Adventures in Russell-land Part IV
This is the fourth episode, in which Russell’s Faithful Friends Alice and Merrily come to Dartmoor, and surround themselves with the work of Sabine Baring-Gould. (Click on each photo to enlarge.)
Also, Miss Russell and her friends wish the author of this post many happy returns of the day.
Motoring down from Oxford to Devon, the heavens seem to be smiling on us. The further away from London and Oxford we traveled, the better the weather, and the bluer the sky. We passed Exeter and easily made the transition from the M 5 road to the A 30, which took us to the north, circumnavigating the north side of Dartmoor, and then we were off onto a small A road until we were finally directed onto country lanes, bright with the afternoon sun. As Lewtrenchard Manor House was not listed on our Nav system (Phillida), and she was obstinate about accepting the postal code (well, in truth, she refused to accept any postal codes – one of her charming quirks) we programmed first Okehampton, then, when we were near that destination, Lew Down and followed Phillida’s instructions until we came to a t-intersection that had a sign post saying Lew Down to the right and Lewtrenchard to the left. We went left and soon found the sign for the turn onto the lane that leads to the manor house’s driveway.
Driving up the lane we saw Lew Church on our left and a little further on, we turned slightly right to pass through the stone pillars that flanked the driveway to the manor house. The first impression of the house was that it had been situated at just the right place to make use of the wonderful views of the countryside. The second impression was that it wasn’t as large as one might imagine, given a family with fifteen children and numerous servants had once inhabited it. That thought recurred repeatedly as we walked through the house. With that many people it must have been a very full house indeed.
As we stepped over the threshold into the small stone porch area, one could not help but recall the scene in MOOR where Russell splattered Holmes with her muddy boots and flung the maps he requested into his face (much to Baring-Gould’s dismay). There was this odd sense of déjà vu entering the house, because the descriptions in MOOR are so detailed and so accurate that you do have the sense you have been in this house before. From the porch we entered into the front parlor, and saw the huge fireplace with its mantelpiece carving of the fox running toward the pineapple. Comfortable wing chairs were arranged before it, and it was easy to picture Holmes and Baring-Gould sitting before the fire.
We followed the young lady who had graciously received us up the wide staircase. At the top landing we took in the painting of the young Baring-Gould and his mother. A small gallery, with its ornate ceiling, branched off to the left, and there we were ushered into our room with its commanding view of the sunken garden and the hidden lake beyond. We settled in to this comfortable space, admiring the window seat below the leaded glass, and then set off to explore the house and grounds further. Stopping first in the room with the beautifully carved wood paneling and its painted niches – the room of virtues. Yes, there was Gaudium Vitae, and Investigatio, everything just as described in MOOR.
Sabine Baring-Gould was right about the air in Devon, it was almost intoxicating – clean, fresh and lightly scented with the fragrance of the roses that were planted on the grounds – you could feel your lungs expand. We decided to walk down the hill, following “Madam’s Walk” through a small wood then down to the river, passing (almost hidden by a fence and overgrown foliage) the quarry “lake.” Its high banks have been allowed to go wild with brambles and weeds allow you only a glimpse of the water. We were told a young neighbor boy once drowned in those green depths, and that Baring-Gould kept his brood out of it by telling them “bad pixies” lived in the water. Later we learned that Baring-Gould’s Great Grandmother was called “Old Madam” and her ghost is reported to still walk the manor house, although we saw nothing of her on our visit.
Returning to the gardens, we then walked down the lane, retracing the way we came by automobile, to Lew church, and admired the Tudor rood screen mentioned in MOOR. On the wall was a plaque listing the rectors of Lew church, starting in 1274, although it stated that the church was founded in 560. The church is still used for services, and in the graveyard we found the tombstones for Sabine and his wife Grace, along with their daughter Margaret (Daisy) all three resting in a place that overlooks Lewtrenchard and the hills beyond.
We returned to the manor house excited over all our discoveries, but a bit disappointed: the one thing we hadn’t found was the “African-style carving of the nude female,” which had given Russell such pause. Much to our chagrin as we walked back to our room, we discovered the carving was between the door to our room and the next one down! In our excitement we hadn’t noticed it, either entering our room or leaving it.
Later we changed for dinner, and went down to the small lounge to have a drink. There we met the young man who is the historian, and general factotum for Lewtrenchard, and we started talking about the house. We asked if he would take our picture, and he enthusiastically led us to another part of the ground floor, the ballroom. Having our picture taken in the blue and white ballroom next to its gilt fireplace was unexpected as we hadn’t ventured in that room during our wonderings, but our host insisted this was the perfect place for a picture, in what he called “the jewel of the house.” He also described the ballroom as ornate, and that was putting it mildly. The rest of the house is dark wood paneling, heavy and sedate, this room seemed frivolous and quite frankly out of place in such a house.
Next – Wandering Dartmoor