We have been so blessed this autumn with glorious weather. Those that haven’t been out to appreciate the display that nature affords have missed a trick. The colours of this season make it my favourite of the four seasons and when the sun makes an appearance in autumn one is compelled to grab the opportunity to get out and explore.
With this in mind I took myself out to Forde Abbey. The abbey and gardens are stunningly beautiful at this time of year and so much more impressive than the display at Stourhead, a near neighbour. I had been to both sites before but the contrast between them is marked. The crowds flock to Stourhead with its reputation of beauty, its use as a film location and it being part of a National Trust (NT) property. These benefits make it a busy, popular and well-known choice of destination especially for those with annual NT membership. Many, including myself, enter Stourhead at the presentation of their annual pass but here an opening of the wallet is required. Forde Abbey is unknown to many, privately owned, off the beaten track, in an area of the country not known for its beauty (though this should be robustly disputed) but proved to display autumn in all its glory.
After eventually navigating my way to the abbey (it had been a few years since I had been there), the approach brings the visitor in along its main drive. Either side tower trees that shield from the sun and create a natural green and orange tunnel. After parking up and buying my ticket, I wander through the kitchen gardens. It is clearly evident that it is the end of the season; there are deserted flowerbeds being prepped for the winter but there still remains an abundance of flowers and colour that makes me stop and take it in. Even more noticeable are the unexpected bees and butterflies enjoying the delights that these flowers still have to offer and the late sun burst.
Leaving the kitchen garden, I make my way through the shaded and cold courtyard, and round to the front lawn. There is no immediate wow factor at first sight of the south face, but as you walk around and get a full view from differing angles it is truly beautiful. The dew is evident and a clear sign that autumn is truly upon us. Entering at 11am the ground was still dew sodden and the effects of the burning sun were yet to take effect. The rest of my day was spent with soaking wet trainers (need to invest in some waterproof shoes).
The gardens have been designed superbly and are in close proximity to show off the house. There are ponds and their locations provide photographers’ dreams. The reflections they create are breath taking. It is as if the house basks in the autumn sunshine. These reflections are interrupted every now and again, firstly, as the house takes a little respite as a few clouds drift in front of the sun and, secondly, from the gimmick water show in the mermaid pond. This powerful eruption of water only happens 3 times a day and lasts for 15 minutes on each occasion. This disturbs the pristine, mirrored pond and draws a small audience to watch. The ‘crowd’ disperses and allows a little opportunity to get that perfect shot.
Drag one’s self away from the main focus and walk to the upper pond (the great pond) to see there autumn in all its glorious beauty. On the way catch sight of a lonely tree, almost like a bonfire with its leaves radiant red and with the blue sky behind it only enhancing its fantastic colour. Moving on from this mesmerising tree one encounters and is bowled over by the upper pond. The setting is picture perfect from whatever angle it is viewed. The winds die, and the sense of calmness is only disturbed by the odd sound from an excited child. Reflections are a thing of beauty here, and everywhere one looks autumn is still alive for a few days yet until it dies for another year. Even the wildlife can’t disturb this calm and peaceful haven.
Finishing the walk around the grounds, one is always drawn back to that pond and its reflections. The same is true for the adjacent long pond. Captured once already you feel that it needs to be photographed again and again to get that ‘money shot’. It doesn’t look real, surreal even. No angle, no skill with the camera can do it justice. Whoever designed that house and garden should have been given enormous praise. Even now, 500 years on, it still delivers; a truly remarkable achievement.
I finally tear myself away and return to normal life, still captivated by the beauty of this fantastic garden. At £10 for entrance to the garden (entry inside the house requires another £3) first impressions are that it’s a little over-priced, but for the hours spent there and that ever-lasting image one leaves with the feeling that this was the cheapest day ever.