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The Present Past: A La Ronde

Please note this post is full of images and as such not very ‘neat’. A La Ronde was built in the 18th century by two unmarried female cousins and was to be inherited only by unmarried kinswoman. It was sold at auction and opened for visitors in 1935.

A La Ronde was built by a couple of cousins for a specific purpose. Its name being obvious, there is more than meets the eye to this circular building – it was built such that in the days before artificial light, the sisters could follow the sun round the house, using as much time as possible to work on their embroidery.

A La Ronde is not a big house, at least in the grand scheme of things (it’s certainly bigger than anywhere I have lived!) and whilst it sports an excellent view, the grounds are fairly small and is really just one field – so whilst I’d recommend you visit, I’d also recommend you don’t plan to make a day of it.

Once you’ve passed through the shop you enter the house through the main doors which, if you’ve visited even just a few historical buildings, you’ll realise makes a welcome change. The hallway is fairly grand yet simple – a beautiful mahogany staircase (that you can’t ascend but will later descend) and your first glimpse of the interior design. Given the nature of the house, the semi-linear directions you are supposed to take (as opposed to walking around freely) make a lot of sense.

For lack of any other suitable place to say so, I will say now that you get to see a rather lot of the house. Certainly the fact that it’s not so old and it’s relative lack of importance overall (the sisters are not famous and this is of course no castle) likely help, as there are will be less visitors and fewer items to be damaged, but given your overall welcome, I expect passion and the desire to show others had a role to play, too. I counted four closed doors, there are probably a few more, but not anywhere near the amount that makes tourists grumble. More on the closed sections later.

So, through the entrance and to the left into the drawing room. It’s tiny, as most of the rooms are, but hosts a pretty fireplace and a rather large tapestry woven by the sisters that the enthusiastic room guides will inevitably tell you about supposing the building is not jam packed. I didn’t take a photograph of this room, partly for the size (the furniture makes it awkward) but mostly because the room guide was stood in the centre and whilst I’ve no doubt she would have moved she’d spent a good few minutes telling us about the room and making a request would’ve made me feel rude. However as this is the least interesting room for photographs anyway, in my opinion, I was not too worried.

On into the library, the smallest cubbyhole you’re likely to see in a historical house. The poor composition of my photograph hopefully infers the size.

Into the music room and a sighting of the most gigantic radiator I’d ever seen. It’s a wonderful contraption that I’ve no doubt would’ve been appreciated in the larger houses I’ve been to. So large is it, in fact, that I didn’t realise it was a heating system until the guide told us.

The music room is the place you’re introduced to the house hobby – shell collecting. This house is absolutely chock-full of seashells. Whole cabinets of seashells, hallways full of them. It’s a nice collection as it’s the cousins’ own rather than anything imported from elsewhere.

Of course there are the instruments. An antique clavichord (it may have been a harpsichord) stands weakly against a wall and quite rightly you must not touch it. The small Grand, on the other hand, you may play, in fact it’s positively requested that you do. The room guides spoke of the many wonderful afternoons spent listening to expert players and the joy, if not artistic creativity, of children playing chopsticks.

From here you go up the stairs, carefully, as they are small and spiral. With your eye for all things literary you’re going to spot the old Dickens collection. Don’t listen to your partner when they tell you to hurry up – it’s worth a few moments.

A bedroom. A gorgeous, very Victorian, sunny room. The views are fantastic, the windows created so that you can appreciate them to the full (both the view and the windows themselves). The room guide had us smell an old-fashioned soap that made me feel strange when I noted it’s one I’ve used myself. It’s not a nice smell but I didn’t realise it was so old! A dumb waiter stands in the corner; you can see the bottom of it downstairs.

The next room hasn’t been furnished as it’s been set aside for children to play dress up and pose for photos. I declined the dress shown to me but did take a photograph. There is one more room to see on this floor, it’s used as a sort of second-hand book shop, and the rest are private. Here is the note I spoke of discussing earlier – at the end of the hall, beside the stairs (next to which is a well-reasoned caution as the landing is tiny) is a private office with a photograph of the interior on the door. It’s an excellent idea that I can’t but hope the staff will extend to the rest of the private rooms. You may not be able to go into those rooms and they might be furnished as 21st century offices, but a photograph goes a long way to making it less of a pity.

Just before you head down the stairs you can look up the closed-off second flight to see the grotto on the second floor. Whilst you can’t enter it, you can see enough to realise what it is and it might just take your breath away. Obviously a small attic/sun room space, the walls have been decorated with shells, no gap left unfilled. When you return downstairs you can view the room from another angle due to a double-floor hallway, and there are also objects and photographs to give you a better look. The grotto is undergoing restoration but whether or not it’ll be opened to the public is another question. I would hazard to guess it won’t happen simply because the room is so small. Yes they could put some protective layer over the walls but that would make an already small floor pretty impossible to walk on, and it’s likely the constant flow of visitors would cause the room to deteriorate. A La Ronde is thus a place I would loved to see covered on a television documentary.

As said before, you get to descend the stairs. This is when you enter the second hallway, as it were – a round room from which other rooms lead into. In the living room, which is actually too rooms opened into one, the frieze (along the top of the wall and along the mantelpiece of the fireplace in the photograph to the left) is made entirely of feathers. As far as I remember I believe these feathers were collected from the ground rather than from any hunted bird, though I could be wrong. Artistic, too, are the works in the frames, too small to capture here – pictures made of tiny shells. It is a beautiful room, full of light when I was there. You’ll find photographs of the hallway and frieze below.

The dining room is small and pretty and then there are a few basic rooms with more shells and examples of the uniquely shaped windows. You end your visit via the basement/lower floor (given the hill) wherein you can eat in the tea room or simply pass through and see the last cabinet of shells.

There are few flowers to see in the grounds and, as previously stated, no garden of the sort you might expect to see elsewhere. The view is worth a good several minutes, and there is a small obelisk to see and a short walk around the grounds to be had if you so wish.

You’ll find more photographs of the view in the collection below, but for now here is one in which you can just make out the Exe Estuary in the background.

Nice building? Check. Beautiful surroundings? Check. And as the members of staff at any one historical place can make the difference between your wanting to return and wanting to never come back I will say that they’re passionate and will talk to you for a good while. They definitely add to the experience.

Visit A La Ronde in the round before you circle back along the road to somewhere else.

The rest of my photos (and afterwards a question for you). I’m aware this is messy!

Setting aside for a moment the fact we have artificial light now, what do you think of the idea of following the sun round the house?


Belle Wong

December 8, 2014, 2:34 am

Nice pictures. I love the idea of a circular house, but the library! It’s more like a book closet …

Tracy Terry

December 9, 2014, 1:47 pm

Oh my goodness, amazing. The kind of place I used to love visiting before my mobility issues made it nigh on impossible which is why I so want to thank you for sharing this.


December 9, 2014, 6:05 pm

I think following the sun around the house is a lovely idea. Even today with our artificial light. Sun and natural day light makes you happy while artificial light is useful it does nothing to cheer us up. Thank you for sharing your photographs with us. I hadn’t heard of this place before but it looks beautiful and unusual. Somewhere I fancy visiting.

Jenny @ Reading the End

December 9, 2014, 11:30 pm

How lovely that they let you play the piano there! I always want to play pianos everywhere I see them, but by and large it is frowned upon. Also cause I’m terrible at playing piano and barely remember anything from my piano playing days.



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