“ Address: Arlington/ Nr Barnstaple / Devon EX31 4LP / England „
Arlington Court is a National Trust property hidden in the heart of Exmoor. With a National Trust card it is free to enter; otherwise entrance will cost £8.60 for adults, £4.30 for children.
The drive from Barnstaple to Arlington Court takes you through 7 miles of tree-lined, winding, Exmoor country roads. Arrival at Arlington is somewhat less inspirational, but stick with it and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Finding the house and grounds can become part of the adventure as the entrance is nestled discreetly amongst the hedges across the road from the car park, and it is not until you emerge from the greenery surrounding the visitors' reception that you get your first glimpse of Arlington Court itself.
The estate was owned by the Chichester family from the 16th century until 1949 when Miss Rosalie Chichester left it to the National Trust. Her love of nature had led to the grounds being seriously overgrown and much restoration work has taken place since then to develop several different types of garden for visitors to explore, including a Walled garden, a Victorian garden, a Wilderness pond and something referred to as the Rabbit Pit. This is a sunken area at the back of the house where the late Rosalie Chichester used to keep her rabbits.
The house itself is Regency in style and is the third to be built upon the site. Steps lead to a majestic, semi-circular pillared entrance and from there you are advised to travel the rooms in a clockwise direction, there are four of them downstairs. In most rooms you are free to wander at will to study the many Victorian artefacts and object d'art.
After completing a half-circuit of the downstairs you are lead to a splendid red-carpeted staircase which dominates the hallway. Upstairs there are six more rooms to explore; several grandiose bedrooms, including a nursery, and rooms which house hanging tapestries. Then it's back down the sweeping staircase to complete the downstairs circuit with a perusal of the collections of shells, model ships and pewter.
Another attraction is the Bat Cave to be found at the rear of the house. This is actually only a room, but it houses a TV screen with remote control cameras which visitors can operate to zoom in on and study the colony of Lesser Horseshoe bats which have taken residence in the roof of the house. It is the largest colony in Devon, with between 90 and 120 bats at any given time. The room is tiny and the screen's only black and white so this isn't one of my favourite parts of the house.
Hidden behind shrubbery at the north end of the house is the tea room and shop full of homemade goodies such as sandwiches, soup and cakes. There is a garden area with picnic benches if the weather allows, where peacocks wander freely and local birds can be enticed onto your table to share your meal. There is even an identification chart on the wall by the entrance so you can see exactly which species of bird you are feeding. This is one of my favourite parts as it involves sitting with very tasty food and watching the wildlife - only good in the summer though.
A pleasant walk around the grounds leads you past St. James church and into the stable courtyard which is home to the Carriage Collection. There are over 50 vehicles with the oldest dating back to 1810. Often there are horses for you to look at as well.
Arlington Court is well worth a visit, my children love it. If you're planning a trip it's worth checking for special events. There are Easter egg hunts at Easter, Hallowe'en walks, and lots of other art and craft activities and story-telling events through the summer months. If you are visiting and nothing special is happening ask at reception for a quiz, this keeps the children occupied and makes you notice things you might otherwise have overlooked.
I sometimes get a little complacent about where I live. The North Devon area is beautiful, and in its heart is the tucked away Arlington Court. A 10-15 minute drive from the nearby towns of Ilfracombe and Barnstaple, it nestles in the valley of the river Yeo. It is a National Trust property, and so it does cost to enter the grounds, unless you are a member of the National Trust. If not, entrance is £8.20 per adult, and I think £4 for a child over 5. Under 5s enter for free.
This Bank Holiday weekend, the Sunday saw not a cloud in the sky, and my wife and I headed over there with our 5 year old son and our National Trust membership for a relaxing free day out. Parking was easy, with plenty of space in a gravelled car park opposite the entrance to the property. Cross the road to walk down the path, 100 yards or so, surrounded by trees and meadow-like patches on either side, with a very small children's play area on the right just before the shop, which is also where you present your tickets or pay to go in.
Once the other side, a smaller path curves round to the right before darting between the trees and bringing you out on a wide, expansive front lawn, and the large Arlington Court on your right. It's a truly stunning view from there, with fields stretching straight ahead, the Court on your right, and the lawn ending on the left with some more trees. There are no steps, and access is easy for wheelchairs or buggies or for anyone needing help with walking.
There are paths taking you round the grounds, down to the large pond (perhaps 60 or 70 yards long and 50 or so wide. It is sheltered, the pond in a dip with paths leading off it, including fields belonging to a local farmer on the other side of a fence, sheep bleating in the distance. We sat down here for a bit, while our son looked at the worksheet he had been given by the friendly staff in the shop on entry. He had to find different animals and items and tick them off. We went to the edge of the pond to find some fish, saw a couple of birds flying overhead, and nearby we found and ticked off one of the glorious monkey puzzle trees.
There is a path that takes you through a small bit of woodland within the grounds, and brings you back out very near the start point for carriage rides. Arlington Court is also home to a carriage museum, although we did not have time to check everything out, and the carriage ride was too expensive for us. We did, however, follow it round as it goes very slowly, and Will (our son) really wanted to see where the horsies were going!
Feeling a bit peckish, we went into the restaurant area, part of the main building and to the right. There is a sheltered courtyard area with outside seating as well plenty of seating inside as well. The menu is appetising, and we decided to go for a homemade cream tea. It cost us around £12 to have four scones, plenty of cream and jam, tea for two, a carton of apple juice and a bottle of Coke, which, although not the cheapest price, was well worth it. The cream teas were fabulous, and the service was very relaxing. The toilets are located just past the outside seating area, subtly draped in foliage to not draw attention to them.
From here, we went into the Court itself. Arlington Court was, for many years, the home of the Chichester family, and the inside has many examples of photographs, portraits, literature, and other things relating to the family. Other National Trust places, such as Dunster Castle, are expansive inside, but didn't really have much in the way of reading material. Arlington Court, however, had A4 laminated cards for each individual room for you to pick up and read about the history, and about renovations an original features. This part of the whole property really interested me, and the National Trust workers and volunteers were plentiful inside, and all willing to answer questions: definitely dedicated to the Court.
Around the back of the Court, a small set of steps takes you down into the bat cave, where you can watch bats via a moveable camera. Will loved this bit, and was pleased that he could move the camera angle and zoom in and out. There is also a second hand bookshop down there, and through a locked gate, old stables.
Coming back out into the light again, we went to sit on the vast lawn at the front of the property. I have been there a few times before, but it has always either been busy or the weather hasn't been that great. However, on this day we were blessed with glorious sunshine that meant everyone was at the beach! It was very quiet, and we relaxed for a good hour or so just lying in the sunshine, playing with Will and enjoying the beautiful setting and scenery.
One of the best things about the property is that, as with most National trust places, you are left to enjoy things in your own order and at your own pace. The staff are almost invisible, but when you need them, they are there in force, and you realise just how many of them there are. I was at Arlington Court some time back when someone needed medical attention that resulted in a helicopter having to come. Luckily, there are plenty of places for it to land, and the organisation from the National Trust was excellent. I was thoroughly impressed.
We had a lovely day. Perhaps next time, I'll spend a bit more time in the house. It's quite hard with a 5 year old boy running around, especially when you're not supposed to touch the majority of things inside. My parents live locally, so we may go with them again soon, and I'll detach myself and explore a bit more. I love history like that. I find it inspires me, and Arlington Court is incredibly relaxing.
Before we went, we headed towards their kitchen garden, as such. There is a large and pretty walkway once you go through the gate into the enclosed garden, and this takes you through to the walled garden that reminded me of the Secret Garden in the novel of the same name, or at least how I had pictured it as a child. All kinds of fruit and veg are grown in there, and they use it all for their kitchens and for sale in various forms in the shop. A good example of this is how they use fruit for making jams to sell in the shop afterwards. This was lovely, and has inspired us to start growing our own fruit and veg, albeit on a much smaller scale!
All in all, we had a fabulous day. For those of you who are interested, it's well worth a visit, even if you just want somewhere to relax. Being National Trust members takes the pressure off making a whole day of it, as you can return as and when you please as long as it is open and with the exception of a few special days throughout the year. If you don't have membership, then I'd still recommend going, but perhaps try and get there quite early in the day to ensure fitting everything in whilst remaining relaxed.
National Trust membership varies on price depending on who it's for. Individual membership costs £47.50 for the year, but when you consider that it generally costs around the £8 mark to enter a National Trust property, you need only go 6 times to any of the many NT properties across the country, and you have made your money back. A joint membership for two people works out ven cheaper, and paying through direct debit reduces the cost even more. There are also different prices for children and pensioners, although there are conditions attached. For the best info, visit their website, which is www.nationaltrust.org.uk.
This is a great National Trust property. To find out more, go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-arlingtoncourt/
Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum
Tel: 01271 850296
Fax: 01271 851108
A Regency house packed with beautiful furniture along with an impressive collection of horse-drawn carriages. Enjoy the Victorian grounds via a carriage ride.