Newest Review: ... got Dyrham Park in 1961. Inside the house it is quite interesting and you see rooms like the kitchen and bedrooms. My favourite room is the... more
Oh Deer! Nice House, Shame about the Cafe
Dyrham Park (Bath)
Member Name: koshkha
Dyrham Park (Bath)
Advantages: Gorgeous deer, beautiful grounds
Disadvantages: It's all gone Pete Tong in the Cafe
~The Risks of National Trust Membership~
There are many great things about being members of the National Trust but there are also some risks of which you should be aware. Some are physical - that the skies will always open when you're at the furthest point from the car park or any cover, that you might get 'aggressed' by flocks of ducks or, heaven forbid, your teeth might take the brunt of a slightly less than totally fresh scone in the tea room. The psychological risk is greater and that's the risk of getting 'heritage fatigue'. The symptoms are easily spotted in those who're past their first year of membership. They have learned to avoid eye contact with the room guides who want to tell you EVERYTHING about the house. There's the wicked urge to say to your other half "Let's skip the house and go and get some cake". Worst of all is a growing sense of getting blasé about things that once might have impressed you and probably still would grab your attention if you had to pay £10 to £12 entrance fee and were trying to squeeze every last drop of entertainment out of every penny. I got a bit of a "Yeah, whatever" moment when visiting Dyrham House near Tetbury with my family.
I might have been more excited if I'd not just spent a couple of hours walking my feet off at Westonbirt Arboretum earlier in the day. Dyrham was my choice for a family 'activity' during a trip to the southern Cotswolds to celebrate my mother's 70th birthday in October 2011. My sister had picked the arboretum and I picked Dyrham so it was entirely my fault that it wasn't the most exciting place on earth. But it wasn't all bad either.
With six of us in two cars we headed to the car park. Having the bonus of my mother and her disabled parking permit, I got to drop the old folks right by the entrance and park in the disabled bays whilst my sister and her partner parked in another time zone somewhere down the other end of the car park. My parents have National Trust cards - in fact my mother has a 'life' membership and intends to live to 112 in order to get her money's worth - and so do my husband and I. Only my sister and her other half had to pay but first of all they had to walk all the way from the other end of the car park.
There's no vehicular access beyond the car park and so visitors have a choice to walk for about 15 minutes or take a bus to the door. My parents were keeping the bus driver waiting for us and he was starting to get a bit antsy about delaying all his other passengers. With my sister still way off in the distance we waved them off and said we'd catch up on the next shuttle. Once the bus returned we realized why it was the only vehicle allowed when we spotted half a dozen of Dyrham's horned visitors on our way to the house. "They say they've got 154 deer" said my husband "How can they be so precise?" - I realized what the person in the ticket office had actually said was "150 fallow deer" - time to get his hearing checked I think.
The walk (or drive depending on your energy) is a steep one and I would seriously suggest that anyone who's not so good on their feet should take the bus. Being contrary souls we took the bus down and walked back which was probably illogical.
~It's hard not to be impressed by your first view~
As you head down the hill and approach the house it's a pretty spectacular looking building like something out of a Jane Austen novel. The building is long and low and reminded me of some of the old fabric mills in the North West - from the outside anyway. The bus drops you in a courtyard where you'll find the obligatory National Trust twin delights of the tea room and the souvenir shop, but if you pass these and go to the far side of the house you come to the gardens and the entrance to the house.
The National Trust website page lists fees for the grounds, the grounds and gardens, and the whole deal of grounds, gardens and house and I recommend you check them if you are considering a visit as they may have changed since we were there, and may change for the 2013 season. I hoped my sister could go for just the grounds but they insisted she had to buy the gardens ticket as well. She retaliated by pinching a few pears from the Perry Orchard.
Despite Dyrham having a high Wow Factor when you first see it as you come down the hill, it's one of the less memorable houses that I've visited with the National Trust and writing a year later I find it quite hard to distinguish the interior from many others I've seen since. The house was built in the late seventeenth century and was commissioned by William Blathwayt, the Secretary at War under William III. Today our politicians get into trouble over the rent on their London flats but three and a half centuries ago, an MP could be expected to build a stately home. Times have certainly changed.
The interior is lavishly decorated with both beautiful furniture and enormous paintings by leading artists of the time. What's most impressive to me was the scale of the rooms with their fabulous high ceilings, vast expanses of wooden flooring and sparkling chandeliers. A lot of it would not be to my personal taste (or most people's in our IKEA era) but you can soak up the spirit of past money that's soaked into every fireplace and window, every floor board of delicate chair. There's some clever trompe l'oeil which really does require some concentration to spot what's real and what's been faked. There's also an impressive collection of Delftware, the traditional Dutch and English blue and white ceramics that can be eye-wateringly valuable. If the high life is too much for you, there's also a good set of 'below stairs' rooms to visit where you can see how life was for the servants.
~Gardeners World or Tea Shop Tourism?~
The garden combines both formal lawns and flower beds and more relaxed and naturalised settings as well as the Perry Orchard which lured my sister and her thieving fingers. But the sky was looking threatening and the café was calling us. What we call 'Tea-shop tourism' is a mainstay of how we amuse ourselves in the summer months and how the National Trust makes money out of those of us who pay our annual fees and so skip the entrance fees at each property. The café at Dyrham was a disaster. There were not too many people in the queue when we arrived but from then on it just got longer and longer. I found a table and left my poor husband to the task of ordering and then didn't see him for another 25 minutes as the café staff seemed to go into complete melt-down. The service was a total disaster and our 'wandering round the gardens' time morphed into 'sitting tapping our fingers and checking our watches' time instead.
Our visit was in the late afternoon and we knew that the hundreds of people in the house and gardens would all want to go back to the car park at about the same time. So we decided to walk back up the hill to our car. This was actually my favourite part of the visit as we were pretty much alone and were able to stop and look at the splendid deers (not quite all 154 of them), relaxing under the trees and lording it over their guests.
If you find yourself in the area of the southern Cotswolds or in Bath, I do think this is quite a pleasant place to visit. If we hadn't already over-whelmed ourselves by too much other tourism earlier in the day, I think we could have enjoyed this place even more. In a perfect world and on a rare sunny summer day, this would be a gorgeous place to take a picnic and sit in the sun. At the end of October with rain in the air it wasn't quite so lovely. Maybe you should also take a Thermos flask just in case the café is having problems again.
Summary: A nice mix of things to see and do but take your own flask and sandwiches.