Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 19 January 2016

The Landmark Trust does it again

I’ll be back tomorrow to have another chat about writing, because I’ve got a bee in my bonnet, but it’s the start of the week for me, so I’m going to begin with something lovelier than a snark.

We were away at the weekend.

I do so love our weekends away. You probably all know by now that we don’t really take holidays. Let’s face it, we’re busy people with impossible schedules, so taking three weeks off to sit on a beach doesn’t really fit the profile of our lives… Besides, what the hell would we do with ourselves on a beach?

We do, however, take weekends from time to time. Often we add stimulus for the work, so these aren’t necessarily holidays, but we do so love them.

Belmont House run by the Landmark Trust
Last weekend, with our new and rather fabulous house-sitter happily ensconced, we toddled off to Dorset, to Lyme Regis in fact. There were reasons for this to do with the landscape, and the sea, which will feature in some of our work, and to do with palaeontology… and stuff and things, but we also used it as an opportunity to spend a few days  at Belmont House, run by our very favourite holiday home rental organisation, the Landmark Trust.

To call the Trust a holiday home rental business is rather to underestimate what they do, and to call Landmarkers renters of holiday homes is rather to underestimate their enthusiasm for the amazing historic buildings they choose to spend their time in.

The Landmark Trust is one of our very great pleasures, and its a fabulous resource for us as writers. We found out about it from another writer, and, over the past four years, we’ve visited a number of the buildings the Trust has lovingly restored and kept up so that people like us, and other people less like us, can live in and enjoy them. 

The Trust is in its fiftieth year and owns a little over two hundred buildings, mostly in the UK, but also in Europe and a couple in America. They range from tiny follies fit for two people to share, to larger houses and castles that sleep up to sixteen, and a campsite that will sleep forty people. The buildings range in age from over a millennium to less than a century. Each one is special, and they are all different one from another.

They do have things in common. They are all beautifully restored, well-managed and made comfortable for twenty-first century living. There is also continuity between the Landmarks so that bedding, towels, crockery etc become very familiar as they are uniform across the properties. The standard of decor, and the choice of furniture, fabrics and fittings is also consistently high across the board. Every house is decorated by one man, appropriately, in keeping with the nature and period of the building. He does a wonderful job and never compromises comfort.

The other singular luxury is the lack of electronics. Whether there is a signal for a mobile phone is the luck of the draw. Wifi is not provided, and neither is there a television or radio in sight. There is nowhere to dock an i-pod. Of course, there are electrical sockets, so if you need those things, I suppose it’s possible to bring them, but the quiet of these buildings really is golden.

Belmont House is, perhaps, the best and most beautiful house in Lyme Regis. It was, until his death in 2005, the home of the novelist, John Fowles. His writing room is now the grand, first floor drawing room of the house with a wonderful balcony overlooking the grounds, an observatory where it is still possible to look at the stars through a wonderful telescope, and, of course, the sea. Fowles set his novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman in Lyme Regis, and it was partly filmed on location in the town. You may remember Meryl Streep in her cloak, walking out onto the Cobb. Playing the dual role of Sarah Woodruff and Anna, Meryl Streep won a number of awards for her work in the movie, including a Bafta and a Golden Globe; she was also Oscar nominated for the role.

We spent time enjoying the house, the wonderful drawing room, the spacious kitchen and the master bedroom with its four-poster bed. The house sleeps eight, and for most of the time it was just the two of us, so the snug and the grand dining room didn’t get used, but that’s OK too.

The rest of the time we spent in Lyme Regis. We walked the sandy beach and the shingle. We followed the line of the Cobb on the sheltered side of the bay, and took Streep’s path along its ridge. We ate in the local pubs and cafes, and we shopped in the junk shops, fossil shops and book stores. We loved Ryder and Hinks, where I bought a beautiful shawl and some thick socks, because I’d underestimated just how chilly it can be beside the sea in January.

The Landmark Trust always delivers with its buildings, in a purely practical sense, but to find this building in this place was particularly wonderful. We’ll be back. Sadly, it won’t be soon, because Belmont House opened to the public only recently and it’s in very high demand, but the very first opportunity we get to book another visit, we’ll be returning to Belmont and to Lyme Regis. In the meantime, we’ll be back on the Landmark Trust website to look for other wonderful possibilities, and to return to some of our favourite haunts.

For its fiftieth anniversary The Landmark Trust, in association with Channel 4, made a program called Restoring Britain's Landmarks about its work and some of its buildings. It makes for fascinating viewing, so, if you haven’t seen it, follow the link and take a look.

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