Holidays In Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire
Country Houses and Gardens
We are blessed by beautiful houses that kept their estate villages in hand until recently or still have yet to let go of them. This is, I am sure, part of the charm of the area. Just look at Wigsthorpe and Lilford and see what happens if all is owned by one family for hundreds of years. You can't accuse us of being overdeveloped even if there is a new house going up in Lilford at the moment.
The following are family homes that are open to the public to help pay for their upkeep. Personally, I find that the great joy of these houses is being able to wonder at their beauty and the confidence and ambition of the families that built them, and admire the gardens whilst considering how much time it would take to keep them up. I can then leave feeling uplifted by both the houses and the knowledge that someone else had the dubious luck to inherit them.
The one exception is the unfinished Lyveden New Bield (pictured left). The ambition to which I referred above has another side. Sometimes when you put your head above the parapet it gets removed and the house never gets finished. But it does leave a hauntingly beautiful relic that is definitely worth the visit.
Elton Hall, a rejuvenated house where the nursery was restored for the current occupants after decades of no children in the house.
Burghley, home of the famous Horse Trials and one of the great houses in this part of England.
Deene Park. 'The house is enormous and I have trouble finding my way about' wrote James Lees-Milne, the waspish diarist who stayed in so many of the houses in the region. He described the Brudenalls as 'absurdly fogeyish' which seemed a tad ungrateful. Luckily the diary wasn't published until after he died so he was invited back.
Southwick Hall. Vist the church with the 'forest of tombstones' admired by Lees-Milne on a trip from Deene.
Rockingham Castle, a real castle and a family home. It is just outside Corby which has to be a contender for the ugliest town in Europe. The juxtaposition is thought provoking.
Prebendal Manor House, Nassington is the oldest surviving dwelling in Northamptonshire. The house dates from the early 13th century, the lodgings some 200 years later. The barn is a babe in arms, dating as recently as the 18th century. But if that isnt enough for you, there is evidence under the Manor of Saxon buildings dating from 850-950AD which were later developed by King Cnut (reigned 1016-35) into a timber hall which was a royal manor.
The garden has been planted only with specimens known to be cultivated in the 15th century and there is a good, small museum too.
Althorp, the seat of the Spencers. Visit the house and gardens and the memorial exhibition to The Princess of Wales.
Cottesbrooke Hall, Queen Anne house with magnificent garden and a fine collection of sporting paintings.
Kelmarsh Hall, an 18th century masterpiece with gardens to match.
Coton Manor Gardens. "This is a beautifully maintained garden of exceptional charm...there is something for everyone here. This garden could not fail to inspire".
Good Gardens Guide - 2006
Robin Lane-Fox (father of Martha), gardening correspondent of the FT, rates it as one of the best five gardens in the country.
Barnsdale Gardens was created by Geoff Hamilton over several years for Gardeners' World, After his death in 1996 they were opened to the public and have become extremely popular. On busy weekends it is best to book your visit in advance. There is also a nursery attached and you can combine your visit with a walk around neighbouring Rutland Water.
Holdenby House and Falconry, a former prison of Charles I with a falconry centre as well as gardens to explore.
Wimpole Hall. Something for all the family. A model farm, rare breeds, attractions for the kids and a wonderful house.
The Manor At Hemingford Grey. A perfect English manor house. Not grand but 900 years old and with beautiful gardens.
The big Daddy of them all is Boughton House which is only open in the afternoon each day in August as it is still very much lived in by the family when they are in Northamptonshire. Inspired by the French architecture seen by a forbear when he was ambassador to France, this is a very special house. To give an idea as to how rich these old families were if well connected to the crown, visit Boughton, Kimbolton and Hinchingbrook on the same day. The latter two are now schools but you can see them from the outside. All were owned by brothers at one point in the seventeenth century.
National Garden Scheme. Lots of gardens to see in the local area.
Finally, at Hall Farm we are slowly turning what was a caravan park when we arrived in 1994 into a manageable garden. Working on an original design by Bunny Guinness, with additions by Roger Balmer and further updates from Bunny, it is still work in progress. Having said that, no garden is ever finished but, if you are interested, tell Heather when you arrive and she can fix a suitable time when one of us can show you round.