It was the last day of our week off and we had been working through my list of places to visit. We decided to go to the Vyne, a former Tudor country house and grade I listed building owned by the National Trust in Hampshire.
It was a good day for it – the weather stayed dry for our entire visit, which I was particularly happy about because the Vyne is situated in spacious grounds with gardens and woodland, and you can do a number of walks.
We began by taking a look around the grounds . We even ventured into the children’s play area because there were some carved wooden creatures and insects that S wanted to show me. They were really cool, but I had to handle with care because of the bird poo! Still, I thought it was a nice feature to have in the play area, and blind people rely on tactile representations to know what small creatures and insects look like,. You can’t really touch a butterfly without hurting it.
As we arrived around lunchtime, we decided to have lunch before venturing into the house and doing our walk. The café area was quite full, so we decided to go outside and munch our sausage rolls on the picnic tables there!
We don’t have a National Trust card at the moment, but if you are likely to go back multiple times or visit other National Trust properties, it will save you money in the long-term. Disabled people can take someone with them for free. I hate the word carer and wish we could be like the more progressive countries who call them assistants or companions, rather than this archaic term, but the free ticket is definitely helpful. I would struggle to enjoy a trip to a property like this without an assistant to read information and help me get around. (This is a general comment about the term that is used everywhere, and not directed specifically at the National Trust)
If you don’t have a card, the price of your ticket depends on whether you want to go round the house as well. We did, so that was our next stop.
Your ticket for the house has a 30-minute window, during which you need to enter the house. However there is no restriction in terms of how long you can spend in there.
The house tours are self-guided, but there are plenty of volunteers around in the various rooms who are happy to give you further information or ask questions. We mainly read the information from the displays, which gave you an insight into what it was like living in the house, and the work that went into the recent restoration project. There was also an insect trail for children, which told you about the different insects that liked to munch on the wood or other items that the trust wants to preserve.
The house was built by William Sandys, who later became Henry VIII’s chamberlain, and throughout its lifetime, it had famous visitors such as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1535, Elizabeth I, and Jane Austen. Later it became a safe place for World War II evacuees.
The Vyne used to be much larger – it’s still big now, but the building is about 1/3 of its original size. I can’t imagine how much it must have taken to heat it in winter or to keep it clean!
The Vyne remained the property of the Sandys family until it was sold in the 17th century to Chaloner Chute, a barrister and speaker of the House of Commons, whose family owned it until the 20th century. They were responsible for downsizing it, but also for improving the access routes – something that had been complained about in historical documents. The Vyne was given to the National Trust in 1956.
On entering the house, there was a tactile model, which made it much easier for me to imagine the shape of the building and how the building as a whole looks.
Apart from this, as blind people go, I’m not particularly tactile when going around exhibitions. If there is a cool tactile thing, such as the statue of a horse that S found, I will touch it. But I can’t say how much can be touched otherwise, because we didn’t really ask about that and I don’t randomly touch walls and things as we’re going round!
I think the biggest surprise for me was the lay-out of the house and the way that a lot of the rooms were connected by doors, rather than all coming off a main hallway. The main bedroom had a couple of doors into it, which I’d find really disconcerting!
If you want to see how you would have looked in Victorian costumes, there are a number of items of clothing to try on. Not sure I like the image of me in a maid’s bonnet, but there was a dress that I rather liked!
It was clear from the information about the roof restoration project just how much work and how many people had been involved – sometimes taking parts of the roof apart, brick by brick, labelling the bricks so that they could be put back in exactly the right place, and then putting everything back together once the restoration work was finished. The house was fully reopened in 2018 – some parts could not be accessed during the restoration project because of the ongoing work. The project cost 5.4 million pounds.
Conservationists were also involved in a book cataloguing project, logging and restoring books from the 2500 book collection from the old library. The books can only be stored in rooms whose floors will support the substantial weight!
We didn’t buy any, but if you’re interested in second-hand books, there’s a second-hand book shop in the house, as well as the main shop on site for souvenirs or local products.
Even though there were a fair few people walking around the house, once we’d finished our tour and gone into the woods, we hardly saw anyone. Actually I think this was my favourite part, just walking around and enjoying the nature. There were a number of designated trails, depending on how long you wanted your walk to be, and there is information about the trees so that you can do bark rubbings. I didn’t, but perhaps this is something we can go back and do later.
We didn’t see any deer, but apparently they live in the woods. There were plenty of birds though, and ducks on the river. There is a clearly defined path and it was really peaceful walking around through the trees. There are also social projects, which empower people by providing them with new skills, whilst at the same time helping with the conservation work outside.
Have you been to the Vyne? Do you have a favourite National Trust property? Let me know in the comments!
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