22 March 2015

Art Miles at Chiswick House and Gardens

For some reason Chiswick House and Gardens had completely escaped my attention and not only had I not been there before I did not even know that it was there to go to. This despite it being just a couple of fairly easy bus rides away.

That changed with Art Miles, a fund raising idea from the Art Fund, which I have been a member of for several years. In this a few venues organised walking tours that included treats not generally available to the public. I chose to go to Chiswick House and Gardens simply because I had not been there before and it was fairly easy to get to.

It was a reasonably early start for a Sunday, the event started at 11am so I had to start travelling at 10am, which meant getting up at the very un-Sunday time of 8:30am. First there was the 65 bus to Richmond and then the 190 to Chiswick. The app I was using mislead me slightly and I got off a stop later than I could have but I had made good time and the compensation was a nice walk through part of the gardens to the front of the house where the walk was to begin.

I was not sure what sort of group, or crowd, their would be for the walk and it was definitely a crowd. I joined the queue to check-in and was pleasantly surprised to be given a goody-bag. The goodies were not that special but I'll always take a new cloth bag.

Once registered we were ushered into groups of around twenty to start the tour. I may have misunderstood the rules and joined the wrong group but it was a very informal affair so that did not matter.

Our guide started by telling us something of the history of the house, all of which I have since forgotten. History is not really my thing. But walking is.

We started walking along the river that cheered us all up despite the somewhat gloomy conditions. From there we crossed a steep bridge back into the heart of the garden.

Our group soon splintered as we were all walking at different speeds and some of us, including myself, were pausing frequently to take photographs. That did not matter as there were guides stationed at all of the interesting points to give us a little more of the history of the gardens.

The final part of the tour took us through the long conservatory with a prim dome in its centre. A photograph on the wall told us that the Beatles had been there too.

That ended the guided tour and that meant that it was time for lunch. Everybody else thought so too so it was bit of a scrum to get some food and a table to sit at to east it but I managed it and took the opportunity to recharge my batteries.

Part of the deal was that we had access to the house and most of the garden was open to the public anyway, there was one section that had been opened just for the Art Milers, so once rested I headed into the house.

The Summer Room, a later edition, was the most spectacular of the rooms and I broke the no photographs rule to take this picture of the ceiling.

The rest of the house was more interesting than grand, and I like interesting. It was not a particularly large house which suited me as I would much rather be walking outside.

The morning's gloom had been replaced by some afternoon sun so I retraced many of my steps from the earlier tour to revisit some of the prettier places in better light. Places like the crow's foot where one path from the house divided into three heading in straight lines towards eye-catching monuments.

The gardens were nicely varied as it seemed that every time that a new garden fashion had come along part of the garden was changed to adopt it.

I walked back along the river and this time the sunlight did the house proud. I liked the simple symmetry of it and the tidy rows of chimneys on each side. Beyond the main house is one of the extensions (other extensions had been added and then removed again) and this is the one that had the Summer Room.

The river started with some waterfalls that made just the sort of happy noises that waterfalls should make. They were pretty too. The main path ran between them and it too a lot of patience to finally get a photograph without anybody walking past or stopping to admire the water.

From there I took the raised path that led towards the West entrance, having entered via the East entrance some hours earlier. The main entrance was in the middle and I was happy to avoid that. From there it was a short walk to a bus stop where I caught the 190 back the way I came to Richmond.

Having discovered Chiswick House and Gardens it is now firmly on my radar and I should be going back there to see it in another season. I should also be going to see some of the other houses and gardens that I have been overlooking too, places like Syon and Osterley House and Gardens.

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