When you think of the English public school life, you would visualize something like the two towns we visited today. First was the nearby town of Bruton, which our friend Peter and his sons attended. The playing fields were filled with students – both boys and girls – who can’t be photographed, but who looked quintessentially English, running in their uniforms. The tent in front of the school is ready for the end-of-term prize giving.
The town of Bruton is leaking charm. It was listed in the Domesday Book and was the site of Bruton Abbey, a medieval Augustinian priory. We were particularly taken with the Almshouse founded by town worthy Hugh Sexey (1556–1619), who was born in the local area, and attended Bruton Grammar School. By the age of 43 he had been appointed as Royal auditor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth I and later King James I. After his death his trustees established Sexey’s Hospital to care for the elderly. Peter’s mother lived there, and I would take rooms there in a heartbeat. Gorgeous.
Before we concerned ourselves with Mr. Chips, we went to somewhere entirely different, combining an old farm with the ultimate in modern art and a type of gardening very familiar to us New Yorkers.
We did not know Hauser & Wirth, but now we are terribly aware of the name as is an international gallery devoted to contemporary and modern art, founded in Switzerland by Iwan and Manuela Wirth and Ursula Hauser in 1992. It is now a global enterprise, with spaces in Zurich, London, New York (go know), Los Angeles, and now Somerset.
Iwan Wirth and Manuela Wirth were jointly ranked as the number 1 most powerful and influential figures in the art world in ArtReview’s“Power 100” in 2015, and The New York Times described Wirth as “one of the most powerful players in contemporary art.” We were so woefully ignorant.
So now this power team have set Somerset on fire with their incredible gallery, and a garden that has an amazing provenance.
Couldn’t take pictures inside the gallery, but the outside is quite impressive.
The art was staggeringly modern, so take my word that it must be very influential and hence “good.”
And then onto the amazing garden. Here in the middle of Somerset is a garden designed by Piet Oudolf, of New York’s High Line fame, where grasses with mix so beautifully with perennials. Well, this garden, inspired by the plants found in a prairie setting, is wonderful – and it has the distinction of having been installed two years ago by a team that included our friend Sarah. The pod in the middle is a major art installation in itself.
And then, just to continue the amazement, we walked through the town of Sherborne, where in 1594 Sir Walter Raleigh built a mansion on the grounds of an early palace. This place has a lot to do with schools – there has been a school in Sherborne since the time of King Alfred. who you may remember died in 899. The school was re-founded in 1550 as King Edward’s grammar school, and is now known as Sherborne School. There are several other well-established schools in the area, and it must be quite crowded during the school year.
The school grounds were used in the 1969 version of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” but I could easily imagine the 1939 version being shot there too. The Abbey was striking and filled with golden light on this beautiful summer day.
The town was lovely and we had the perfect day to see it.
Don’s Food Corner
Lunch to day was in a converted small church called, appropriately enough called At the Chapel, in town of Bruton. An ancient setting updated into contemporary England.
I zeroed in on a salad called “Homewood ewes cheese, peach, almond, summer vegetable salad.” It was the ewes cheese that attracted me. A very nice and light combination — colorful and tasty with a very light dressing. Jo had “Castlemead farm chicken Caesar salad.” Castlemead refers to a local farm. Further down the menu was a salad called “Charles Dowding leaves.” I asked for clarification about that. Did that mean a certain type of salad green? Well, in a way. It’s the name of the man who grows the lettuce. In fact, it turns out we passed him as he was working in his garden. Now THAT’S locavore. You get know the name of the farm and actual person growing the food. Like everything in this section of Dorset, it seemed very personalized. A great lunch. The rest you can admire – including our hosts’ meals and dessert, but I’m too tired to describe them.