The great thing about having National Trust membership is that effectively, entrance fees to all these wonderful Trust places is already paid for. Therefore, things I might not always want to spend money on are now much more accessible.
For example, I wouldn’t normally want to pay to visit somewhere every week, and if I did visit somewhere then I would only want to go if I had plenty of time to really make the most of it. In terms of making the most of places, I would probably also not visit somewhere where only the gardens could be visited, and not the house too.
However, National Trust card in hand, a couple of hours spare, and some gardens a 20 minute drive away, and I had myself a ‘free’ afternoon’s entertainment :)
The Trust’s website says about Cliveden: “Follow in the footsteps of dukes, earls and royalty as you explore a series of gardens, each with their own special charm. From the formality of the Parterre with its vibrant floral displays to the quirky statuary and topiary in the Long Garden, the gardens will delight you in every season.”
The Estate was purchased and the first house built in 1666, by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Interestingly, the estate was purchased in 1706 by the Earl of Orkney. He laid the blueprint for the gardens and commissioned various bits, such as the Blenheim Pavilion. When he died in 1737, as his Earldom was a Scottish title, it passed to his eldest… daughter! Check out Scottish equality :)
The house that stands there today is the third house, built in 1849 after the second house (which was rebuilt by a new owner earlier in the 1800s) burned down. The house is now a luxury hotel, and you can only visit it on certain days and times with an organised tour. Or by paying upwards of £252 to stay there! (rates from Mr& Mrs Smith)
More recently, the Estate was owned by the Waldorfs, 4 generations of Viscount Astors. Cliveden also has Royal connections, and has been visited by almost every British monarch since George I, including our current Queen Elizabeth.
If you want to read more about the history of the estate then the National Trust website has lots of information here, but I reckon that it’s time for more pictures!
I began my visit at the Fountain of Love. It seemed to glow in the sunlight when the cloud parted.
Then I walked towards the house, lots of staff and volunteers were out doing gardening work in the grounds.
I walked around the house to the South Terrace, which is currently undergoing restoration work.
From the terrace you get the wonderful panoramic views over the formal Parterre, and out towards the Thames River.
With the staircase from the terrace closed for the renovations and repair work, I walked down around the side of the building to reach the Parterre. From here you could see where the work was underway.
Then I explored the flower plantings – there is a tulip theme with the current planting.
At the bottom of the Parterre I took one of the footpaths that lead off into the woods. Down some steps I came upon the Turtle Fountain, with views over the river.
After a short walk I came back up towards the Parterre again, and walking around the edge I saw my first bluebell flowers of the year. I had seen the leaves in plenty of places already, but these were my first flowers.
Then I walked back towards the house, ready for another section of gardens.
The sun was regularly getting hidden behind the clouds, and in the shade it was still a little chilly, so my Solomon’s Knot scarf came in handy.
Back past the house, I noticed this fabulous old mulberry tree
And then I spotted these bees swarming, I think looking to make a new colony. They might not have found the best place in that stonework!
Carrying on, I walked through a wooded picnic area, where I saw the first nuthatch I’ve seen in years! Since I left Pembrokeshire I think!
I carried on to the Long Garden, not yet in flower but still displaying the Italian statuary brought in by previous owner William Waldorf Astor, along with the topiary.
I thought some of the topiary had something of Mickey Mouse about it!
Beyond the Long Garden was the Blenheim Pavilion, the one built while the Estate was owned by the Earl of Orkney.
Here there were a few wild flowers, like this cowslip.
Most of the daffodils had finished, but these white ones with their tiny yellow trumpets were still going strong for now.
Finally, I returned to the car via the Oriental style Water Garden.
I loved looking at the rainbows cast by the fountain when the sun peeked through the cloud.
Not a bad to spend a free afternoon :)