Classical Landscapes

15 August 2016
Ben Pentreath

This, too, is a blog in parts, so that you can dip in and out when you wish.


Last week, Charlie and I were in Bath. The architecture office is working on a lovely project there, a new development of houses on the edge of Bath, and my client had arranged for us to visit, one evening, the remarkable garden owned by his brother, Iford Manor. We were not far from Bath, at an amazing spot where an ancient bridge crosses the River Frome, in a valley with steeply wooded hills rising behind an ancient stone house with a handsome Georgian front. In 1899, the house had been discovered and bought by the arts and crafts architect, and subsequently landscape designer, Harold Peto; he spent the next thirty years creating a remarkable and famous garden here.

It had been grey for most of the afternoon, but as we descended into Iford from Bath the clouds lifted and golden sunlight filled the valley. Entering the garden is like stepping into another world.P1030115

Throughout, Peto constructed walls, columns, and architectural features that merge seamlessly with the extraordinary topography to create a garden of vistas, of interest enticing you around every corner. P1030117 P1030122 P1030130 P1030132

Lush and ebullient planting overflows everywhere.
P1030134 P1030138 P1030147 P1030151Immense variety is achieved; within a few steps of one view, a new vista and corner of the garden is revealed.P1030157 P1030162 P1030168

From all points you are aware of the extraordinary relationship with the river valley far below.P1030178

At one end of the long terrace is a beautiful early Georgian stone summerhouse, which Peto relocated to become an eye-catcher at the end of the vista.P1030189 P1030192 P1030194 P1030202 P1030204 P1030211 P1030213The cloister garden, made from architectural fragments that Peto salvaged in Italy. Here, now, once a year, Iford holds its annual opera – for a tiny audience of 80 people sitting on all four sides of the cloister. P1030225

The setting of the Georgian facade, trees rising steeply behind, is magical. A statue of Britannia stands on the bridge crossing the wide river. We left at the end of an amazing visit – in awe.P1030251

Just as we were saying our goodbyes, a shower briefly passed and a wide rainbow spread over the garden… a sign from heaven, maybe?P1030255

The garden is open some afternoons through the summer. If you are visiting Bath, I cannot recommend making the trip to Iford more highly. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places we have been in a long, long time.


We were staying with my brother and sister-in-law, and niece Emily, in Bath for a couple of nights… and on Tuesday, we had a wonderful, long explore all over the city. We walked in from Combe Down, through Widcombe, via the canals, into the city – where over the course of the day we managed to visit all six and a half of the Bath crescents (the half being Somerset Place, which architecturally is a crescent but not by name).P1030299

P1030305 P1030313 P1030316 P1030320

Wherever you walk in Bath, you are struck by the extraordinary proximity of great architecture and serene wooded landscape.  Bath would not be the same city if it had been built on a plateau. It is all about topography.

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Inside the abbey, our breath was taken away by the perfection of the fan vaulting…P1030400 P1030401

And the walls lined with statuary monuments to the departed of the 18th and early 19th centuries; one assumed that they had come to Bath for a health cure, that may not have worked.P1030405 P1030406

We thought we would try to research which house in Queen Square (where Charlie and I live in London) the Moffat family lived.P1030408 P1030410 P1030418

The Circus:P1030427

And stony, serene Royal Crescent: P1030447 P1030455 P1030466 P1030467 P1030478

Lansdown is my favourite of the Bath Crescents, with its extraordinary S-shaped sweep, and sheep grazing in the bowl of grassland below.P1030482 P1030486 P1030487 P1030495 P1030496 P1030501 P1030514 P1030516 P1030521 P1030530 P1030535 P1030553

That afternoon we visited Prior Park, the great mansion built by Ralph Allen on the hill overlooking the city, to take Mavis for a nice long walk.

I could not resist a gratuitous cute shot for duckling lovers:P1030582

The view down the valley to the Palladian bridge:P1030587 P1030589

Remarkable sweeping views across the Georgian city:P1030604 P1030623 P1030624

The perfect picturesque landscape, cattle grazing on sunlit hills beyond the Palladian bridge.P1030640 P1030652


And now, home. We’ve been here for the week, and we are here for the next two. It has been the most magical summertime here in Dorset, with mornings, days and evenings of stunning beauty.

Here we were coming over Eggardon Hill, which as regular readers will know, is my favourite landscape in the whole of Dorset really.P1030661 P1030663 P1030664

Yesterday, we visited the beautiful townhouse in Beaminster owned by John and Jenny Makepeace, whose gardens were open for the NGS. Serene. P1030678

Here is Jenny, in her summerhouse, a perfect retreat. P1030683

And here is the beautiful garden she has created, packed to bursting with flowers and vegetables.P1030684 P1030687 P1030690

Jenny and John have two separate compartments to their garden. John’s is sculptural and architectural, like his renowned furniture. Jenny’s is overflowing with madness. I secretly prefer Jenny’s garden if I am honest, although John’s was always full of white-hatted garden visitors which made photography rather difficult too (well, at least, that is my excuse for concentrating efforts here).P1030691

In the yard is John’s covered timber-seasoning stack.  There is great beauty in utility.P1030696

And more beauty in utility, the log pile. P1030697

We got home to a perfectly still evening.  I suppose it is sheer coincidence that the year we have decided to stay at home has been so beautiful, with so many warm, clear evenings one after the after, but we did feel particularly blessed last night. I’m not sure I can remember high summer in the valley looking so amazing in years.P1030705 P1030708 P1030721 P1030723 P1030724 P1030726 P1030730 P1030732 P1030740 P1030757  P1030781

Charlie has been on a mission in the borders, doing a massive amount of clearing (ground elder was beginning to take over again).  The garden looks a little startled.P1030787 P1030790

The dahlias are going mad. P1030792

Sunset over the valley.P1030801 P1030803 P1030809 P1030810Two weeks now stretch out before us, when no work will happen, I am promising myself, and when we can spend days pottering around Dorset.  We might do a little holiday in London next weekend, just for fun, because that is another city we never spend quite enough time just doing nothing at all.  But next week, of course, Charlie is entering the Melplash Show – which if I am honest is probably the real reason we are not going away this year…. a blog will follow in due course.

Happy holidays!

21 comments on this post


These landscapes must have a devoted person(s) taking care of them. This is a not work of nature alone. A man’s hand has been included. As much as I love interior designs, these pics look as taken out of a fairy tale.

Debra mooresays:

Thank you Ben and Charlie for kindly sharing your beautiful photos of places and images that are totally captivating. Your passion for nature and what can be created by man is enchanting real food for the soul.I only came upon your blog by looking at Perrycroft house in Malvern long may your sharing of such beauty continue.The images and descriptions are so powerful better than any meditation. God creat ed our world beyond our imagination all we have to do is look around appreciate and enjoy.


Your photos are awe-inspiring. Thank you for infusing beauty and peace into my day. I am grateful to visit England via your blog.


Iford – shhh, people will hear. My neighbours.


Lovely Ben thank you, Im getting lots of inspiration from your blog, much appreciated.

On a completely different subject, have you ever blogged about the amazing 16th century Dorset treasure of Wolfeton House, formerly Wolveton, in the meadows near Dorchester? I would love to hear your take on it, plus also bring it as much exposure as possible to get more visitors going as they need vast funds just to keep the place going, plus his project of getting the riding hall completed. I visited yesterday and was the only visitor, except the people staying in the gatehouse let by the Landmark Trust. (I don’t know if you ever met Ian Constantinides, the architectural conservationists, well when we were all wild teenagers a long time ago, he rented the gatehouse and I remember a party there – having turned up on the back of the then boyfriend’s motorbike speeding through the countryside, I couldn’t recall where it was and it was only when I saw the place I made the connection which was confirmed when chatting to Captain Thimblebury who shows you around, and has great stories to tell as well). Anyway you’ve probably been a dozen times but it would be great to hear your views and see your photos, as the panelling and plasterwork are exquisite, amongst many other treasures. Its lovely to see in its natural state. You’ll have to put it in your diary – Mon/Wed or Thursday afternoons until Sept. I’ll be looking out for it in your blog. Thank you!


Thanks so much for the beauty as always and it’s lovely to hear others reminiscences of Bath too. I went to primary school in a house in Lansdown Crescent, there was a magnificent mulberry tree in the garden – big enough to have been planted when the houses were first built. Lansdown is also my favourite Cresent, the ultimate rus in urbe especially when the sheep are grazing in the field.




As well as the stunning photos and feelings they evoke in me, I love how your blog brings together people from all over the world with like minded sensibilities and connections. I too am off in the New World, have a life long love affair with Bath and visit that city and Dorset every time I’m back home, and have a family member at Kingswood. We are all connected somehow.


If a physical heaven exists…it must be like Iford.

Jean-Bernard LASSERREsays:

Your photos are marvellous.Bath is a breathtaking city-it is all the more special to me who,as a student of English bach in 1981-82,wrote a dissertation on Bath in the 18th century as seen through the eyes of Jane Austen and Tobias Smollett.At tat time,I was living in Bristol and working as a foreign language assistant in a secondary in school Churchill,Somerset.Every weekend or so,I would travel to Bath,whose architectural beauty I rediscovered years later this time as a tourist.I love Georgian architecture,which is why I am keenly interested in your project at Poundbury.Thank you ever so much for working towards making life more beautiful.


Love English Italianate, whether crescents or gardens. And those are beautiful log stacks. I’ve often thought one needs a show pile and a utility pile. Best, Nicola

Royce Fraziersays:

I have been following your blog for several years. It is absolute peace & beauty to see your wonderful photos and read about life in London & Dorset. The beauty almost brings me to tears. Thank you.

Liz Daveysays:

I’ve long thought there are the makings of a fine novel using the people memorialised in Bath Abbey

Peter Hobbssays:

Thanks Ben. I do so love living vicariously in the gorgeous Brittish scenery through your blog from my Australian armchair…Such beauty I can hardly begin to express my appreciation

Isla Simpsonsays:

I lived on Sion Hill Place (just above Lansdown Crescent) for years when I was a boarder at Kingswood School. It started a lifelong love affair with Georgian architecture. I used to pinch myself and think how lucky I was to live in that house. I’ve been trying to get back ever since! A beautiful post, hope you have a well earned rest.

Victoria Powellsays:

I’ve just come down with a serious case of Georgian envy. You really can’t beat Georgian architecture under an English heaven.

David Sanderssays:

The beauty of Baths’s classical facades are a pure delight. Their harmonious proportions create a rhythm that is almost unsurpassed. I just love the place.


Wonderful photos of my home town. We are so lucky to live in Bath and after 41 years I never tire of its beauty. Thank you for a chance to see it through your eyes – and camera lens. Have a lovely rest in beautiful Dorset

Colin Cohensays:

Just stunning. It seems to me that we could save a fortune by abolishing Visit Britain if you were to syndicate your blog: the country would be full in a trice!

Mind you, on a brief visit to London last week I did wonder if there was anyone left in the Far East


…yours is the most beautiful home and garden of all…blessings…laney


This is the first time I have ever commented on a blog. I’ve been enjoying your weekly postings Ben, for about a year now but this is the first one that’s almost brought me to tears. I lived in Bath, literally often shivering in our garret, just over Pulteney Bridge for several years in the early ’70s when the city wasn’t the tourist magnet it is now. I adored Bath then and still love wandering its crescents, lanes, gardens, squares and the tow-path whenever we pay an all too fleeting visit from our home in Australia. We’ve been to Iford several times too so your wonderful photos transported me to one of my favourite gardens and my favourite city in the world. Thank-you so much.

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