Newest Review: ... it would be hard to get one on a nice day (mind you, if it was nice you could sit on the ground - in the extensive grounds). As far as ... more
Audley End House and Gardens (Saffron Walden, Essex)
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Audley End House and Gardens (Saffron Walden, Essex)
Advantages: Fascinating House and Gardens.
Disadvantages: Pricey for a family (not is your are English Heritage Members or take a picnic)
With a sunny weekend and some free time on our hands a friend and I decided to go Audley End House for the day, which isn't far from us. It is situated near the pretty Essex town of Saffron Walden, which is about 15-20 minute drive for Junction 8 of the M11 through a number of picture postcard villages. We arrived about 12.30pm and there was a queue to go in, it seemed to be a bit slow, but basically you drive up to the ticket booth and pay your money (English Heritage members are free). It cost £13 for adults, with prices for concessions and children also available, as well as a family ticket. If you don't want to visit the house then the cost is £9.00 for adults. The house and gardens are open everyday during the summer months and the half term. At other times the house maybe closed, and during the winter they are both open only at weekends. We were advised that access to the house is by guided tour and to book our tour at the visitor information building as soon as possible. I understand that this isn't always the case. As it was quiet busy we ended up in the overflow car park, there did seem to be some disabled parking but this was full, however the car park is quite near the house. I would recommend phoning ahead if you have any access needs. As advised we headed straight to the Visitor Centre and queued up for a few minutes to get our tour slot. It was 12.45pm at this time, and the first tour available was 2.30pm.
Our first stop was for some lunch at the tearoom. They had two delicious sounding soups available served with fresh homemade bread, and a selection of sandwiches and quiches. This included vegetarian and gluten free options. My friend and I both selected the Cheddar cheese and Suffolk Ale chutney sandwich with rocket, which was filling and tasty of £3.95. They also sell Tyrell's crisps, and hot and cold drinks. The cold drinks are the premium Fentimans brand, rather than the bog standard colas etc. The lunch with crisps and drinks came to just under £13 for the two of us. You can bring a picnic to eat in the grounds if you wish. We just weren't that organised. We came back in the afternoon so I could have a homemade cheese scone. They also sell cakes. If you just want a sandwich or a drink, then you can also use the Courtyard Café near the Stables. There are toilets nearby also, which seemed to be well stocked, but a bit untidy but that may have been due to the peak time we were visiting.
After our lunch we decided to do a couple of the short walks marked on the map. The Lime Tree walk circumnavigates the house and could take 10 minutes but we decided to combine it with the 30 minute Temple walk. One of the first points of interest we came across was the Polish war memorial. Apparently Polish Special Forces were billeted and trained here during the Second World War, and the small but attractive memorial is for those that served but didn't return. The rest of the Temple walk takes you near the boundaries around the Temple of Concord which was built to honour George III who was due to visit here, before he became ill. There are good views of the house from here. The grounds had been designed by 'Capability' Brown. The Parterre garden at the back of the house is very attractive. Flowers were coming to the end of their bloom at the time we were there (September) but it still looked pretty. It was in the style of a Jacobean knot garden and was symmetrical. There is also a fountain here, but it was empty during our visit, whilst awaiting repairs. This left us a little time to explore the Victorian Service wing - kitchens, laundry and dairy - before joining our tour.
The guided tour took just over an hour and was very informative and well presented by our two guides. The house was built during Jacobean period, and was much larger than the property we see today, and has had many illustrious owners. There are a number of portraits of the family, as well as an original Holbein (portrait of an unknown man) and a Canaletto landscape. There is a library with some 7000 books (I didn't count them) which include first editions of Johnson's dictionary and Pepys Memoirs. There are also a number of beautiful old furniture items which your guide will inform you about. The Robert Adam wing was designed in the 1760s and includes a rather OTT pink patterned room, which confirms that money doesn't always buy taste. I think it is well worth spending the extra money to visit here. My friend's favourite part was the natural history rooms of stuffed birds and wildlife. Sadly you cannot take photos inside the house.
After leaving the house we decided to head over to the Stables area, and on the way spotted a falconry demonstration, which was very well done with an informative talk and some obliging birds. Although the massive Eagle Owl wasn't in too much of a hurry to digest his chick reward and let the back end of the chick hang out of his mouth whilst he surveyed his audience with interest. We also saw a Peregrine Falcon. I gather there were other birds but we had missed the start as we had been in the house. The sign indicated there were three demos a day, but I don't know if this is a regular occurrence or something that happens occasionally. The falconry area was near the car park opposite the visitor centre, so if you are interested, check the times beforehand to help plan your day.
The Kitchen garden walk (as indicated on the map in the brochure) is 30 mins and takes you around the ponds and gardens to the organic kitchen garden. We spotted lots of butterflies in one of the gardens and I did get bitten a few times by the pond part, so bug spray is recommended. The gardens are organic and I believe you can purchase produce and plants from here at the Gift Shop. There is also a children's playground by the café in this part.
The stables are here and you can pop in and see the two horses. They had just been fed when we went in, so weren't interested in being patted, but I understand that you are welcome to do so. There are a number of small exhibitions here, partly interactive, where you can 'meet' video footage of people who used to work here. The Gift Shop is by the Visitor Centre and contains themed gifts, as well as general English Heritage merchandise. Gifts include regional foods, books and toys. You can purchase a guide book to the House for £3.99.
Overall we were here almost five hours and that included a lunch stop and a scone stop as well as a tour of the house. I recommend a visit here as the grounds are pretty and the house both interesting and magnificent. Obviously you would need a fine day to explore the grounds properly, but none of the walks are lengthy, although some aren't on paths so could get muddy. I would recommend checking if tours are running on the day you go, and booking early to avoid disappointment. At other times the house is 'free-flow', so you can just explore at your own pace and ask questions of the staff. Check out their website for special events also: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk /daysout/properties/audley-end-house-and-gardens
Summary: A Grand Day Out