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Country Houses and Gardens in the UK | Our Best Of Guide
Home improvers will warm to this privately-owned Tudor and Stuart Grade-I-listed mansion. Built in the 14th century, the extensions that were added over the next 300-odd years brought it up to a very desirable 100+ room residence.
The Godolphin family hit it rich in the tin industry, which began to wane in the 19th century. The linen-fold paneling in the dining room is a notable feature, as are the 16th century carved beams. Amongst the impressive furnishings, there are some lovely tapestries that have always been with the house. Beyond the main house there are farm buildings and the old stables, set in tranquil gardens that remain as they were in the 16th century.
In Kestle Mill, near Newquay, Trerice is a small Elizabethan manor house in a quiet and secluded location. Little altered since it was built, there are some exquisite plaster ceilings to admire, the impressive great chamber boasting the pick of the bunch.
Visitors can handle replica artefacts, including armour, or enjoy a raucous game of Kayling or Slapcock on the Elizabethan bowling green, or even make a brass rubbing.
The garden is lovely and peaceful with some unusual plants and an orchard, which has an interesting selection of old fruit trees.
Near Exeter, Killerton House was built in 1778 to house many generations of the Acland family, before the entire estate was handed over to the National Trust by Sir Richard Acland, a noted British politician.
With a mix of Edwardian and Georgian rooms, there is also an interesting contrast of stately grandeur and informality. The rhododendrons, magnolias and rare trees in the sloping hillside gardens, designed by Robert Veitch, provide a backdrop of stunning colours year round.
15 miles west of Bideford, Hartland Abbey was built in 1157. It was gifted by King Henry VIII to the Sergeant of his Wine Cellar, the descendants of whom are still in residence. Hartland was given a Gothic makeover in the 18th century and has a fabulous collection of furnishings, paintings and porcelain. A display of Victorian and Edwardian photographs gives a fascinating snapshot of life in and around the Abbey as it was then.
The 18th century walled gardens are beautifully preserved and the parkland and woods are stocked with an interesting mix of camellias, rhododendrons, peacocks, donkeys and sheep.
Just a mile west of lovely Saffron Walden lies the house that was the largest in England when it was built in 1614, leading James I to muse that it was too big for a king but just right for a Lord Treasurer – Thomas Howard, the 1st Earl of Suffolk commissioned the build and happened also to be Lord Treasurer.
Artwork, including paintings by van Goyen and Canaletto, and period furnishings adorn the impressive interiors, some of which were updated in the 18th century by Robert Adam.
The grounds are a beautiful Capability Brown layout with a rose garden, a 19th century parterre and a slightly more contemporary miniature railway, which is a great way for children to explore the Estate.
In 1960 Beth Chatto took the bold decision to turn a tangled wasteland into an informal garden, adopting the philosophy of ‘right plant, right place’ with truly delightful results.
Plants in the poor gravel soil, suited to dry climes, drop down with a natural flow into lush water gardens.
The Gardens are in Elmstead Market, just outside Colchester, and there is a tea room and a large plant nursery on site.
Home to the Hyde Parker family, a distinguished naval family, since 1786, Melford Hall was actually built in 1578, and the grand Elizabethan house remains almost unchanged – the banqueting hall still retains its original panelling.
Other periods are also represented within the Hall, with a Regency library and Victorian bedrooms. Amongst the original furniture and treasure collected over 250 years of naval escapades, there is a small display of Beatrix Potter’s memorabilia – a relative of the Hyde Parker family. The gardens are also a joy and notable for some very impressive trees.
Melford Hall lies only three miles north of Sudbury.
The Earl of Bristol was a true eccentric and his mark can be seen in the central rotunda and the curved corridors of Ickworth House. He would have been able to do some serious name dropping with his incredible collection of artwork, with paintings by Titian, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Velasquez. It’s unlikely he would have been shy about the collection of Georgian silver either.
The name-check of the famous is rounded off with the Capability Brown grounds, complete with woodland walks, a canal, a lake, a vineyard and a deer enclosure.
Ickworth is located in the village of Horringer, near Bury St Edmunds.
Just outside Aylsham, the 17th century Bickling Hall is one of England’s finest Jacobean examples. A favourite with visitors, the long gallery really is very long, and the plasterwork ceilings beautifully compliment the furnishings, paintings and tapestries. The Peter the Great Room features a gigantic tapestry of its namesake.
The interesting mix of flora makes the parkland grounds colourful year-found, and contained within is an orangery, a secret garden and a dried-out moat.
I’m sure we’d all like a country retreat like Her Majesty’s, but the heating cost and council tax would probably make it impractical. It is exciting to visit Sandringham House in the knowledge that the Royal Family still use the ground floor, and it is packed with their belongings.
The converted stables are now a museum with more Royal nick-nacks on display and a collection of early Royal vehicles, including the first-ever Royal car. A fascinating photographic exhibition charts Sandringham’s history.
There are also 60 acres of wooded gardens to explore. Sandringham is just off the A149, 8 miles northeast of King’s Lynn.
Only seven miles west of Skegness, Gunby Hall is an impressive house of red brick, dating from 1700 with additions made in the 1870s. Its delightful walled garden is a well thought planting of English vegetables, fruit and flowers, and also has a dovecote that actually predates the house.
The oak staircase is stunning and there is some exquisite china on display, and a lovely collection of paintings, many featuring previous occupants of the house.
There is an exhibition of Field Marshall Montgomery-Massingberd’s memorabilia and a somewhat ghoulish model of a Napoleonic warship made with mutton bones that were gnawed into the required shapes by unfortunate prisoners of war.
Home to the Constable family for more than 400 years, Burton Constable Hall is an impressive Elizabethan edifice set in 300 acres of parkland. The splendid interiors, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries include the Chinese Room, a gallery, a chapel and the Great Hall, which features the sixty-foot skeleton of a sperm whale that washed up on the Holderness coast in 1825. There is a great collection of scientific instruments, curiosities and sporting guns.
The parkland walks and gardens, landscaped by Capability Brown, encompass the lovely south avenue, wild-fowl lakes and pasture. Statues populate the gardens and there is a lovely coade-stone orangery and a stable block.
The Hall is located seven miles outside Hull.
A fine example of an 18th century Georgian House, in a setting inspired by Capability Brown, Sledmere House also features an award-winning rose garden and parterre. Sledmere is located off the A166, about halfway between York and Bridlington.
Designed and built by Sir Christopher Sykes, the house has some classic examples of Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton and French furnishings. There is also plenty of artwork to please the eye, with sculpture and paintings from contemporary back to the Renaissance.
The Wagoner’s Museum on site houses a unique display of East Yorkshire’s military history, and Sledmere’s famouse pipe organ gets a workout every Wednesday and Sunday during the tourist season.
Its name might suggest that this place belongs in a different list, but anyone familiar with the film Brideshead Revisited, based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel, or those old enough to remember the classic 80s TV series of the same name, will know the majestic house that is Castle Howard.
Arguably the finest country house and estate in Yorkshire, Castle Howard has been home to the Howard family for more than 300 years. The 18th century house is truly magnificent, its imposing architecture and furnishings accompanied by a varying programme of events and exhibitions.
Set in 1000 acres, the estate includes neat gardens, a lake and lovely woodland walks, as well as an adventure playground for children. There is even a Farm Shop and Garden Centre. Castle Howard is just off the A64 between York and Scarborough.
On the edge of the Northumberland National Park, Cragside is the brainchild of the Victorian inventor and industrialist, Lord Armstrong. Laying claim to being the world’s first building to be lit by hydroelectricity, the House is packed with examples of its owner’s genius.
As if that wasn’t enough, Lord Armstrong was also a dab hand with gardens and the grounds contain one of the largest rock gardens in Europe. The soaring transatlantic conifers that Lord Armstrong planted are home to a population of rare red squirrels.
There are plenty of family activities with a Trim Trail, a waterfall and a rhododendron maze. And visitors can clock up more than 30 miles around the footpaths and lakeside strolls. For non-walkers, the gardens can also be explored by car.
This sumptuous baroque villa near Whitley Bay was built by Sir John Vanbrugh for an Admiral Delaval, whose family arrived noisily on these shores with William the Conqueror in 1066.
Completed in 1732, the Hall sits on an estate that has been in existence for more than 900 years. Gravely damaged by fire in 1822, successive generations of the Hastings family have restored the Hall to its former glory. The estate contains stables and formal gardens.
Tucked away in the improbable-sounding village of Cark-in-Cartmel, this ostensibly Victorian house has parts that actually date back to the 17th century. Home to Lord and Lady Cavendish it is a warm, welcoming house with light, elegant interiors and, without the rope barriers that are a staple of most country houses, it is far more accessible than most.
The surrounding Lakeland Hills make a perfect backdrop for the formal gardens, which give way to parkland and a large deer park.
Just off the M65 near Burnley, Gawthorpe Hall was commissioned in the early 17th century by Sir Richard Shuttleworth on the estate that had already been in the hands of his family for the previous 200 years. The estate is largely wooded parkland, where visitors might be lucky enough to spot treecreepers and woodpeckers, and there are also riverside walks.
Most of the Hall’s stunning original plasterwork is intact, and there are exhibitions of needlework, lace, costumes and rich textiles and a fascinating collection of paintings in the Long Gallery, many of which are on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.
Overlooking the Menai Strait from the Isle of Anglesey and enjoying spectacular views of Snowdonia, Plas Newydd is nevertheless undaunted by its surroundings. The grand house was redesigned by James Wyatt in the 18th century, and the interior, restyled in the 1930s, is closely linked with Rex Whistler and houses his largest painting and an exhibition of his work.
The 1st Marquess of Anglesey was a resident here and the military museum has artefacts from his glory days as the commander of the cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo. The gardens take in a woodland walk, which has access to a path running beside the Menai Strait. There is also a spring garden, a summer terrace and an Australasian arboretum.
This 17th century Charles II mansion is one of the best examples of its kind, although parts of the house predate the overriding architecture by a century or so. It was home to the Morgan family for more than 500 years until 1951 and has since been restored to show off its lavish gilded interiors as they were originally intended. The opulence is a fascinating contrast with life below the stairs, with the maze of servants quarters and massive kitchens all part of the tour.
Tredegar is just outside Newport and with 90 acres of well-groomed parkland, a lake, an avenue of oaks, stables and orangery, there is plenty outside the house to explore and investigate.
Off the A37, near the unlikely-named village of Charlton Mackrell, lies the medieval Lytes Cary Manor House. It is relatively small but makes for a fascinating visit with its 15th century Great Hall open to the rafters and featuring an unusual Gothic arch, and a chapel dating back to the 14th century. Home to the 16th century herbalist Thomas Lyte, the Manor House was restored in the last century by Sir Walter Jenner, with 17th century Flemish tapestries and medieval furnishings adding to the authenticity.
The immediate gardens are a neat combination of topiary, statues and herbaceous borders, and there are riverside walks and ancient hedges to discover in the wider reaches of the estate.
Just west of Bristol lies Tyntesfield House, a spectacular example of a Victorian Gothic House. Lending weight to the adage. ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass’, it was built on the fertilizer fortune of William Gibbs, one of Victorian England’s richest commoners.
The house is an ornate fantasy vision of spiraling turrets and pinnacles, and the original Victorian interior is filled with the eclectic nick-nacks, including amazing textiles and fine porcelain, that were collected by four generations of the Gibbs family. The 500-hundred acres of grounds, with terraced lawns around the house and a lovely kitchen garden giving way to mature parkland, provides plenty of opportunity for outside exploration.
A 15th century manor house, Athelhampton is one of England’s finest examples. The Great Hall was built in 1485 by Sir William Martyn and the west wing was an Elizabethan addition, containing the Library, Wine Cellar and Great Chamber.
There is a fascinating collection of different furniture styles on view, ranging from Jacobean right through to late Victorian.
Athelhampton is near Dorchester and the River Piddle (not kidding) runs through the grounds, with the superb Grade I listed gardens containing its famed topiary pyraminds, fountains and an ancient dovecote.
Close to Wimbourne, Kingston Lacy is a 17th century house that became home to the Bankes family for some 300 years after they abandoned the ruined family seat at Corfe Castle.
There is a very impressive display of artwork, including paintings by Titian, Sebastiano de Piombo and Velasquez. The walls of Spanish room are decorated with gilded leather and there are many sculptures and bronzes on display throughout the house. The collection of Egyptian antiquities in the basement is a delightful surprise.
The parkland gardens, which feature an Egyptian obelisk, have a selection of relaxing walks.
A mile west of Bramdean, Hinton Ampner was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1960 and with it a priceless collection of English furniture and Italian paintings. The doughty Ralph Dutton picked himself up and built a new house, filling it with Georgian and Regency furniture, Italian paintings and art.
His greatest triumph, however, is the stupendous 12-acre garden, a deft combination of the formal and informal, which offers visitors something year round.
This 12th century Augustinian priory was converted a private house after the dissolution of the Monastaries, and retains the old cellarium and the font (spring) after which it is named. The Drawing Room features Rex Whistler murals and there is 20th century artwork by Derek Hill.
The centrepiece of a large estate that takes in most of Mottisfont village, the grounds feature magnificent trees and a rose garden with more than 300 varieties of roses.
Located in East Cowes and built in Italianate style for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a private retreat, Osborne House has commanding views of the Solent. It remained Queen Victoria’s favourite hideaway even after the death of Prince Albert, and her long life ended whilst she was in residence here.
There are many fascinating rooms to view, including the Durbar Room with its exhibition of Indian gifts and the rooms that were decorated for the use of her nine, yes, nine, children.
The lovely terraced gardens drop down to the Solent and features a pond, an ice house and a few rare red squirrels.
A gargantuan 17th century mansion, Petworth is set in 700 acres of deer park with a lake, all beautifully landscaped by the trusty Capability Brown.
The art collection is worth the visit alone with work by the venerable likes of Turner, Van Dyck, Reynolds and Blake on display. There are also extensive collections of sculpture, carvings by Grinling Gibbons (whose heyday was back in the 17th century, apparently) and Chinese porcelain.
The servants’ quarters are equally fascinating and the kitchens, which were subject to a no-nonsense Victorian overhaul, feature 1000-piece copper Batterie de Cuisine (a massive saucepan set to you and me).
Just outside Chichester, the Goodwood Estate is draped over 12,000 acres of the gorgeous South Downs. Goodwood House is set in mature parkland and has been home to the Dukes of Richmond and Lennox for over 300 years – the first Duke being the son of King Charles II and his French mistress. Goodwood was originally a Jacobean hunting lodge and was enlarged over the generations into the impressive stately home that sits there today.
Still home to the Earl and Countess of March and Kinrara, Goodwood has a warm, inviting feel, and with the Estate’s incredibly successful diversification into motor racing, horseracing, golf and major events, there is often something big going on.
The house has an astonishing art collection with paintings by van Dyck, Canaletto, Stubbs and Reynolds, as well as Sèvres porcelain, Gobelins and stunning original furnishings.
Near Faversham, Belmont enjoys fabulous views of its Estate and the Kentish North Downs. An elegant neo-classical house built in the 18th century, Belmont was home to a succession of Lord Harrises from 1801 until 1995.
The fifth Lord Harris was an avid horologist (clock nut, to you and me) and hoarded one of the largest private collections of clocks in Britain. In addition to the amazing array of clocks there are many family nick-nacks, fine furnishings and paintings.
In the grounds there is a walled garden, a pinetum that includes Blue Atlas Cedars, Mexican White Pines, Brewer Spruces and Coast Redwoods amongst others, and formal lawns, woods and a kitchen garden.
Restoration House was born of two medieval buildings, which were combined some time from the 16th century to make the fine pre-civil war town house that stands today. It was the inspiration for Satis House – home to the tragic Miss Havisham – in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
Located just beyond Rochester’s city wall, the house took its name after King Charles II stayed over on the eve of the Restoration. The lovely walled garden covers about three-quarters of an acre, a quiet oasis tucked behind Rochester’s bustling high street.
Laying claim to being one of Scotland’s first gothic-revival mansions, Dalmeny has housed successive Earls of Rosebery for more than 300 years. Lying just west of Edinburgh, it has part of the fabulous Rothschild collection of 18th century furniture on display, incredible Goya tapestries and paintings by Gainsborough, Raeburn and Reynolds.
The parkland and wooded grounds overlook the Firth of Forth and also feature the 12th century castle which was home to the Roseberys before Dalmeny was built.
The Estate has been home to the Maxwell family for more than 600 years and the present house, built in 1750, replaced three earlier residences. Extended in 1890, the house has beautiful paintings by Rodin, Degas and Cézanne on display, and important examples of medieval, Chinese and Islamic art.
The world famous Burrell Collection boasts an amazing array of over 8000 objects from around the world, provided by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell. The neat gardens of the Park include a rhododendron collection numbering in excess of 1000 species.
Pollok House is located just three miles south of Glasgow.