Dream world

19 February 2017
Ben Pentreath

Apologies for not posting last weekend.  I hope you didn’t miss it.  I arrived in London early on Monday morning to find I’d left my camera in Dorset. So the pictures of our adventures would have to wait. The week tumbled away and in the blink of an eye it is Sunday evening again.  And, so, here’s a blog in three parts.

P A R T   O N E :  I N   S O M E R S E T

“What’s the new thing this weekend, Ben” Charlie asked me while we had coffee at Soulshine. “Nothing, I replied. I’m knackered… let’s just spend the day on the sofa watching films and doing nothing”.  But when we got home, we rallied. Seeing the verges filled with snowdrops, we thought we’d make an early spring excursion to a garden I’d read about, but we had never visited – the famous garden of Margery Fish, developed during the 40s, 50s and 60s, at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset.

It was a quick drive north on a bitterly freezing morning. We arrived to find the garden deserted, and one very friendly attendant in the old barn that serves as a ticket office, bookshop and cafe. It’s all perfectly done.

The garden is small, and revolves around the ancient stone manor house that Margery and her husband made home on the eve of the Second World War, in 1938.  Here, she created a whole new way of gardening—expounded in many books, magazines and articles—in which she led people away from grand, high-maintenance gardening of the Victorian and Edwardian era towards a softer, more informal approach, ideal for the smaller suburban garden; a style ideal for the explosion of gardening as the national British pastime, and for gardening without hundreds of staff.

East Lambrook is famous for its snowdrops, which is why the garden is open so early in February.

The walls of the cafe are lined with copies of Margery’s writings.

Here is her photograph, in the midst of the garden she created.

The village, meanwhile, has some beautiful, plain buildings:

And on the way is this fine sign. (Did no-one stop to think for a second before commissioning and installing the sign to the Recreation Ground? Somerset County Council, could you possibly fix that?).

On the way home we called at Montacute, austere and stately in the freezing north wind.

But the new part for us was a visit to the interior. Can you believe it, every other time we have ever been, the house has been shut (which has always suited us just fine, being in more of a garden mood).  But this afternoon, on the coldest day of the year, it was open. I hadn’t been inside for years. But I could remember with crystal clarity the extraordinary long gallery, a serene space.

I love the hangings on this tall fourposter bed.

And the stack of Bridie’s and mine favourite plastic chairs in the kitchen:

P A R T   T W O :   N O R T H U M B E R L A N D

On Tuesday and Wednesday I was in Northumberland, where I am starting work on an incredible new town project. We spent a long day visiting modern housing estates, which you would think was a deeply depressing task, and in parts, but not entirely, it was. We were looking for the house builders with whom the landowners could partner to deliver the exceptional scheme they wish to achieve. My eyes did begin to glaze over a little as the minibus drew into the 10th housing estate of the day. But on our way back to Newcastle, we called in for five minutes to extraordinary Whalton, one of the most beautiful small places I had been for a long time.

Our visit took on a surreal turn when the owner of the sublime Manor House, seeing a bunch of suspicious looking people wandering around at dusk, pottered out to ask what we were up to. Within two minutes he was giving us an incredible tour of his amazing building, designed by Lutyens and Lorimer, and with extraordinary gardens by Gertrude Jekyll, all astonishingly intact.  I hope you don’t mind, but politeness dictated that I put my camera away for a bit.

We spent the night in Newcastle, Valentine’s night as it happened. We went to dinner in a restaurant filled with hundreds of couples of all ages, dressed to the nines in true Newcastle style, staring wistfully into each others’ eyes and holding hands silently across their respective tables – exchanging shy whispers.  The room was full, but nearly silent. A sight to behold.

P A R T   T H R E E :   T R A F A L G A R

And so to this weekend. Yesterday, we were having lunch with old friends at their amazing house, Trafalgar Park.  Despite making a few attempts at a plan, we’d never been over before. Oh, and the house is for sale, should anyone reading the blog this morning be in the mood for a new project. Especially wealthy Americans, please apply.

The building is incredible; early Georgian with dashes of neo-classical and Greek Revival. And though large, it is not too large, I would say. It is a house you arrive at and fall in love with instantly.

Before lunch we went for a long walk.

From the high hills above the park we spied the spire Salisbury Cathedral through the clearing mist…

And watched skylarks dance in this field, pointed out by our friend Tania, as I was not quite sure until now what a skylark sounded or looked like. 

When we arrived back at the house, warm sunshine had broken through the clouds, and it felt like the first day of spring.

The west front is more welcoming, less austere, than the grand east entrance facade.

Amazing views over the Wiltshire countryside beyond.

After lunch, my friend Rupert gave us a tour of the remarkable north wing, semi-derelict since the war, where he has had his painting studio for these last few years. An amazing experience to see these beautiful rooms.

And as the afternoon began to turn, we had to tear ourselves away from this magical, generous place, and stop dreaming.

Although, I can’t help thinking, it is good to dream – it is, after all, the dreamers of this world who make things happen.

36 comments on this post


Re Trafalgar: perhaps the national trust? They could give it the attention it obviously needs and deserves.


I love the image you give of your Newcastle Valentine’s!

Lady Evesays:

Such beautiful images. The pictures of Trafalgar Park just make me want to sit down and write a story.

I wish you many more skylarks in your life, now.

Carol Brynersays:

Most definitely in love with the snowdrops and with the empty rooms at Trafalgar Park. Thank you for these dreamer-friendly photos. They make me forget about the 3 feet of snow in my front yard and the moose across the street.

E-J Whelansays:

I am just SO glad that Tania has initiated you into the ways of the skylark! If ever I’m in need of a spiritual pick-me-up it is to the open hills of the Yorkshire Wolds that I head to on foot, to listen out for their song. It takes me straight back to idyllic childhoods roaming Langdon Cliffs at Dover, or picnicking on the cliffs at St. Margaret’s Bay. I have recorded the sound of larks in spring on my phone, just so I can hear it on dark blustery days.
That and your blog posts are so nourishing.
Thanks again,


Literally just passed the turnings for East Lambrook and Montecute off the A303 and behold your blog. Mrs Fish was the inspiration for my first gardening lessons and her books are very nicely written even if you’re not into the practice. Very interesting to see TRAfalGAR Park (I hope I’ve got the pronunciation correct according to the current owner’s specification), but where is Mavis? Smashing snowdrops too. Best, Nicola


I so look forward to your weekly posts. Margery’s garden is so sweet and wonderful. What gorgeous places you have in England!

Lily Sokolsays:

Trafalgar is such great house!!!
I’ve so many wonderful memories of weekends spent there with Rupert.


Love your blog Ben! Keep on going! Pieter (Netherlands)

Isla Simpsonsays:

Another friend in common! Rupert and his paintings are magical, you’ve also captured Trafalgar beautifully. I spend hours daydreaming, always time well spent and the best state of mind for ideas to hatch. Thanks for a dreamy post, I loved every minute. xxx

Deborah Wagnersays:

To Teddee Grace: Yes, it has abso-blinking-lutely already gone south, and but for my American husband, my 87-year-old father (who dragged us from Hertfordshire to Canada and then to the US in the 60s and 70s), and my brother and sister being here, I would have been on a plane back to the U.K. on November 9. Still might, you never know.

Ben’s posts — and the website — go a long way toward keeping me sane, I must say.

It was nice to see those West Highland Terriers in the post today, Ben. Our Primrose would fit right in.


paulo canhasays:

your photos of Trafalgar park are better than those on savills !!!


Years ago we had lunch with a chum in Hampton, Middlesex.
He told us that Jessie Mathews’ house was just up the road, had been derelict for ages and had just sold.
Of course we set off immediately.
The house was nothing too wonderful and the garden was rather Edwardian- man-made circular streams, an island, rockeries, an orchard. Peeping out of the crisp brown leaves were wonderful pink cyclamen, which we stole, the corm (?) an impressive 8 inches in diameter. Best of all were the snowdrops on steroids-
double the size of the usual ones, tipped with a green line like those coffee cups in Lisbon and scented like hyacinth.
Broke my heart to leave them behind when moving

mlle paradissays:

Oh! What a perfectly perfect post. Snowdrops and scotties and…..hedges…….Thanks! : )


As others have stated – of course I missed the blog last week. It’s the end of winter here in New Mexico, but way before spring visually and it’s not so nice. If there’s a heaven, for me it will look like England.


Thanks for the memories Ben. I’m at home in St Dogmaels West Wales reading your blog and reminding myself of happy days partly living in Stoke sub Hamdon Somerset.The Margery Fish garden is a favourite of mine as is Montecute House.A long over due visit to Bridport is on the cards.If you find yourselves at Montecute again stop for lunch at The Prince of Wales pub on top of Ham hill, HRH himself couldn’t resist the ham, egg and chips last week.Spectacular views on a good day you can see the Glastonbury Tor and good walking territory for Mavis.


Well of course we missed it Ben. First thoughts are is he alright is Charlie alright. Keep checking blog site just in case. But no pressure !! Forgive us for we are all addicted to you both.

Teddee Gracesays:

To Deborah Wagner…hasn’t it already gone south? If I had a choice I’d be on the first plane out of here…and it is my home. So refreshing to read and see something pleasant. I was intrigued by the photo of the road sign pointing to Beauchamp. I am related to the Beauchamps from as far back as the Normandy Invasion…or so says Ancestry.


When I see these beautiful photos of such wonderful places I ache with longing to be in the English countryside. Those walls. Bliss.

And the snowdrops – I’ll be kicking myself black and blue for not planting some last fall.

Deborah Wagnersays:

Ben, I have been desperate for your blog this past week, but I found Charlie’s, and that gave me the boost I needed. This morning, here in the weird winter we are having in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I started to read the news and, despairing, I checked my email only to find an email from HM Passport Office in Durham regarding the application for my passport renewal. (To all of you expats out there, do not—DO NOT—allow your U.K. passport to expire. Renew it well before. I don’t know if it is Brexit or what, but it is now a Herculean task to get it renewed these days, even if it you include your old one, and you must have someone who is not related and does not live with you vouch for you being who you say you are and provide a photocopy of THEIR passport, which I really think is a favor too far. I know I’m rambling, but Dear God.) Anyway, after reading that, unbelievably, I need yet one more piece of identification, I ran mentally screaming to this page, and all your glorious photos of England reminded me of why I am so desperate to get my passport renewed anyway: so we can make a quick getaway in the event it all goes south. Thanks for that. Deborah

Alicia Whitakersays:

Thanks for the lovely post, especially the piece about Lambrook Manor. Snowdrop time in England is just amazing. My few clumps are emerging now too. Spring


Margery Fish is a trooper; to feel much blessed at having only one tree in your garden, then to find it is a syacamore and worse than that a variegated one…..what fantastic optimism!


what amazingly beautiful photos;a joy to behold! thank you so much


what amazingly beautiful photos, every one a winner ,thank you so much!

Mary Jean Farmersays:

Always lovely posts, but don’t get “bloggers’ fatigue. I couldn’t cope.


I live only a few miles from East Lambrook and drove passed the Margery Fish garden on Saturday vowing to return one day this week to see the snowdrops. Had I but known, I would have slammed the brakes on and reversed rather sharply! Glad you enjoyed both that and Montacute. Next time you are in that neck of the woods, return to that first sign post and take the turning to Compton Durville which is a very small, hidden gem.


Absolutely beautiful Ben, thank you. I’d love one day to see that you’d taken a picture of my quaint little cottage in Somerset (although it has a Reliant Robin parked outside which some people might think spoils it a bit!) x


So pleased to revisit East Lambrook Manor and Monatacute with you in this blog – I remember both places from summery visits and the light (as well as the snowdrops, of course) are quite different from my memories. The real treat in your blog is Northumberland …. because we moved to this beautiful county some six years ago, and I am very excited at the prospect of more Northumbrian visits in your blog.

David Sanderssays:

Lovely post Ben. I have always been fascinated by that wonderful, vast, wobbly and bulbous hedge at Montacute; obviously caught your eye too. I am sure a wealthy New Zealander would be tempted by Trafalgar too; alas I am not one – wealthy that is.

Emma Smurthwaitesays:

Always a pleasure reading your blog posts Ben; One of my treats to myself this week was ordering a long overdue copy of English Houses which should be winging it’s way to me shortly. We moved into our Victorian cottage three years ago and my now rather dog-eared copy of English Decoration is never far away for inspiration – if you and Charlie ever find yourselves in North Dorset you are most welcome!


Mavis would have been out of place in the dog (dress) code was white at Trafalgar.


thank you! dear ben for sharing your eyes of rural england, so civilized and peace filled, good to know that “it all” still exists.

blessings to you and charlie and the ms. mavis.



Once again Ben a lovely blog you always manage to transport us to beautiful places your writing and images delight the soul pure escapism.Wonderful to see the snowdrops a sure sign spring is imminent. How fortunate we are to have such idyllic places in a relatively small country. Many thanks Ben for sharing with us and yes we missed your writing last week but so worth the wait always a joy.

Barry Leachsays:

Lovely to see an unstuffed dining room and those empty rooms are marvelous. I’d love to see the artist’s paintings close to but that maybe for next trip home if he is exhibiting. Again, a good read. Thank you.


I did miss your post last wk but all is forgiven with this lovely travelogue. I suspect there could be a number of wealthy Americans who might be interested in Trafalgar Park with the current state of affairs in the US…
Thanks as always for your generosity of spirit & for sharing your remarkable adventures.


Thank you for this beautiful post.

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