First published in October 2014.
This weekend I’ve once again been playing host to my old friend Ho, who has been taking a well earned break from a frantic work schedule to join me for a spot of relaxation in the beautiful autumnal Devon countryside.
This time we decided to take a stroll around the extensive grounds of Arlington Court, ancestral home of the Chichester family for over 500 years.
The house itself is an imposing stone built mansion, surrounded by rolling lawns, lakes, and woodlands, criss-crossed with pathways that lead you to various viewpoints overlooking not only the gloriously varied vistas of the estate but also the picturesque church of St James (not owned by the Trust, but adjacent to the house) which just happened to be staging a flower festival at the time of our visit.
We began our tour on the front lawn of the house, heading down to the ornamental lake, stocked with lazily cruising carp and topped with a proliferation of water lilies, pausing on the way to admire the splendor of an ancient oak tree that has stood on the site since well before the house or grounds existed.
The tree is preserved primarily for the scientifically important and internationally recognised variety of lichen, moss and fungi that festoon its gnarled and twisted trunk.
The church is just visible through the trees that overlook the lake, providing a focal point for visitors, an invitation to investigate the hidden beauty of the peaceful sanctuary as you make your way round the estate.
But before we headed into the cool vaulted space of the flower-strewn chapel we made our way down the shady path amongst the trees to discover what the woods had to offer.
Before too long we came upon a small camp in a clearing, complete with a traditional clay oven beneath the billowing folds of a parachute canopy, along with rustic huts constructed from sticks salvaged from the woodland floor.
The woods have the quiet atmosphere of a primeval forest, rotting trees left where they fell, allowing the verdant moss to take hold and making perfect burrows for small animals and insects, creating shapes that look for all the world like the backbones of long-dead dinosaurs or mythical dragons.
Occasionally a gate or stile will allow a view across the cattle grazing fields of the deer park, to the densely wooded slopes of the valley, the trees starting to display the muted tones of autumn foliage.
We retraced the path back to the lake and made for the tower of the church, immediately seeing signs of the floral attraction within…
…already catching the scent of the expertly designed bouquets before we even entered the light and airy space of St James’s, the vibrant colours of hundreds of flowers perfectly complimenting the stained glass windows and ornamental carvings on the walls.
Our final two stops were at the formal and walled kitchen gardens, the latter of which provides fresh produce for the house and its cafe.
There was even an imperious peacock to welcome us to his domain, although he didn’t seem keen on me taking his picture and I required several stealthy attempts to capture him in all his iridescent glory.
There is even an “insect hotel” high-rise apartment block for bees and other pollinators…
…and there is always something intriguing around the next corner or through the next inviting door.
…and of course the Chichester family symbol, a heron grappling with an eel, is in evidence everywhere.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable visit to a place that I’m sure I’ll visit again and again, because there is always something new to discover.
Arlington Court house and gardens are open until the end of October, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys relaxing amidst spectacular scenery, basking in the more genteel atmosphere of days gone by and leaving the stresses and strains of modern life behind for a few hours.