There are few joys greater than turning a corner or rounding a bend and coming upon an unexpected view of great beauty. It is one thing to set out to see a famous or recommended sight, and then, after hiking for miles or driving for hours, reach a predetermined spot and - sure enough - there it is. You would be disappointed if you didn't find it.
It's a lovely experience - but nothing to compare with being taken by surprise with a scene that takes your breath away. Unexpected pleasures can be so much more fun than those that require long term planning. A spectacular meal in a- modest pub, a charming room in an inexpensive B&B are little treasures that enrich the quality of life. That's why I prefer to travel on my own with only the barest outline of an itinerary.
Last June, in the tiny village of Chedington, in the county of Dorset on England's southern coast, I encountered three such surprises in one day. Two of these encounters took place on Lower Farm, a very special place. The third happened just down the road at Chedington Court.
Lower Farm is run by Jean and Ian Stanford, a husband and wife team who have won a national award as the landowners who have done the most to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities. They gained the accolade for their work in providing access to water on six man-made lakes on their 120 acre farm. These are linked by a nature trail, open to the public, with several water-based activities such as fishing, boating, painting, and photography.
Visitors can also enjoy the wildlife on the nature trail and the rare breeds of cattle, sheep, and pigs, which are the main farming enterprise. Suffolk Punch horses are also bred and worked.
Jean and Ian have accomplished a minor miracle at Lower Farm. All of these facilities have been specially laid out, with the help of the Country Land Owners Association, to enable the disabled as well as the general public to enjoy water-based recreation.
Special facilities include purpose built fly fishing stations for wheelchair users, boating from a specially designed jetty, tarmac paths, a picnic area, and special toilets. They make no charge for any of the activities other than charging disabled fishermen for their catch at market rates, and the public for fishing by the day or half day.
The Stanford's employ no paid labour, doing all the work themselves with occasional help from neighbours. Three of the lakes have been made in a small valley close to the farm buildings in Chedington Village. The upper one, stocked with coarse fish provides and beyond angling for local youngsters.
Jean and Ian breed 15 species of native and exotic waterfowl on the middle lake, and the third, completed in 1984, is stocked with trout and freshwater crayfish. Trout fishing is available and on the lake bottom live the crayfish which are a commercial enterprise, eventually ending up in the hotels and stores of London's West End.
On flatter ground at the bottom of the farm are three further lakes containing both brown and rainbow trout as well as more crayfish. The areas around the lakes are left uncut and ungrazed and support a rich variety of wild flowers, butterflies and other insects. The farm is home to many types of wild birds and animals from woodpeckers and buzzards to badgers and roe deer.
The proprietor of the Summer Lodge in Evershot, about ten miles from Chedington, recommended Lower Farm. He asked where I was going next and when I said I wasn't sure, said he thought I would enjoy a unique B&B he knew of. I called, and was lucky enough to get a reservation for one of their three guest rooms for the next day.
Since the farm is located in the Dorset designated area of 'outstanding natural beauty', I expected it to be 'nice' but was totally unprepared for 'fantastic'!
UNEXPECTED PLEASURE NO. 1
The farmhouse at Lower Farm is a 16th century thatched dream. It's the kind of place all romantic traveler's hope to find but seldom do. Ancient beams and polished brass, lovely antiques, fresh flowers, and fireplaces in almost every room - everything to ensure solid comfort.
UNEXPECTED PLEASURE NO. 2
The View from My Window
Corny as it sounds, my heart actually skipped a beat the first time 1 saw it. It was a deeply set Tudor window on the second floor (English first) just under the thatch and over a honeysuckle bush. It looked out over an enchanting garden and then down a gently sloping green hill to the farm's lakes and pastures.
About half a mile in the distance I could see the picturesque village of South Perrott and three miles beyond that the Somerset town of Crewkerne just across the county border.
The farm garden was dominated by masses of billowing white flowers the locals called Rice Pudding. There was an inviting wooden bench under a flowering apple tree and roses were growing decorously over the side of a venerable stone wall. 1 saw Lupins, Hollyhocks, Buttercups, giant Red Poppies and at least twenty different shades of luscious green covering the hills, pastures and hedgerows. I was very glad I had decided to stay at Lower Farm.
Jean and lan Standford are the very nicest kind of English couple - cheerful, hardworking and anxious to share their Shangri-La with their guests. It was Jean who introduced me to -
UNEXPECTED PLEASURE NO. 3
A Splendid Dinner in Splendid Surroundings
Although I was raveling alone without a car, I did have two very obliging Dorset friends who had picked me up at Evershot and delivered me to Lower Farm. To repay them for their kindness I wanted to treat them to a nice dinner.
I asked Jean's advice. She told me there were several nice pubs in the area but if we wanted something special we should try the Chedington Court at the other end of the village. It was a small hotel with a marvelous restaurant. Because Jean recommended I knew it would be good, but I was not expecting perfection.
Once again, my heart skipped a bear as my friends and I entered the grounds of this lovely old Ham Stone Jacobean style mansion. We passed through ten acres of garden containing a lovely variety mature trees and shrubs. There were sweeping lawns, elegant terraces and a summer house nestling under an ancient yew hedge close to a landscaped pool. We saw a croquet lawn, a putting green, and even a helicopter landing ground.
HIGH ON A RIDGE
Inside, a marvelous oak staircase sets the tone for the whole house which features heavy brass door handles, leaded lights in stone mullions and gleaming polished oak floors with beautiful oriental carpets.
We learned that some of the delightful wallpapers are original (the house dates from 1840) and that most of the furniture is Victorian. However, one room has a fine thirties suite from the Queen Mary. There is a billiard room with a self-service bar but we entered a superb drawing room where we were served drinks.
Then, Phillip Chapman, the owner, brought us the evening's menu for approval. His wife, Hilary, does the cooking and offers a fixed menu with a choice of starter. It consists of starter, fish course, main course, sweet, cheese and coffee. I chose prawns in pastry while my friends both decided on spinach and cheese pancakes. Then came poached salmon followed by rack of lamb.
We could have had alternatives in case of dislikes but we could find no fault with the set offering. After selecting from a remarkable wine list with over a hundred listings ranging from a Commune Margaux at E3.50 to Lafleur Pomeral 1953 at E17, we had time to stroll over the estate and enjoy its old fashioned elegance before being summoned to take our places in the lovely dining room.
Lighted candles in silver candlesticks were on our table along with fresh flowers and a lace tablecloth. The walls were hung with fine oil paintings and a Schubert sonata was playing in the background. Mr. Chapman and his friendly waitresses served us on Wedgwood china with charm and persuasiveness.
In spite of generous proportions throughout we were offered seconds from the sweet trolley and a delectable piece of fudge was served with our coffee in the peaceful library as we inspected the Chapman's extensive collection of Thomas Hardy first editions. The meal and the surroundings were absolute perfection.
As we walked back to Lower Farm under a starry sky, the air was scented with honeysuckle and lilac. I said goodnight to my friends and went up to my perfect room and looked at my perfect view, still lovely in the moonlight, and remembered my perfect meal. Not bad for one day. Three encounters with perfection - all the more enjoyable because they were unexpected. The quality of my life was definitely improving.
Also by Joanne Paul
A Three Day Slice of English Country Life
Exploring Dorset by Country Bus
A Dorset Duck Pond
Attraction Type: Town
OS: ST488 055
Photo Credit: Joanne Paul
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