Farleigh Wallop, the ancestral seat of the Earl of Portsmouth, is a stunning 3,000-acre property in the heart of leafy Hampshire.
And now, as one of Oetker Collection’s Masterpiece Estates, Farleigh House is available to hire for up to 20 guests. Guy Walters drops in for a tour of this exquisite country house.
The boating lake at Farleigh Wallop
It used to be pretty hard to live like a lord. For a start, you needed a title, and you only got one of those if you were willing to lend the king a few of your soldiers to help him out of a tight spot, or in later times, donate hundreds of thousands of pounds to a needy prime minister. As well as a title, you also required a country estate with a few thousand acres, complete with a mansion, a village or two, ample room for hunting, shooting and fishing, and scores of flunkeys.
Today, though, there are very few lords who still live like this. For the rest of us, it’s possible to bypass the centuries of family history and live the life of a landed aristocrat by hiring a private estate, courtesy of Oetker Collection’s new portfolio of superb British and Irish (and later this year, French) country homes, Masterpiece Estates.
The facade of Farleigh House topped by the family’s armorial bearings
It’s hard to think of a better place to sample country estate life than Farleigh House in Hampshire. Although the house is a mere three centuries old, the estate has been in the hands of the same family for over half a millennium. The splendidly named Wallop family has not one title, but three: Earl of Portsmouth, Viscount Lymington and Baron Wallop – one for each generation. Naturally, these come with armorial bearings, which are present all over the estate, in the form of a white shield with a black wavy diagonal line (what heraldry buffs term “a bend wavy sable”) and the family motto, “En suivant la vérité” – “in following the truth”.
The present earl, 64-year-old Quentin Wallop, is the tenth holder of the earldom, although running the house is more the remit of his 37-year-old son, Oliver, known as Viscount Lymington, who is understandably evangelical about his family home.
“Farleigh is a truly special place,” he says. “The estate itself has never been bought or sold in recorded history, passing only on death or marriage. I have lived here all my life and feel privileged to be able to call it home. While I may be slightly biased, the house performs the tricky balancing act of remaining welcoming while having a fantastic sense of occasion.”
Despite his bias, Viscount Lymington is correct – Farleigh is a special place. Everything is just as it should be. Entry via a long tree-lined gravel drive? Of course, sir. Imposing mansion dating from the 18th century topped with the family’s coat of arms and a agpole? Naturally. Entrance hall and grand staircase complete with vast oil paintings of ancestors? We have just the thing. Beautiful octagonal ballroom looking onto an immaculate lawn and rolling acres of Hampshire countryside? You’ve come to the right place.
The house is ringed by beautiful gardens
In fact, everything about Farleigh House is immaculate, not least because Viscount Lymington and his wife – who do not live in the house itself – have invested heavily in making every room absolutely awless. And Lady Lymington is an interior designer who in the past worked for fashionable hotelier Kit Kemp, so she has a professional eye for elegance and an instinct for comfort. But this is not to say that Farleigh feels in any way characterless or over-designed, because there’s enough in the house to still make it feel like a family home. There’s a visitors’ book – complete with the names of royalty and that of a very famous (and posh) pop star, and in the downstairs lavatory, there are some of Viscount Lymington’s old Eton school photographs. If you peer closely enough at the picture of the Junior Colts C football team from the mid-1990s, you’ll see standing next to a teenaged Viscount Lymington none other than HRH Prince William of Wales. That picture alone is surely enough to convince any guest that they’re staying in the right place.
There are plenty of other noteworthy details. In a corridor upstairs is a pair of chairs from the Queen’s coronation in 1953, which are covered in blue velvet and feature the monogram “ERII” beneath a crown. These chairs would have been sat on by the 9th Earl and his wife when they attended the coronation, and many such chairs were kept as mementoes by peers of the realm and other guests.
Then there are some rather intriguing objects housed in a display case just before one enters the kitchen. These are from the family’s collection of “Shackletonia” – items connected with the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Among them is the Chilean Order of Merit presented to Shackleton in 1916, as well as three rearms, all used by the explorer on three expeditions. For those who know about such things, these are a sidelever sidelock ejector gun, a Winchester .44 carbine, and a Belgian 8mm revolver. Whatever they all are, they certainly look capable of stopping even the most vicious of Antarctica’s penguins.
The 14th-century seal of Thomas Wallop, found in 2006 near the Hampshire village of Nether Wallop
Newton Wallop, the 6th Earl of Portsmouth
But there’s so much more to staying at Farleigh than the house itself. The British aristocracy is, in many ways, defined by the land it has held and worked for centuries. No matter the weather, it would be an utter shame not to get out of the house and explore not only the 25-acre garden, but also the surrounding thousands of acres. If you really want to get an appreciation of the connection that families like the Wallops have with their estates, then take the opportunity to walk around, and see how the land is farmed and planted. Think of the satisfaction you may have enjoyed when planting a single tree – and now multiply that by the knowledge that you and your family for the past five centuries have been responsible for the planting of every tree as far as the eye can see. To understand that is to really feel like a lord, and in doing so, to help get the most out of your stay.
The house’s awless decor was curated by Lady Lymington, an interior designer by profession
The garden is exquisite. A walk down an avenue of trees takes you to some wrought-iron park gates, beyond which you’ll find a boating lake, complete with a jetty and a rowing boat – which would be an ideal way to work up an appetite for a sundowner. Better still, take along a bottle of champagne and a special companion, and just drift on the lake until you need another bottle. And yes, there is a pool. And a place to land your helicopter. For those more horticulturally minded, an orangery and a kitchen garden will prove to be treats in themselves, and it goes without saying that much of what is grown in them ends up on the plates of guests.
Map of Farleigh Wallop
It is perhaps at dinner in the evening when the full “lording it up” experience can reach its apogee. While some guests like to keep things informal, it seems a shame to slouch around the sumptuous dining room in jeans while gobbling a few forkfuls of pasta. No, this a room for a proper dinner for all 20 of you, complete with black tie, full silver, candlelight, waiters and footmen – a room in which to be served a delicious, multi-course meal. Indeed, if he’s around, Viscount Lymington might well pop in for a pre-dinner cocktail, but as a working man who once listed his job in Burke’s Peerage as “shelf-stacker with Sainsbury’s”, he’s no performing waxwork.
A carved stone fountain in the estate’s stunning gardens
That’s the thing about lords these days. They have to work hard. And as for the rest of us, well, we can enjoy the fruits of their labours.