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Ashdown House has a history straight out of a love story that dates back to the mid-17th-century. Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, the daughter of James I of England, met William, 1st Earl of Craven when she was living in exile in The Hague. William was one of the richest men in England and was made an Earl by King Charles after financially helping him to win the Civil War in England. After Elizabeth's husband died, William fell in love with her and devotedly became her escort and head of the house when they returned to England. It was even rumoured that they had secretly married, and legend has it that when the plague hit London in the 1600s, Lord Craven wanted to build Elizabeth a safe haven away from the city. Her love of hunting brought Craven to choose Ashdown, but sadly Elizabeth died before the house could be completed in her honour. William never married and lived in Ashdown House surrounded by Elizabeth's papers, portraits and trophies until his death at 89 years old. The last family member left the house in 1926, and it was given to the National Trust in 1956 as a site of historical significance. Today, you can discover this romantic history and see the relics of Elizabeth and William on guided tours of the extraordinary house.
As well as the tragic love story behind it, the Ashdown House National Trust site is also remarkable for its unique architectural design. The tall, Dutch-style structure was most likely inspired by William and Elizabeth's time spent in the Netherlands, with the house being designed and built in 1662 by either William Winde or Balthazar Gerbier. Ashdown is uniquely tall and narrow with two low pavilions either side of it, and this fairytale-like building is noted as appearing like a unique doll's house perched amongst the Berkshire Downs. Sitting on top of this peculiar National Trust treasure is a domed cupola and golden globe, surrounded by a rooftop viewing platform that offers spectacular views of the countryside hills. This, along with the huge oak staircase that runs throughout the building, can be accessed by the public on the fascinating guided tours that take place at Ashdown House throughout the year.
A family visit to this one-of-a-kind National Trust near Swindon lets you take a small group, guided walking tour of the intriguing house and learn all about the exceptional history behind it. Step inside this 17th-century tenanted house on a guided staircase tour and discover the Queen of Bohemia artefacts and portraits that adorn the walls, seeing for yourself the unusual and iconic architecture that has stood out on this Berkshire valley for nearly four hundred years. Your tour will be led by a humorous and full-of-knowledge guide and will last around thirty minutes, taking you up the 100-step staircase (if you can brave it!) to the panoramic rooftop itself. Up at the rooftop viewing platform, you can marvel at the magnificent, gold-topped cupola that sits at the height of this National Trust landmark, and look out to the stunning, rolling hills of the Berkshire Downs and surrounding Oxfordshire countryside. During your tour, be sure to keep an eye out for the mesmerising lace maker who still works on site, as well as the woodland craft demonstrations that are put on within the grounds. Alongside the house runs the delightful Ashdown Park and Garden, which is a wonderfully maintained woodland area full of quiet walking routes and an abundance of enchanting trees. The parkland is cared for by the National Trust and is open throughout the year to the public (and their dogs!) to enjoy a tranquil stroll, some wildlife spotting, or charming children's games amongst the wide variety of trees. If you're feeling inspired by the romantic history of Ashdown House, then why not let your imaginations run wild in the woods and create your very own royal story on the grounds? Kids and adult alike will also love the landscaped, formal lawn that lies at the foot of the house, which is lined with swirling hedges, exquisitely-kept shrubbery and moat-like pathways surrounding the building.
Whether you're a history buff, lover of all things romantic or want to enjoy the picturesque scenery of the Berkshire Downs, Ashdown House and its surrounding woodlands offer a charming day out for all the family. Its convenient location just off of the M4 motorway makes the National Trust site a perfect stop-off if you're travelling to or from London by car and need somewhere to stretch your legs, entertain the kids and introduce a slice of romantic storytelling to your journey. Due to its ongoing tenancy, Ashdown House is however only open to the public on select afternoons throughout the week, so make sure you check ahead of your visit if you are hoping to venture on a guided tour of the grounds when you're passing by.
Around the scenic, hilly countryside of the North Wessex Downs AONB there are also many other old landmarks to be discovered nearby, such as Uffington Castle - White Horse and Dragon Hill, the rock formations of Wayland's Smithy, Alfred's Castle, and the popular walking routes of Ashdown Park and Garden. Further out around Oxfordshire and the surrounding Cotswolds, you can also find the 160-acre reserve of the Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens, which features over 260 animal species for your kids to discover.
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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.