Saturday 18 April 2009

Mottisfont Abbey and Gardens, near Romsey, Hampshire

Surrounded by a large estate incorporating a beautiful stretch of the Test river, Mottisfont is a medieval abbey converted first into a Tudor manor house and then into an eighteenth century mansion. With an elegant red-brick heart flanked by grey, sturdy stone wings studded with flint stones, the house lacks the harmonious appeal of many National Trust properties. Inside, a series of spacious rooms on the ground floor are open to the public. With the exception of the trompe I'oeil drawing room, much of the decor, with doors painted the same lurid colours as the walls, and fairly innocuous period furniture is somewhat crude and plain by National Trust standards. The collection of wishy-washy paintings from the early twentieth century also won't appeal to everyone. Only in the Red Room, where a corner of the old stone abbey is visible, and the atmospheric vaulted cellar, do you get a real sense of the site's long, rich history.

Idyllic children's books
Beyond the substantial early Victorian stable block is a clutch of gardens, including a renown collection of old-fashioned roses, surrounded by handsome red-brick walls. More appealing still is the view through the ancient gnarled trees past the house and down the river, where swans glide along under charming little bridges. Even when Mottisfont is overrun with visitors on a bank holiday weekend, a stroll alongside this picturesque and peaceful waterway conjures up the rural England of idyllic children's books. 8/10