Dorset, with its chalky grasslands, broad hedgerows and rolling hills, is the English countryside at its very best. Scattered with geological curiosities and beauty spots, deep in Thomas Hardy’s heartlands, it’s nevertheless its historical sites that attract the most attention. And highest on the heritage list is definitely Melbury House, until 1964 the seat of the Earl of Ilchester. Within easy reach of Summer Lodge and Acorn Inn, stay with us on your next trip to Dorset and discover this spectacular property for yourself by walking the public footpath through its grounds.
Offering mile upon mile of parkland and a rather handsome Ham Hill stone façade, Melbury House last changed hands over 500 years ago, when it was sold to Henry Strangways. Almost entirely rebuilt by his son Giles – Henry VIII’s right-hand man when it came to the dissolution of the monasteries in Dorset – its pièce de résistance is undoubtedly its hexagonal tower (or Prospect), which looms behind the main house with its mock battlements and ornamental finials.
Located just outside Evershot in West Dorset, it’s a grand country house of the first order and possesses an A-list guestbook to match, with the likes of Horace Walpole complimenting its art and rooms, and the pioneer of photography Henry Fox Talbot growing up in its verdant environs. Even its literary reputation stets it apart, having been the inspiration for Thomas Hardy’s King’s Hintock Court in both A Changed Man & Other Tales and A Group of Noble Dames. Inside Melbury’s grand, vaulted interiors, visitors will find a wealth of treasures, including two 17th century staircases, walls festooned in silks and tapestries, marble fireplaces, and an impressive Victorian library.
Even overlooking its prestigious past and opulent interiors, Melbury House appeals to visitors simply for its bucolic peace and rural beauty, with 300 hectares of deer park and woodland, 18th century landscaped lawns and lake, glades and rare trees to explore. Commanding spectacular views of the Mendip Hills, many visitors find themselves drawn to the humble sanctity of St Mary’s chapel, which stands on slightly lower ground, and was once the parish church of Melbury Sampford. Now effectively a mausoleum to the Strangways family, the chapel contains tombs (with beautiful examples of stone heraldry) that while impressive, nonetheless take second place to the rare reredos by the altar. Tall, marble and evocatively portraying the Last Supper, for many they are reason alone to visit.
The Grade II listed property Summer Lodge is a suitably grand place to stay when walking through the public footpath that crosses the grounds of Melbury House and its expansive parkland, while the 16th century Acorn Inn is just moments away.