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Having undertaken many changes in its life, what we now know as Ascott House was originally a simple farmhouse, built in the early 17th century. Located in a small hamlet called Wing near Leighton Buzzard in Buckinghamshire, Ascott House was bought by Baron Mayer de Rothschild in 1873. Having acquired several properties nearby such as Waddesdon Manor, the Rothschilds still maintain residency over Ascott to this day, with the son of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild as the current resident.
While only a small portion of the house itself is open to the public, there are more than enough of the famous collections on offer to take up an hour or two of your day. Art lovers will be impressed by the Turner, Gainsborough and Hogarth paintings, and you needn't be an expert in interior design to appreciate the highly detailed and intricate decoration of the Ascott House interior. For those with young children, stepping outside into the 3,200-acre estate, there is more than enough space to run around.
Unlike the nearby Rothschild-owned Waddesdon Manor, which was constructed in the style of a French chateau, Ascott House is considered to have a much more 'informal' design. Perhaps this is partly because it originated as a farmhouse, and when acquired by Leopold de Rothschild, it was used as a hunting lodge until he ordered its expansion in 1874. From this point on, the house continued to be added to and expanded to become the sprawling mansion we see today. While it may look like a huge Tudor building, this black and white timber structure was added long after the Tudor period, but certainly still looks striking.
The famous gardens at Ascott were initially created as a present from Leopold de Rothschild to his wife and were designed by Sir Harry Veitch at the turn of the 20th century. The gardens themselves are a combination of a mixture of styles, and with so many elaborate features, there is no shortage of things to discover. As well as a lily pool, rock garden and tulip-filled Dutch flower garden, there is also a 'Monet-style' garden, and many fountains and statues. American artist Thomas Waldo Story was tasked with creating some of the most impressive pieces in the garden, including the bronze statue depicting Venus, and another showing Cupid. Perfect for some quiet time after taking in the house and its collections, the lavender garden and peaceful lakes are the perfect places to have an afternoon stroll.
Make sure you don't miss the huge sundial, which was a key part of Lord Rothschild's romantic wedding gift to his wife. Made completely from topiary, the sundial even features Roman numerals carved out of the hedges, and the words' Light and shade by turn, but love always' have been clipped too. Why not challenge the kids to try and read the text, and guess the time on the sundial based on the way the sunlight falls?
With so many flowers and carefully-tended plants, wildlife is abundant at Ascott House. Within Ascott Park, you can also find some huge trees, including horse chestnuts and oaks. Kids can bring along their National Trust '50 things to do before you're 11¾' activity list, and tick off some boxes, including 'go welly wandering', 'spot a fish' and 'make friends with a bug'. With such a large estate and garden, there are lots of great spots for hide-and-seek, running around, and of course, picnics! Either bring along some lunch or grab something from the nearby cafe at the cricket pavilion, then settle down with some fantastic views of the Vale of Aylesbury.
If you have sports lovers in the family, make sure you don't miss Ascott's impressive cricket ground. It was first used in 1889 and is still used to this day.
If you can't get enough of the Buckinghamshire countryside, make sure to make the famous Hughenden Manor, home of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, next on your list.
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The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest is a renowned charity and membership organisation in England, Northern Ireland and Wales that offers natural preservation for the most beloved heritage locations in the UK, including houses, buildings, coastlines, gardens and parks. With over 500 sites and attractions under their conservation and an ever-increasing 5.6 million members, the Trust is one of the largest wilderness and heritage protectors in the world and is now celebrating its 125th anniversary year since being founded in 1895.
With a National Trust membership, easily joinable via their website with family and lifetime options, you can enjoy free entry to all of their gardens, parklands and National Trust properties including the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim, Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire, Knole in Kent and hundreds more. Partly owned by H.R.H the Prince of Wales, the National Trust aims to protect, preserve and develop the most treasured locations and outstanding areas of nature in the UK so that they can be enjoyed by visitors from across the world.
Image © National Trust Facebook.