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Our third Short Break for Collectors has just ended at this idyllic spot, just as the first tentative signs of spring began to appear in the hedgerows around Rutland Water.

The fine weather enabled us to venture out into the surrounding countryside unencumbered by umbrellas and galoshes. Grantham gets a bad press and was once voted “The most boring town in Britain”. Well, don’t you believe it! It may not be Las Vegas, but a little searching will produce some real artistic treasures. Foremost of these is the church of St Wulfram with its soaring spire, immaculate interior with stained glass by John Piper and, rarest of rare, a chained library cunningly concealed up a Lilliputian spiral staircase. Not far away Marston Hall produced a number of delights including a portrait by Pompeo Batoni (painter of the great and the good on the Grand Tour).

Like Grantham, Northampton does not come high on the list of places of high culture, but a real gem is No. 78 Derngate. An externally unprepossessing 18th century house completely revamped by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for the Joseph Bassett-Lowke, the provider of many a small boy’s model-train. This tiny four-storey house was theatrically “done-up” by Mr Mackintosh and represents his only work in England. George Bernard Shaw was not, it is recorded, enamoured of the bedroom décor!

Kelmarsh Hall, a fine Palladian villa, by James Gibbs is the “English Country House” personified. It is ironic that this much sought-after look should have been created by an American, Nancy Lancaster, but nonetheless thanks to her Kelmarsh is a beautiful, warm comfortable creation filled with lovely furniture. Some of this was only in situ temporarily as it comes from Croome Court, the erstwhile home of the Earls of Coventry. This furniture represents pieces by Chippendale, Vile and Cobb and Mayhew and Ince. All names to conjure with in the 18th century furniture-making firmament.

Not to be forgotten is the home of the Earl of Cardigan (of Balaclava fame). Deene Park stands as a testimony to the perseverance of the landed gentry in clinging on to their ancestral lands. Inherited by the present Mr and Mrs Brudenall in a lamentable state after war-time depredations, this fascinating house radiates comfort at every turn and is filled with delightful covetable objects and piles of must-read books.

And so back to Hambleton to their all-enveloping comfort, charming staff, and delicious dinner!

What more could you want after an exhausting day of sight-seeing?

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