Beyond Blenheim

Visit some of England’s most interesting country manors, with their lovely gardens, and even a splendid medieval castle.

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace Wikimedia Commons

While the madding crowd moves on to the next sight, probably Stratford-upon-Avon, why not linger in the area a few more days? Within an hour's drive of the Churchills' palace estate are some of the area's most interesting country manors, with their lovely gardens, and even a splendid medieval castle.

Pope's Retreat

"To err is human, to forgive divine," penned Alexander Pope, one of England's most quoted writers. At Stanton Harcourt Manor you can tour the tower over the chapel that he made into his summer retreat during the years 1717 and 1718 so that he could translate Homer's Iliad. A pane of glass in one of the windows bears the inscription: "In the year 1718 I Alexander Pope finished here the fifth volume of Homer." The manor house itself was built between 1380 and 1470. It was one of the first homes of that period to be erected without fortifications.

Don't miss the enormous cone-shaped wooden roof over the stone kitchen building, an ingenious medieval chimney design that's unique to this area. As smoke from the open fires collected in the cooking area below, wooden louvers in the roof opened in the direction of the wind to draw it out. Open from April through September, admission to the house and gardens is £5 (about $7) for adults and £3 (about $4) for children under age 12. Stanton Harcourt Manor House and Gardens (011-44-1-86-588-1928) is located nine miles west of Oxford on the B4449.

A Botanical Inspiration

"Here then are a few words about a house that I love," wrote designer and craftsman William Morris in 1895 of his beloved country home, Kelmscott Manor. Built in 1570 of local limestone, the home became a haven for Morris from 1871 until his death in 1896. In the garden Morris found inspiration for his botanical textile designs. An appreciator of garden design, he was quick to point out how the look of a fine home could be ruined when it was surrounded by "a nightmare of horticulture." His garden, he often noted, grew in perfect, pleasing harmony with the manor.

Kelmscott Manor is open from April through September on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; on the third Saturday in April, May, June and September from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and on the first and third Saturdays in July and August from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is £6 for adults (about $9) and £3 (about $4) for children 8 to 16 years old. Younger children will be admitted at the discretion of the staff. For information, call 011-1-36-725-2486. From Oxford take the A40 exit to Cheltenham. At Witney take A4095 to Faringdon. Look for the Kelmscott sign on the right after the village of Clanfield and follow the signs to Kelmscott Manor. There is no public transportation to the village.

The Splendors of Upper-crust Poverty

Sometime in the late 1940s the aristocratic owner of Chastleton House told visitors, "We lost our money in the war." Mrs. Irene Whitmore-Jones was referring to England's Civil War; that would be when Oliver Cromwell defeated King Charles II in 1651. Her ancestor, Arthur Jones, had sided with the king, and the family never recovered financially after that miscalculation. Consequently, the family never updated the manor, bought new furniture or added any artworks over the years. So the home, recently restored by the National Trust, retains its 1630s furnishings. Be sure to ask to see the secret room above the entrance porch where Arthur Jones hid from Cromwell's soldiers while his wife plied them with jugs of ale laced with laudanum.

Chastleton House is open April through October, Wednesday through Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is arranged by advanced booking; write to Box Office,

P.O. Box 180,High Wycombe, Bucks HP14 4XT, England; or call 011-441-49-475-5572. Tickets are £5.10 for adults (about $7), £2.55 for children (about $4) and £12.75 for families (about $18). Chastleton House is six miles from Stow-on-the-Wold on the A436.

A Castle to Remember

Broughton Castle, surrounded by a three-acre moat, is one of those romantic medieval castles that you're sure you've seen in the movies. And, of course, you have. In Shakespeare in Love, Viola's parents (Viola is played by Gwyneth Paltrow) lived here. In fact, you've probably seen the castle several times, since the place has provided scenery for about a dozen films and documentaries.


Broughton Castle was built in 1300 and has been owned by the same family, the Fiennes, since 1377. Today the family maintains a comprehensive Website , about the castle and about the family's achievements, particularly those of actor Ralph Fiennes, who starred in Schindler's List, Quiz Show and The English Patient.Broughton Castle is open Wednesdays and Sundays from May 18 to September 14, and on Thursdays in July and August from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is £4 for adults (about $6), £2.50 for children (about $4) and £3.50 (about $5) for senior citizens and groups. For information, call or fax 011-44-1-29-527-6070. Broughton Castle is located about 30 minutes south of Oxford on the B4035.


Kent's Masterwork

"All gardening is landscape painting," explained William Kent, and Rousham Park and Garden is the best surviving example of the 18th-century architect and landscape designer's work. Today the grounds remain almost as Kent left them. The same family has lived here for some 360 years, and the property retains a private, noncommercial feel. There are no gift shops or places to buy a snack, so bring a picnic--and don't be bothered by the herd of longhorn cattle in the park.

Rousham Park House is open from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays from April through September. The garden is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is £3 (about $4), and children under 15 are not admitted. For information, call 011-44-1-86-934-7110. Rousham House is located 12 miles north of Oxford off the A4260.

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