diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 04, 2024

Location: Sherborne St John, Basingstoke, RG24 9HL [map]
Open: 10am-5pm (House open 11am-3pm)
Admission: £15.00
Website: nationaltrust.org.uk/hampshire/the-vyne
Four word summary: slimmed-down Tudor pile
Time to allow: a couple of hours

If you think of a typical National Trust property, this is it. Big old house, royal connections, guides in every room, exit via the scullery, nice gardens, separate walled garden, nice walk round the lake, bit of woodland, cosy tearoom, giftshop, extensive car park, dogs welcome. In this case it's from the reign of Henry VIII and originally belonged to his Lord Chamberlain, William Sandys, who built The Vyne to show off his rank and position. Contemporary records suggest it was built around four courtyards and rivalled Hampton Court for size, hence was "one of the most princely houses in goodly building in all Hampshire". Alas the next family to move in (circa 1653) knocked most of it down and remodelled the rest as a Palladian mansion, and it's a tweaked version of that you get to walk round today.

The hall is spectacular, a deliberately showy way to make an entrance, all stairs and galleries and twiddly ceilings in muted white and blue. It leads to what's thought to be the oldest 'long gallery' in England, 498 years old this year, lined by rippling linenfold oak panelling carved with crests and monograms. Unfortunately it was roped off during my visit, not for reasons of preservation but because insufficient staff were available, which if nothing else made for a good unobstructed photo. Other rooms I couldn't get into were the Stone Gallery underneath (door closed shut) and the private vault at the back of the chapel ("the stone starts to decay if people start breathing too close to it"). But the visitor route did include several period rooms, seven majestically-renovated tapestries, a wealth of stained glass in the aforementioned chapel, the obligatory scullery and a terribly rare map of London made in 1677. I think I saw about thirteen poundsworth, not the full fifteen. As usual you get most out of the circuit if you stop and ask questions.

Outside the house the landscaping is doing a lot of heavy lifting. The Lime Avenue is quite short and the gardens on the small side, but the lawns leading down to the lake are great for a picnic and the walk round the far side should fill a decent bit of time. As ever the walled garden is where the gardeners show off, the borders currently bobbing with lavender and awaiting their full burst of dahlias. The lodges at the north and south gates look highly intriguing with their scalloped-tile domed roofs, but the true oddity is the lofty brick summerhouse, one of Britain's oldest (circa 1632). Wander in, look up and it's easy to imagine how it was once used as a dovecote, rather harder to see it as a tearoom and baffling to think it was ever used for banqueting. As for the tree looming behind, the Hundred Guinea Oak, that's over 600 years old so Henry VIII would have seen it when he visited with Catherine of Aragon, and again when he came with Anne Boleyn.

Your problem with The Vyne may be getting there. By car, shove a postcode in your satnav, easy. By train the nearest station is Bramley which is closer than the NT website says it is but still 2 miles, and yes a mile of that is down a lane with no footpath. Don't do what I do and walk in from Basingstoke - that was 3 off-piste miles to the front gate but then an extra mile to gain admittance because you can only enter via the car park. As for a bus option the NT website amazingly offers only a pre-booked minibus which runs seven times a year, whereas you can get a number 14 to the end of the road in Bramley and walk for a mile if you plan carefully. I'm quite disappointed that the NT default to reach rural sites is inevitably a car or a taxi, never a mildly lengthy walk, as if they assume everyone's either cossetted or has the mobility of an 85 year old. The only green option to see this lovely old house, it seems, is to get on your bike.

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