Lacock Abbey's landscaped grounds and hints of the village combine as an introduction to the attraction of this historical haven.
Where can you find an abbeyesque location for multiple movie series, the embodiment of a world-leading photography museum and an enchanting village, all set in a sublime landscape of gardens and rural countryside? The answer is at Lacock in Wiltshire.
There is also an abundance of pubs in the village and immediate surrounding area.
So why have I waited more than 35 years to visit this splendid assemblage, practically on our doorstep? And why now? At least that answer is relatively simple - "Away-day Fun". This initial account does not have much in the way of text, attempting to convey the atmosphere and its quirks through a fairly eclectic suite of photos perhaps appropriate for the home of such an august temple to that art. There are some links to explore for extra details.
Joanna and Tim Cave and Shelley-ann (Shan) and I had all had careers and brought up children and lived next door to each other for going on 20 years before we all found ourselves retired and each of us a National Trust member. It seemed like an opportunity to saunter out for lunch, from time-to-time putting our memberships to good use for a little intellectual improvement. Nothing too taxing, every 4-8 weeks, to somewhere closish.
Shan had visited Lacock with her sister Kerry 4 years ago and the Caves had chalked up previous visits, too. Even I had made a solo drive through the village when returning from business in Corsham (like Lacock, in Wiltshire) and eschewing the boredom and unpleasantness of the M4.
And so, with Tim at the wheel, we set off mid-morning for the 40 miles from Faringdon for our Away-day Fun.
William Henry Fox Talbot (11/2/1800 – 17/9/1877)
Fox Talbot inherited Lacock Abbey at the ripe old age of 5 months in 1800. He became a polymath who was eventually renowned as a pioneer of photography from around 1840 onwards. As this story isn't about the man himself, curious readers should visit the splendid museum at Lacock Abbey and try to plan it for a quiet time of day to avoid being rushed by fellow visitors. There is a lot to see.
The abbey's grounds are entered through a restored barn that houses the museum and the ticket office for it and the "homestead". We started with the former before strolling through the grounds to the latter.
Above: [top] The main entrance to Lacock Abbey (which is now the tour exit leaving visitors quite a trek around the South Gallery on the left to a rear entrance, which would've been splendid for us had the trek not taken place in the pouring rain) [row 2] "That" window in 2023, the 1835 original reputedly "the oldest extant photographic negative made in a camera"; another abbey window with a similar feel and what appears to be a plain sarcophagus [row 3] a door in the more utilitarian part of the abbey; one of 27 figures modelled in 1755-6 directly in terracotta and baked in the abbey orchard - evidently a student placed a sugar cube on the goat's nose in 1906 delighting the then owner. Successive owners keep replacing the cube [bottom] The abbey has its own brewery on a scale that knocks most home brewers out of the park.
Actually, by the time the infant Fox Talbot inherited the "Abbey", it wasn't really an abbey at all and hadn't been for more than 2 centuries. The original abbey was constructed in the early 13th century but, following the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid-16th century, it was sold to Sir William Sharington who demolished the abbey church, using the stone to extend the building, converting it into a house.
And then there's a "garden"
A little more haphazard than many of the sculptured estates, Lacock produced some delights from its multifarious aspects from flowering plants to manicured downland.
Above: Some weird stuff, a busy bee and an abundant rambling rose that lights up what is the otherwise underwhelming rose garden.
Below: The highlight of the rose garden was a little folly in which Joanna and Shan tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to suppress their mirth at the concept of the photo.
Movies and TV series
We need to pause briefly to enumerate the occasions in which Lacock has been chosen as a TV and Film location in recent years. Clearly, despite its more tangible attractions, there are the ephemeral ones, too. These include: Downton Abbey, Wolf Hall, Harry Potter, The Hollow Crown and Tudor Tennis. I have no intention of producing an exhaustive list but a closer approximation is available.
Above: (top) There have to be sheep in it; (bottom, l-r) Even fallen over trees keep growing; I'm a bit of a fan of iron fencing.
Following swiftly on the tail of the cerebral stuff - history of photography, the "Abbey" and the delightfully eclectic grounds - it was time for more of the earthly pleasures of the village itself. We repaired to the Red Lion for beer and grub. As is our wont in such circumstances we all had beer, Joanna and Shan had ginger beer and Tim and I had sampled of what the brewery had to offer. Also customary for our Away-day Fun expeditions, Shan and Tim had burgers and Joanna and I had fish and chips. This tradition goes back to a couple of en-famille summer forays to the Ionian Islands in which outrageous behaviour occurred when the hot weather forced us to sample watermelon flavoured Bacardi Breezers in the early evening to combat the intense heat. Old habits die hard but UK summers demand different benchmarks.
The food and drink was competent for a brewery chain pub in what turns out to have been a significant visitor destination, albeit on a Monday when most young people were ensconced in school.
But the village itself has retained a huge amount of its traditional charm that will nudge perfect status once they can eliminate the residual addiction to cars in its centre. We managed to park quite easily in the car park on the outskirts, all of three minutes walking from the main entrance to the museum and abbey complex.
As with most picturesque English villages, there is an element of the chocolate box but also a pleasingly electric mix of Tudor (perhaps even earlier) through to Victorian and even Edwardian architecture. Said cars spoil the aesthetic to an extent but real people live there so c'est la vie. The village needs its real people.
Above: speaking of chocolate box ... see below for the shop's entrance.
Below: Cheek by jowl whimsy, a lorra lorra chocolate and a promise of an Historic Dog Wheel (wtmb).
Above: Tim contemplates another Wadworth pub, The George Inn, claimant of the title of being Lacock's oldest and continuing the whimsy with its rather charming Dog Library ... I'd be prepared to wager that the longest stick was deposited there by the smallest Parson's Terrier.
Below: not everyone is quite as enamoured with dogs (or their owners, at least, who neglect to clean up after a dog has shed its load); one of many cosy corners that give the village added charm.
Above: Lacock's charm is underlined by a clear brook that feeds into the Avon River a stone's throw down stream from here; perhaps most whimsical of all - did this penguin travel up the brook for lunch from the Avon (NOT the Avon of Stratford fame although both find their way eventually into the Severn)
Above; (four pictures) Lacock is certainly a place to visit with friends and Shan and Tim explore the garden of yet another Lacock public house, the Sign of the Angel; Joanna, Shan and Tim share a welcome bench; a couple of friends and a poodle outside at the Red lion; conversation in the spacious garden behind the Stables Cafe.
So, if you think I might have been a bit "bah humbug", you couldn't be more wrong. There is so much to see that it's tempting to suggest minor adjustments. The National Trust does a fabulous job, in this case balancing the quintessentially English with the need to fund what must be an extraordinary balancing act. I'll definitely be back. I need to go much more slowly around the photography museum for starters.