One of the best things about traveling in the UK (we’ll just take lots of bunnies and squirrels as a given) are the wonderful properties run by the National Trust. We’re on the move again, travelling towards Stratford upon Avon, but not before a stop off to visit Charlecote Park in Warwickshire.
Originally a grand medieval country estate, built in 1558 by Sir Thomas Lucy, it was largely remodelled in the 1820s after being inherited by George Lucy. By that stage the property was in a poor state of repair, but I prefer the other reason that’s offered for the renovation – his wife, on seeing her sister sister marry into a wealthy family and acquire a grand house of her own, decided that Charlecote wasn’t up to scratch, and subsequently set about turning it into the gracious Victorian residence we see today.
Charlecote boasts a royal visitor, Elizabeth I was a guest here, and also a connection to the young William Shakespeare who allegedly appeared before the local magistrate, being caught poaching on the site.
It’s a vast estate, guarded not only by a fine set of gates, complete with a pair of fierce boars, but also its original two story Elizabethan gatehouse. It was an entrance designed to impress.
We enter though the Grand Hall. Despite its Victorian make over, the house has its medieval bones intact. Its proportions are grand with highly ornate ceilings – even the ones that had to be replaced are painted to look like medieval timbers. It’s excellent work, intricate in the extreme.
Furnishings are grand, with a great deal of ivory inlaid ebony, an acquisition, we learn from a fellow aristocratic who ran through his fortune and was forced into an embarrassing yard sale.
We see the billiard room with a display of war memorabilia, the drawing room (where Elizabeth I stayed),
the dining room,
a lovely library (almost always my favourite room in most places)
and the quite modest upstairs bedrooms, up a terrifying small, tight spiral staircase. Fascinatingly, the house had no running water – the bedrooms are equipped with hip baths and chamber pots. Some poor soul would have had to cart the water both up and downstairs when called.
The front of the house showcases a delightful parterre in a flower pattern,
and beyond that, the Avon river runs through the property.
On the other side of the river bank is the estate’s deer herd – we’re lucky to see them up relatively close up before a herd of goats bullies them out of their way.
The working aspects of the estate are housed in seperate buildings – the kitchens have their own extensive building with multiple rooms and we stumble across a very Victorian looking group of kitchen maids cooking up something that added an enticing aroma to our tour.
We also see the extensive laundry, which apparently was a 7 day a week process in Victorian times. It displays a wages schedule of the day – it’s sobering to see that the scullery and laundry maids, who arguably worked the hardest, earned the least.
There’s also a separate orangery, now a cafe, set alongside this sweet tiny thatched cottage. It appears to have once been an aviary, but it stands empty now.
The estate has an extensive coach collection, each in excellent condition, and they even had their own brewery in site!
There are some extraordinarily old trees here – the land had been in the family since the 1200s. We also see mulberrys and yews that are 180 years old – still growing well since being planted in the Victorian renovation.
By late afternoon the skies blacken and thunder rumbles ominously in the distance. Chris is keen to be on the road before the worst of the storm hits. In the end we are caught driving through hail before arriving in Stratford upon Avon in the late afternoon.
There are dire storm and even tornado warnings for the UK over the weekend. Scientists are speculating that we may have crossed the point of no return on climate change, and if that’s the case, that no amount of emission control would help us. Storms raging here. Fires everywhere else. Earthquakes. The world has become a scary place.