Not for the first time – and probably not for the last – my summary of a Welsh visit is going to kick off with information about pronunciation! While I had been happily telling my companions that we were heading for the K-eye-min for the day, it transpires that we actually visited the Kimmin, so thank you to the friendly volunteer who greeted us and made that clear in his introductory remarks.
On my travels to date, I have come across a few odd locations that could not be more different from the traditional stately home that so many people associate with the National Trust. The Kymin qualifies as another of these oddities bringing together a Naval Temple, spectacular views (of Wales on one side and England on the other) and the Round House, which is effectively a glorified picnic shelter!
The Naval Temple will probably draw your attention first as you pass it, nestled in the trees, on the way from the car park. It was built a few years after the Round House in 1800 (with a complete restoration undertaken by the Trust in 2012) and celebrates the naval heroes of the time, including such well-known names as Boscawen (who incidentally lived at Hatchlands Park in Surrey) and Nelson, with the latter featured because of his victory at the Battle of the Nile; his biggest (but sadly fatal) triumph at Trafalgar wouldn’t take place for another five years. The temple is quite a striking building with a figure of Britannia on the top and 16 plaques to commemorate the important victories of 16 different admirals. Rather appropriately, I was followed around the temple by a red admiral butterfly who appeared to be quite drawn to my blue jumper and kept landing on me. Nelson reincarnated to greet the visitors?! I’d love to think so.
Moving on to the Round House, you will almost certainly take a detour to the railing to look down on Monmouth and the Welsh mountains and landscape laid out in front of you. When you do decide to enter the Round House, you’ll find that there isn’t a lot to see – just a few information boards and the views of course – but do take time to talk to the volunteers who will be happy to fill you in on the background as well as pinpointing exactly what you can see from the windows. You may also be able to try some sweet treats that would have been on the menu to 19th century visitors. We had ginger biscuits and ratafia to choose from.
The Round House was built between 1794 and 1796 and was paid for by a group of Monmouth gentlemen who met every week to dine in one of Monmouthshire’s pleasant outdoor spots. The views from the Kymin made this one of their favourite locations so they raised subscriptions for the erection of a ‘pavilion’ where they could dine without risk of their meal being spoiled by bad weather. The two-floor building would have housed a makeshift kitchen on the ground floor and the banqueting room above. Today, a small extension has been added to provide a little more space and some modern plumbing to make the building habitable (it was tenanted for many years before the Trust decided to open it to the public in the 1990s).
Although the walks and views are available to visitors every day, the Round House is only open on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays so be careful to time it well if you do want a quick look around. One other thing I would strongly recommend is The Kymin’s ‘guidebook’. It is not a big enough property for the Trust to produce its own dedicated guidebook but thankfully Charles Heath, a member of the Monmouth dining club, got there first. He was a local printer and in 1808 he produced a ‘Descriptive Account of the Kymin Pavilion and Beaulieu Grove with their Various Views; also, the Naval Temple’, which is followed by ‘Proud Days for Monmouth’, a summary of Lord Nelson’s visit to the town and to The Kymin in 1802. This is actually the source of much of the NT’s knowledge about the place and is perhaps the most fascinating guide I have bought to date. It is a facsimile reprint and is well worth the extra cost (£7.50) as it is written in the slightly flowery language of the time and takes the reader right back to the property’s most important period. It is also a limited edition (I’ve got number 229 of 500) and was printed in 2002 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Nelson’s visit so you might want to get your copy quickly as it is doubtful whether it will be reprinted once the current edition runs out.
Lastly, I would also like to say a big thank you to the volunteers at The Kymin who decided to lay on tea and cake on this particular Sunday in June. The handbook states that there are only soft drinks and snacks available at the Round House on the days that it is open so, with no minor amount of trepidation, I had to tell my travel companions that they would not be getting their expected cuppa on this occasion. However, on arrival in the car park, we saw a sign informing us that tea and homemade cakes were available today, which immediately got me back in the good books. We all sat on one of the benches with a cup of tea at the end of our visit and shared a single chocolate brownie between the four of us (it wasn’t that long after we’d had cake with our lunch!). I later read in my 19th century guidebook that the dining club could have tea at one shilling a head; today, you’ll pay £1 but it’s well worth it, especially if it encourages the Trust to lay on these extras more frequently.
Highlights: The views and the early 19th Century guidebook
Refreshments: Cup of tea and a quarter of a brownie!
Purchase(s): ‘Descriptive Account of the Kymin Pavilion, etc.’ by Charles Heath
Companion(s): Silver Girls
NT Connections: Hatchlands Park, home to Admiral Boscawen, one of the big names celebrated on the Naval Temple