Montacute, Somerset: Montacute House

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Another stately home, and more Damian Lewis connections.  Same old, same old, in other words.  (I’m not even THAT into Damian Lewis.  I mean, sure I like the guy (and he’s foxy in glasses) but not as much as the frequency with which I post about him would have you believe.)  Montacute House, in Somerset, is another one of the many places where Wolf Hall was filmed, even though the house was built well after Henry’s reign.  (But you can probably see why they used it; it’s magnificent looking.)

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And yes, it’s another National Trust property, but for once that was a good thing, since it meant it was open on Easter.  As we’re not religious, and there’s only so much time you can spend eating chocolate (and that’s coming from someone with an extreme sweet tooth, I think it’s because I gobble all the chocolate down in seconds, so although I can consume a vast quantity, it doesn’t take me long!), my boyfriend and I needed something to fill our time on Easter Sunday, so this fit the bill nicely.  We got there pretty soon after the grounds opened, and found out the house wasn’t due to open for another hour, so we spent more time wandering around the gardens than we normally would have.  (Admission is £11.20 sans Gift Aid for non-members, or more realistically (because I know I usually get guilted into these things), £12.40 with it.)

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At least all the daffodils and tulips were in bloom.  I’m not a huge flower person, in that I don’t know much about all the different types (and I certainly wouldn’t ever dare try to grow any), but I can appreciate a nice garden (as long as I don’t have to spend too long looking at it), and I’m especially partial to those daffodils with the yellow centres that kind of look like eggs.

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However, I’m much more the type to explore secret passageways and outbuildings, so I spent most of my time wandering into mysterious hedge tunnels, peering down the hole in the ice house (which was full of empty Tango bottles, like every other ice house.  Who are all these litterbug Tango drinkers?  I don’t think I’ve ever even had the stuff), and venturing into pavilions that stank of rotting flesh.  Upon discovering an animal skull that still had maggots crawling on it on one of the window ledges, I realised why they smelled so bad (honestly, I think they were probably just old and a bit mouldy, as the skull was picked pretty clean – I’m using artistic licence here).

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The house finally opened, so we ran inside before it got filled up with children on the Easter Egg Hunt.  I feel like at this point I should just have a National Trust disclaimer or something I can direct people to, but I’ll say it again anyway: like the vast majority of National Trust properties, Montacute House did not have a great deal of information inside about the past owners.  As usual, the little fact sheets that were available were mainly concerned with the furnishings.  And it was pretty clear from the start that Montacute was a very art-focused property, portraiture in particular.

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Well, portraiture, and that fabulous bas-relief on the right (I have no idea if bas-relief is the accurate term, as I’m not good with art, but I just spent ten minutes trying to find out what that thing is called, and bas-relief is the closest I can find.  If anyone knows what the correct term is, please let me know!) depicting a woman hitting her drunken husband with a shoe, and the husband subsequently taken off to be publicly shamed for being drunk whilst watching a baby.

Room used during the filming of wolf hall - no idea which episode though  

In addition to Wolf Hall being filmed on the grounds, there’s also been some productions filmed inside the house; the room pictured on the left was still in disarray after being used for some unspecified BBC production, and they filmed that terrible Johnny Depp film The Libertine using that bed on the right (not knocking the Earl of Rochester, his poetry is lewdly amazing, but that film really did not do him justice).  And I swear one of the volunteers mentioned something Jane Austeny being filmed there as well.  A range of historical eras are represented through the furnishings of the rooms, so I guess it all works.

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The top floor was the glorious Great Hall (apparently the longest surviving one in England, as in, literally the longest in terms of length, not that it’s the oldest surviving one), and it was devoted entirely to a joint National Portrait Gallery/Montacute House exhibition depicting famous figures from the time the house was built, so lots of Tudors and Stuarts.  This exhibit did have extensive signage by each painting, and larger fact sheets about the fashions of the time (the kind of thing you’d expect from the National Portrait Gallery), so that was a nice change from the rest of the house.

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I did notice that there were little scavenger hunt sheets located in each room, where you were meant to find various animals hidden in the furniture or paintings; since I got cheated out of the Easter Egg Hunt by virtue of being old, I freely indulged in trying to find all the animals, though it was harder than expected.

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Outside the house, there was a tearoom with the usual National Trust offerings (sadly no special chocolate cornflake nests or anything for Easter, so I just had a boring old shortbread) and of course a shop, but that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.  Montacute House is undeniably handsome, and the gardens were quite nice as well, but save for the National Portrait Gallery space, and that thing that is probably a bas-relief, it was all just a little dull really (after seeing Longleat just a couple days before, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of whimsy at Montacute). Maybe I’ve just been to too many stately homes in the past few months but I’m kind of over them.  Still, it’s probably quite nice if you’re not as house-weary as me.  3/5.

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