Our Father’s Day started fairly quietly, but turned out to be a bit of a surprise. We’d been watching the weather through the week and making a few plans and backup plans for the day. Then Isaac woke up not feeling great and on top of that the weather looked worse than we had expected.
Thankfully Isaac improved quickly and we were able to think of something to salvage the rest of the day. We decided that a National Trust property made sense, as we’re members, and that we wanted to try a new one. Ideally we were hoping to find one where we could take Willow, but it’s not always possible.
A quick search on the National Trust website (which works really well) showed us a few options. We eventually decided to give Barrington Court a try, which was only about an hour from us.
We didn’t know anything about Barrington Court short of the short blurb on the website. What we found there totally blew us away.
When we got there the car park was rammed because they were having a jazz concert on the south lawn. They managed to squeeze us in, but I don’t think they were used to having quite so many people there.
The grounds were fantastic and beautiful, but we took a quick stroll through and made our way to the restaurant. The restaurant was in the Strode House which started life as a stable block! As a National Trust restaurant it was unusual. It’s made up of a series of smaller rooms and there is no serving hatch. You pick a table, go to the (single) till and place your order, including drinks. The only thing that is self service is cakes and water.
Despite there being so many people there, the service was quick and painless and the food was very good. Some of the ingredients were even grown onsite, which was very exciting.
It was the house, however, that really surprised us. It was originally built in Elizabeth times, but had a rough history including fires which had left it in a sorry state. Parts of it were used as a farmhouse, parts used as storage for cider barrels etc and parts weren’t fit for human habitation and were filled with owls and bats.
As the National Trust was just getting started, lots of grand houses in all states of repair were being demolished. The Trust embarked on a mission of saving as many as possible and they took on Barrington Court as one of their first and it could have been their greatest mistake. It was too far gone and the renovations required were too much for the fledging Trust to take on. In fact the story goes that “Remember Barrington Court” became a warning phrase used when the Trust considered other such houses for decades after.
Colonel Lyle also had an interest in these old houses and had been collecting wood panelling and other items from other country houses as they had been demolished. I’m not sure how they got in contact, but the Trust got in contact with Colonel Lyle and made him an offer. A 99 year lease (at £1 a year!) in exchange for renovation works. It was the best thing the Trust could’ve done! He poured all of his attention to detail and his incredible collection into the renovations. He even learned some carpentry and got hands-on! All of the wood panelling looks as though it has always been there, sometimes there are little hints that this was a patchwork of other pieces, but they only make the transformation all the more wonderful!
A house that nearly destroyed the Trust is now one of it’s finest treasures. Honestly! We’ve seen a few of them and they’re all spectacular, but there was just something about this place and it’s story!
There’s no furniture, the family took it all when they gave up the lease, so you’re forced to imagine all the years of history. Which era would they choose anyway? Elizabethan times? The farmhouse? During the second world war when the house became a school? As it is, you get the opportunity to imagine it all, and they do pick out various bits of the history in different parts of the house, for instance there’s an owl in the long gallery and photos of the old kitchen before renovation stripped back years of alterations to reveal the original Tudor fireplace.
The gardens were originally planned to be a grand 1920s re-interpretation of an Elizabethan garden, and for the most part they more than meet that goal, but one of the most special parts for me was the old cattle shed that Colonel Lyle couldn’t bring himself to demolish. They are a reminder of the darkest parts of Barrington Court’s history and what could’ve been, they’re also a reminder of the epic transformation that took place over just 5 years.
If you ever get a chance, make sure you visit. We’ll definitely be going back!
Photo credit: One of mine