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Sudeley Castle (01242 602308)
Open all year round.
This was once home to Henry VIII's sixth (and surviving) queen, Katherine Parr, following her marriage to Sir Thomas Seymour after Henry's death, and also to Lady Jane Grey, whose six days as Queen rank as the shortest reign in English history. Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I all visited Sudeley. King Charles I stayed there and his nephew, Prince Rupert, established his headquarters at the Castle, during the Civil War. Following its destruction by Cromwell's troops, Sudeley lay neglected and derelict for two hundred years. However, its romantic situation and ruins attracted many visitors, including King George III. Artefacts on display include some of the priceless Tudor relics purchased at the Strawberry Hill Sale in 1842 when Horace Walpole's celebrated Gothic collection came under the hammer.
Paintings by Van Dyck, Rubens, Turner, Reynolds, Claude and Jan Steen are among the masterpieces shown from the collection built up by James Morrison (1790-1857), an ancestor of the current owners. Among the many other splendid and unusual items is a magnificent Sheldon tapestry and a selection of artefacts from the Civil War period.
Surrounding the Castle are the Gardens, which won the HHA Christies Garden of the Year award in 1996. Designed almost as a continuation of the House they surround, the inspiration for the gardens draws on and reflects Sudeley's history and has used the experience and expertise of landscape designers such as Lanning Roper, Rosemary Verey, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall and, more recently, Charles Chesshire.
Hidcote Manor Garden (01386 438333)
Open March to October except Thursdays and Fridays.
One of England's great gardens, Hidcote was designed and created in the Arts & Crafts style by the horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston. It is arranged as a series of outdoor rooms, each with a different character and separated by walls and hedges of many different species. The garden is famous for its rare shrubs and trees, outstanding herbaceous borders and unusual plant species from all over the world. The varied styles of the outdoor rooms peak at different times of year, which makes it worth seeing at any time of the year it's open.
Blenheim Palace (08700 602080)
Open March to October.
Built over the course of about a decade from 1705 by Sir John Vanbrugh, this was the nation's reward to the first Duke of Marlborough for his victories over Louis XIV, and later was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Today the home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough, Blenheim is possibly the finest house in private hands in the country, coming as close to the Baroque as you will find in England. Among the paintings on display are works by Van Dyck, Reynolds and Sargent. The park is contemporary with the palace itself, but the garden dates from the nineteenth century, being designed by Henry Wise in an Anglo-Dutch Baroque manner with a military cast. It had mock fortifications and regimented parterres. During the 1720s the River Glyme was canalised and a triumphal bridge erected. In 1764, the 4th Duke commissioned Lancelot Brown to transform the park by making the canal into a serpentine lake. He also naturalised the woods, designed a cascade and placed clumps in strategic positions. During the 1930s, the 9th Duke replanted a "military" avenue east of the palace and commissioned Achille Duchne to design a fine water parterre, west of the palace.
Broughton Castle (01295 262624)
Open Wednesdays and Sundays from May to September, also Thursdays in July and August.
Broughton Castle is a splendid medieval manor house and the family home of Lord and Lady Saye and Sele. There was already a building on the site when Sir John de Broughton built his manor there in 1300. It was set on island surrounded by a three acre moat, and then in the late 16th century was enlarged into an impressive Tudor home, decorated with splendid plaster ceilings, fine panelling and ornate fireplaces.
The oldest part of the house is found in the groined passage and dining room. There are also passageways with vaulted ceilings and a staircase leading to the rare 14th century chapel. This has a stone altar, traceried window and heraldic glass. The Great Hall has displays of arms and armour from the Civil War and the Fiennes family tree. The Oak Room has Tudor oak panelling from floor to ceiling and an unusual interior porch. Queen Ann's Room commemorates the visit of James I's wife Queen Ann of Denmark in 1604. The King's Chamber was used by James I and Edward VII and has a splendid stucco overmantel of 1554.
The gatehouse, garden and park are also open to the public. The gardens have mixed herbaceous and shrub borders and the formal walled garden has roses surrounded by box hedging in unusual designs.
Kiftsgate Court Gardens (01386 438777)
Open from April to September.
A nineteenth century house with a twentieth century Arts and Crafts garden. It was made by Heather Muir with much help from Major Johnson of Hidcote. A woodland garden steps down the hillside to a half-moon swimming pool. Many features are typical of the Arts and Crafts period: herbaceous borders, a four square garden, a white garden, a yellow border, a rockery, lawns and a bluebell wood. Time has however not stood still at Kiftsgate. An elegant modern water garden was added in 2000. The Twenties tennis court was excavated and a black-walled pool filled to a depth of 90cm. The clean lines of the new stone edging and lawn echo the formality of the original surrounding yew hedge. A specially commissioned fountain by Simon Allison, who cast his fountains from actual plants, now animates the scene.
It consists of a double row of 24 slender metal stems, holding aloft gold-plated bronze casts of Philodendron mamei. Water is pumped up the stems to flow gently over the leaves. Kiftsgate was built in 1887 by Sydney Graves Hamilton, owner of nearby Mickleton Manor. Mr and Mrs J. B. Muir bought the property in 1918. It is still occupied by the same family, the garden now being maintained by their grand-daughter, Mrs J. Chambers. It was opened to the public for the first time in 1971.
Stowe Landscape Gardens (01280 822850)
Telephone for opening times.
The National Trust calls Stowe "Britain's largest work of art", and they may be right. The gardens and parkland at Stowe were one of the first of a new style of landscaped parkland that evolved into what we now call the English landscape garden. The gardens at Stowe were begun in the early 18th century by Sir Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham, with the aid of Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, and later, Capability Brown. Bridgeman popularised the practice of using a sunken ditch, or "ha-ha", rather than a visible fence or wall.
This had the effect of opening up the gardens to the surrounding fields, creating a sense of unity with the pastoral surroundings, so that even the sheep grazing in nearby fields became a part of the overall landscape garden "design". Kent expanded on the work begun by Bridgeman by adding curvilinear avenues interspersed with architectural features such as the Temple of British Worthies, a kind of ode in stone to the "best of Britain". The gardens are replete with temples, arches, bridges, and allegorical statements built into the landscape. There are peaceful woodland walks opening out to planned vistas with monuments as a focal point. Stowe must rank as one of England's great contributions to garden design, and the influence of the ideas brought into practice here influenced English gardens for centuries.
Buscot Park (01367 240786)
House open April to September, Wednesday to Friday. Grounds open April to September, Monday to Friday. Also some weekends.
Buscot Park was built by Edward Loveden Loveden between 1779 and 1783. The house is a dignified example of the late eighteenth-century taste for Italianate country houses, inspired by the architecture of the great Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio. A subsequent owner, Robert Tertius Campbell, died bankrupt in 1887, having spent his large fortune on turning Buscot into a model agricultural estate. Buscot was then sold to Alexander Henderson, later the 1st Lord Faringdon, a city financier of exceptional ability. With catholic tastes in art, he bought paintings by Rembrandt, Murillo, Reynolds and Burne-Jones, establishing a solid core to the Faringdon Collection, which is on display here, along with furniture by the likes of Thomas Hope and Robert Adam.
Gavin Henderson, the 1st Lord Faringdon's grandson and heir, was also an enthusiastic collector of pictures, and he added the bulk of the pictures to be seen at Buscot today. He also remodelled the house by removing the heavy Victorian additions that had compromised the original design, as well as building the two balancing pavilions that stand to the east and west of the house. There are extensive pleasure gardens surrounding the late-eighteenth-century house. To the west of the house, the mellow red-brick walls of the original kitchen garden now shelter the Four Seasons garden, bright with the blooms of spring bulbs, flowering trees and drifts of multi-coloured day lilies, according to the time of year. To the east, woodland walks lead to one of Britain's finest water gardens, an unusual marriage of Italianate formality with an English parkland landscape. From the south front of the house, the carriage drive sweeps away to the south east, down through mature woodland. From the north front of the house, the views take in the Little Lake and the Thames plain beyond. From neither point is any clue given of the splendid water garden that lies to the east of the house, reached by following the steps from the north terrace.
Rousham Park (01869 347110)
Open April to September. Gardens open all year round.
Rousham and its landscape garden should be a place of pilgrimage for students of the work of William Kent (1685-1748). Rousham represents the first phase of English landscape design and remains almost as Kent left it, one of the few gardens of this date to have escaped alteration, with many features which delighted eighteenth century visitors to Rousham still in situ, such as the ponds and cascades in Venus' Vale, the Cold Bath, and seven arched Praeneste, Townsend's Building, the Temple of the Mill, and, on the skyline, a sham ruin known as the 'Eyecatcher'.
The house, built in 1635 by Sir Robert Dormer, is still in the ownership of the same family. Kent added the wings and the stable block. The south front is almost as Kent left it, but for the replacement of the octagonal glazing with plain glass. This was unfortunately carried out by the architect St. Aubyn when he added the north side of the house in 1876. Kent made alterations to the interior of the house, which retains some 17th century panelling and the original staircases, furniture, pictures and bronzes.
Chastleton House (01608 674355)
Opens April to September, Wednesday to Saturday. Advance booking required.
Chastleton has been in the possession of the same family since it was built in 1612, their relatively straitened circumstances ensuring that it is possibly the most completely preserved ensemble of house, garden and contents from the Jacobean period in existence. To put it quite simply, the family never had the money to wreck it in accordance with the whims of later fashion. It was here that the rules of modern croquet were codified in 1865.
Open January to November: Thursdays, Fridays and Bank Holiday Mondays.
The entrance to Sezincote is up a long dark avenue of holm oaks that opens into a very English park, with a distinct feeling of Reptonian influence - fine trees and distant views of Cotswold hills. Turning the last corner is the surprise, for there is that fascinating rarity, an English country house built in a Moghul architectural style by Samuel Pepys Cockerell.
In 1810 his brother, Charles Cockerell, formerly of the East India Company, had acquired the estate. He employed his architact brother to build the house which was developed in a unique and delightful fantasy in the Italian style, combining Hindu and Muslim elements with Palladian motifs. He was advised by Thomas Daniell on the house and Humphrey Repton on the gardens.
Neglected during the Second World War, the garden was restored in 1968 by Sir Cyril and Lady Kleinwort advised by Mr Graham Stuart Thomas. Their work includes the canals and Irish yews in the South Garden, evocative of Moghul paradise gardens, a curving conservatory, home to many tender climbing plants, and little pavilion also in Indian style, and all the exceptionally fine planting of the water garden, where many rare plants can be seen. Streams and pools are lined with great clumps of bog-loving plants and the stream is crossed by an Indian bridge adorned with Brahmin bulls. Ornaments include a temple to Surya the sun god, and a snake coiled around a column in the Snake Pond.
Lovell Hall was built in the 15th century by the Lovall family. Legend tells us that Francis Lovell, who, after being allegedly involved in Richard III's many dastardly plans, fled Bosworth battlefield and went into hiding only to reappear shortly thereafter proclaiming his support for Royal impostor, Lambert Simnel. After Simnel was branded a fraud, Lovell beat a hasty retreat to the Hall where he hid and lived in a secret room which could only be opened from the outside by his manservant, the only person who knew where he was. However, when the servant suddenly died, Lovell's fate was literally sealed. Many years later in 1708, when repairs were being carried out to the Hall a secret chamber was discovered. The chamber contained the skeleton of a man seated at a table with his dog at his feet.
Now literally in ruins, Lovell Hall can be visited at any time as there are no staff to require the hours to be restricted. A romantic place for a wander.
Chedworth Roman Villa (01242 890256)
Open February to November, all week except non-Bank Holiday Mondays.
There are here the remains of one of the largest Romano-British villas in the country. Over one mile of walls survives and there are several fine mosaics, two bathhouses, hypocausts, a water-shrine and latrine. Set in a wooded Cotswold combe, the site was excavated in 1864 and still has a Victorian atmosphere. The museum houses objects from the villa and a 15-minute audio-visual presentation gives visitors an insight into the history of this place.
The Rollright Stones
Open sunrise to sunset.
The King's Men form a perfect circle 104 feet (38 Druid's Cubits or megalithic yards) across and stand on a prehistoric trackway at the edge of a ridge. The hill falls steeply away to the north towards the village of Long Compton which, in days gone by (and maybe even today), was a stronghold of witches.
At present there are 77 stones of heavily weathered local oolitic limestone, which were poetically described by William Stukeley as being "corroded like worm eaten wood, by the harsh Jaws of Time", which made "a very noble, rustic, sight, and strike an odd terror upon the spectators, and admiration at the design of 'em". Aubrey Burl has, in a more down to earth way, called the Rollrights "seventy-seven stones, stumps and lumps of leprous limestone".(2) This number seems to have altered considerably over the years - drawings from the tail-end of the 19th century, just before the Stones were scheduled under the 1882 Ancient Monuments Protection Act along with Stonehenge and Avebury, show about 25 stones in the Circle. "In the year 1882 the proprietor of Little Rollright replaced all the fallen stones in their original foundation."
The Rollright Stone Circle is the southerly cousin of the Cumbrian circles such as Swinside and Long Meg and her Daughters in the English Lake District. Family traits include similar size, shape, close-set stones (it is believed that there originally some 105 stones standing shoulder to shoulder), astronomically-aligned entrance and a pair of outlying portals where the gates were hung to stop the sheep from straying into the road.