You’re paying good money to go see history while in England. You might go to any of the dozens, or even hundreds of sites maintained by the English Heritage organization…they even, for we Yanks and other “furriners”, have an “Overseas Visitor Pass”, pay one price and gain entry to over 100 historical sites – about $40 USD. Or, you can pay the same cost and gain entrance to a place that sounds like part history, part Disneyland, and the remaining portion of a road side zoo. And yuou would be right to do so, ..and wrong
Longleat is a fine example of an Elizabethan grand country home purchased for the Marquesses of Bath in 1541, formerly a Chapter House for the Augustinian Priory – (holy DaVinci Code!). Burnt badly enough to be razed and rebuilt to its current splendor in about 1580. The eighth Marquess still lives there, now in his eighties and in poor health. He is surrounded in old luxury and a 10,000 acre game park inhabited by lions, tigers, bears, (oh my), wolves and various African species…including a very large troop of monkeys that could get employment in any auto wrecking yard in the U.S. When you drive, foolishly, into the monkey enclosure, after immediately and completely ignoring all advice for folks in the know, and the very pointed warning signs at the entrance, the first thing you see are the trophies taken in the park. Not lion’s heads, nor Cape Buffalo horns and skulls, but fenders, countless window wipers, hubcaps, bumpers and various other car parts. We got off very easy indeed – (rest easy Budget Car Rental agents)..
A single, rather than dozens, female monkey hopped on our car, scrambled onto the roof and only ate small chunks of the rear mounted radio antenna. After a few gentle, sort of, pumpings of the brakes, she was off and watching for her next victim. The rest lay in the tall grasses, huddled together to ward off the chill of the brisk wind.
The house should be seen -The details are too numerous and detailed to mention, but for those who have not seen it, think Biltmore House on steroids. This is the sort of grandeur that Vanderbilt had in mind, but did not match, when he had Biltmore constructed.
Something else that old George V couldn’t match, and undoubtedly wouldn’t want to, was the reputation of the current Lord of the Manor, Alexander Thynne, the seventh to inherit the place and the title, now past his former glory, or lack thereof. But during his heyday he was the very epitome of the artistic hippie, techno beatnik, right down to the whole rap he espoused, which included incidentally, to have the traditional wife and offspring to inherit, but also upto 75 “wifelets” to address his other interests and outlets.\
Alexander Thynne, 7th Marquess of Bath then
Lest I dwell overmuch on the eccentricities and lasciviousness of this artful dodger, let me say this – Longleat is well worth visiting, with its animal park, the Great House, the adventure park, the boat rides into a freshwater lake inhabited by seals and gorillas on an island and many other features. It should feel like a tacky, State Highway attraction, but still manages to come off with the class that only the passage of centuries can bring.