Why visit the UK?
In the days before COVID around 40 million overseas vistors came to the UK each year. With London the top attraction it’s no suprise that dining in restaurants, shopping and going to the pub are the top three activities tourists say they want to do.
Beachlife and country walking come hard on their heels with sightseeing everyone’s main aim, even if they’re only here for a single day.
History and heritage are a great draw alongside activities people think of as peculiarly British, like visiting iconic landmarks and famous attractions – including, of course, Stately Homes and their gardens.
And we do have a wealth of magnificent, opulent and sometimes downright quirky manors, mansions and country houses. Many remain in private ownership but others have been saved for the nation – and tourists – by English Heritage, the National Trust and charitable organisations.
Some, like Chatsworth, Blenheim and Highclere (where Downton Abbey was filmed) need no introduction but here are 7 stately homes – one for every day of the week – which are less well known.
Note: In the current situation please check before visiting. The interiors of many stately homes are not currently open to the public, although grounds and gardens are, and pre-booking is required.
Fancy staying at a country house with an Italianate rotunda?
Well you can at Ickworth.
For 500 years the Hervey family lavished money on the ancient deer-park, turning a modest medieval hall into a turreted Tudor mansion before wiping the slate clean, demolishing the old and spending 47 years (and heaven knows how much cash) creating a stately home unlike any other.
The gardens, designed after the classical Italianate style but given an English twist, were the first of their kind in the UK and there are simply miles of parkland to explore.
Now run by the National Trust, the house isn’t currently open to the public but The luxury Ickworth Hotel is.
Wentworth Woodhouse, Rotherham, South Yorkshire
The largest private home in Europe, it has over 300 rooms and grounds that stretch for two and a half acres. It has the longest country house façade of any house in Europe and the front and back look like two different properties.
It’s said that if you were lucky enough to be invited by the Rockinghams or Fitzwilliams for an overnight stay you might need to lay a trail of breadcrumbs from the dining room to navigate back to your bedroom!
The gardens are open to the public and private group tours of the house can be booked.
Chartwell House, Westerham, Kent
This lovely brick-built mansion set above a sweeping grass terrace was Sir Winston Churchill’s refuge in times of sadness and stress and the house remains much as it was when the family lived here in the 1930s and 40s.
It’s full of pictures, books and personal mementoes evoking the wide-ranging interests of this influential family. The gardens were designed by the Churchills themselves as and the studio is home to the largest single collection of Churchill’s paintings.
The Chartwell estate dates back to the 14th century. Churchill bought the property,in 1922 and continued to return to there to rest and recuperate during his long career and final illness.
The house is not currently open but tickets for visits to the garden and grounds can be pre-booked.
Osborne House, Isle of Wight
What could be more stately than a Queen’s house? Osborne House was completely rebuilt to Victoria and Albert’s specifications and it became their favourite family home where their numerous offspring could enjoy life away from the formality of the Royal Palaces. When Prince Albert died Victoria retired here to mourn and rarely left it again, dying at Osborne in 1901.
The ground floor of the house, grounds and gardens are now open with advance booking. Don’t miss the children’s mini-mansion in the garden – a replica Swiss Cottage that must rank as one of the most luxurious playhouses ever!
Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire
300 acres of parkland, gardens and a beautiful lake form the backdrop to this historic building which has survived earthquakes and a civil war.
Originally built by Augustinian monks in 1170, it lost many of its buildings when Henry VIII broke away from Rome. According to legend, one of the monks never left the estate and haunts it to this day.
A hooded figure, called either the Black or Goblin Friar, is said to be a harbinger of bad news and there’ve been many supposed sightings.
Ad what could be more romantic than a ghost? Well a poet of course! Lord Byron, a controversial and dramatic figure in Regency times, spent some years at Newstead with his mother.
Presumably his ancestral home provided him with inspiration for his later flights of fancy.
Newstead’s gardens, with woodland walks and family trails, are open daily and you can book a tour of the house at weekends.
Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire
With 500 years of history, mystery and murder, Baddesley Clinton is a real gem. The moated manor house, which dates back to the 13th century, is accessed via a narrow stone bridge which leads into a beautiful courtyard.
It seems all too peaceful to be the location of a dastardly killing.
John Brome, Under-Treasurer of England, bought it in 1438 then it passed to his son Nicholas who was clearly a wild one.
He murdered the parish priest, a crime of passion reputed to have been committed inside the house. Perhaps the stain on the library floor still visible today is the priest’s blood?
When Nicholas died it was inherited by the Ferrers family who lived there for twelve generations. Another staunch catholic family they stayed loyal to their faith, risking their lives sheltering Catholic priests in secret passages and concealed rooms.
The family and the house survived the Civil War and Cromwell’s Commonwealth, but at great financial cost and the by then dilapidated house was taken on by the National Trust in 1940.
Currently only the garden and grounds are open to the public with a safe and clearly marked one -way system.
Attingham Park, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Another National Trust property, Attingham Park is the classic country house. Built in 1785 for the first Baron Berwick its pale brickwork stands out against the surrounding grassland.
Ironically the design was criticised at the time for being ‘uncomfortably tall and barracks-like’ with ‘painfully thin porticoes’.
Stroll around the 640 acre parkland and you’ll discover twelve other Grade II listed structures including the bee house, the ice house, the walled garden, the ha-ha, and the Home Farm.
As with so many great houses at the moment the interior is closed to visitors but the parkland and gardens are open.
Header image Wentworth Woodhouse © Allan Harris Photography
Photographs reproduced under Creative Commons licence