Friday, August 23, 2013

The following series of posts have been on my mind for some time.

12 months to be exact.

Think of it as a love letter to this tiny outpost of academia we've called home for the past year.

With its history, its traditions, its...its Englishness - this country is just about as close to Utopia as it gets for me. I can think of no greater way to spend a day than to visit a stately home and marvel at the pomp and circumstance of it all. It's wealth on a scale completely foreign to a humble New Zealand girl from a small rural community.

This post is dedicated to some of my favorite stately homes located close to our home. I've tried to keep the information short & sweet - as much to save your sanity as to whet your appetite to go and see them for yourself.

Woburn Abbey
Woburn Park, Bedfordshire - MK17 9WA

Ordinarily I'd save the best for last, but in the case of Woburn Abbey I'll make an exception.

I've spent many, many, MANY hours at Woburn Abbey. It was a god send during those colder months when I needed to get out of the house & run some energy off my caged animal son. This said I've only been in the house once. So why is it my favorite stately home in the area?
  1. Internationally significant artwork - If names like Gainsborough, Van Dyke and Rembrandt mean anything to you then welcome to Mecca
  2. Something for everyone - Houses, Gardens, Antiques, a Safari Park stacked with Lions & Tigers and Bears...(oh my!) Woburn boasts so many attractions that it's almost overwhelming 
  3. Year around activities - I was astonished to discover that between November - March each year a great number of attractions shut up shop. Thankfully Woburn works hard to put on a show and host a variety of events - for more information check out the events page here
My Top Tips
  • Buy an Annual Pass - An annual pass for the Gardens and Deer Park will set you back a princely £13 enabling you to roam around the grounds till your hearts New Zealand this is called trespassing and generally results in arrest.
  • Indulge in High Tea - If you want something done right, go direct to the source. Afternoon Tea is said to have originated at Woburn by Duchess Anna Maria, wife of the 7th Duke of Bedford. I celebrated my baby shower at the Duchess' Tea Rooms & highly recommend it for both value & venue. A selection of sandwiches, homemade cakes and scones with clotted cream and jam and a pot of tea for £12.50 per person...yes please
  • Woburn County Fair - If you do nothing else head along to the Woburn County Fair held each year in June for no other reason but to watch a Pony race an Isuzu. It's a great weekend of exhibits, stalls and entertainment held in the grounds of the Deer Park. I've included a few snaps below....PS - the Pony won

Wimpole Estate
Arrington, Royston, Hertfordshire - SG8 0BW

This National Trust property makes me weak at the knees every time I visit...and I've visited a bit. That said I've yet to make it inside the House so what is it about Wimpole Estate that I love?

  1. Home Farm - Located on the grounds of the estate is a working farm including a substantial piggery, cattle sheds & petting zoo. Perfect for little ones to get up close and personal to nature. 
  2. Outdoor Spaces - Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I've always found roaming around after little people that much more enjoyable when there's something in it for me. Wimpole has a variety of outdoor gardens, spaces and playgrounds that appeal to both young and old. 
  3. The Food - Elaborating on point one, everything produced on site is consumed on site. The result is seriously delicious. The home farm cafe is my personal favorite for both the menu and the kid friendly atmosphere.
My Top Tips
  • Jingle Bells - The Christmas Market at Wimpole is really something else. Nestled in the old stable block is a veritable wonderland of craft & food markets. Browsing the stalls, hot chocolate in hand is sure to melt even the toughest Scrooge.

Wrest Park
Silsoe, Luton, Bedfordshire - MK45 4HR

My love affair with Wrest Park began quite by chance. I happened to see an advertisement in our local paper for St George's Day celebrations and thought we should head along for a look. As we edged along the driveway towards the glorious French-Style Mansion it was love at first site, and I've never looked back. I love Wrest Park - let me count the ways:

  1. Child Friendly Interiors - Wrest Park is a relatively new addition to the English Heritage portfolio. After decades behind virtually closed doors EH are working hard to revive the House (and Gardens) to their former glory. As a result only the ground floor of the house is open to the public and the interiors are extremely friendly to those with little ones in tow. Go forth and enjoy grasshopper.
  2. Adventure Playground - Wrest Park boasts a fabulous outdoor playground for the kids. Better still, said playground is located right outside the cafe. Coffee. Kids. Enough said (clearly the coffee is for you...not the kids...just saying)
  3. Great Outdoors - Wrest Park has one of my favorite outdoor areas. One look at the picture below tells you why, but what you can't see is the myriad of classical buildings dotted around the estate. Trust me. It's incredible. 
My Top Tips
  • St George's Day Festival - Wrest Park allegedly hosts the largest St George's Day Festival in England. In any case it's an experience that must be seen to be believed. Battle re-enactments, knights in armor, falconry and a smoke breathing Dragon - head along for English Heritage at its very best

Althorp, Northampton, NN7 4HQ

As we queued outside the gates, the two women ahead of us confessed they had made a point of visiting every year since 1997. Open to the public for only two months each year, making the journey to Althorp - the family home of the Spencer family and (more notably) the final resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales - is something of a pilgrimage.

Whether you're a royalist, or not - Althorp is an incredible home and well worth the journey off the beaten track for a visit:
  1. Stand and Marvel - I fear my pictures fail to capture the true beauty of the buildings at Althorp. The stable block alone (yes that majestic Italian inspired building dominated by the columns is merely the horses home) is enough to set the pulse racing. 
  2. Food Glorious Food - The cafe, set in the old stables block offers treats for both eye and stomach. The horses' stalls have been converted into table alcoves providing a little get away from the crowds. With some great lunch options for the littlies and (nearly) indestructible furnishings this has been my favorite eatery at a stately home to date. 
  3. A celebration of Life - It goes without saying that Althorp's real draw card is somewhat bittersweet. The family does an incredible job at celebrating the life of a woman who clearly meant so much to so many.
My Top Tips:
  • Get in Quick!: The award winning 'Diana: A celebration' exhibition is in its final year, and due to close in August 2014. This includes includes heart warming mementos from her childhood at Althorp, her marriage to HRH Prince Charles, her life with William and Harry, her work for charity and (more soberly) her state funeral. FYI - take tissues. Just saying.
  • Book in Advance or Pay Cash: Being open for a mere two months each year means getting in the gates can be a bit of a land grab. My suggestion is either to book your tickets online in advance or pay cash as the queues for both are significantly shorter.

Waddesdon, near Aylesbury, HP18 0JH

Places like Waddesdon Manor exist in Fairytales, Disney movies and Jilly Cooper novels. . . NOT real life. At least not my life. A former country home of the Rothschild dynasty, Waddesdon (in some respects) is a relic of a golden age now past. It would be easy to write Waddesdon off as just 'another stately home' yet I can't help but feel that merely strolling the grounds was enough to make one feel a bit more glamorous, a bit more classy and - frankly - just a little bit more posh than when you arrived.

Visit Waddesdon for the: 
  1. Opulence - Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild sure knew how to throw a shindig. Waddesdon was created as a place to entertain guests at his famous 'Saturday to Monday' house parties. When the guest list exceeded the available floor space he simply added a further wing to the West End of the house. It should come as no surprise that the interior is suitably opulent so head along and wander in wonder...
  2. Variety - Families, Wine lovers, Gardners and Art Aficiandos, Waddesdon caters for all tastes, ages and stages
  3. Accessibility - On both of my trips to Waddesdon I've been really impressed with their commitment to making the estate accessible for those with mobility requirements. From offering a free shuttle service between the outbuildings, to having wheelchairs available for use within the house & grounds you don't find this at every home so it's worth a call out - more information is available here.
My Top Tips:
  • Go early - Unsurprisingly Waddesdon is a popular attraction. Once the main car parks are full, cars are directed to park along the main driveway and it can be a long (LONG) walk to the house. My recommendation is to either get in early, or pack a good pair of shoes for the hike.
  • Christmas at Waddesdon - Waddesdon is glorious at any time of year but Christmas is something truly magical. It's like stepping into a Hallmark card (if you're lucky you might even see a little old lady wielding a hand muff...I'm making no promises though) - check out more information here then add it to your festive season must-see's for 2014.

Ashridge Estate
Visitor Centre, Moneybury Hill, Ringshall, Berkhamsted, HP4 1LT

I'll be honest - Ashridge Estate wasn't even a twinkle on the edge of my radar until Dawn (my doula) suggested we meet up for a stroll one dismal & raining fine day. Since then I've returned on at least four separate occasions. It's a love affair. Don't tell my husband.

Ashridge, unlike the other estates featured in this post, does not boast the allure of a stately home. Its charm lies in the 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) of magnificent and varied countryside which criss-crosses the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire border. It's a place of astonishing beauty & well worth the visit if not simply to gawk at the ginormous mansions marvel at the beauty and charm of the surrounding area.

Visit Ashridge if you want to:

  1. Get Lost - There's walking tracks to suit all ability levels and with 2,000 acres of woodland to explore you can walk for hours without seeing a soul. An achievement for a country with 60 million inhabitants. My favorite is a short loop track that circles back on itself from the Visitor Centre. It's the perfect distance for little legs that tire easily.
  2. Get Closer to Nature - Due to the size and diversity of the estate, there are many mammals, birds and butterflies to be found. The National Trust do a stirling job of educating both young & old about the flora, fauna and archaeology at Ashridge. More information can be found here.
  3. Brag to your friends - Ashridge Estate has featured in movies including Robin Hood, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows pt 2, and Les Miserables.'s the closest I'm going to get to Hollywood.

My Top Tips:

  • Stop for lunch - Brownlow cafe, next to the visitor centre offers a selection of delicious food made from local produce. Food, coffee & service are splendid. It's outdoor seating only so pack your jacket if it looks like showers...or just in any case...this is England after all - Canines are also welcome and bowls of fresh water are provided around the area.
  • Visit the playground - Will loves the woodland playground beside the Bridgewater Monument. Carved out of old tree stumps its the perfect climbing ground for kids 3 years plus.
  • Go up the Bridgewater Monument - there's a lot of steps but the view is worth the few pounds you pay for the privilege. Be sure to check the opening times to avoid disappointment.
  • Do a drive by - Ashridge House is now a privately run business school, however there is a through road which passes right in front of the house. It's an impressive building, those history buffs amongst you might be interested to know that Henry VIII bequeathed Ashridge to the infant Princess Elizabeth, who lived there for eight years with her half sister and brother and was arrested there by Mary in 1554. If that's not reason enough to check it out I don't know what is.

Final Note: I've also visited Stowe House & Gardens, but whiled away my time in the sunshine with the kids rather than snapping pictures. How selfish right?! Stowe is absolutely incredible and well worth the visit. If I make it back there in the next two weeks I'll update this post to include a summary.


  1. You do good blogs honey. Can't wait xx

    1. Awww thanks mum - looking forward to seeing you soon. So soon. Watch out England xox

  2. Great blog post! I don’t understand how long it will require me to obtain through all of them!

    MG Clutch repair & Mini Clutch repair


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