“ Stately home „
Forde Abbey is situated east of Exeter near the town of Chard in Devon. It is a grand residence of the Roper family but they are not the first in a long line of residents. As the name suggests, Forde Abbey was once a monastery belonging to the Cistercian monks over 800 years ago. It was one of the richest and most learned monasteries in the country and you can certainly tell! The house is huge with large towers and now enclosed cloisters. Unfortunately, after the dissolution in 1539 the monastery lay empty for 100 years until 1649 when it was transformed back into a house. The area of the house open to the public is quite large but there is a substantial part that is still occupied by the Roper family. The parts that are open to the public are wonderfully free of ropes and barriers. You can wonder around as if you were in someone's house and admire the views from the windows, the small paintings up close and the wonderful furniture. Each room had information leaflets pertaining to objects in that room that told you enough to make them interesting rather than tiresome. My favourite room had to be the drawing room with its fantastic Mortlake wall tapestries and the amazing views across the 30 acre gardens. Forde Abbey still has the feel of a family home with some of the objects, such as the harpsichord and the bedspreads, made by members of the modern day family. The family chapel was connected to the house by the enclosed cloisters once used by the Cistercian monks. This was one of my favourite areas of the house, full of plants, sunlight and huge fossils! The gardens of Forde Abby are award winning and it is easy to see why. The 30 acres of gardens include everything from herbaceous borders, arboretums, kitchen gardens and even a bog garden! This is a lovely place to wander about either before or after you visit the house. I would strongly recommend bringing a picnic and making a full day of it. There is plenty of grass for the children to run about. If you don't want to take a picnic, there is a restaurant and tearoom in the undercroft that I would highly recommend. I am normally pretty sceptical about these places but I'm glad to say that this one proved me wrong. The prices were very reasonable and the food was wonderful. A lot of the produce served in the tearoom is actually from the kitchen gardens. You can have anything from a light lunch to a cream tea (Oh how I love this part of the country!). The opening times can be a bit complicated so check carefully before you go. We went in the late morning and didn't realise that the house didn't open until 1pm but we had time to look round the gardens. The opening hours are as follows - Garden - daily throughout the year 10am - 4.30pm. House - Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun and bank holidays from the 1st of April to the end of October 1pm - 4.30pm. There is also a garden centre where you can buy rare and unusual plants for a lasting souvenir of your trip to Forde Abbey. If you want a more permanent souvenir then a trip to the resident blacksmith is a must. It is a working forge and you can watch the blacksmith at work or admire some of the pieces he has for sale. There was everything from candlesticks to garden seats and gates. Unfortunately it was a little bit out of my price range but if I win the lottery then you never know! Forde Abbey has enough to keep you occupied for a few hours but in addition with the gardens it really does make for a grand day out!