Athelhampton, one of Dorset’s unsung gems

ATHELHAMPTON House, just outside Puddletown, must surely be one of Dorset’s most beautiful manor houses.

Comparatively unsung, it is a place of under-stated but pure beauty and stands in the most breathtaking gardens.

Built by Sir William Martyn, the earliest parts of the house are Tudor, and it was restored and transformed in the late Victorian years by Alfred Cart de Lafontaine.

Thomas Hardy was a regular visitor to Athelhampton in the early 20th century and painted a watercolour of the great house at the age of 19.

Athelhampton was acquired by the Cooke family in 1957 and is still used as a family home, as well as welcoming thousands of visitors each year.

Alfred Cart de Lafontaine created the formal gardens in 1891; Francis Inigo Jones designed four ham stone courts in the Elizabethan style.

The Great Court, a century on, has evolved into a unique and captivating topiary spectacle containing 12 giant pyramids more than 30 feet high. The owner, Patrick Cooke, shows he has a head for heights as he trims the upper reaches himself!

Water forms a recurrent feature in the gardens, with fountains and pools throughout the various compartments that link the labyrinth of rooms.

Athelhamption House is open from the beginning of March to the end of October. The restaurant is open on Sundays throughout the whole year. There is also a self-catering cottage in the grounds.

They can cater for group visits, weddings and private functions, while the East Wing houses a cinema where movies are shown from September to April. In the West Wing is a collection of the works of the Russian artist Marevna (1892-1984).

Athelhampton is open Sunday to Thursday, from 10.30am to 5pm, from March to October (closed Fridays and Saturdays) and Good Friday. The house itself opens at 11am and there’s plenty of parking.

The place is well signposted, only a few miles from Dorchester, and easy to find. It is well worth a visit to see this Dorset gem.

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