Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Ham House

Last Wednesday morning we threw together a picnic using Mr M's fresh bread and some rather marvellous vintage cheddar. With lunch happily tucked up in my bicycle basket, we followed the national cycle route along busy bus lanes, past ear-splitting roadworks, through happy dawdlers enjoying the quiet cycle path (ding-a-ling-a-ling-get-out-of-the-way), curving with the river and going easy over the erupting tree roots. We were pedalling too fast to take pictures of the beautiful boat houses and house boats on the other side of the river, the pretty lock house at Teddington and the many water foul ensuring that the route was rarely silent. As the path turned away from the river, Ham House emerged majestic from the green, looking out over meadow, wood and water.
We locked up the bikes and made our way to the gardens, with Mr M's bicycle seat poking out from his backpack, to wolf down our sarnies and Scotch eggs on a bench. At the 1 o'clock mark we joined the history tour and spent 45 minutes learning about the gardens and the restoration project that is underway. Roger, our guide, was marvellous - he had a dash of Michael Aspall about him. It was good to hear that  they are working hard to restore the gardens to their former glory - they look rather empty at the moment. With the exception of the Cherry Garden (see the photo next to the bench - there are two cherry trees in large terracotta pots further to the left to give it the name), there's not much drama. Having concluded the tour at the Ice House (which used to be packed with snow and could stay cold for up to 15 months, don't you know), we wandered into the main house. We rarely go inside National Trust properties when we visit opting to spend hours getting lost in the grounds and enjoying the peace and quiet. But, frankly, we needed to warm up. I was poorly-equipped for the chill factor knowing that I would get too hot on the bike.
We stepped into the entrance hall, past the original oak benches on either side, and were taken aback by the wooden carving - the staircase, oh my - that staircase! Carved to within an inch of its life - armour, bowls of fruit, swords - astonishing. The library was a delight as was the Green Closet which we could only glimpse from afar. The beautiful wallpaper - with flocking, oh yes - and the incredible tapestry. Such tiny stitches. Lots to see and nose at. The small detail at every turn was a delight whether it was an ornate lock or beautifully carved window catch.
With both of us flagging it was time for coffee and cake from the Orangery. We sat looking out over the organic kitchen plots, oo-ing and ah-ing at the different squash and chard growing happily, and smiling slightly at the thoroughly nibbled cabbage.
I'm so pleased that we finally made it to Ham House. It's well worth a visit, particularly if you tie it into a trip to Petersham Nurseries. It's our closest National Trust property and whilst small, spirits you away to the countryside. The grounds aren't huge nor as decorative as Nymans, in fact as we ate our sandwiches looking out over the main garden of large squares of lawn we couldn't work out what was missing (we found out later from Roger that it was the statues and large terracotta pots long gone, sold by the family to raise funds) but the house is pretty with a lot to ooh at inside and heck, it's a National Trust house with gardens and a nice little cafe and shop in London. So, with our sugar levels happily topped up, we unchained our bikes from the original railings of the property (we weren't the first, Mr Conservationist, honest...) and pedalled home for dinner feeling a little more cultured than we had done at breakfast.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely stunning. I love days out like this(apart from the cycling, I haven't ridden a bike since I was a child). Gorgeous pictures and that cake looks stunning :)