Sunday, 19 April 2015

Audley End House ... a wonderful day out!

When the boys were little we used to go on "Days Out" all the time, but as they have grown older, hairier and generally more hormonal those days have become few and far between. Our membership of English Heritage has been lying unused for the first few months of the year and we wanted to dust off our cards and get our money's worth. Perusing the Members' Manual we found Audley End House - a rather gorgeous looking house about an hour away from home. Our eldest son, 17, decided that he was unavailable for an outing ( quelle surprise!), but amazingly our youngest, 15, joined us as we set off in the car towards Saffron Walden.

The sat nav took us in a circuitous route through beautiful countryside, lush with daffodils and early crops of Oil Seed Rape until we arrived at the gates to Audley End House. The driveway led us to a car park overlooking a lake, complete with ducks and ducklings.

Audley End House.
Due to the fact that teenagers ( and it has to be said, lazy mothers) do not get out of bed before 10 am in the school holidays, we arrived just before lunchtime and felt that the only way to proceed was to go straight to the cafe for a bite to eat. I commented on the fact that it was a shame that the cafe was in such a dark room, only to be told by my husband that if I had bothered to walk a couple of yards further I would have found the main part of the cafe which overlooks the parkland surrounding the main house, with huge windows. I don't think I will get a job offer from MI6 any time soon if observation is an important factor for being a spy...

Still, the food was nice. I had a warm individual quiche with a rocket salad. My husband had a delicious looking vegetable and bean stew. Our son went for the healthy option of crisps and a chocolate brownie. As you do.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs in the house itself, but I can assure you it is a stunning place. Built originally on the foundations of a Benedictine monastery in the 12th century it has been well cared for over the ages. At one point it was one of the greatest houses of Jacobean England.

In the 1700's Capability Brown was commissioned to landscape the gardens and Robert Adam added fashionable reception rooms.

What I loved about the house was that it felt lived in. It is as if the family are away at their London home and could be back at any minute. The kitchens, laundry rooms and stables are all restored to the way they were in the 1800's, complete with copper pots, game larders and holograms of staff working away and talking you through their days.

A huge asset, of whom English Heritage should be very proud, is the staff who wait in each room to tell you about the house, its contents and its history. The English Heritage staff are so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They are warm and welcoming and full of fascinating facts and titbits about their particular area.

Anyone who has been to my blog before will know about my love of vegetable gardening and much as I loved the house I couldn't wait to get to the walled vegetable garden. It was magnificent!! I definitely want to come back in the summer when everything is blooming.

The kitchen garden is vast, tended by a team of gardeners and bursting with manicured beds and the most gorgeous espaliers. 

The gardens used to provide food for the house and in the glass houses there were fruit trees, vines and exotics - beautiful.

From the garden we went to the stables where I was able to try sitting on a side saddle - something I've always fancied doing. Again there were holograms of staff, this time the coachman, going through what were his daily duties. There were real horses in the stables too.

Having sampled the delights of both house and grounds we decided to try the cafe again. This time we sat by the window overlooking the grounds and indulged ourselves with Victoria sponge, hot chocolate and tea. All very nice!

We didn't have time to visit the par terre garden, but we will go along next time. And there will definitely be a next time. Even our son enjoyed himself, much to his own surprise! I think younger children would like to too as there are interactive games to be played in the Nursery, as well as clothes to dress up in. I loved the kitchen gardens, but I also found the house fascinating, from the coal gallery on the second floor to the beautiful paintings and the laundry. I loved hearing about the history of the house and the people who had lived there - from Lord Audley to Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth and from the Braybrookes to the Polish Special Operations  Executive who trained there during the Second World War.

If you are in the area and have a chance to visit I would strongly recommend Audley End House and if its your cup of tea you should look into joining English Heritage, then your trip will be free! Whoopeee!!!

Oh and just in case you wondered... I wrote this review because I had a lovely day out. No bribes were offered or received!!


angiepooos said...

Nice account, wish I lived closer I'd definitely visit after reading this. Did you take the photographs? They're lovely.

Sarah Pellew said...

Hi Angie!
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. And yes, I took all the photos myself. I do like a photo!