If I was ever to write an Agatha Christie-style 1920s murder mystery, I’d set it at Tyntesfield, a gloriously Gothic manor surrounded by acres of land in the middle of the Somerset countryside.
It’s the sort of place where you could imagine cocktail-drenched parties full of bright young things taking place and then a dead body or two inconveniently turning up in the library or the billiard room…
In short, Tyntesfield was my kind of place. The manor house is the former home of the wealthy Gibbs family. It was bought by William Gibbs in 1844, who in the 1860s had the architect John Norton turn it into the Victorian Gothic masterpiece it is today.
The estate was taken over by the National Trust in 2002, following the death of Richard Gibbs, the last member of the family to live there. Today, visitors to the estate will find not only the aforementioned mansion, but an arboretum, multiple gardens and woodland to explore, as well as a couple of cafés, a shop and an imaginative children’s playground.
Having decided it was the perfect place to take my Mum, we turned up somewhat sweaty and bedraggled after an unexpected trek through the nearby woodland, so we immediately made our way to the café. This being a National Trust property, the café did not disappoint – think cakes, scones and hearty traditional fare, such as baked potatoes, soups and sandwiches.
Rested and sated, we set off to explore the estate. Tickets to the mansion are timed and you have an hour from when you buy your ticket to go inside the house, so we slowly ambled through the arboretum in the direction of the house, stopping to admire the rose garden (above) along the way.
When we reached the house, we cut through the courtyard to the entrance, where we were greeted by a friendly volunteer who warmly welcomed us inside. There’s a natural route through the house, which we decided to follow, stepping first into the library (above), which is home to some 3,000 books collected by the Gibbs family.
In the hall, a talented young man was playing the piano and the sound reverberated throughout the house, adding to the Gothic, murder-mystery vibe. All the rooms were fully furnished and they were decorated in that slightly shabby, thread-worn style I associate with the British aristocracy, which gave the mansion a lived-in, family feel.
A few of the rooms were cordoned off (one was being renovated, another was storing items from the house), but you could still take a peek inside, which was nice and meant you didn’t feel you missed out on any parts of the house.
One of my favourite rooms was the billiard room (above), where, with its cosy fireplace, large billiard table and comfy-looking seats, you could imagine the family and their guests retiring after dinner for a game of billiards and a heated debate over a glass of port.
Having toured the ground floor, we made our way upstairs, where we looked inside a number of bedrooms (complete with an abundance of floral wallpaper and bedding) and a small bathroom that boasted a fabulous old medicine cabinet filled with lotions and potions.
Our tour of the house ended in the adjoining chapel (above), a suitably Gothic affair. Rumoured to have been inspired by the magnificent Saint-Chapelle in Paris, it was a grand place of worship for a country house in Somerset.
Inspired by our visit to the house, we continued our way through the estate to the kitchen gardens. The area around them is home to an orangery, a small café and a children’s playground, as well as several greenhouses, and herb and vegetable gardens.
The kitchen gardens were superb and there was much more to them than I’d anticipated. I was amazed to find pineapples growing in one of the greenhouses as I’d never seen a pineapple plant before and hadn’t expected to come across one in a pot in Somerset (above).
In a nice touch, you could also pick up some tulip bulbs to take home with you and there was an honesty box alongside them where you paid the price you thought they were worth.
Tyntesfield is the sort of place where you can let your imagination run wild. I found it hugely inspiring, and by the end of my visit, I was itching to sit down to write a whodunnit. I loved our day out at the estate, it’s one of the best country houses I’ve visited (and I’ve been to a lot) and I’m already planning my return visit.
While it’s perfectly possible to get to Tyntesfield by public transport (the X6 bus runs from Bristol bus station), and the National Trust encourages this with money off vouchers for the café and shop, avoid doing so on Sundays and bank holidays as the buses don’t run, or if they do, they’re sporadic and unreliable.
And definitely don’t get on the X9 bus from Bristol as we did unless you want an hour-long walk along a hairy, verge-less country road or to cut through the woods not quite knowing where you’re going (also as we did). There’s a good possibility you could end up stranded and having to call a bunch of taxi firms (a number are most unhelpful) to come take you home.
Tyntesfield, Wraxall, Bristol, North Somerset BS48 1NX
£16.50 adults, £8.25 children