. The sky is grey, branches and soil are jet black, the last of the tulips droop under the weight of water, and soon we must return to London after the happiest week down here for a very long time.

18 comments on this post

The garden looks awesome, so majestic!

The best thing about these sea side towns – in my opinion – is the architecture and style of buildings. I absolutely love working on building designs and find the different styles found in our country absolutely fascinating.

Gardens and the like are nice but really it’s the buildings themselves that are the real beauty for me – that Mapperton house is absolutely gorgeous.


Thank you for the pictorial impetus to get out and visit locations that are half and hour and an hour away respectively, whatever the weather. Plus, re your last blog, I’m always interested in the containers that flowers arrangers use to maximise impact. They make a massive difference, even if the result is supposed to casual. Tulips over now, what does Charlie have up his sleeve next? Best regards, Nicola

We were enjoying the sea air in Hastings this weekend, and one thing Hastings has in common with Lyme Regis is the orange roofs, which deserve a mention. They’re colonized by the lichen Xanthoria parietina, which will only grow in the cleanest of air, especially by the sea, and which give seaside towns their golden brilliance.


Especially loved your photos of Lyme Regis where we spent many fabulous summers. We called it The Magic Kingdom.

I work at the Natural History Museum in Santa Barbara and love England, so stumbling across such a festival as this one would have warmed the cockles of my heart. Reminds of the time we were leaving Big Sur towards Monterey and came across the Bonsai Festival: many booths of beautiful bonsai and their creators plus Japanese food!

Andrea Murphysays:

Not at all sure about the blue. Isn’t it supposed to be an appetite suppressant?

Peter Sullivansays:

So enjoyed your Dorset week-end descriptions and photographs. Your interest in architecture is a joy to experience through your eyes.

Sonia Olsensays:

Thank you very much for sharing your visit to Dorset. Being new to your website and living far away in Michigan USA, I am filled with the sweetest homesickness! All your images and comments struck me as quintessentially English and so typical of Dorset and its beauty….that wonderful Mapperton is really a treasure!
Your brief focus on the Museum’s orchid Herbarium tempts me to pass on an item of ‘trivia’ –
I recently learned that that the so familiar spice known as Vanilla comes from the orchid species!
Looking forward to your next message (don’t like the word ‘blog’!)
Thanks again

Renne Vancesays:

I well remember coming to Mapperton’s deep valley garden after a howling morning on Eggardon and revelling in the stillness.


I always enjoy spending time in your company! Thank you for this beautiful visit.

Lucy Claytonsays:

‘The fossil-loving community…’ is my fav sentence of yours, ever (I know a 5 year old who would consider himself a member)! Lx

Your writing and photography are so inspiring; I always look forward to your blog posts. The photos of Mapperton are absolutely exquisite.

Photos of Lyme Regis never fail to remind me of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’!

nessa ryallsays:

What a beautiful weekend,thank you for sharing and the glorious photographs.

Thank you for sharing.Inspiring garden and love that topiary!

Such a great timely post – am coming to Lyme in July with friends. On the plus side, now very excited – on the minus – I’ve missed the fossil festival – boo!

Once again you provide your readers with a little Eden through you wonderful photography, thank you.

As a child, I rather fancied myself as a little Mary Anning after having visited London’s Natural History Museum; her work captivated my imagination. I would have enjoyed visiting the fossil convention you bring to us today.

The garden at Mapperton is divine and so quintessentially Enlish, a place to aimlessly and pleasantly wander and dream.

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