Travel: Historic Houses
Britain is teeming with historic houses and grand gardens. Click on the links below for our selection of hand-picked motorhome-friendly historic houses to visit this summer.
Take a look in your May issue of MMM, where you'll find 2 for 1 offers on all the houses mentioned...
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1 - Abbey House Gardens
2 - Alnwick Castle & Garden
3 - Bamburgh Castle
4 - Blair Castle
5 - Burton Constable Hall
6 - Castle Howard
7 - Dalemain
8 - Dorney Court
9 - Harvington Hall
10 - Hestercombe
11 - Hovingham Hall
12 - Levens Hall
13 - Picton Castle
14 - Renishaw Hall
15 - Restoration House
16 - Tiverton Castle
17 - Trebah Garden
18 - Trevarno Gardens
1 Abbey House Gardens
The Abbey House, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16 9AS
Open: March 21 – October 31, 11am – 5.30pm daily
Parking: Adjacent to Long stay council car park
Set in ancient Malmesbury, this garden is a riot of colour from spring to autumn. It’s also home to the ‘naked gardeners’ Ian and Barbara Pollard. They’ll be dressed for visitors though, unless you visit on a pre-arranged clothing-optional day (check out the website for details of these). Wander through fives acres of glorious gardens surrounding the 16th-century Abbey House. The fun and imaginative surroundings are a delight to dally in with tulips, iris, wisteria, laburnum and roses offering up a beautiful backdrop for any visitor.
2 Alnwick Castle and the Alnwick Garden
Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1NQ
Open: April – October
Parking: Free parking on site
Alnwick offers one of the most varied days out for visitors of all ages. The imposing castle has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family for over 700 years and has witnessed battles, rebellions, tragedy and romance, from Harry Hotspur to Harry Potter. Take a tour of the treasure-filled State Rooms to discover an outstanding collection of china, furniture and paintings, and meet characters from the past, telling their stories and bringing history to life.
Once you’re done with the castle, your day doesn’t stop there. The grounds and museums are extensive and include the Alnwick Garden. This is a newly designed contemporary space combining fascinating plants, water sculptures, the infamous Poison Garden and one of the world’s largest wooden tree houses.
3 Bamburgh Castle
Northumberland NE69 7DF
Open: 7th January – mid-December
Parking: Plenty of parking for camper vans
Once the capital of Northumbria and the first castle in England to fall to cannon fire, these formidable stone walls have witnessed Royal rebellion and bloody battles. This castle sits on a rocky plateau high above the Northumberland coastline and is one of the most stunning locations across the country. Discover a collection of over 3,000 objects in 14 rooms plus the Armstrong & Aviation Artefacts museum. Watch live archaeology over the summer as experts uncover Bamburgh’s exciting past in front of you.
4 Blair Castle
Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH18 5TL
Open: April 1 – October 28, 9.30am-5.30pm; winter opening times vary
The ancient seat of the Dukes of Atholl, the castle has roots back to the 13th century. At the gateway to the Grampian Mountains on the route north to Inverness, the location was highly strategic. Like many Scottish castles, Blair Castle has a long and illustrious history, throughout which it has accumulated many fascinating historical artefacts, including antique furniture, art, period dress and arms and armour. Outside, most of the grounds were laid out in the 18th century and feature a magnificent walled garden, a peaceful wooded grove, a ruined kirk, a red deer park and a whimsical gothic folly. Colourful peacocks roam the grounds, Highland cattle graze in fields nearby and the native red squirrel can often be spotted amongst the branches. Children will also enjoy the castle’s woodland adventure playground.
5 Burton Constable Hall
Skirlaugh, East Yorkshire HU11 4LN
Open: 23 April – 27 October (plus special Christmas times)
Burton Constable Hall is one of the most fascinating country houses in East Yorkshire and has been the home of the Constable family for seven hundred years. Visitors to the Elizabethan mansion can see more than 30 rooms and interiors of faded splendour are filled with fine furniture, paintings and sculpture, a library of 5,000 books and a remarkable 18th century ‘cabinet of curiosities', which contains fossils, natural history specimens and the most important collection of scientific instruments to be found in any country house. Head for the barn to see the fossilised remains of a 58 foot sperm whale that was stranded at Tunstall in 1825.
6 Castle Howard
York YO60 7DA
Open: all year
Access: From the A64, a height restriction of 3.43m applies. Vehicles higher than this should detour via Malton.
The ornate Baroque style of castle Howard couldn’t fail to impress even the most architecturally unappreciative. The spectacular Great Hall, topped by a painted and gilded dome 80 fete high is worth a visit alone. Paintings, sculptures and Brideshead filming locations (past and present day) are other highlights of the attraction. Culture aside, the park itself is epic and stretches over 1,000 acres containing formal baroque gardens, lakes, a fountain and cascade, a walled garden and woodland. Take time out at the award winning farm shop and café including beef reared on the estate, fresh bread, fruit and vegetables.
Penrith, Cumbria CA11 0HB
Open: April 3 – October 27 (tea rooms and gardens open all year)
Dalemain is a fine mixture of medieval, tudor and early georgian architecture. The imposing façade strikes the visitor immediately but in the cobbled courtyard the atmosphere of the north country Tudor manor is more dominant. The present owner’s family have lived at Dalemain since 1679 and have collected a wide variety of china, furniture and family portraits. Don’t miss Mrs Mouse’s house on the back stairs! The gardens include five acres of richly planted herbaceous borders with an intriguing and unusual combination of flowers set against the picturesque splendour of the Lakeland fells. Highlights are the Rose Walk, the ancient apple trees, the tudor Knot Garden, blue Himalayan Poppies & the Giantess Earth Sculpture.
8 Dorney Court
Windsor, Berkshire SL4 6QP
Open: May/June, Mon-Fri & May bank holiday Sundays, 1.30pm – 4pm
A magnificent Tudor manor house, which shows the evolution of squirearchy in English country life, most evident in the Great Hall. The rooms are full of historical atmosphere with 15th and 16th Century oak furniture alongside 500 years of family portraits, stained glass and needlework. The adjacent Church of St. James the Less can also be visited when the house is open to the public.
9 Harvington Hall
Harvington Hall Lane, Harvington, Kidderminster, Worcestershire DY10 4LR
Open: Wed-Sun (April-September), weekends (March & October)
Harvington Hall is a moated medieval and Elizabethan Manor House with a few surprises. It was built in the 1590’s by Humphrey Pakington who was a recusant Catholic, at a time when the country was Protestant under Elizabeth I. Throughout those troubled times, Humphrey and his family continued to celebrate Mass and needed hiding places to secrete the priest should the house suddenly be searched by troops. There are still seven hiding places in existence at the Hall, the greatest series of any in the country.
Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset TA2 8LG
Open: Daily 10am-6pm (closed Christmas Day)
This is a unique collection of gardens spanning three centuries of garden history and design. All have undergone restoration, The exquisite Georgian garden was designed by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde and contrasts with the Victorian terrace/shrubbery and Edwardian formal gardens. Together they make up 50 acres of woodland walks, temples, terraces, pergolas, lakes and cascades, all begging to be discovered. There’s a bat cam to watch the comings and goings of a rare bat species, a beautifully restored 17th century watermill and year-round events including supervised active programmes for children, music, food fairs, Christmas celebrations. Dogs welcome!
11 Hovingham Hall
York, North Yorkshire YO62 4LU
Open: June 1 – June 28
Hovingham Hall is a Palladian house built around 1760 by Thomas Worsley to his own design. Set in magnificent parkland, Hovingham Hall it is still the home of the Worsley family. The lawn in front of the house, surrounded by ancient Yew hedges, is reputed to be the oldest private cricket ground in England. Cricket has been played here since at least 1858 when a Hovingham team, 22 strong, took on an All England team - and lost. The unique main entrance is through a vast hall, which was built as a riding school, and is also used for concerts and other events.
12 Levens Hall
Kendal, Cumbria LA8 0PD
Open: April 10 – October 13
Levens Hall, an Elizabethan mansion built around a 13th Century pele tower, is the much loved home of the Bagot family. Fine panelling, plasterwork, period furniture, leather wall coverings, paintings and the earliest English patchwork, along with other beautiful objects form a fascinating collection.
The gardens, laid out by M. Beaumont from 1694, remain largely unchanged. Over 90 individual pieces of topiary and massive beech hedges create a magnificent visual impact.
13 Picton Castle
Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire SA62 4AS
Open: April 1 – September 30
Parking: Ample parking on site
Picton Castle is a rare 13th century castle which was continually occupied for over 700 years. The interiors are famous for Georgian elegance and original content,s particularly the circular library and the fabulous fire surrounds. Situated in Pembrokeshire in West Wales, Picton comprises 40 acres of beautiful woodlands famous for the azalea and rhododendron displays. The grounds also contain a maze, walled garden and play area.
14 Renishaw Hall
Renishaw, Sheffield S21 3WB
Open: April 1 – September 30
With its vibrant and exciting gardens and unique collections of art and furniture, Renishaw Hall is the perfect place to visit for a full day out. Alongside the gardens, there is the museum and gallery, where you can discover some of the magnificent art and literature collection of the Sitwell family, owners of Renishaw for over 400 years. Tours of the house are available on Fridays. The new exhibition for 2011 is Hortus Sitwellianus: The Making of the Garden of Renishaw.
15 Restoration House
17-19 Crow Lane, Rochester, Kent ME1 1RF
Open: June 2 – September 30, Thursdays & Fridays
Parking: In and around Rochester (www.medway.gov.uk/transportandstreets/parking.aspx)
Restoration House as we see it today is the amalgamation of two medieval buildings which were combined in the late 16th or early 17th century to create a mansion house just outside the south east corner of the Rochester city wall. Its name comes from the stay of Charles II on the eve of The Restoration and it is said to be the inspiration for the fictional home of Dickens’ Miss Haversham. The hous is filled with fine English furniture and pictures including a brilliant portrait collection (Mytens, Kneller, Dahl, Reynolds, Devis, Lely and several marvellous Gainsboroughs). Amble through the exceptional walled gardens, which are unusually large. In classic English style, the three quarters of an acre are divided into formal and productive areas.
16 Tiverton Castle
Park Hill, Tiverton, Devon EX16 6RP
Open: Easter Sunday – end of October
Parking: pay & display in Tiverton
A historic medieval castle originally built in 1106 by order of Henry I. As is often the case, the castle at Tiverton was later rebuilt and enlarged. It was once home to Princess Katherine Plantagenet and of many medieval Earls of Devon. Besieged by Fairfax in the English Civil War, it fell due because a lucky shot to the drawbridge chain. Now a peaceful private house, visitors can see a fine collection of Civil War armour and even try some on. There is also a beautiful walled garden, interesting furniture and pictures, ghost stories and secret passages.
17 Trebah Gardens
Mawnan Smith, Nr Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 5JZ
Open: All year, daily from 10am
Trebah is a sub-tropical paradise with a stunning coastal backdrop, the result of 160 years of inspired and dedicated creation.
Discover the magic of this beautiful valley garden with over four miles of footpaths. Explore under canopies bursting with exotic blooms and follow tunnels of colour that cascade down to our very own secluded beach on the Helford River. Trebah offers a year round experience. We are a family and dog-friendly garden.
18 Trevarno Gardens
Crowntown, Nr Helston, Cornwall TR13 0RU
Open: All year, daily from 10.30am-5pm (except Christmas and Boxing Day)
Trevarno Gardens, near Helston, Cornwall is a wonderful place to visit for all ages. The 35-acre Victorian garden has many features such as a sunken Italian Garden, three museums and a boathouse. It also features one of Cornwall’s largest and most diverse plant collections set within the magnificent formal and informal landscape. An Adventure Play area is available for the children to let off steam, homemade refreshments are obtainable in the Conservatory and the estate’s Trevarno skincare is sold in the shop.