Houses and Gardens
Wiltshire and its surrounding counties are home to a fantastic array of gardens and stately homes, many of which are open to the public. With secret corridors, dramatic landscapes and beautiful interiors, there is plenty to keep you and all the family entertained.
The English stately home evolved during the Elizabethan period when it was desirable to have a home to provide comfort and impress visitors rather than ‘a castle’, which served as a defensive stronghold. Stately homes were symbols of power and wealth, where landowners recruited great architects and landscapers to build these great houses for them. Once finished they filled them with ornate furniture, tapestries and great art collections, and today they are national treasures!
As the popular TV programme Downton Abbey (filmed at Highclere Castle) so beautifully illustrated, English stately homes began their decline during the First World War. The introduction of inheritance tax and the impact of WWII saw many estates unable to keep running and luckily for us, in many instances, they were bequeathed to the National Trust. In 1948, collaboration between the National Trust, the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Gardens Scheme saw the National Trust becoming champions of outstanding gardens as well as the stately homes – although in many cases the two come hand in hand.
Thanks to the National Trust many of these great houses and gardens are now open to the public for us to enjoy. During the school holidays they usually put on special activities, making them great for family outings. Even better - most have fabulous cafés or tea rooms in gorgeous surroundings. The perfect place to have a pot of tea and a slice of homemade cake!
If you are planning on visiting one or more of these stately homes, it’s worth considering getting National Trust membership.