‘A banker by hobby . . . a gardener by profession’

Along the banks of the Beaulieu River, just across from Buckler’s Hard in Hampshire, and just a few miles south of Beaulieu itself, Exbury Gardens were the inspiration of one of the scions of the Rothschild family, Lionel Nathan de Rothschild. Created in the 1920s and covering more than 81 hectares (200 acres), Exbury Gardens were laid out to house Rothschild’s famous collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, including more than 1000 hybrids that he developed.

EXBURY MAP

We visited at the beginning of July along with Hannah and Philippa and their families while on holiday in the New Forest.

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Of course, most of the rhododendrons had flowered by then, and the display earlier in the year must have been truly spectacular.

But there are still plenty of lovely things to see: one of the largest rock gardens in Europe, lakes and water gardens, havens of tranquillity throughout the gardens, and slightly more formal herbaceous beds close to the house (which is not open to the public). There is one part of the garden that is only accessible by a narrow gauge steam train.

I never cease to be inspired by the originators of gardens and parkland, and the visions they had centuries ago or more recently as they planted trees that they never expected to see grow to maturity. They have, through their visions, left much of beauty for posterity.

 

Here a henge, there a henge . . .

On 2 July we set off from home just before 10 am, heading south towards the New Forest in Hampshire, where we stayed for a week with our daughters Hannah and Philippa and their families.

The trip south was about 143 miles, on the route we took. That was south on the M5 motorway, over the Cotswolds to Swindon, then on south via Salisbury to our destination.

We broke our journey at Avebury in Wiltshire, a World Heritage Site, a dozen miles south of Swindon.

Avebury has two attractions: Avebury Henge and stone circles, and Avebury Manor, once the home of Alexander Keiller (of the marmalade family) who spent many years in the 1930s discovering the archaeology of this ancient Neolithic site.

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Avebury village and stone circle.

There is something enchanting about stone circles and , lost in the mists of time, it’s hard to imagine why and how ancient Neolithic people erected these thousands of years ago.

Entering Avebury you certainly do not get an impression of just how big the earthworks are. It’s only when you are on the ground, and see the massive ditches (the henges) that the full impact of their construction—by hand—using the most rudimentary of tools like antlers, really hits you. Of course there are other henges in the vicinity: Stonehenge and Woodhenge, to name just a couple. But this Wiltshire landscape for some reason is an area of considerable Neolithic activity. Due to my current disability, and not wanting to spend too much time walking over uneven surfaces, we did not explore the henge and stone circle as much as I would have wanted.

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Avebury Manor is a 16th century building, that was restored by Keiller. But in 2011 its refurbishment was the subject of the BBC TV series The Manor Reborn, by a group of experts in collaboration with the National Trust. There is no consistent theme throughout the manor’s decoration, each room representing a different period in its history. It’s an interesting concept, but from my perspective this doesn’t allow a visitor satisfactorily to develop a solid impression of the house and its worth. There’s no doubt that it is a beautiful building in a rural setting. I thought the mishmash of historical themes was inappropriate and it would have been better to have chosen a single era for its decoration. nevertheless I do recognise that the BBC’s and experts’ involvement in this way have probably helped save the building in a better state for the future.

Almost 500 years and 21 monarchs later . . .

Yes, almost 500 years and 21 monarchs, not counting the Commonwealth (1649-1660) under Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard, nor the joint monarchy of William III and Mary II as two.

Built between 1539 and 1540, during the reign of Tudor monarch Henry VIII, Calshot Castle has proudly guarded the approaches to Southampton Water in southern England under almost continual occupation since then.

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The south face of Calshot Castle, with an 18th century extension on the left.

Situated at the tip of Calshot Spit it commands a view over The Solent towards the Isle of Wight to the south, and north along Southampton Water that leads to one of England’s premier and ancient ports.

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Looking across The Solent to the Isle of Wight.

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Looking north up Southampton Water towards the Port of Southampton.

Of course it has undergone several modifications during the intervening centuries, but from the basement to the roof it’s still possible to see some of the earliest Tudor constructions. It last saw active service during the Second World War, and anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the roof. Calshot Castle is now in the care of English Heritage. We visited there during our recent holiday in Hampshire. It was quite windy the day we headed along Calshot Spit. I thought that perhaps we would spend at most 30 minutes looking round the castle. We must have been there for almost two hours. Calshot Castle is fascinating, and its history just oozes from the fabric of the building.

The Royal Air Force maintained an air station there for many decades, and it was the site for seaplane and flying boat operations. There’s an interesting museum in the castle detailing this. Calshot was also the site for the 1929 Schneider Trophy air race. Today, the original hangars have been given a new lease of life as a recreation center. A lifeboat station and coastguard tower have also been constructed alongside the castle.