The landscape of the British Isles is scattered with centuries-old palaces, castles, manor houses and spectacular estates. Some are owned by royalty and aristocracy, some by the National Trust, and many by enthusiasts with substantial amounts of money who have decided to make a go of maintaining such a money-guzzler.
In Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, England, film maker Paul Weiland and his wife Caroline embarked on just such a journey 30 years ago when they purchased Belcombe Court and the surrounding estate. The Georgian manor overlooks the Avoncliff valley where the railway, the River Avon and the Kennet & Avon Canal are all located.
What really sold the estate to the couple was the landscape surrounding the house. Now that they have worked on the house, garden and woods for three decades, the garden has been described as a miniature Stourhead the National Trust -operated estate also located in Wiltshire and famous for its garden that is considered one of the world’s most spectacular gardens.
Constructed of ashlar stone the house is complete with a miniature lake and rotunda, a cottage orné and other 18th-century features, typical of the picturesque garden style.
The 15th-century estate had changed hands frequently in the 1900s and it was in a dilapidated state when the Weilands bought it. Before 1900s, Becombe had been the country seat of the Yerburys, a local family with fortunes made in wool. In 1734, Francis Yerbury commissioned the famous John Wood the Elder to re-envision the main house in the then-fashionable Palladian style.
The nearby Stourhead must have inspired Francis Yerbury to also embellish the garden and create the grandiose scheme of which the Weilands have re-established several features while also adding contemporary touches.
They commissioned gardening expert, Chelsea gold-medal-winner and author Rupert Golby to design a summer garden to complement the small 18th-century octagonal stone building the couple calls the Summer House. Arne Maynard, also the designer of the Weilands’ London garden, reconfigured the one-acre walled garden. Today, Belcombe boasts 60 acres of formal gardens, parkland and woods.
With the house itself fully re-designed by the Weilands, the couple is now full-time resident at Belcombe. However, they feel they are just at the start of the unexpected discoveries thy keep making on the estate. These include ruins of a temple and 32 giant North American sequoia giganteum redwood trees.
As so many contemporary owners of large estates, the Weilands are generating income from renting the house out for weddings and other events. Tuija Seipell
Images by Eva Nemeth