Warminster, Wiltshire: Longleat

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And so begins my account of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, the first of many posts (I may have to start posting twice weekly again at some point to get them all in). As usual, we left the planning of the weekend until the very last minute (almost literally; we booked hotels on Wednesday night for the Friday) which meant we weren’t going any further afield than England.  As it turns out, we began our weekend much like the one two years ago – in Wiltshire, but this time, instead of venturing north, we eventually headed west, into Somerset.  The trip didn’t start off particularly well, as not only was the weather notably terrible (very cold and rainy), we somehow drove over a large bolt, and spent a sizeable portion of the first day trying to find a tyre shop that was open on a bank holiday, and then waiting to have the tyre plugged.  However, we still made it to Longleat, albeit quite a bit later than we originally planned, meaning we missed our chance to see Lord Bath’s erotic murals (which was obviously extremely disappointing).

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As we do not have children, we reckoned we could safely skip the whole adventure park/safari thing and just go see the house (though sadly, as I just mentioned, not the murals), as it was about half the price that way (still over 15 quid), though we did get a glimpse of the safari park whilst driving through the massive estate, and it looked more like a farm park to me, quite frankly, unless all the exotic animals were hiding somewhere (all I saw were some deer and sheep).   The house is a real Tudor pile, and in good stately home tradition, is reputed to be quite haunted.  Because the Marquess of Bath clearly doesn’t like to disappoint his visitors, he has guaranteed that you will see a “ghost” through the use of special effects throughout (I don’t want to ruin it for you, but keep your eyes and ears peeled)!

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If you’ve heard of the current Marquess of Bath (the 7th), you will probably know that he is something of an eccentric who is known for his womanising (hence the erotic murals), and his flamboyant dress sense (that’s him dressed like a lion on the left, though presumably that was to advertise the safari park, and is not part of his normal attire).  Being odd myself (though not wealthy enough to fully pursue that oddness), I very much appreciated the special touches his idiosyncrasies lent to the house.  There was a much greater array of fascinating objects than in the average stately home, chief among them one of the coats Charles I was alleged to have worn to his execution (I say alleged, since there seems to be quite a few of these floating around, and even if he wore multiple shirts (according to the legend, to keep a shiver from the cold being mistaken for fear), they still can’t all be real), complete with bloodstains.

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I also liked the way modern portraits of Lord Bath and his family were intermingled with his large collection of antique art, which made for an eye-pleasing mix.

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And fortunately, even though we didn’t get to see the murals of Lord Bath’s many lady friends, there was some of his artwork in the house, including a few slightly erotic pictures.  In fact, the room holding his paintings was probably my favourite in the house, especially that piece on the left.

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I was, however, slightly dismayed to find that children were encouraged to dress up to tour the house, being pulled into a special room upon arrival to do so, but there was no such provision for adults (it was bad enough missing out on the Easter egg hunt).  I mean, to be honest, some of the “children” were quite large, and the costumes they were wearing definitely would have fitted me, so I felt like they could have offered something for adults, even just an amusing hat of some sort (since Lord Bath himself seems partial to amusing hats and robes).

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But no matter, I guess, because his house was interesting enough even without the aid of costumes.  There was some sort of WWI exhibit taking place, which seemed largely to consist of a fact sheet in each room saying how it was used during the war, but one room had a specific WWI display case containing some artefacts from John Alexander Thynne, who would have become the 6th Marquess of Bath had he not been killed in the War (and nicely mustachioed he was, too, poor lad).

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I already mentioned the “hauntings” but there were a few other secret touches throughout the house, most notably a former privy on one of the upper floors, which played hilarious sound effects if you dared to crack the door, and a holographic “spirit” near the site where some human remains had been discovered (holograms do not photograph well).

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Our admission included the gardens as well, and we were excited to see the Lunar and Celestial mazes, but unfortunately they weren’t open to the public as labyrinths until the hedges grew in a bit more (there is what is apparently one of the largest hedge mazes in Britain in the Adventure Park, though it’s meant to take a good 45 minutes to find your way out, which is more time than I would have wanted to spend being lost).

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However, we did venture into the “Secret Garden,” which was apparently secret because it contained so many strange multi-breasted statues (seriously, the one has like twenty baps).  Almost made up for not seeing the murals, in a way.

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I’m not entirely sure where the gardens end and the Adventure Park technically begins, because there were no gates between them and no one taking tickets, so I worry we may have inadvertently strayed into the Adventure Park, though as no one seemed to officially care, I guess it didn’t matter that much.  This meant we got to experience a mirror maze, Lady Bath’s old-ass miscellany room (I honestly don’t remember what this section was called, it was just a bunch of antique-ish crap in glass cases), and most excitingly, the Bat Cave, where bats were just freely flying around, and you could watch them munching on apples inches away from your face.  I love bats, and these ones were particularly adorable (I didn’t even mind dodging the guano).

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I was mainly lured into the Adventure Park type area by the intoxicating aroma of hot, sweet deep-fat frying, but upon finding it was only those standard grease-bomb doughnuts (I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, since I knew damn well I wouldn’t find funnel cakes or elephant ears in Britain), settled for the largest “regular” 99 Flake I’ve ever seen (actually, my boyfriend got that, and I ordered some malty surprise ice cream, but upon seeing how much bigger his cone was, promptly claimed it for myself).  It gave me a terrible stomachache though, so I guess I got what was coming to me for stealing my boyfriend’s ice cream.

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Anyway, aside from the ice cream stomachache, and not getting to see the murals, Longleat was a pretty good outing.  It certainly wasn’t quite as big of a tourist trap as I was expecting (at least if you stick to the house; the Adventure Park is another story), and Lord Bath’s quirkiness really added a lot to the experience.  (By the way, if you do want to see those murals, get there around 10:45 for the tour of the private wing.)  I’m not sure if it was worth 15 quid, but it was definitely one of the more interesting stately homes I’ve seen.  4/5.

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5 comments

  1. Nice description & images. I was interested in the sword in the stone alike “Excalibur” theme. What was that about? I mean, the sword looks “goethiclly” creepy that didn’t see any relations to the exhibition, but very curious interesting display. 🙂 Ronald.

    1. The sword in the stone was part of the mirror maze, which was King Arthur themed. King Arthur has nothing to do with the house, so I’m not sure why it had that theme, but I guess the sword does make sense within the context of the maze!

    1. Maybe the erotic art is a more recent addition? Lord Bath seems quite aged in his self-portraits, so perhaps he took up painting rather late in life.

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