“ Address: Taplow / Maidenhead SL6 0JA /Buckinghamshire / Telephone: 01494 755562 „
Bomb down the M4 (avoiding all speed traps), turn off at junction 7, then with a combination of well timed left and right turns you will arrive at the rather marvellous National Trust property of Cliveden. In amongst 375 acres of parkland and glorious gardens is the rather amazing 5 star Cliveden & Pavilion Spa Hotel housed in an impressive Italianate mansion fully equipped with the likes of tennis and squash courts, a golf course, a spa and wellness centre, billiards, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a fancy fine-dining French restaurant...which are all totally off limits to us non-guests (sorry to whet your appetite only to cruelly snatch it away). But what we do get is free reign of the beautiful gardens and parkland offering a wonderfully relaxing day out for all the family with plenty of open space and fresh air to be had by all.
Cliveden actually means "cliff valley" and the location the house is set on certainly offers up a bird's eye view over Thames Valley. The first house was designed by architect William Winde and built in the 1660s for the 2nd Duke of Buckingham who had the hilltop levelled and the house built in the style of the Italian Renaissance. The current house is the third to be built as the previous two were destroyed by fire in both 1795 and 1849 and was designed by Charles Barry for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland.
The splendour of the gardens is owed to the work of three different families. The Orkney's, particularly Lord Orkney, commissioned the long open lawn underneath the terraces in the early 1700s and was also the reason the Ampitheatre was built. In the 1850s the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland whilst building the current standing house revolutionised the Parterre and also introduced the notion of contemporary sculpture. The Astor family (William Waldorf, 1st Viscount Astor and his wife Nancy) bought Cliveden in 1893 and enhanced the gardens further with Classical and Renaissance sculpture imported from Italy. Nancy was the first woman MP to sit in the commons and due to their political connections her and Lord Astor would host many a famous political party. In 1942 they gave the estate over to the National Trust and the rest as they say is history.
==Gardens and Woodland==
The most important thing to consider, in my opinion, for when to visit Cliveden is picking the right time of year. Winter is right out. Any other season is fine, as long as you avoid rain - there is very little shelter to be found at Cliveden as there is just so much open space that if you do get caught in a flash rain and you were underprepared (as I was the last time I visited) you will suffer immensely. Imagine having been walking for about 20 minutes when the heavens open and within minutes you are about as wet as you can possibly get. Arriving at the shop you are informed that all umbrellas have been sold out, but hey, you can have a poncho if you want. Deciding pneumonia is preferable to looking like a fashion disaster (vanity before sense) you end up spending the next 5 hours in a perpetual state of sogginess. But, unlike in fictional period dramas, I can tell you that getting soaked through does not immediately bring about a life threatening fever so in my opinion my decision was vindicated. So basically rainless autumn days are good as you get treated to some stunning autumnal colours and rainless summer days are good for some tropical weather, but the best time for me is spring as you'll get to see most of the flowers in bloom and also not be boiled alive by intensely hot summer days.
There is an awful lot to see round the gardens so a visit to Cliveden is definitely a full day trip. There are many landmarks to weave your way to through tree lined pathways such as the Ampitheatre (which if I'm honest is a slightly contoured grassy area which is a little underwhelming), the Blenheim Pavilion, the Clock Tower, a Grotto (which isn't really a cave with Santa in but a little flint structure), several fountains including the imposing Shell fountain at the bottom of the Grand Avenue, the once ancient Canning's Oak tree that sadly is now just a log due to some bad weather, and a whole host of varied gardens, including the Secret Garden, made less so by the big signpost labelled "Secret Garden". My favourite of the gardens is definitely the Long Garden which when in full bloom looks absolutely spectacular with its purple symmetry. There are also plenty of sculptures dotted about all over the place, with the some great pieces such as the Pluto and Proserpina sculpture on the parterre, which itself has an awe inspiring horticultural design best viewed from the terrace, not to mention some intriguing, yet disappointingly empty, Roman sarcophagi on the Grand Avenue walk.
The Water Garden is also one to mention with a nice Japanese feel to it and some lovely moss covered ponds with fish and ducks to coo over although with potentially dangerous-when-wet stone bridges. It also has the advantage of offsetting the newest addition to Cliveden, the Maze. The Maze was actually designed back in 1894 for Lord Astor but only a few yew trees remained marking the original location, and the Maze was rebuilt when these designs were uncovered in 2005 in the archives and was finally unveiled in 2011. I always make the mistake of being cocky when doing these mazes and this one is a genuinely tricky one. The first time I tried it I kept returning to the entrance/exit effortlessly but couldn't find the middle at all. The second time the middle was no problem, but could I find the entrance/exit? Nope, and that's pretty much when the heavens opened on my ill fated trip. I even feared helicopter rescue may have been necessary at one stage...still, lots of fun for the kids.
It is actually possible to get a tour of the house on certain days, but this is restricted to only a couple of rooms due to the fact it is an operational hotel. I did manage this quite a few years ago but have actually forgotten the majority of it, but what I do remember is standing around for pretty much the whole talk only switching rooms a couple of times and something about pillars and plaster of Paris so I don't remember it being overly exciting. You also have an opportunity from 3pm-5:30pm to access the Octagonal Temple or Chapel which is well worth a go to see an ostentatious display of wealth disguised as religious iconography - oops, cynical much? It is actually a fine display and definitely worth a look if you enjoy that kind of thing and get a chance.
Cliveden does not allow dogs to roam around all these gardens and groves, but the parkland beyond a certain point is fair game and is also great for some woodland walks if that's your bag which will take you up to Duke's Seat which is a fantastic vantage point to view the house and parterre. There is also a picnic area if you brought your own food so you won't get stranded too far away from civilisation when lunchtime arrives. However, children are allowed to roam free wherever, and Cliveden offers a lot of open space and little niches to explore so I think it is a great place to bring them to enjoy the outside world away from video games and naturally anyone in touch with nature or that loves walking will also love this place.
There are two sets of toilets blocks located at Cliveden, one by the car park in the Gas Yard and the other by the Orangery Café. There are disabled toilets and baby changing facilities available, and whenever I've been the toilets were clean and well stocked.
For families there are children's guides and family garden explorer packs, all-terrain buggies for hire and for entertainment there are often children's theatre special events.
The Gas Yard also has an audio-visual guide located in small barn with some educational talk as well as a reconstructed Forge to have a quick gander at.
For food there are several picnic areas dotted over the estate, there is a small refreshment kiosk in the car park which serves snacks and sandwiches as well as hot and cold drinks. For a more hearty meal you can try the Orangery café which is a typical National Trust café with the usual suspects such as sandwiches, soup, home cooked lunches etc all at a pretty reasonable price.
Taplow, Maidenhead, Buckinghamshire SL6 0JA
Telephone: 01494 755562 (Infoline)
==Transportation (excluding teleportation)==
By Road - M4 at exit 7 onto the A4 or M40 at exit 4 onto A404
By Rail - Taplow (2½ miles) or Burnham (3 miles)
By Bicycle - Cycle routes are available
If you travel by "green" methods you can get yourself a £1 voucher to spend in the National Trust shop or café.
Estate, garden and shop (daily)
19 Feb - 30 Oct 11 10am - 5:30pm
31 Oct - 31 Dec 10am - 4pm
1 Jan - 18 Feb 11 10am - 4pm
19 Feb - 30 Oct 11 10am - 5:30pm
31 Oct - 31 Dec 10am - 4pm
Coffee shop (daily)
19 Feb - 30 Oct 11 10am - 5pm
31 Oct - 23 Dec 11 10am - 3:30pm
Shop closed 24 to 31 December. Garden, woodlands and coffee shop closed 24 to 26 December.
The Orangery Café (daily)
19 Feb - 30 Oct 11 10am - 5pm
5 Nov - 18 Dec 11 10am - 3:30pm (only Saturday and Sunday)
House, chapel (only Thursday and Sunday)
3 Apr - 27 Oct 11 3pm - 5:30pm
Gift Aid (GA), Standard (S)
Garden (Feb-Oct) / (Nov-Dec)
Adult: £9(GA), £8.15(S) / £6(GA), £5.45(S)
Child: £4.50(GA), £4.05(S) / £3(GA), £2.70(S)
Family: £22.50(GA), £20.45(S) / £15(GA), £13.60(S)
Adult: £4(GA), £3.60(S)
Child: £2(GA), £1.80(S)
Family: £10(GA), £9(S)