Gwavas is Welsh for permanent stead, as opposed to summer pasture. It sits in the Hawkes Bay, originally on 34,000 acres of a sheep and cattle farm. It is now around twenty acres of garden surrounding what was a twelve bedroom, two story home built in 1890 on land that has been in the family for over a hundred and twenty years. The servant’s four bedrooms downstairs walls were removed, making room for the family’s current large kitchen, dining and family space.
Loving stories of old homes and families, I was always going to be smitten, having already read an article about this beautiful home and garden around four years ago in a magazine, and to get here is such a delight to me.
We arrive at 5pm and Hannah takes us up a beautiful wide staircase and shows us to our room. With a thirteen plus foot stud and so much space, the four poster bed is almost lost. Our bedroom is very special. Gilbert and I look at each other and laugh. It’s unbelievable to be sleeping here. A huge bay window overlooks the lawn that is dry, dry, dry but all I can see in my mind is a tea party set out and families playing perhaps croquet or lawn tennis on the flat section in front of the house.
Hannah is sixth generation here. While probably fairly normal in some of Europe or UK, this is pretty unusual here. I find older houses fascinating and just love imagining the swish of long gathered skirts, the smell of lavender coming from steamy laundries and wood or coal from smokey fireplaces. I imagine growing up here, children chasing each other down the large sweeping staircase, playing hide n seek under stairs or in and out of cupboards, and tennis on the grass court.
Phyllida and Stuart tell us over dinner a bit about the home’s history. We get on well, chuckling over similar stuff as they ask us about our business and we ask about theirs. They run the BnB, cater morning and afternoon teas. Have venue hire for weddings and Phyllida, a kindergarten teacher in another life, runs a very cool little sideline providing natural learning resources for preschools, collecting the natural bits and pieces from the woodland surrounding the home.
After dinner Gilbert and I take a walk and I promise to do a bit of a rain dance while I’m out there as they are desperate for rain. “Even if you have to get naked, Phyllidda asserts. I hear that’s the best way. Promise we won’t look”, she adds laughing. “I promise I won’t do it naked”, I reply, as we leave the dining room behind.
Even though it’s the driest summer for fifty years and everything is struggling, it’s still beautiful. The sun is about to set and the evening light is ethereal through the trees. The mown paths are wide, easy walking and the smell of fresh pines needles fills the air. There’s another fragrance thick in the air and smells similar to the silk tree but I can’t see one. We wander past the old shearing quarters, the glasshouse, the one hundred year old caged raspberries protected from rabbits, that are still producing buckets and buckets. We peek into the gorgeous summerhouse, now dwarfed and sitting in the shade of hundred year old trees.
The families garden philosophy, if you like, is to simply care for the plants rather than manage them. To maintain a woodland setting where trees grow naturally and ground covers come and go in a cycle of seasons without an obvious intrusion of man. I like that.
Back for coffee as the sun sinks behind the trees, I tell them I’m confident it’s going to rain, besides, Ken Ring has predicted rain so feel sure I’m pretty safe. We all chuckle about what sort of dance actually does make rain but I tell them the secret is the energy, not the actual dance. I’m disappointed we’ve missed the century old family cemetery and the start of three hundred acres of conservation protected Virgin bush with some trees up to six hundred years old and full of the birdsong of many native birds. Perhaps tomorrow? Up to bed and we are soon tucked up in the beautiful four poster bed. I think I’m going to be woken by birdsong well before our breakfast time as we are surrounded by so many trees and though I’m looking out of a second story window they tower above me. But no. I sleep soundly until well after seven.
We have breakfast and we are all laughing at the very obvious lack of rain, though it’s not that funny for them who have to buy in water and hand water the trees that are most at risk, when Phyllida looks out the window and exclaims it’s raining. OK not full on pelting on the tin roof, but it’s raining. As Stuart explains the family tree and how Phyllida came to be the one to care take for future generations this family homestead, her brother is doing the same on a property in Cornwall that has been in their family for five hundred years.
He takes us from room to room pointing out the original Belgian brocade curtains placed in 1890 and the original frieze and the heart Totara ceilings and the Matai floorings, and in each room we check out the window and yep, it’s getting heavier.
We enter the beautiful billiard room with its imported 1899 billiard table and look out the window. I ask Stuart if he’d like to shake my hand. He declines. “It’s not really heavy and probably won’t last,” he drawls. “Ok. Eat your hat later” I laugh.
We gather our bits and Phyllida offers to take our photo on the steps to prove to Lauren that advertising in magazines does work, after she told me print advertising was a waste of money, time and resources. Here I am Lauren, after reading an article in a magazine about four years earlier. Haha! “So, did you actually do a dance?” Phyllida asks me as we leave. Welllll…I can’t really tell you. You know how when you make a wish you shouldn’t share the wish. Well this is like that, I smile.
I think I’d like to run a place like this I muse as we drive off waving merrily, promising to come back in spring, when the garden is full of winter rain and summer promise. It’s not really heavy rain but I snap this pic and send it to Phyllida so that if it stops she can appreciate it did actually rain and wasn’t a figment of her imagination. She emails back that ‘given the current circumstances that’s the best pic I’ve ever seen of the front of house’!
Pretty sure we will be back. There is more to see and know of this beauty and I’m glad I haven’t seen it all.