Two of my favourite things to do in England and the rest of the UK are visiting stately homes and taking garden/countryside walks. Cambridgeshire and the neighboring county of Suffolk don’t lack for either. Every visit is a treat for the eyes and also gives me an opportunity to learn more about the history of the area.
We purchased a National Trust membership back in the spring and it’s been well worth the £10/month (total). Membership is a really #GetThrifty deal because parking alone at some National Trust (NT) properties is usually a minimum of £5. Entry can range anywhere from £5-15 per person. So if you’re an avid explorer and wannabe Channel 5 TV presenter like myself, your membership pays for itself with just one stately home or property visit per month.
From our village of Littleport, most NT sites were 20-45 minute drives away. This is also the case for where we are now in Cheshire. (Stay tuned for that blog post; or perhaps blog posts, plural. TBD.)
Each stately home I’ve ever visited tends to have many an ornate mirror. It’s become a silly tradition for me to take a mask selfie every time a mirror catches my fancy. The ghosts of former residents of all classes — whom I like to believe roam the houses — either think I’m vulgar or would have taken selfies if they could have. (Goodness knows the aristocracy had enough vanity paintings of themselves commissioned. Swipe left to slide #2 on this IG post for an example.)
Here’s a peek at the Cambridgeshire and nearby NT sites we visited over the summer.
Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill
Quy Road, Lode, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB25 9EJ
Not actually an abbey (at least not in its current structure), Anglesey Abbey is a Jacobean-style house with gardens, trails, and a working watermill (the Lode Mill). The grounds are quite vast, and the park opens at least a couple hours before the house itself. It’s a particularly well-appointed property — well-kept, accessible, and a great place for anyone to spend the day.
- The house overall
- The promenade and Temple Garden
- The Skylight Garden.
- I also thoroughly enjoyed the rose garden and wished that the dahlias had been ready for us to view at the time.
- Walk over to the Lode Mill
Long Melford, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 9AA
Once occupied by medieval abbots, the land that Melford Hall‘s brick structure stands on has been occupied since just before William conquered. Footsteps have trod up the impressive drive to the oak doors of the brick manor since 1554(!) and the estate has been in the Hyde Parker family since 1786. It’s an imposing yet somehow cozy building — perhaps because the family continues to live in most of the house. A regular guest in the 19th century was Beatrix Potter, whose cousin was married to Sir Hyde Parker at the time.
- The Great Hall
- The lovely Blue Drawing Room with its ‘year-going’ longcase clock
- The original Jemima Puddleduck. (If you know, you know.)
- Enjoy tea in the garden
Arrington, Royston, Cambridgeshire, SG8 0BW
Wimpole Estate is a vast and truly impressive property. It’s probably the most ‘Bridgerton’-like estate that I’ve visited so far. You can really imagine the ton meandering the gardens and rooms. And maybe wandering the fields a bit — like the Brit and I did so we could say hi to the sheep. (Wear your wellies. You’ll need them.)
The house is gorgeous, but there are many parts of Wimpole Hall that no one will get to see aside from in some drawings. The last owners were Rudyard Kipling’s daughter and her husband. When they purchased the estate in 1938, they began to decorate and restore in a manner to ‘reflect the Bambridges’ personalities and tastes’. She all but bulldozed the entire house, getting rid of most anything Victorian. (Like the kitchen.) The house wasn’t listed (so as to be protected and preserved) at the time, so a lot of history was lost in that spree… But it’s still beautiful.
- The sheep. (The lambs are so cute.)
- The walled garden.
- All the statues in the gardens, in all their Greek myth and Biblical, if slightly misogynistic glory.
- The house is, of course, a must-see, but make sure to listen to the guides. They always have some good stories and fun facts to share. Like about the wallpaper.
Bonus: Wimpole is right near Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, home to thousands of wetland species and the perfect place for a walk.
Possibly my favourite of the stately homes and estates we visited over the summer, the Italianate palace and grounds of Ickworth are simply stunning. It was built to impress (as most stately homes are), and that it certainly does. Whether you’re an avid fan of art history, or just wanting to get back to nature, this is a definite must for a day trip from Cambridge or while in Suffolk.
Highlights: Honestly? Everything. But particular standouts are the opulent rotunda (inside and out) and the art collection it houses, the walking trails, and the walled garden.
Also worth visiting is Oxburgh Hall. We’ve been told it’s quite impressive, but the house was closed over the summer due to renovations and the accompanying scaffolding.
Want to see more photos of these beautiful stately homes and gardens? Check out my Instagram story highlights here.
“It’s stupid to say that there’s any comfort to be had in ‘knowing your place,’ but there is a sense of reassuring escapism to something like ‘Downton Abbey.’ There’s a perceived romance and elegance that is wonderful to lose yourself in.”— Kate Reardon