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True Americana in Claverton


On a warm, sunny day there can be few better playgrounds than the American Museum in Claverton, just outside Bath.

The museum itself is small and perfectly formed, the kind of place where you can amble at leisure without feeling overwhelmed by the content. Here you will find traditional American quilts, stunning Shaker furniture, Native American artefacts and folk art.

Yet is also the magical setting of the museum in Claverton Manor which makes a day trip so worthwhile. The beautiful old house stands in front of a staggering view over the Claverton Downs and the museum's laid back vibe means you can picnic anywhere you like, even, as we did, on the immaculate front lawn.

The American Museum feels like a well-kept secret - those in the know, turn up for teatime picnics with their children who race off to climb trees or hang out in the wigwam while their parents crash out on rugs.

Inside the house is made up of a series of period rooms tracing American history from the first settlers to present day.

For starters, proudly on show (and nothing to do with America, as far as I can see) on the ground floor is Kate Middleton's see-through dress - the one she famously modelled at St Andrews University and won Prince William's heart. And, yes, it is startlingly see-through and a far cry from her demure dress sense of today.

Upstairs, first stop on the tour is the Textiles Room filled with a hanging display of more than 200 American Quilts. Now needlecraft is strictly not my thing but the quilts, rugs and samplers are beautiful and fanatical in their detail.

The room displays are brilliantly put together - each one perfectly evoking its period - and reminiscent too of many film sets  - Cold Mountain, Gone With the Wind, Witness. You find yourself transported from a minimal early settler's bedroom to a shaker sewing workroom to a wealthy mid 18th century New York parlour. This is true Americana at its best.

Downstairs there is a gallery of American folk art right next to the cafe with its legendary home-baked cakes - both come recommended.

Make sure you allow plenty of time to tour the grounds - forty acres are open to the public - and the gardens are spectacular. There are so many places just to sit and chill out - lovely little blue painted benches positioned in a quiet corner or in front of a stunning view. It struck me that this would be an ideal setting for a few hours of solitude - if only! Next time I'll bring the ingredients for a Beckford Bellini with me and take up residence on one of those benches.

On our way home, we found ourselves unexpectedly in the Mount Vernon Garden which was bursting with bright coloured flowers. A gardener beckoned us over and directed us to the windfall pears on the ground.

'Help yourself,' she said. 'Take as many as you can.'

It's that kind of place.

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