Spring is in the air. In a metaphorical sense more than a literal sense. The days have gotten longer and sunset has been deferred an hour thanks to the switch to British Summer Time. Crocuses and cherry blossom are in bloom. The sun shines brightly on good days, giving us deep blue skies with pillow white clouds. Early morning are greeted with a chorus of birdsong. But if you closed your eyes over the last week, you mightd be fooled into thinking we’re still in winter. The air is cold and jumpers and jackets are still essential garb when venturing outside.
But it looks nice outside nonetheless, and as it is spring, the stately home season is underway. Historic houses across the land have finished off any winter time restoration or preservation projects, given the ticket booths a good dusting off, brushed away the cobwebs and flung open the front doors to the paying public. Previously we’ve been members of the National Trust, but we’ve now visited every house of note within a hundred miles. This year we are going to go see some of the many non National Trust properties in the region. There are many of them. I’m toying with the notion of joining the Historic Houses Association.
So where shall we go for the first trip of 2016? I selected a smallish property in the heart of West Dorset, amongst green rolling hills littered with ewes and their freshly born lambs. Small the house might be, but it’s a real golden oldie. Golden because it is largely a sandstone construction. Oldie because it has a mention in the Domesday book. Although the actual house standing today, or at least parts of it, are ‘only’ 500 or so years old. The place is called Mapperton House. And it comes with quite the set of gardens.
The property has been through a few hands. The original family held on to it for around 900 years, albeit with a succession of name changes due to inheritance on the female side. It’s only in the last century that the title deeds have moved around a bit. A Dutch lady moved in after World War 1 and created the renowned Italianate gardens that many visitors now come to see. In the 1950s it went onto the market and a gentleman of noble background snapped it up. His old residence had become too much of a financial handful and he had decided to downsize. Poor chap. His name was Mr Victor Montagu. He was, and his son remains, better known as the Earl of Sandwich.
There are numerous paintings on the walls of previous earls, all competing to be the greatest Sandwich. But there can only be one winner in that battle. The 4th Earl, John Montagu. In a family famed for its links to the admiralty, it was the 4th Earl who sponsored Captain James Cook’s voyages. He was even rewarded with the naming of some islands after him. Oh, and he invented the most famous snack of all time. Which you’ll know by the name of, surprise surprise, the sandwich.
Which brings us to a question far more important that who was the greatest Sandwich. The real question is what is the greatest sandwich. There are many contenders, but I have my own favourite. A brie and bacon sandwich. The bacon must be fried until it is totally crisp. The brie should be ripe. And whilst I prefer a good think layer of real butter, but a slathering of ripe avocado will suffice as a substitute at a push.
For the full set of photos on Flickr, click here.