England is richly endowed with hundreds of stately homes, often complete with fine gardens and landscaped parkland. But which are the best to visit?
As retired seniors, with plenty of time on our hands, we have managed to visit many stately homes in the last few years. This has particularly applied in 2020 when foreign travel was not so easy.
In deciding on our Top Ten, we have considered what we enjoy as seniors visitors. This can be rather different to what families might be looking for when visiting a stately home.
We look for an interesting house interior with fascinating historical connections and fine artwork and other antiquities. We also look for extensive and well laid out gardens, including walled gardens. Finally we look for parkland that offers pleasant walks, not too strenuous, often past lakes or other water features, with great countryside views, and, importantly, not too crowded! All our Top Ten meet these criteria.
Almost all the stately homes we have visited come under the auspices of English Heritage, Historic Houses or the National Trust.
We have visited stately homes that are independent of these organisation or come under local authority control, such as Cusworth House, but none of them have come up to the high criteria of our Top Ten.
Our list is in alphabetical order. Choosing an order of preference would have been very difficult as all our Top Ten stately homes have their own unique attractions and all are well worth visiting.
• Audley End
English Heritage, Essex.
When Audley End was built in the reign of James I, it was one of the largest houses in England. Although only one third of that structure still remains, there is much to see on the house tour particularly in the Jacobean furnished state rooms.
The Walled Garden has a vinery and orchard house and produces a vast range of fruit and vegetables. Don’t miss out on visiting the horses in the stables.
• Belton House
National Trust, Lincolnshire.
A tour of the Carolean Belton House provides a fascinating contrast between the upstairs and downstairs areas.
As well as attractive formal gardens and an orangery, there are walks through landscaped grounds and around a couple of lakes. We have always found the longer walks to be quiet with few people venturing far from the house even during busy periods.
• Belvoir Castle
Historic Houses, Leicestershire.
Although Belvoir Castle is purely a decorative castle, built in 1832, we were completely captivated by its fine Regency structure and stylish state rooms.
Its magnificent interior is well complemented by the terraced Rose Gardens and the parkland with great views of the Vale of Belvoir along its many long walks.
• Berkeley Castle
Historic Houses, Gloucestershire.
A visit to Berkeley Castle is like a fascinating lesson in medieval history plus insights into the Civil War period. This is a real castle that saw plenty of action over the centuries and is where Edward II died in 1327 under suspicious circumstances. Spectacular rooms in the castle include the King’s Gallery and the Great Hall.
Well-tended terraced gardens lead down from the castle. The parkland is relatively small, but Berkeley village itself is well worth exploring.
• Blickling Hall
National Trust, Norfolk.
Blickling Hall is one of the finest houses in the East of England, with Anne Boleyn’s connection adding an interesting dimension. The most impressive room in the Hall is the Long Gallery and the servants’ tunnel beneath the main entrance, which takes you from one side of the Hall to the other, is a unique curiosity.
The property is well endowed with landscaped gardens and extensive parkland with an attractive lakeside walk.
• Brodsworth Hall
English Heritage, South Yorkshire.
The Italianate style Brodsworth Hall is one of the finest examples in England of a Victorian country house. What we find of most interest when visiting the house is not the grand reception rooms with their original Victorian furnishings, but the much more basic servants’ quarters and kitchen.
The Hall is surrounded by gardens that have been restored to their Victorian splendour and include a rockery, sunken fern garden and 100 species rose garden.
• Lyme Park
National Trust, Cheshire.
The Legh family occupied Lyme Park for over 500 years from 1398. Artefacts from Thomas Legh’s extensive European travels in the 19th Century are to be found all around the Hall.
There are several acres of formal gardens around the Hall, with the Italianate Garden and Orangery being of particular note, and a large area of parkland to explore.
• Osborne House
English Heritage, Isle of Wight.
Osborne House was Queen Victoria’s favourite retreat and is filled with memorabilia of her life and times.
The Italian terraces look out across the Solent and parkland walks lead down to the seafront, with Victoria’s bathing machine on view. A Swiss Cottage in the grounds was built for the royal children.
• Raby Castle
Historic Houses, County Durham.
On our first visit to Raby Castle, we were over-awed by the sheer size of its battlements and by its lavish interior. The Octagon Drawing Room with its fine gilded ceiling is the most spectacular room on the tour of the castle.
There are well-tended Walled Gardens and walks through the Deer Park, with great views back to the castle over the ponds.
• Wallington Hall
National Trust, Northumberland.
There is much to see in a tour of Wallington Hall including the spectacular Central Hall decorated with eight pre-Raphaelite paintings tracing the history of Northumberland from the Romans and Hadrian’s Wall through to industrial Tyneside.
The well-stocked Walled Garden is a short distance from the Hall passing two ponds along the way. Parkland walks pass through the East and West Woods and along the River Wansbeck.
If you intend to visit several stately homes in a year, then taking up annual membership of one or more of the three heritage main organisations could save you a lot of money. We have special offers on annual and gift membership.
English Heritage: For 15% discount on annual and gift membership, click on English Heritage, enter EH2021 at checkout.
Historic Houses: For a £5 discount on annual and gift membership, click on Historic Houses, and use our unique discount code STEW05.
National Trust: To receive a £5 eGift card with annual or gift membership paid by direct debit, click National Trust.
POSTED 4th DECEMBER 2020 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.