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Dorset Map

The Cistercians liked to build their monasteries in remote places, and they don't come a lot more remote than Forde Abbey, buried deep in the countryside down winding country lanes on the Dorset-Somerset border (in fact the border follows the stream at the bottom of the car park).

Just getting to the place is quite an adventure, so it is best to check the opening times before setting out to avoid arriving on a day when only the gardens are open, as I did I am embarrassed to admit on my first visit. Still the grounds and the exterior of the house alone were worth the trip, and the house was well worth going back for.

The abbey was founded in the mid-twelfth century and flourished for four hundred years. It was extensively re-built by its last abbot, Thomas Chard, who was appointed in 1521.

It is said that he and Abbot Sam of Cerne Abbey tried to out do each other in the splendour of their porches and other improvements, but in truth it was probably a matter of trying to make the abbey less attractive to Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

After the dissolution, the property changed hands several times before being purchased by Edmund Prideaux, a local lawyer and Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis, who eventually became Attorney-General under Oliver Cromwell. He undertook the extensive building works which resulted in the building you see today using a local Master Builder called Peter Mills very much in the style of Indigo Jones.

Probably the best bit for me, was wandering along the Long Walk, hearing a sudden whoosh, and seeing the 50m 160ft) tall Centenary Fountain start up.

That, and the magnificent Kitchen Gardens, built hard up against the less attractive north front of the house. Or was it the beef from the herd of Red Ruby Devon cattle, available from the gift shop?