Can a house be dapper?
If it is indeed possible, Montacute House in southern Somerset, would surely take the cake. Or bow tie & bowler hat, probably.
We visited last month, and it was well worth the drive down there from north Wiltshire. Look at that driveway! In fact, the whole village is picture perfect.
The 'grandness' of Montacute is especially impressive as it was originally built by a family of yeomen farmers who rose in status to become one of the preeminent families in the district. Montacute has a long history and consequently a roll call of notable tenants. Once home to Sir Edward Phelips, a key prosecutor against the gunpowder plotters, and for a short while, Lord Curzon.
The yew hedges in the formal gardens are almost as handsome as the house, at the very least they are tall, well groomed and in places quite quirky, very befitting of a house such as Montacute.
These days, Montacute boasts a small collection of works owned or entrusted to the National Portrait Gallery. They hang in what is the longest 'long gallery' in England. At 53 metres in length, it runs the entire width of the house, and was once used as a sort of exercise room. When the weather was too bad to be outdoors, the family would walk up and down the gallery to get their daily steps in. Pre pedometer times call for such measures I suppose.
The lawn was being put to good use the afternoon we visited. A group of silver-haired locals had gathered to play croquet. If it weren't for their 21st Century attire, I am sure the scene would have looked not unlike that of a summer afternoon a century or two ago.
The everlasting sweet peas were living up to their name, still in flower and reaching high, even at the very end of summer.
This is what passed for graffiti in the 18th Century. And in the library no less!
See those quirky yew hedges, trimmed to imitate the irregular shapes of clouds perhaps? I love how they're allowed to grow into that undulating, almost pulsing, formation along the pathway.
An Elizabethan mansion is always going to be predictably impressive, but Montacute House is beautifully kept and somehow 'elevated' above other homes of the same era that I've visited. It might be the orderly garden with just the right amount of quirk. It might be the collection of exquisite and historically important portraits. Or it might just be that sweeping driveway, emphasising the perfect symmetry of the house.
What ever the magic of Montacute, I stand by the 'dapper' description.