Records of Visits made by The Arts Society Blackmore Vale
This section provides an opportunity for those taking part to record the visit with words and pictures.
The Silk Mill at Whitchurch was established on the banks of the River Test in the early 1800s and has recently undergone extensive restoration. The grass upon which we were standing had been put in position the day before our visit and was perfect, green and weed-free, unlike many of our own lawns which are in a sorry state after the long hot summer. After a very welcome cup of coffee, our guide explained that the chalk stream, mill pond, leat and race, with Frog Island in the middle, are micro-managed throughout the year to ensure that the quality and flow of the water is pure.
Grayling, brown trout and Mallard ducks pootled about in the river as we learned that fast flowing water produces tightly-woven silk and slow flowing water gives a much looser weave.
After a fascinating morning at the Silk Mill, we then drove a short distance to The Bombay Gin Distillery where we had lunch on the top of a double-decker bus which has been turned into a cafe very successfully! After sampling a delicious quiche, salad and coleslaw, we headed off to the factory.
The Botanicals Glass Houses add a very contemporary look to the factory which was established in 1761 by Thomas Dakin. The constant warmth in the glasshouses is maintained by using the moist warm air rising from the copper stills. Butterflies from Africa live amongst the thick vegetation comprised of juniper, cassia bark, lemon trees, liqourice roots and other exotics all of which are used to flavour the gin. We saw tanks containing 100,000 litres of pure gin, 90% of which is exported – surprisingly, the UK market is only 10%.
At the end of the tour we enjoyed sampling a fruity cocktail in the late afternoon sunshine before our drive back to Dorset. Our thanks to Mary for organising an excellent day out!
A rather in auspicious start! The coach company had experienced a major breakdown that morning causing our coach to arrive very late. But many of the gathered party took advantage of the Waitrose café and we set off in good spirits with a very cheerful driver one hour late. Fortunately the A303 was clear and we made good time arriving at A la Ronde by 11.30am . A small, but fascinating and quirky property, it was originally built by two spinster cousins, Mary and Jane Parminter in 1790s. Some of the group walked up to their tiny chapel up the lane. The chapel even included a minute organ specially built for the space. This building also contained 4 small Alms houses and a school room for 5 – 6 children. Originally the whole building had been covered in shells but the maintenance was too difficult. In the main building, which we entered 8 at a time, we could see more of the enormous collection shells although we are unable to go up to the observatory which is lined with shells; it is now viewed through mirrors from the octagon floor. The cousins’ unusual artistic flare was evident in so many ways; I particularly liked their frieze made from birds’ feathers all around two of the rooms. Coffee in the garden overlooking the estuary was very pleasant and we were blessed with reasonable weather.
Due to our late start most of us had to eat our picnic lunches in the coach on our journey to Sand house north of Sidbury. Steve, our excellent driver certainly proved his skills in manoeuvering the large coach up the lane into a narrow entrance.
A complete contrast! Sand house has been in the Huish family since 1530 and the current inhabitants, cousins of the owners, gave us an amazing history lesson on the buildings through the centuries since the 1300s, including the original 15th century hall which is now a barn, and how the family has discovered the true story through the timber construction and decorations in various parts of the property. The terraced gardens were also very pretty although in need of an extra gardener or two.
After a welcome cup of tea and piece of home-made cake we drove back to Gillingham having had a very diversely, interesting and happy day.