The December overnight flight to London was uneventful; our Boeing 747 easily shrugged off the late night frost. This whale of a plane carried us smoothly through the –30 degree troposphere at over 500 miles per hour for the 6 hour journey.
On my way to Norton Manor for a conference, we passed through the English countryside towns of Farnborough and Basingstoke. The Manor sits at the end of a narrow country lane with tall hedgerows on either side. With my body clock still on US time, I was glad that I wasn’t driving.
After settling into the hotel’s modern wing I was determined to shrug off my jet lag with a walk to explore the area. This despite a very keen desire to take a long nap. I had work meetings starting early the next day and wanted to be fresh.
To my delight, the conference center was built next to a 16th century house and garden!
I love to visit gardens in early winter when evergreens and the skeletons of deciduous plants create a shadow of the garden at its peak. Even better is to experience this with a blanket of fog; adding mystery and romance.
On this particular visit, this combination made Norton Manor a dreamscape.
The original house was built in the 1500’s and enlarged in the early 1900’s. Note the Dutch-styled entryway. The property is surrounded by farmland and hosts a walled garden, a formal lawn, flower beds, and a lake. A series of glass houses was added in the 1870’s.
During my walk I passed a stream with watercress right out of a pre-Raphaelite painting. So vivid that I thought that I might find Ophelia upstream. Or perhaps the jet lag was clouding my thoughts.
The stables still had the names of horses on them. I expected to see the owners arrive on horseback at any moment.
A sunken turf garden was adorned with a solid urn set in a gravel circle as its central feature. A series of topiaries guarded the corners and magnificent atlas cedars, natives of Morocco and Algeria, provided a wonderful picturesque backdrop.
What makes Norton Manor so special is that it is off the beaten path. It retains the mood of an intimate private home. It is not overly primped; some sections are in lovely need of restoration, just the right level of decay to add a sense of age and history.
Norton Manor sits outside the historic town of Winchester, famous for its 1,000 year old cathedral, its Winchester Bible, and a 700 year old Arthurian Round table. The manor is currently a hotel and conference center.