Wessex Attractions: Ebbor Gorge

Ebbor Gorge is a 157-acre carboniferous limestone gorge in Somerset owned by the National Trust, managed by English Nature and close to Wookey Hole. The gorge is part of the Clifton Down limestone formation, a unit of the Pembroke limestone group. There is evidence of human habitation dating back to paleolithic times, along with animal remains of lemmings, steppe pika, reindeer and red deer. The latter exist in small numbers in the gorge to this day.

Ebbor gorge was declared a site of special scientific interest in 1952 and a national nature reserve in 1968. As well as the aforementioned red deer, it is home to horseshoe bats (greater and lesser), and several threatened species of butterfly. The humid environment makes it an ideal habitat for fungi and ferns, while bluebells and wood anemones are also abundant.

The postcode, for satnav purposes is BA5 1AY, and there is a free car park, open from dawn till dusk. First Bus 126 from Weston-super-Mare to Wells passes through Easton, about a mile and a half from Ebbor Gorge.

Wessex Attractions: Basildon Park

Basildon Park is a Georgian house in Berkshire, built in the Palladian style from Bath stone, and made famous by its use as a filming location for the Netflix series Bridgerton. At the time of writing, it is closed for filming, but is expected to reopen on Friday (20th May 2022).

The estate was purchased in 1771 by Francis Sykes, a merchant of the notorious East India Company (the villains in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, chosen because the filmmakers needed someone who could make pirates look like the good guys in comparison), who required a country house close to London. He had the previous house demolished, and the current house, designed by architect John Carr, built in its place. In 1838, the house was bought by haberdasher James Morrison, whose family owned it for the next 90 years. It became home to Morrison's large art collection, which included works by Constable and Turner.

During both world wars, the house was requisitioned by the armed forces, for use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during the First World War, and as a prisoner of war camp during the Second. After the wars, it was bought by Lord and Lady Iliff, who restored it before gifting it to the National Trust in 1978.

The house is normally open from 11am to 5pm, and the grounds from 10am. Check the website for opening hours on the date you plan to visit. The postcode is RG8 9NR, and the nearest station is Pangbourne. On Tuesdays only, Going Forward Buses runs a minibus service from Goring to Reading, with buses numbered 142 to 148. This is the only bus service that serves the estate, so if you don't have access to a car, Tuesday is the best day to visit (public holidays excepted).

Wessex Attractions: Coleton Fishacre

Coleton Fishacre is a 1920s country house in Devon, owned by the National Trust. The house was originally the retreat of the D'Oyly Carte family, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. It has been preserved much as it was nearly a century ago, and serves as a living museum of the Roaring Twenties.

Originally built in 1926, Coleton Fishacre preserves many curious artifacts from the era, such as a tidal clock to show tide times for nearby Pudcombe Cove, and a marmalade slicer for finely peeling oranges.

The house and gardens are open from 10.30am until 5pm daily, and entry is free to National Trust members. Non-members should check the website for prices. The postcode is TQ6 0EQ. Sadly, access by public transport is limited.

Wessex Attractions: Stourhead

Stourhead is a Georgian villa built in the Palladian style and home of the Hoare family from 1725 until 1946, when it was donated to the National Trust. It is the home to over 8000 historic artifacts, including a cabinet built in Rome for Pope Sixtus V, and an original Axminster carpet which is currently being restored. thanks to a generous donation by the People's Postcode Lottery.

The world famous landscape garden was at the forefront of the 18th century fashion for Italianate gardens. Highlights include a grotto where one can cool off from the summer heat, and a replica of the Pantheon in Rome (illustrated).

The surrounding estate features King Alfred's Tower, built in 1760 to commemorate the Accession of Mad King George and the end of the Seven Years' War. Local tradition says that it stands on the site of an earlier tower, from which King Alfred lit a beacon fire to muster the men of Wessex against the Danes, though there is little evidence to support this story.

The satnav postcode for the car park is BA12 6QD. The house is open from 1100-1600, seven days a week. Sadly, it is not served by public transport, with the nearest bus stop being over a mile away.

Wessex Attractions: Barrington Court

Barrington Court is a Tudor manor in Somerset built from Ham Hill Stone which, in 1907, became the first country house to be bought by the National Trust. The site was originally a Roman villa, but the present house dates back to 1559. It was constructed in the classic Elizabethan E shape, with projecting wings and a central porch.

The house was the country retreat of one William Clifton (c1510-1564), master of the Merchant Tailor's Guild in That London. After Clifton's death, it passed to his descendants until it was bought in 1625 by the wealthy Strode family, cloth merchants from Shepton Mallet.

After passing through a succession of owners, it was gifted to the National Trust by Julia Woodward of Clevedon. Its restoration was paid for by the Lyle family, of Tate & Lyle fame.

Today, the gardens, designed by Gertrude Jekyll, and surrounding parkland are open to the public; and there is a cafe and a shop. The postcode is TA19 0NQ, but the Trust advises visitors not to use this for satnav purposes, as it directs people to the rear entrance. Follow the brown tourist signs instead. The house is also served by Stagecoach bus services 632 and 633, Ilminster to Martock.