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All Roads Lead to Nunney, England

August 23, 1987|BEVERLY S. NARKIEWICZ | Narkiewicz is a Santa Ana free-lance writer.

NUNNEY, England — The brochure for the Bridge House ("Restaurant with Accommodation") contains a kind of cosmic map of concentric circles radiating into space and lines connecting what look like distant stars and planets. At the center of that universe is the village of Nunney.

On a conventional map Nunney doesn't look like much, a town designated in eye-straining type just off the A361 carriage-way four miles southwest of Frome (rhymes with broom) in England's Somerset County.

To the east stretches the awesome grassy plateau called Salisbury Plain; to the west are the mysterious Mendips, rolling hills whose granite core is reputed to run under the Channel and rise again in Belgium.

Between two such geological phenomena, a hamlet the size of Nunney should be no more than a speck on the face of the earth.

Its Very Own Castle

But small as it is, Nunney is seductive. Spend a few days among its architectural mix of medieval austerity and Georgian elegance, and the idea of Nunney as center of the universe somehow seems less bizarre. For one thing, Nunney has a castle.

In 1373 Sir John de la Mare obtained a license to crenelate his house, according to local literature. That, apparently, was only the beginning. When complete, the broad rectangle with a circular tower at each corner had reached four stories and stood in stout splendor behind a moat 25 feet wide.

Nunney Castle was home to gentry until 1645, when it was cannonaded by Cromwellian troops and dismantled. All you see are four tall sturdy walls complete with towers, windows and crenelations but without floors, ceilings and fixtures. The wide moat still surrounds it, although a permanent bridge has replaced the original drawbridge.

Close by the castle (not that anything in Nunney is far away) is All Saints Church, dating from the 13th Century. The stone effigy from Sir John de la Mare's tomb rests on a windowsill in this charming little stone church, flanked by four other tombs with effigies in Elizabethan costume.

Historic Structures

The rest of Nunney also reflects the history of East Somerset. A Georgian manor house is next to the castle, an ancient tithe barn where farm tenants were once expected to leave a tenth of their harvest for the landowner, a row of weavers' cottages attesting to the village's involvement in the cloth industry, a mill still in use and the tiny town lockup.

Grouped around the stone bridge that serves as village center are a post office/sweet shop that also sells post cards and yarn, a couple of grocery stores and one or two other modest shops.

You have a choice of accommodations in Nunney. The Bridge House is a lovely Georgian stone hostelry alongside Nunney Brook and offers overnight accommodations at prices ranging from 13.50 (about $22) for a single to 17.50 for a double room with bath and color TV, English breakfast included. The Bridge House also serves travelers morning coffee, lunch, a not-to-be-missed cream tea and dinner.

Sign of the George

The alternative for rooms and meals is the George Inn, a pub dating from the 14th Century whose sign, by special dispensation, is suspended from an iron arch spanning the road, one of only two such signs in England.

The George offers modern guest rooms starting at 27 single, 32 double and 40 for "the works," a four-poster bed. All prices include English breakfast. Meals may be taken in a choice of settings--bar, lounge or restaurant.

With Nunney as a base, the sky's the limit for leisurely side trips. Only five miles west, for instance, is Longleat, magnificent country home of the Marquess of Bath, one of the first and finest of Britain's grand estates to be opened to the public.

While the palatial house and its fabulous furnishings are the real attraction at Longleat, the gardens, landscaped by Capability Brown in 1757-62, are also spectacular.

As an added draw, a safari park has been set up on the estate, along with several other attractions. Admission to the house and grounds is 2.80; tours of the safari park, doll house and other exhibits are extra.

High Tea on the Cheap

Also less than five miles away is Frome where, except on Thursday--an early closing day in this market town--you can enjoy the best tea and cakes in all of England at the Settle Tea House. Part of the Settle's charm is its setting on Cheap Street, a pedestrian lane with a rivulet running down the middle of its cobblestones. The other part of its charm is its scones and clotted cream.

Within 10 miles of Nunney is another fine estate, Stourhead, noted more for its gardens than for its house. Designed in the 18th Century by owner Henry Hoare II, these are early English-style gardens with pathways winding around a lake, through a grotto and past such delights as a Temple of Apollo, a Pantheon and an obelisk.

Admission to the house, open during summer only, is 1.80 for adults, 90 pence for children; admission to the garden, open all year, is 1.50 for adults, 1 for children.

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