I was meant to attend a writing workshop in Swindon on Monday but it was sadly cancelled due a mix up on the ticketline leading to lack of interest. I'd been planning to combine this with a visit to nearby Stourhead, which has long been on my 'to do' list, and I certainly wasn't disappointed.
I travelled by train to Waterloo and then to Gillingham in Dorset; where a charming lady taxi driver regaled me with tales of David Niven being stationed nearby during the war; and the fact that he had scratched his name into one of the beams at the hotel I was going to stay at: 'The Spread Eagle'.
In the event, I actually didn't find any trace of one of the finest film actors of his day but I did find a pleasant hotel with 5 double rooms actually situated on the Stourhead estate. An absolute gem and great bonus is you have access to the gardens 24 hours a day, long after the hoardes have gone, perfect for inspiring the writer. They even provide torches in reception for those hardy enough?!
Access to both house, garden and Alfred's tower is free to guests at 'The Spread Eagle' which is reasonably priced and the staff are polite and helpful.I didn't have dinner there though some of the volunteers I chatted to at the house told me it is excellent. But I can certainly vouch for their breakfast- top notch.
The garden, in particular Flora's Temple, provided me with the first draft of a short story even though I was only there one night.And the next morning when I visited the house I learned from enthusiasts how Edward Gibbon was inspired to write 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', when he saw the cabinet the cabinet originally made for Pope Sixtus V 1585-90 in what is known as the 'Cabinet Room.'
Quite by accident on my way out through the gardens near the house, I came across 'The Ice House'; a great symbol of prosperity for those in the late 18th and 19th centuries; well before the advent of the domestic refrigerator. A most fortuitous discovery as it may well help resolve a crucial conundrum that was evading me in my as yet untitled second novel.