Wessex Attractions: Mompesson House

Mompesson House is an 18th century townhouse in Salisbury's Cathedral Close, owned by the National Trust and named after Charles Mompesson, for whom it was built in 1701. At the time of writing, it is closed for winter, but will reopen in the spring of 2023.

After Mompesson died in 1714, the house passed to his brother-in-law, Charles Longueville. and thereafter to a succession of different families, until it passed to the National Trust upon the death of its last owner, Denis Martineau, in 1975. It opened to the public in 1977.

The house is noted for its walled garden, and its collection of 18th century drinking glasses. Admission costs £8 for adults and £4 for children. Its postcode is SP1 2EL, and being in the Cathedral Close, it is not difficult to find.

Wessex Attractions: The Cerne Abbas Giant

Debate has long raged over the age of the Rude Man of Cerne Abbas, Britain's largest chalk figure. Was it prehistoric? Roman? Or was it an elaborate wind-up of Oliver Cromwell's puritans? In 2020, the National Trust, which owns the site, sent a team of archaeologists to thoroughly examine the sediment on the hillside in order to provide a definitive answer. After a year-long survey, the team concluded that the chalk figure was probably late Saxon in origin. However, the earliest record of the giant dates back to 1694. The most likely explanation is that it was early medieval originally, but had become overgrown, and was rediscovered some time in the late 17th century.

According to some of the more fanciful medieval "histories", the figure was a representation of a pagan deity named Helith, who was worshipped in the area, When St Augustine of Canterbury tried to convert the villagers of Cerne Abbas during his mission to the English, they mocked him and his missionaries by pinning fish tails to their backs, a parody of the Christian ΙΧΘΥΣ symbol. As punishment, God made them sprout fish tails for real.

During World War 2, the giant was allowed to become obscured again, to prevent it from being used as a landmark by Luftwaffe bombers. Since then, it has been re-chalked every decade or so, a process that requires some 17 tonnes of chalk each time, while sheep are allowed to graze on the hill, in order to keep the grass short.

The Wessex Ridgeway passes within a mile of the giant. and it is only a quarter of a mile from the village of Cerne Abbas. On weekdays, Damory Coaches bus service 216 between Dorchester and Sherborne stops at the viewing area. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is DT2 7AL.

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.