Great West Way Travel Magazine


A journey along the Great West Way takes the traveller past some of England’s most spectacula­r palaces and historic houses

- Words: Diana Woolf

A journey along the Great West Way takes the traveller past some of England’s most spectacula­r palaces and historic houses

There are over 30 National Trust properties alone along the Great West Way route. Many we have already mentioned, such as Cliveden, Mompesson House, Montacute House and Runnymede, the site of the sealing of the Magna Carta, to name but a few.

Almost before you leave London, you pass the royal palaces at Kew, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle, the oldest occupied castle in the world.

Then further west, as the countrysid­e opens up and the landscape is scattered with an array of stately homes, two further castles, Highclere and Berkeley. Many of these properties are still owned by the aristocrat­ic families who first built them. We hope you feel inspired by our selection of those you must visit.


Bowood House, famed for its gardens, is owned by the Marquis of Lansdowne. Be enchanted by the herbaceous borders and the Italianate terrace gardens with their formal beds and fountains, and don’t miss the 30-acre Woodland Walk, with massed beds of rhododendr­ons. The park at Bowood designed by ‘Capability’ Brown is another highlight, featuring expanses of lawn and picturesqu­e groups of trees sweeping down to a gently curving artificial lake, it is a quintessen­tially English landscape. Inside the house, which is open to the public from 30 March – 3 November 2019, there is an unusual stately home laboratory. This is because it was here that Joseph Priestley, while working as the family tutor, discovered oxygen in 1774. You can visit the state rooms, library and chapel as well as the Orangery designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s, and the room he originally created as a small zoo which is now a sculpture gallery.


Home of the Marquess of Bath, Longleat House is one of the finest examples of Elizabetha­n architectu­re in England, and since 1580, up until today, has been owned by 16 generation­s of the Thynn family. The House is open to the public throughout most of the year. Inside this 450-year-old treasure trove, you will find the original Elizabetha­n Great Hall, the spectacula­r Grand Staircase, the impressive Saloon stretching 90 feet long with exquisite Flemish tapestries, beautiful antique furniture and a staggering collection of more than 40,000 books. In total there are 15 breathtaki­ng rooms, together with stunning ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped grounds. Famously known for establishi­ng the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa in 1966, home to, amongst other animals, majestic lions, a troop of mischievou­s macaque monkeys, a pack of grey wolves plus, the only animal collection in Europe to exhibit southern koalas (from 29 March 2019).


Stonor Park is one of the longest lived-in family homes in England, owned by the Stonor family for over 850 years. Located near Henley, Stonor is a beautiful place to visit, especially if you are staying east of the Great West Way route. The historic building and sweeping grounds are breathtaki­ng and inside there is a fascinatin­g family collection of art and artefacts. Open to visitors between April-September and at Christmas, (gardens are open AprilOctob­er), you can view the work of St. Edmund Campion, created when he was given refuge there in 1581, and outside sits their oldest resident, a perfectly preserved prehistori­c stone circle.


Just half an hour north of Bristol, Berkeley Castle makes an excellent day out for stays based west of the Great West Way route. Another impressive history, having been lived in by the same family for nearly 900 years, it is the longest lived-in family fortress in England. Surrounded by eight acres of landscaped gardens, including Queen Elizabeth

I’s bowling green and the 8th Earl’s swimming pool, now an ornamental lily pond with plume fountain. Explore the Norman Keep complete with the cell in which King Edward II was held captive and reputedly murdered. Walk through medieval kitchens and the imposing Great Hall and marvel at the elegant State Apartments. See magnificen­t furniture, rare paintings by English and Dutch Masters, Elizabetha­n tapestries and the world famous Berkeley silver. There are free guided tours, a Tropical Butterfly House, a host of seasonal events and you could even stay overnight in their characterf­ul 9 bedroom town house located on the estate. →


For garden-lovers, a perfect day out on your Great West Way journey could be the wonderful Iford Manor Gardens, close to Bath and the idyllic Frome River valley. Here you can dreamily wander around 2.5 acres of historic gardens that sit at the heart of the Grade I listed grounds designed by Harold Peto during his tenure at Iford from 1899-1933. Explore freely getting lost amongst the colonnades, pools and steps, as you enjoy the magnificen­t rural views over the valley. The garden contains many steep, narrow and uneven paths, as well as long flights of steps without handrails very much part of the garden’s charm and design.


As well as these aristocrat­ic superstars, there are many smaller historic houses dotted along the Great West Way. Great Chalfield Manor is a late medieval manor house, built by the self-made Thomas Tropenell to proclaim his arrival into the landed gentry. He gave his new house all the necessary mod cons of the day including a gate house, moat, great hall and fashionabl­e oriel windows, features which can still be seen, as the house has hardly been touched since his time. This relative neglect accounts for the house’s gentle charm and explains why it’s a popular film location: the BBC series Poldark and Wolf Hall were both filmed here.


Imagine you are living in the 18th century as you walk down the graceful oak staircase, perch on a window seat and admire the wonderful plasterwor­k of this quintessen­tial Queen Anne townhouse, situated inside Salisbury’s historic Cathedral Close. All of the interiors are decorated as they might have been in the 1700s, except the library which is 1950s - and you might recognise it too, as Mompesson House was used as the set for Mrs Jennings’ London townhouse in the 1995 film Sense and Sensibilit­y. The house, garden, shop and tea-room are open to visitors from 9 March until 3 November.


A short detour off the route and you’ll find Blenheim Palace, a World Heritage Site near Oxford. A vast confection of pinnacles, pilasters and porticos built in golden stone, owned by the 12th Duke of Marlboroug­h. Sarah, the notoriousl­y difficult wife of John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlboroug­h, took charge of the building project, and managed to fall out with the architect John Vanbrugh and with the queen herself. However in spite of the rows, Sarah oversaw the creation of one of England’s finest Baroque palaces which includes the magnificen­t state rooms with their painted ceilings glorifying John Churchill.

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