Just a short drive from Taunton, Somerset, lies Hestercombe – a beautiful stately home set in 50 stunning acres of grounds
So I was thrilled when the lovely people over at Hestercombe invited us to pay them a visit. It’s only a 15 minute drive from Taunton to the village of Cheddon Fitzpaine, so it makes a perfect day trip if you’re visiting the area.
It was a chilly February Sunday when I visited with my family, but I was really looking forward to exploring the gardens. Luckily the weather stayed dry during my visit!
A Short History of Hestercombe
Hestercombe has a long and varied history stretching back to the 7th Century. The earliest medieval feature of the estate is an archway which dates to around 1280. The Warre family purchased the estate in the early 1300s, and it remained in their possession for over 500 years.
The house has been remodelled several times, including the addition of this Georgian facade in the 1700’s. And in the mid-18th Century, the landscaped gardens were added to the estate.
In 1872, Lord Portman bought the Hestercombe estate from the Warre family, and set about gutting the interior of the house. He gave the interior of Hestercombe House a Victorian makeover and added the covered porch at the front of the house where coaches could stop. He also commissioned the water tower that you can see on the left of the house in the photo at the top of this page. This gave the house the asymmetrical design that was popular at that time.
Lord Portman was also responsible for engaging Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens to create a new Edwardian formal garden. But more about that later!
After Lord Portman’s death, his wife carried on living at Hestercombe for a further 40 years. After she died, the house became the headquarters for the Somerset fire brigade in 1951. This arrangement continued for 60 years, until the Hestercombe Gardens Trust acquired the house from Somerset County Council in 2013.
Now the house and gardens are open for visitors, and as the Hestercombe logo says, it really does feel like ‘Paradise Restored’.
The doors to Hestercombe House opened to the public for the first time in 2014. And when you visit the house, you’ll immediately notice the Victorian styling that Lord Portman put in place when he bought the estate.
The rooms downstairs have beautiful wood panelling on the walls, and there’s a very elaborate fireplace in one of the rooms. The ceilings are decorated with intricate coving and cornice as well.
The walls are also covered with beautiful artwork, like this portrait of Margaret Harbin who married Lord Warre in 1692. Although the rooms are not completely furnished, it’s possible to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a stunning house.
As well as being open to visitors, the house is also used for weddings and functions. There is a second hand bookshop downstairs, and the Column Room restaurant offers lunches and afternoon teas.
Heading up this dramatic staircase, you reach the upper floor of Hestercombe House, which is home to a contemporary art gallery.
This gallery showcases contemporary art, and has regularly changing exhibitions. You can find out about the current exhibition on the Hestercombe website. I spent a while wandering through the rooms looking at the artworks.
I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of Trish Morrissey’s photographs. The images are inspired by two women from Hestercombe’s history: Elizabeth Warre, who lived alone at Hestercombe after inheriting the estate in 1819, and Constance Portman, who ran the estate for 40 years after her husband’s death.
Time for Refreshments
After looking around the house, we headed to the Stables cafe before exploring the gardens.
As the name suggests, the Stables cafe is housed in a former stables block. It’s a very relaxed, informal setting, and you’re welcome to bring your dog in here as well.
The cafe is open daily from 12pm to 5.30pm, and hot and cold lunches are served between 12 and 3pm. Or you could indulge in a slice of home made cake and a cup of coffee or pot of tea.
I really enjoyed my Bakewell tart, while Ollie’s hot chocolate was topped with masses of whipped cream, and looked very tempting!
Exploring Hestercombe Gardens
Feeling refreshed after our break, we headed out to explore the gardens. The Hestercombe estate covers 50 acres and features three centuries of garden design.
You can stroll through Hestercombe’s woodlands dotted with features like the Chinese Bridge, Temple Arbour and even a Witch House. We wandered through part of the Georgian Landscape Garden, which was laid out by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde when he inherited the estate in 1750.
But time meant that we wouldn’t cover the whole of the gardens on this visit. So we headed straight over to the Edwardian Formal Garden, going through the Dutch Garden and past the Orangery.
This beautiful building was designed by Edwin Lutyens, and was filled with citrus trees when we visited. As I mentioned earlier, Hestercombe is available for weddings and functions, and you can get married in various locations around the grounds.
I’m sure that the light-filled Orangery with its views across the gardens makes an idyllic venue for a wedding ceremony.
Whenever I visit a new location, I love spotting architectural details.
And Hestercombe is definitely full of those – it kept me busy snapping photographs as we walked around!
Finally we reached the Victorian Terrace which lies at the east side of Hestercombe House.
It has a wonderful view out over the Great Plat of the Edwardian Formal Garden. This is one of the sights that Hestercombe is best known for, and it was the main reason for my visit.
Jekyll and Lutyens’ Formal Garden
The Edwardian Formal Garden was added to Hestercombe in 1904. The design for the garden was created by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.
He worked on this project alongside Gertrude Jekyll, who designed the planting scheme. Together they came up with a bold design that uses cobbles, tiles and local stone to create a stunning garden.
It’s considered to be one of the finest examples of their work.
Many of the garden’s features reflect the design of an Islamic paradise garden, like those seen in the Alhambra in Spain. You can see this in the long flowing lines, the use of water, and the design of the grassed areas.
This area particularly reminded me of some of the courtyards we saw at the Alhambra last year, with long narrow pools of water flowing through them.
The Hestercombe Gardens Trust have lovingly restored the gardens, working from Gertrude Jekyll’s original planting designs.
It’s a very clever design which ensures that the garden would look good all year around. And although we visited in February, the garden was still very beautiful.
I would love to see the Great Plat and the pergola below it when they are in full bloom later on in the year!
By mid-afternoon, we had seen less than half of Hestercombe’s gardens, but the sky was starting to look threatening. So we decided to head back to Taunton before the rains set in.
I definitely want to return later in the year to explore the areas that we haven’t seen yet, and to see the Edwardian garden in its full glory. If you’re visiting Somerset, I highly recommend paying a visit to Hestercombe.
Hestercombe is open all year round apart from Christmas Day. Admission for adults costs £11.80, with discounts available for children and wheelchair users. Family tickets are also available.
For full details of pricing, opening times and more information about the house and gardens, please visit the Hestercombe website.