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Hearts of Oak

Emily Mangles visits Stock Gaylard, an estate steeped in history with its eyes very firmly on the future

On  seeing Stock Gaylard, a reassuringly square house set in idyllic rolling parkland, one could be forgiven for imagining that nothing has changed there for centuries, so settled does it seem. One would, however, be wrong. Conservation is the watchword of owners Andrew and Josie Langmead, but it is achieved through continuous innovation.
The estate was last sold in 1585, though there have been a few changes of surname along the way. For many years it was the Yeatman family, hence the unusual Y shaped gate adornments which one sees from time to time whilst driving through the back roads of northwest Dorset.

The delightful dovecote at Stock Gaylard

The delightful dovecote at Stock Gaylard

The present house was built in 1720 on the site of an older manor. The 14th-century dovecot survives in the garden, used as a summer house. The estate church also predates the current house, although it was rather heavily restored by Bishop Yeatman-Biggs. During the restoration they found a leather bag of bones, presumed to be the remains of a crusading ancestor, who died in the holy land and whose body was returned to his home in Dorset for burial. He was reburied and a monument to him remains in the church and the Crusader Oak is not only one of the oldest trees in the park, but one of the oldest in Dorset. The license to empark deer was granted in 1286, and the current deer park is part of North Dorset’s heritage as a landmark in its own right, due to its visibility from the road. Also visible from the road is the summer house or ‘witch’s hut’ in the park. Built by Harry Farr Yeatman in around 1870 as a place for walking to as Sunday afternoon recreation, and was recently restored with a grant from the Dorset Gardens Trust.
It is perhaps unsurprising, living in such a beautiful setting, that Andrew and Josie are so committed to conserving Dorset’s landscape and crafts. Their love of the Dorset countryside is the driving force behind all of their projects, and they have many projects. Andrew says they try to complete one a year, each necessary to preserve and keep the estate fit for purpose. They are custodians of 1800 acres of Dorset natural heritage which includes three Sites of Special Scientific Interest: The Lydlynch Common SSSI for its Marsh Fritillary Butterflies, Stock Wood SSSI for its ancient woodland and the Park itself for rare lichens. Taking over one SSSI is daunting enough, but three is really a challenge. At one point the Langmead’s garden was almost included in a site accidentally.

The avenue in which artisan makers exhibit at the annual Oak Fair

The avenue in which artisan makers exhibit at the annual Oak Fair

It was this responsibility for the upkeep of the Estate that led them to start the Oak Fair twelve years ago. They wanted to support the estate using what it had to offer. This is a theme that recurs throughout all their endeavours. Almost all timber repairs to the estate and buildings are carried out with wood from their own trees. The Oak Fair takes place amongst the avenue of oaks leading through the park to the house, and it celebrates the talent of local Dorset craftsmen and women. All the stands at the fair are related to timber or conservation. The food stalls all come from the South West, with around 70% coming from Dorset itself. I suggested to Andrew that the fair had become rather a foody destination, he laughed and said there was such a variety because he dislikes queues.
This small, relaxed idea is central to the fair’s popularity. It’s now moved to be for two days as they like to keep numbers each day down, to allow everyone to fully enjoy the fair without overcrowding. Displays include tree surgeons, falconry, and heavy horses displaying logging.
Dogs (on leads) abound, from deerhounds to dachshunds, with plenty of spaniels and Labradors in between. It’s a perfect fair for families, small enough that it’s a really achievable size for little legs to toddle round in a day, with plenty of displays, food and shopping to keep everyone entertained.

The chapel with its crypt door and narrow staircase down to meet the ancestors

The chapel with its crypt door and narrow staircase down to meet the ancestors

As well as the Fair, the estate also runs ‘glamping’. Visitors can stay in luxury yurts, made from wood from the estate, and with canvas made and sewn by Cath Pratley a local craftswoman. They are only reliant on mains amenities for fresh water, all the electricity is solar, and the fridge is run on gas. The house itself is heated by woodchips from the estate. This typifies their reciprocal relationship with the surrounding landscape: they work to sustain the trees, and the trees in turn play a central role in the day to day running of the estate. The Oak Fair has helped to fund the planting of new oak trees, sympathetically placed to eventually take over from the older trees as they slowly die off. As Andrew said ‘we can only enjoy the trees today because, centuries ago, someone else planted them for us.’

The Stock Gaylard Oak Fair was on 27-28 August 2016. For more information and dates for future years, visit www.stockgaylard.com/the-oak-fair.asp

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