Part of my new National Trust Travels blog series…
My husband and I were thrilled to receive National Trust memberships this past Christmas; we’d been banging on about wanting them for years, but firstly we hadn’t had a car, and then we’d been saving up for our wedding, so it had never been the right time. 2015 is definitely our year! Still, it was March (!) before we had a free weekend. It was pretty grey and ominous but we grabbed our wipe-clean footwear and headed out into the mist.
We decided to stick pretty close to home in Gloucestershire, and make Newark Park our first membership visit.
With an impressive 450 years of history, Newark Park (or “new work”, from where the name came) was originally a Tudor hunting lodge, completed during the reign of Edward, partially constructed with building materials from the nearby (and recently dissolved) Kingswood Abbey. The building was enlarged and improved over generations and generations, evolving through a Georgian courtly manor house to a Victorian stately home. In 1949 the crumbling building was handed over to the National Trust, whereafter it was used as a nursing home throughout the 50s and 60s. After complete renovations (by the late eccentric Texan architect Robert Parsons) the house was opened to the public in 2001.
The thing I most loved about my afternoon at Newark Park was this: they let you sit on the furniture. Not for this place the unfriendly velvet rope. We were barely out of the car before the first helpful guide was telling us to grab a hot drink from the catering pavilion and take it in to the parlour and sit in front of the log burner and warm up a bit. Sitting and enjoying a blueberry bakewell in the shabby splendour of one of the front sitting rooms was an amazing way to start our day. And after we finished our tea and made our way through the rooms of the house, we realised that the whole “sit on the sofas” policy continued. People were perched on claw-footed Victorian chaises, lounging in the lounges, feeling how heavy the handles were on that 17th century chest of drawers, sat drawn up to the huge dining table, admiring the art on the opposite wall from the right vantage point.
Such a small thing, but it really made the building come alive in a new way, interacting with the rooms in the way which they were meant for. The views from the top floor were breathtaking, even though we couldn’t see as far as you purportedly can due to the mist. Newark Park is the southern end of the Cotswold escarpment with views down the Severn Valley. You could gaze out of the windows for absolute hours (they helpfully provide maps and binoculars!).
Also on the top floor was a rather exciting bell rope. Our interest obviously piqued the attention of the nearby guide, who came over to tell us that it rang a bell situated under the metal dragon on the roof. It used to be rung an hour before meal times, so that any family members out on the estate would hear it and get back in good time. Something eager must have shown on my face, as the guide was quick to say that they only let children ring it. Boo. Also on the top floor was a small exhibition of mixed-media works by a local artist – I understand these exhibitions change quite often so there’s always something new to check out.
We’ll definitely have to go back to Newark Park in the summer – I wanted to do the 3.5 mile walk around the original Georgian bridle-path through the estate, but it really was too muddy, although we did make the circuit around the immediate building and down to the sham castle or folly and the lake. The house itself was a quick affair – a leisurely 45 minutes of ambling from room to room – but the true beauty of this quirky house is from the windows, and in its walks. I’ll be back with a blanket and a hamper before the year is out for sure.