Today I visited Arlington in North Devon, a 3,000 acre estate once owned by the Chichester family and now in the hands of the National Trust. Chichester is a well-known name in these parts; John Chichester was a long-standing MP for Barnstaple in the early 19th century and his name lives on in the names of streets and pubs in the area. Francis Chichester was the nephew of the last owner of Arlington, Miss Rosalie, who bequeathed the estate to the nation on her death in 1949. Francis is probably best known for being the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe by sailing boat; I remember him being talked about a lot in 1967 when he returned, and he was subsequently knighted by the Queen for his endeavours. At the time I was unaware that he also laid the foundation stone for the Barnstaple Civic Centre in the same year. Knowing the disdain with which most local residents view that controversial example of 1960s brutalism, perhaps the latter event carried less importance to Sir F, especially as the sword with which the queen touched his shoulders was the very same one which Elizabeth 1 had used to knight Francis Drake after he became the first Englishman to sail around the world, albeit with a crew. Anyway, I digress.
Arlington comprises a manor house, stables housing the National Trust’s carriage collection, church, walled vegetable garden, ornamental garden, tea rooms, parkland, woodland, a lake, and farmland grazed by Jacob sheep and Red Devon cattle. For me the highlight is the woodland, and there are 20 miles of footpaths to explore. I chose a circular route of just over 2 miles which took in the lake and passed by two fabulous kids’ adventure areas where rope bridges and log forts abound. An avenue of Monkey puzzle trees was quite unusual but spectacular, although oaks and beeches probably make up the largest part of the woods, with some evergreens, ash, chestnut and sycamore. I saw one huge sequoia with a trunk wider than a car at the base. I don’t know the number of bird species found here, but there is a hide in the woods, so I imagine it’s a haven. I saw a tree creeper, chaffinches and a robin without even trying.
The lake was formed by damming the River Yeo and is home to many water birds including the heron which is the symbol of the Chichester family, adorning various pillars and buildings. The house itself, or what the public gets to see of it, is suitably grand, though most of the rooms I saw were not as large as I expected. It is home to the many collections that Rosalie gathered on her travels; such items as hair adornments, fans, sea shells, pewterware and model ships are here in their dozens along with the usual porcelain, paintings (one by William Blake) and books that one would expect to see in the home of a baron. On the upstairs landing I counted 88 bound volumes of The London Illustrated News spanning more than 50 years across the 19th and 20th centuries. Downstairs I was particularly taken with a large Swiss cylinder music box which played ten tunes with perfect clarity.
I am told that 50,000 daffodil bulbs have been planted over the last three years, so plan to visit again in the spring.