Monday 2 March 2015

Our latest National Trust Visit - Stoneywell, Leicestershire

Stoneywell was acquired by the National Trust in January 2013 and has recently opened for visitors. It's only the third property owned by the Trust in Leicestershire and, as such, is quite close by. 

We've been waiting to visit for what seems like ages. One of Martin's friends works there and she's been keeping us posted on what's been happening in the run up to it finally opening to the public earlier on this year.

The property was designed in 1899 by Ernest Gimson, one of the most inspiring and influential architect-designers of the British Arts and Crafts Movement, as a Summer home for his brother Sydney. He also built the two neighbouring properties for his other brother and sister. 

Whilst the property was originally built for Gimson's brother, Sydney, as a holiday home, it was fully occupied by Sydney's son, Donald, and his family for many years, before being acquired by the National Trust.  Inside the house, the property has been restored to how it would have been in the 1950s, which is when Donald has his happiest memories of living there with his family.

Stoneywell is a Grade II listed property set in the Charnwood Forest.  It's the only remaining cottage of its kind in Leicestershire and is one of only a handful of notable Arts and Crafts houses in England. 

As well as the cottage, gardens, outbuildings and woodland, Stoneywell retains many of its original contents and inside the property has been laid out in the way it would have been in the 1950s.

The latest National Trust magazine had a big spread on the property and confirmed that it is now fully open for business so we decided to take mum and dad for dad's birthday. 

Because of the location and the access arrangements for the property, it's one of those places where you need to book your visit. You can't just turn up. Booking is easy enough and can be done on line. You book an hour slot and need to arrive within this time to be able to park. 

Once parked, a shuttle bus service takes you a short drive to the property, where there is a guided tour lasting about 3/4 of an hour. 

The weather forecast wasn't the best but we decided to go ahead with our visit anyway, chucking all the wet weather gear in the boot just in case. As it happened the weather surprised us. No rain at all, though some biting winds on the car park which is quite exposed to the elements. 

We only had to wait a few minutes for the mini-bus, which took us down the road and dropped us at the property. It is literally five minutes away. 
We were greeted by National Trust staff, including our friend, and told a little bit about the layout of the site before heading off down the path towards the house, which is not at all visible from the entrance, which makes it quite intriguing, what were we going to find? 

We were lucky enough to be accompanied by a guide who told us a little bit about the gardens on our walk to the house. She told us about the 4 trees given to the family as a 25th wedding anniversary present and showed us the original Stony Well, from which the property got it's name. The well was shared by Stoneywell and the neighbouring property, which Gimson also built, for his sister, and is on the boundary of the two properties and accessible from both sides. 

As you turn the sweep of the bend in the path, the property comes in to view and is a real delight. A beautiful, higgledy piggledy, Hansel and Gretel looking building, which really appears to just come right out of the rock and the countryside around it, which was just how Gimson wanted it to appear. 
It was quite grey on our visit and we can only imagine how lovely it would look with clear blue skies and sunshine, we will most definitely have to make a return visit to find out. 

Once inside the property each room is unexpectedly spacious and does look just how it would have done in the 1950s, with lots of original furniture, that was bespoke made specifically for this beautiful family home, and plenty of personal bits and pieces.
There are lots of nooks and crannies and quirky touches, including different size and shaped windows, with amazing and completely different views from every aspect, narrow windy staircases and a few few steep steps and some low ceilings. 

It is a house where you are encouraged to really come in and experience what it would have been like, to sit on the window seats, to admire the views and to feel the wood of the old furniture and imagine what life it has seen. 

There is something to see in every direction you look and I am sure when we visit again, we will notice things that we didn't see this time. 

Back outside, standing back and really admiring the view of the house. the attention to detail is something that you don't necessarily notice on first glance.  Fortunately the guide was on hand to point out some lovely detailing, particularly on the roof, where the tiles start out very small at the top and gradually grow in size as the roof comes down to meet the ornate, but subtle and prettily detailed guttering and downpipes. 
We wondered around the back of the house, past the tennis courts, up to the old fort, where the children used to play for another lovely view of the house. Just imagine, growing up somewhere like this. There would have been no need for games consoles or constant TV, children could run wild with their imagination in the gardens, which would have made a very adventurous playground. 
There are lots of signs of Spring in the garden at the moment, with drifts of bulbs poking through all over the place and masses of variety of rhododendron just coming into bud. In another few weeks the gardens will be ablaze with colour and that is something we really want to see. 
We finished our wander with a closer look at the old well and the plunge pool beside, which looked very chilly today. You can just see the steps to enter the pool if you look closely. 
We then headed back to the old stables and the tea room for tea and cake ..... Mandatory on a visit to a National Trust property, you know, before catching the next mini-bus back to the car park and heading for home. 
Because of the booking system and the size of the mini-bus everything works really well, with you never feeling that the place is crowded and giving you a real chance to explore and take photos without lots of people in the background, always a bonus. 

We really enjoyed our visit and would definitely recommend it. We spent about two hours there in total, but only had a short wander around the garden. In warmer weather I am sure we would make more of the garden and the woods. I am sure there will be a other post sometime soon, where I hope to show some blue skies and flowers in bloom. Watch this space.

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