30th November 1997


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Rambling on

The Plantation Home

If the grandly ram- bling bungalow at Le Vallon could speak, it would surely have tales of romance to tell. Perhaps it would start by saying how it likes to be called. Legend has it that the name derives from an estate of the same name in Scotland. Yet it sounds French and one wants to say "Le Val-On." Planters, however, pronounce it "Level-On."

Le Vallon has long been the main bungalow on a plantation that embraces several others, including New Forest and Hermitage. The highest elevation of the combined plantations is 5,332 feet above sea level at Trig Point on the former Hermitage Estate which overlooks the Loolecondera plantation.

It was at Loolecondera in 1867 that James Taylor planted 19 acres of what is acclaimed as the first attempt to grow tea commercially in the then Ceylon. Le Vallon was planted in tea (after years as a coffee estate) in 1871. That was the year the original bungalow was built. It was extensively renovated in 1951.

To the purists it is not a bungalow at all, but a two storey mansion set in mature gardens complete with abandoned swimming pool, pond and a stream.

There is a crystal ball on a pillar on the well-mown lawn of its garden. It is made by Short & Mason Ltd. of London to monitor weather conditions.

The Le Vallon house seems suited for any kind of weather. There is a portico used as a verandah for fine days. Curiously, this has an attic bedroom above and this seems snug enough for the coldest night. The verandah extends from a spacious club or conservatory room at a lower level than the adjoining sitting room. It is large enough to have a table for table tennis at one side and a bar counter at the other.

A few steps lead up to the lounge or sitting room whose concrete floor, when we visited, had been scraped to remove decades of paint and polish and looked rather modern and attractive in its raw shade. The planter and his wife, Mr & Mrs Winston Bowen, were away at the time but had left so many arrangements of flowers covering shelves and corners that the mansion exuded a hospitable charm.

The bungalow's entrance is through a hall with a guest bathroom on one side and the planter's study on the other. This has a fireplace sharing a chimney with the main fireplace in the adjoining sitting room. The rambling begins from the hall with steps down to a corridor that leads the length of the dining room to a pretty guest bedroom and bathroom. The kitchen and servants' quarters are in this region.

Somewhat incongruous in the dining room is a large, ancient wall mirror more appropriate in a palace ballroom. It has a Victorian glass cabinet placed below it. All other furniture is dominated by those two extraordinary pieces. At the other side of the room is another corridor which leads to the closed-in verandah of the guest room.

An imposing flight of wooden stairs gives access to the upper storey bedrooms, the floors of which form the teak ceilings of the downstairs rooms.

The two separate parts of the house can be better understood from upstairs where a warren of bedrooms and bathrooms lead into each other, offering great potential for room-hopping in the manner of a French farce.

The ponderous furniture could be categorised as plantation issue. Someone has had the idea of brightening up the hues of natural teak with pastel shades of grey and white. Even the brass handles on chests of drawers have been painted over in white.

The attic bedroom mentioned before has a sloping roof and two comfortable looking beds that probably date from the l930s.

Its adjoining bathroom has a floor of chequered black and white terrazzo and a long bathtub with brass taps.

Most of the furniture that complements Le Vallon's story over the decades has gone. What remains or has been introduced, does not always fit the eccentricity of the bungalow-mansion.

It is tempting to think that properly restored and furnished, Le Vallon could become an intriguing link with the plantation era of the past.

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