[ PART 1 ][ PART 2 ][ PART 3 ]
The first thing that caught my eye upon arriving at Croome was the property’s tagline: expect the unexpected. Well, we certainly hadn’t expected to go there, so it was a promising start. We also discovered that Croome Court was actually “Capability” Brown’s first major commission and he had designed the house as well, so it was beginning to feel like we were stalking him through time.
The property continued to live up to its tagline, with the first unexpected sight being the vast open expanse of land and impressive mansion house as you emerge from a short woodland walk. This was closely followed by a tree enclosed in a mock-temple, a modern art project called Adam Speaks. Robert Adam was another 18th-century luminary, famous for his Neo-classical architecture and interior design. Croome was also his first commission so it was clear that the original owner, the 6th Earl of Coventry, was not only happy to take risks on fresh talent in order to follow the latest trends, but he also had very good taste in designers.
The house itself has been through a lot since the time of the 6th Earl. Much of its richly decorated interiors were sold off by the family to pay debts, and World War II saw it requisitioned by the Royal Air Force. It then served as a Catholic boys’ school for a time before becoming the UK headquarters for the Hare Krishna movement. After that it went through a rapid procession of owners who tried different things: conference venue, private flats, restaurant. It even became a private home again for a time before finally ending up in the hands of the National Trust.
The Trust has the unenviable job of restoring the property, and this is something that they are doing slowly while ensuring that the full story of Croome Court can still be seen and heard. This means that things are done in a slightly different way compared to other National Trust properties: modern art exhibitions can be found throughout the house, and they have an artist-in-residence whose plein air paintings filled one room. They even had former students of the boys’ school providing tours, giving their perspective of a place that dominated their childhoods.
For me, the most memorable part of the interior was the exhibit called Archive. It was formed out of curling shelves of archival boxes, some of which could be opened to reveal artefacts or stories from Croome’s long and varied history. Standing in the centre of the spiral and looking up into a reflective surface showed the rows of boxes stretching almost to infinity, and put the viewer directly into the heart of it. You were now part of the story.
After touring the house, we ventured out into the garden. Although the Croome-branded deck chairs weren’t needed on such a grey day, there were still plenty of unexpected sights to see, from a small patch of bluebells to a grotto guarded by Sabrina, the goddess of the river Severn. Despite being “Capability” Brown’s first commission, the landscape felt both adventurous and assured, from the use of temples and follies to help bring the Arcadian vision to life, to the island developed in the middle of the lake that showed off Brown’s skill as a water engineer. Then there was the river, dug by hand, that became a trademark illusion used in many of his properties: through the clever use of design, it’s made to look as if it continues beyond the line of sight, but in reality comes to an abrupt end.
That evening we ventured out of the B&B for the first proper dinner away and headed to the town of Great Malvern, a journey that took us through winding roads and incredible scenery with views across the surrounding fields. The Malvern Hills are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and they more than lived up to this description. But there was one more unexpected feature awaiting us.
After a drizzly, grey day without any sign of sunshine or blue sky, the sun made a brief, bright appearance as it was setting, casting the entire countryside in stunning golden hour light that made both MrElaineous and me gasp as we came around a corner. We quickly found a place to park on a side street to photograph the view before heading on our way, but a few minutes later the scenery got even better and we squeezed the car into a tiny layby to fully take in the view over the valley.
The next day it was time to pack up and head home, which is more reality, less reality programming. However, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised throughout this entire trip. Taking a chance on a random bed and breakfast on the basis of a television show is not my usual way of travelling, but it introduced me to lovely people and historic properties in a breath-taking part of the country. Who says there’s never anything good on TV?[Click here to read the full As Seen on TV series]