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A La Ronde

©NTPL/Rupert Truman

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The National Trust property of A la Ronde is the perfect day out for those who like something a little unusual in terms of interior design and appreciate a family history.

Located on the aptly named Summer Lane, in Exmouth A la Ronde is a charming 16-sided house which seems to have come straight from the pages of a nursery rhyme.

It is surrounded by 15 acres of beautiful lawned gardens in a stunning hillside setting overlooking the Exe estuary.

Reflecting a lifestyle most of us can only read about, A la Ronde was built for two spinster cousins, Mary and Jane Parminster, to live in when they returned from their obligatory grand tour of Europe, which lasted ten years.

©NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh
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The Grade II listed house was designed by Miss Jane with the assistance of architect John Lowder.

It was modelled on the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy and has walls which are almost a metre thick. It was completed in 1795 and the cousins filled this unique house with beautiful mementoes and collectibles from their travels.

This neatly configured home still reflects the delicate décor and female-orientated ambience of its original owners, who clearly loved arts and crafts and had plenty of time on their hands.

A la Ronde's many windows and central skylight provided plenty of natural light for their handicrafts and the ladies would move around the house following the sun, ending in the west-facing Oval Room at the end of the day.

Of course furnishing such an unusually shaped house was a challenge and many cupboards and bookshelves were custom built and the doors slide back into the wall space to maximize the space.

Visitors will see the decorative frieze which is made from feathers of local game birds, all painstakingly attached with a gelatin-like natural substance called isinglass. A similar labour of love is the shell-encrusted upper gallery where 25,000 fragile shells have survived and can be viewed on the clever closed-circuit cameras.

Other evidence of the spinsters' creativity can be seen in the central lobby around which

©NTPL/David Garner
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all the other rooms are arranged. The green wallpaper has a seaweed like design and the curtained swags were created to represent waves of the sea.

This unusual lobby, entered on the first floor due to the slope of the land, was furnished for entertaining and still has its ingenious fold-out benches to accommodate quite a crowd.

This central atrium is 10.7m (35 feet) high and the eight doors lead off to a series of interconnecting rooms. The below-stairs ground floor rooms were used as sleeping quarters for the maids along with a wine cellar and kitchens.

Feminists to the end, the ladies lived in A la Ronde for 50 years and then left it to be passed only to unmarried female heirs. Eventually this exquisite and unique home was given to the National Trust in 1991.

Keen crafters should visit the Discovery Room which continues the handicraft theme with silhouette and shell craft activities. A la Ronde also has croquet on the lawn and the chance for young visitors to dress up in period costume. There is a small family church in the grounds and small almshouses which were built for needy spinsters.

Finish the day in the attractive Mary-Jane licensed tea room, in the lovely grounds of this genteel home, with a home cooked meal featuring local Devon produce.

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Bus Services:
Stagecoach in Devon 57/58 Exeter-Exmouth/Budleigh Salterton to within ½ mile.

View local cycle routes on the National Cycle Network website.

By Road:
2 miles north of Exmouth on A376.

By Train:
Lympstone Village 1¼ miles; Exmouth 2 miles

On Foot:
East Devon Way borders property. South West Coast Path within ¾ mile.

Ordnance Survey Reference:

A La Ronde Postcode for SatNav: EX8 5BD


+44 (0)1395 265 514 (property office)

Summer Lane

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