One sunny day last week, my sister and I decided to visit what we’d heard was a popular attraction near Oxfordshire — Cerney House and Gardens in the Cotswolds. It seemed quaint and a perfect way to spend a summery afternoon. What we found when we got there was a beautiful garden in the grounds of a large house, but with a strange, forgotten atmosphere.
When we pulled into the car park, there were cars that had evidently been there a long time, with grass growing over the tyres and up to the paintwork. There were a few other cars parked, no sign of any staff and a small sign pointing us up the path towards the gardens. The £5 entrance fee was paid by leaving the money in a small box in a wooden hut. We followed the signs into the gardens and there still wasn’t a sign of anyone around. It was very silent and a little eerie.
The gardens were very pretty and in a Victorian style, with a large brick wall around the sides, a gazebo, an orchard, some box hedges, lavender, roses and foxgloves. After a short walk around we followed some signs pointing towards a cafe and shop where we thought there might be signs of life. We saw a couple having tea outside and exchanged a reserved “hello” before going into the building.
Inside, there was a table with cakes laid out, and a menu for hot drinks displayed, but again no staff in sight. We went through the room and discovered a small pottery and potter’s studio with all the materials and potter’s wheel in view, and the products available for purchase. There was also a sign pointing upstairs to a small “museum” about Cerney house, which was a display of old photographs of the house and village from times gone by. The whole place had an air of abandonment, but also of good will and trust. It was clear that you were meant to serve yourself, and even in the pottery there was paper there for you to wrap your purchases. Prices were displayed and a notebook left out for you to record what you had bought; money was left in a tin.
Finding this all a little weird, we decided to help ourselves to tea and cake, and were also amused that the mugs and kitchen had a very dated look (and actually looked like they could have come from Mum and Dad’s cupboards back at home); the pottery also had a radio cassette player in it that reminded us nostalgically of one we’d had growing up in the 90s.
Having tea in the garden, we got chatting to a lady who visited the gardens frequently and had also found the D.I.Y approach there weird at first, but had come to really like it. We all agreed that it was very trusting and unusual to come across somewhere like it in modern times; it felt strange but actually quite nice to be left to your own devices. Although it wasn’t really what we were expecting (and certainly not really a big attraction), it was a lovely afternoon and the cake was really good. I’ve included a gallery of photos of our visit – enjoy 🙂