England Sightseeing National
Coombe Hill Monument (Buckinghamshire)
Welcome to the Chiltern Hills! If you are ever going to stand on top of one hill in the Chilterns then make it Coombe Hill. On top of the hill is a monument to the men who lost their lives in the Boar War, and on a personal note, is a place to remember my loved ones who used to give a little time at the top contemplating ... death and the beauty of life. This is a place where we really appreciate what we have.
Once you've made your way to Coombe Hill, in Buckinghamshire, it's all free! You can spin around and around and whoop for joy. Breathe in the fresh air. Isn't it wonderful? Enjoy the highest part of the rural Chilterns at 843 feet and whilst there take a moment to pay your respects to the fallen soldiers of the Boar War. The monument to them just about marks the pinnacle of the hill. A circular walk is only about three and a half miles from Wendover.
This is a place designated officially as An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is peaceful and unspoilt, yet it turns out, even having official status doesn't mean the countryside is protected. Go there now because that beautiful land you see below you will be scarred by the sight and sounds of the planned HS2 high speed rail link between London and Birmingham. The next few years may be your last chance to witness and appreciate the rolling fields and woods of the Chilterns in full and natural glory and this has to be one of the best viewpoints. How terrible to the memory of the generations of people that have lived and visited the Chilterns that it will be invaded by the merging of two cities. The children of the future will not be able to have the same kind of peace and appreciation that this hill top vista and monument brings us.
Make your way from the city to the country:
Trains run from Marylebone, in London, on the Chiltern Railways Aylesbury line. Disembark at WENDOVER. Journey time is approximately fifty minutes, and costs a full adult fare of £10.30 for a single ticket. Take a third off for national railcard holders. Book in advance with Chiltern Railways or other ticket providers and you might well find significantly cheaper tickets. Rail travel is expensive in the UK but Chiltern Railways are reliable, on time, and comfortable. The trains run about every thirty minutes to and from London and meets the Metropolitan line trains at some stations along the way. There are also buses, though very few and far between in Buckinghamshire. These buses go to High Wycombe and nearby Great Missenden too where there are alternative train stations. Trains run until around midnight so you won't have to run down the hill, in the dark, to catch the last train home.
Wendover is a lovely market town complete with Anne Boleyn cottages and the end of the Grand Union Canal. Exiting Wendover railway station, turn left, and go toward the high street until you see a mini roundabout. Watch out because although the village is small and quaint it has heavy traffic passing through. This and the despicable London to Birmingham HS2 rail promise are the negatives to this area. HS2 will cause years of disruption, rip up the beautiful countryside, for a train that won't even stop here, and destroy the ancient woodlands. You are likely to see posters protesting against HS2 on your walk. There are plenty of shops with delicious refreshments to purchase for the upward climb. There are friendly people about to ask directions from.
Warning the hill is very steep if approaching from the Wendover side and not for wheelchair access. However, car drivers are very lucky because there is a cheats way up! Trust me you won't believe you've made much of an ascent it's more like walking over a mole hill from the back end! The National Trust provides a free car park. You can do a flatter alternative walk through the woods which are one of my favourite places to see carpets of bluebells. However, for Coombe Hill you must turn your back on Low Scrub woods unless you feel like an additional walk. All routes eventually take you up to Coombe Hill if you aim upwards and in circles. Once parked up, walk through the gates, probably you'll spot the ice cream van beside the entrance, and follow the path. The monument will come into sight very soon. Before you know it you're already at the top. It's just been a gentle stroll. You can look at the people who walked up from the Wendover side, with smugness, as you lick your ice cream, and they wipe their brows from the exertion.
Onwards and upwards:
Turn right down Walnut Close and follow a public footpath diagonally over a field. Ultimately, the only way is up, and it becomes very clear that there are several ways to get to the top. They will all get you to the monument so don't worry about which one. I've never been lost up there as despite it being the highest point of the Chilterns it is fairly small and obvious where to go. Sometimes, you will catch a glimpse of the Boar War monument on the top of Coombe Hill. Mountain climbers will find this route easy peasy. I would recommend walking shoes as it can be slippery underfoot or muddy. Less hardened walkers might be a little breathless!
Picnics and memories:
The National Trust manages the hill well and it is clear that people work very hard to maintain it and make it accessible to the public.
There are benches and logs for rest and picnic stops, of which I have wonderful memories, and many more to come, I hope, and there's nothing wrong with sitting on the grass. Many people sit on the steps leading up to the Boar War monument. In some countries this would be frowned upon yet there is something about the design of the steps that encourages people to climb up, read the names, contemplate the lives of people taken, and the losses on both sides, including the war crimes, and then sit and take rest in appreciation of their lives. Many a time I have seen children playing on the steps or people taking shelter on windy days, and it's a pleasing sight. The monument, not the prettiest of constructions, but meaningful, is not in a place of death but of life. It seems fitting that the soldiers are remembered forever in a place so free and happy and removed from the location of their actual demise.
The monument is a sixty feet tall. In 1904 the war memorial was erected, in memory of the one hundred and forty eight men of Buckinghamshire, who died in the second Boar War 1899 - 1902. This was an original concept because it wasn't about a triumph in war, as was normal with monuments, but built specifically to record the names of the local men that died. The monument was struck by lightning back in the 1930's but rebuilt by the local council. Over time the structure became weak and people raised money to have the structure restored. It is now a Grade 2 listed monument. There are bronze flags and gold on the concrete structure. The names have been re-done as two men had been omitted on the originally and there were spelling errors which need to be rectified. I would love to know the story behind how these mistakes and omissions were made. There is an obvious and sadder omission as the history of the Boar War involved atrocities committed by the British and the use of concentration camps. If you are unaware of the history contemplation will be limited to only what is before your eyes. On a lighter note, because Coombe Hill is not to be just a scene of sadness and memorial, the monument comes complete with lightening conductors this time!
There is a trig point beside the monument to give explanation to the panorama.
The scenery is pretty and the meadows beautiful. The whole of the Aylsebury vale lies below. Houses and churches appear so tiny to the naked eye. With your back to the monument, and the valleys below, walk along a path to the right side of the hill. There are benches along here too. See that big house down there - that's Chequers - the prime minster's country residence. Once I saw Margret Thatcher being driven there which seems fitting to recall now, as she died today. So many people of fame, or infamy, have travelled to the house you look at now.
I've been up here in all weathers but I don't like it when the wind is too strong. It is an exposed spot and often the weather drives people to the monument for some sort of shelter. It can feel like you'll be blown all the way down and across to the next county. I'd rather walk back down the hill, thanks! My favourite time is about April/May but a couple of years ago it was unseasonably boiling hot. We came up from Low Scrubs car park with ice creams and still had a sweat on us but it was so much fun. In June you can watch (possibly insane) folks running up and down the steep slope in a race. Legend has it this virgin experience turns a boy into a man. But that's nothing, when I was about two, my grandfather wheeled me all the way up from Wendover station, complete with picnic hamper, and down again in my pushchair. I wouldn't recommend doing this. My granddad, the superhero!
There are many possibilities of walks that combine the Coombe Hill experience. You can walk for days, for example, on the way marked, eighty-five miles, Ridgeway Walk. Dogs are welcome if kept under control. Look out for the summer-only, chewing the cud, Belted Galloway, cows grazing on the land. They keep the grass low which is important on a chalk hill and as a result the butterflies thrive. They'll leave you alone if you don't bother them. There are no toilets or refreshments unless the ice cream van happens to be in the Low Scrubs car park. I never come to Coombe Hill without paying my respects at the memorial.
Red kites have been reintroduced to the Chilterns and you can watch them hovering and listen to their distinctive calls. The view stretches out as far away as the Cotswolds on a clear day. Look out for Firecrests and Yellowhammer birds, rare orchids, other unusual plants, and the butterflies that flit amongst the rare chalk grasslands. Many people come here to fly their kites and that too makes a pretty picture. Coombe Hill is at the height of the Chilterns and is a place I come to in happiness, and a little sadness, as people I have shared it with are no longer with us but at the same time we celebrate life in this place that is so magnificent.
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I'm a little bit of a snob when it comes to breaks away and holidays, I'll be the first to admit it, so when my mum suggested Blackpool for our annual girly few days away with the children, I was less than impressed. My head filled with all the stereotypes of what I expected Blackpool to be and I couldn't believe we would be spending 3 ... nights there! After returning at lunchtime today I wanted to put down in writing immediately just how much fun we had! I couldn't have been more wrong and have had an amazing few days with my mum and my two girls, but without a shadow of doubt, the most fun we had was at Blackpool Tower where we spent nearly a full day.
The Blackpool Tower Circus (contains a big spoiler!!):
This was absolutely amazing! Arriving an hour before the show started we expected to be first in line for the doors opening at 12.15 for the 1pm show, however there was around 100 people waiting in line before us! Tickets are for seats on a first come basis and are not allocated. If you want to go to the Circus I have to recommend that you get there an hour before it starts otherwise you may be up in the gods which wouldn't give the best views. Seating is in the usual tiered arena style as you would expect from a circus so 90% of people will have brilliant views, but avoid having to sit in the gods. There is allocated seating for wheelchair users, but apart from these the seats are compacted closely together so expect very little leg room. Face painting is available for only £2 per child and this made it for me seeing my two little girls watching the circus with clown faces and red noses! Plate spinning and various light up swords / tiaras etc are all available for purchase at reasonable prices, as is a small selection of juices, ice creams and popcorn. Now on to the circus! I really cannot describe it any other way than absolutely fantastic. It features Mooky the Clown and Mr Booo who are full of the usual slap stick gags ready to entertain the audience. The real show comes in the form of a group of Cuban acrobats who did some show stopping routines, which were literally phenomenal. After an hour long first half and a short interval, the second half features some amazing routines but for me the best part of the show came when the circus floor dropped and 42,000 gallons of water filled the circus ring with a mini Bellagio style fountain in the centre! Amazing! How they turn it round for the 4pm show I have no idea! Dating back to 1894 it's the oldest permanent circus arena in the world. Amazingly, the circus has never missed a season, not even during World War 1 & 2! My girls were disappointed when they realised there wouldn't be any animals in the circus, but I was surprised to learn that animals such as lion, polar bears and elephants performed right up until 1990!
The Blackpool Tower Ballroom:
After our visit to Jungle Jims play centre we had a little time to kill before we made our way to the circus so when we stumbled across the Ballroom we couldn't believe our luck that it was full of ballroom dancing! For a mum with two very girly girls this was very cheap and fun entertainment! In the beautiful setting of the ballroom, you can watch the ballroom dancers dance the day away or you can even join in. Afternoon tea may be an option for those with more time than we had. Dating back to 1894 the Ballroom is world famous for its spectacular architecture and is so magical. Listening to the Wurlitzer and watching the ballroom dancers was a fantastic (and free) experience, and one that I shall never forget.
The Blackpool Tower Eye with 4D Cinema Experience:
Amazingly, your ticket up the tower includes so much more than just that and is an experience. We knew little about it before we went up and were surprised when we were told to pick up some 3D glasses along the way. A 4D cinema experience sees you fly around the Tower through a unique perspective and experience some truly unique sensory special effects! While showing the history of the Tower in a short video clip, it also puts into perspective the sheer scale of this amazing attraction. A small queue awaited us after the cinema, but the Tower was so well managed that it seemed to fly passed. We were kept constantly moving and along the way there were lots of facts about the Tower to keep you occupied. A photo opportunity along the way saw your family group sitting on one of the steel girders of the Tower or flying a plane passed the Tower: all ways to keep the family entertained. After this were the two lifts which split the queues and ride you to the top of the Tower. Taking 68 seconds the ride up is smooth but extremely high (it seems much much higher once you are up there!). At the top you are enclosed in a glass observation deck which gives visitors the opportunity to stand on a glass walkway called the SkyWalk. I expected my young children to go nowhere near this but they instantly ran over to it and were looking right through their feet and the ground below them (all be it a long way down!). 380 feet up, the views are phenomenal and if you are lucky to visit on a clear day as we were, this makes the experience all the better as you are able to walk all the way around the Tower to see the stunning views. There is also the option to go higher, but be warned that this does take you outside (all be it protected by lots and lots of metal meshing), so it is exceptionally windy up there! Surprisingly it was my four year that was adamant she wanted to venture higher!
Jungle Jims Children's Indoor Play:
Set within the 'Lost City', the giant Inca Gods that guard the entrance set the scene for an amazing hour of fun for children. With lots of swinging, climbing and sliding to be done, it's a good way to burn some of that hyper 'Blackpoolness' out of them (I blame the candy floss, ice cream, rock etc!)! There is a small selection of drinks on offer, and they are pricey. We had two slush puppies, a diet coke and a coffee and it came to £12 which was pretty steep. There is also a small area selling Jungle Jims merchandise but luckily we were able to make the children completely avoid this area, so we probably saved a fortune there! There are timed sessions during weekends and school holidays, and luckily we were aware of this before we visited so were able to head there when the Tower opened at 10am and were the first ones in. For ease, I will list the time sessions (you will notice that you get to play for 15 minutes longer in the two morning sessions, so you will gain more 'value' by opting for one of these two sessions):
10 - 11.15 am
11.30 - 12.30pm
12.45 - 1.45pm
2 - 3pm
3.10 - 4.10pm
The Blackpool Tower Dungeon:
Unfortunately we didn't visit this attraction. With a four and six year old in tow, I didn't think it would be wise! Bringing 1000 years of Blackpool's history to life, there are 10 actor led shows which interact with the audience.... (you can only imagine!). The visit culminates with being sentenced to death on the Extremis drop ride - prepare to scream from the rafters!
We didn't eat here, and instead opted for a mini picnic from Marks and Spencers (literally just around the corner), but it resembled a posh McDonalds. With the promise of locally sourced beef and fresh ingredients, it didn't look a bad option, and with ample seating, it would be a good option for a lunchtime burger.
The Ballroom, small games area with penny slots and a few other games and terrace views overlooking the promenade are all completely free to enter. The whole place is fantastically clean and well managed, with plenty of staff on hand to help should you require any assistance.
I haven't listed individual prices for each attraction as although they are available to visit as individual attractions, I really wouldn't recommend doing it this way. To put it into perspective, the circus prices for an adult to visit are £12.60, while a child is £9.60 and the Tower and eye experience is £9 per person. Individually this would have cost us £80, however the option to purchase tickets together reduces the cost and so for a family of four to visit the Circus, the Tower and the play centre cost us just £63 which provided a full day out and which I think was exceptional value. There is also the option to spend £25 per person which gives you what we got plus entrance to the Dungeons.
The Tower opens at 10am and doesn't open its doors until this time. If you are in Blackpool for a few days I would recommend buying your tickets the day before you plan to visit, which will mean you can skip the queues when it opens and head straight to your first attraction. This is what we did and meant that we were able to head straight to Jungle Jims and be the first through the door. The last admission of the day is at 5.30 but unless you only plan to go up the Tower, in my opinion this would be a complete waste of money visiting at this time.
Blackpool Tower is a must see destination with so much to do, and with something for all ages! Packed full of history.... and fun!
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Uppark (West Sussex)
Uppark is a 17th-century house in South Harting, which is near Petersfield in West Sussex. The house is in the most stunning of locations as its set high on the South Downs, and you literally can see for miles and miles on a clear day. And it was a magnificently clear day when we visited Uppark in August last year; it was one the last ... sunny days of last year's rather poor summer, so I was extremely lucky to pick such a good day for my first visit. Despite living within 10 miles of this superb jewel of a house for the last 20 odd years, I'm ashamed to say that this was my very first visit to it.
My parents have recently joined the National Trust, so they are currently "getting their money's worth" by visiting all the properties that are near to them. Uppark is about an hour from their home, but very close to mine, so they asked if I'd like to join them on their visit. My mother had also managed to snaffle a free ticket for me from somewhere too, so that was the icing on the cake. Uppark is a red brick, two-storey house with stone dressings. It stands four-square with dormer windows in a hipped roof. As stately homes go, Uppark is on the tiny side. However don't let its smallness put you off a visit, as this truly is a stunning gem of a house.
~~~ A BIT OF HISTORY ~~~
Uppark was built for the first Earl of Tankerville, Lord Grey in around 1690. Lord Grey was a bit of an adventurer and was involved in Monmouth's Rebellion against James II. He obviously mended his ways as he ended his days as Lord Privy Seal under William III.
Uppark was sold in 1747 to Sir Matthew and Lady Sarah Fetherstonhaugh who extensively remodeled and redecorated the house with many of the items you can see there today. Sir Matthew was heir to a vast fortune from a distant relative and he compounded his wealth by marrying into the wealthy Huguenot family of Lethieulliers. He and his new wife Sarah set off on a two-year Continental tour in order to buy furniture and paintings to fill their new country seat. Between 1750 - 1760 they redecorated most of the principal rooms and then furnished them with a splendid collection of furniture, carpets and works of art.
Their only son, Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh inherited the estate in 1774 and he continued with the renovations. He commissioned one of his friends Humphry Repton to landscape the gardens, and he also added a dairy and the pillared portico you still enter today on the north front of the house. Despite sharing his parent's good taste in architecture and furnishings, in all other respects, Sir Harry seems to have been somewhat of a rake in his youth. He was a passionate lover of hunting and horse-racing. He entertained lavishly between 1780 - 1810 and his close friend the Prince Regent was a frequent guest at the house where much revelry and gambling no doubt took place.
Sir Harry had more than a glad eye for the ladies. He brought a teenage Emma Hart to Uppark in 1780 and made her his mistress. She is alleged to have danced naked on the dining room table at Uppark for the amusement of Sir Harry and his gentlemen friends. Unfortunately for her, she became pregnant, and was thrown out of Uppark and rather swiftly banished to Cheshire to give birth (and then passed on to another gentleman after she'd given birth, possibly to a stillborn child). Poor lady! She did manage to become Lady Hamilton, and then Lord Nelson's mistress.
Sir Harry evidently became somewhat of a recluse in his middle years, probably recovering from his mis-spent youth! However, he scandalised polite society in 1828, by marrying a dairy maid. He was 70 years old at the time and married his 21 year old diary maid Mary Ann Bullock. Mary Ann did rather well out the arrangement - having spent 20 years looking after Sir Harry, when he died at the age of 90 in 1846, she inherited the entire estate. Mary Ann and her sister Frances looked after the estate between then until 1895, but left everything largely unaltered for half a century.
One of Uppark's main claims to fame is that HG Wells spent part of his youth growing up there. His mother, Sarah, was employed as the housekeeper between 1880 and 1893. She took the housekeeper's job to provide an income for her family, after her husband Joseph Wells broke his leg and could no longer play professional cricketer. Unfortunately she had more than a few problems getting to grips with the job and was eventually let go i.e. sacked. I suspect the job was all too much for her as her previous role at Uppark had been as a housemaid to Lady Fetherstonhaugh's sister. HG Wells writes about his years at Uppark in his autobiography. Evidently he loved the beauty of Uppark, but deeply resented the fact that so much was shared with so few. He was allowed to use the library at Uppark and used it to self-educate himself.
The additions continued into the 19th century with stables and kitchens being added as separate buildings but connected to the main house via tunnels. The house remained in the hands of the Fetherstonhaugh family until 1954 when it was presented to the National Trust. However, members of the Meade-Fetherstonhaugh family continue to live and work on the estate. In fact you only get to see a tiny portion of the house, as everything above ground level still belongs to the family and that's strictly out of bounds to the great unwashed such as you and I.
~~ FIRE, FIRE BURNING BRIGHT ~~
In 1989, Uppark was devastated by a huge fire. Evidently the fire was caused by a workman's blowtorch whilst he was in the process of repairing the lead flashings on the roof. Luckily for the estate, the fire broke out during the day and whilst the house was open. If it had happened at night, there would have been no time to save anything. As it was, staff and visitors were able to form a human chain and carry a lot of the works of art and priceless tapestries as well as much of the furniture to safety before the fire really took hold. However, by nightfall the fire was still raging with over 100 firefighters from Sussex and Hampshire at the scene.
A huge debate raged as to the future of Uppark. The building was now structurally unstable and some thought it ought to be demolished or left as a ruin (like nearby Cowdray Castle in Midhurst which was also destroyed by fire). Others were against restoring it saying that it would only ever be a "fake" stately home. However, it was eventually decided that Uppark would be renovated to its former glory - after all as far as the insurers were concerned the renovations would work out to be a cheaper insurance settlement than a full and final payout for a written-off building and its treasures.
Uppark therefore, slowly went under a £20m repair and refurbishment for a long six year period, finally reopening its doors in 1995. While much of the furnishings and treasures of Uppark had been carried to safety, there was still much that had been burnt or charred beyond recognition. However, everything was kept no matter how badly damaged as it was all a record of Uppark's history and an enormous help in putting the house back together again.
When the fire was finally out of control, most of the upper floors eventually collapsed through onto the lower floors. However, luckily for Uppark much of the upper floor debris fell cleanly onto the lower floor avoiding much of the paneling on the ground floor walls. Indeed many of the ground floor furnishings were crushed rather than burned, so some of the metalwork was later able to be cleaned and straightened. Those involved in the restoration are documented as saying that one of the main benefits of restoring Uppark to its former glory was the knowledge gained about making or restoring such charming artifacts.
One of the rooms at Uppark has been given over to a display of the fire and the restoration of the house, with a clever sculpture in the centre of the room showing the timeline of the entire incident. There is a video of the fire and the efforts of the fire brigade to get the blaze under control. There are also plenty of pictures of the fire and the smoking ruins left behind. All in all it's a very interesting exhibition and it's laid out and presented in a most informative and clever way.
~~ RISING LIKE A PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES - UPPARK TODAY ~~
So after centuries of collection, one night of devastation and six years of renovation, is the Uppark of today still worth a visit? In a word yes. Is it possible to distinguish between what is genuinely antique or a clever 20th century renovation? To this I'd say no. Current day visitors to Uppark will still be able to appreciate the décor and furnishings of yesteryear and the views from the house remain just as stunning as they ever were. Uppark truly has risen from the ashes, and you'd be hard pressed to find any evidence that some of it is not quite genuine and that if some of the pieces had a date stamp on them it would say "made in 1993" rather than "made in 1773". It's still a jewel of a house which really does give a lovely insight into 18th century English country life.
Uppark is still a beautiful 17th century mansion and it has been renovated beautifully. When you stand in front of the south of house and see the views you can fully understand why they went to all the time and trouble to rebuild and renovate it instead of letting it go to rack and ruin. It really is one of the most stunning views of that part of the south of England.
You enter Uppark via a long graveled pathway towards to north of the property. From this angle, the house looks pretty unprepossessing. Yes the entrance is porticoed and has some impressive stone pillars, but it gives no hint of the magnificence of the views from inside. You then pass through a long dark corridor which is pretty dank and dismal. However, just as you are begin to wonder quite what you paid your entrance fee for, the corridor opens up into one of the main salons, and it's such a light airy room, with such stunning vistas you begin to understand quite why this house was so worth saving. You also suddenly understand where the name of the house came from..."Uppark" - a "park"...high "up" on the South Downs.
The rooms on the ground floor are all suitably grand, with plenty of period furniture and paintings. I'm not going to walk you though every room as that would be tedious, so I'll just mention my highlights. The Dining Room has a stunning circular stained glass window to one wall, but it's the dining table that really catches your eye as this was where Lady Hamilton née Emma Hart was alleged to have danced naked for Sir Harry and his gentlemen friends. I imagine she felt the need to literally "dance for her dinner" as she needed to entertain and enthral in order to keep her precarious position as Sir Harry's mistress intact (or tempt one of his "friends" should Sir Harry tire of her charms). Next up we have the white and gold festooned Salon with its delicate Regency furniture. The ceiling and the chandelier are both intricate and stunning, until one realises that neither of them are the originals and were recreated entirely post 1990. However it has to be said they have done a marvellous job of replicating them. My favourite room of the house has to be the Tapestry Bedroom which is dominated by a stunning mahogany four poster bed festooned with burgundy drapes. The walls behind the bed are hung with dark tapestries. One could imagine the 70 year old Sir Harry wooing his 21 year old dairy maid in this room - she'd have been so impressed with the richness and opulence of her surroundings I'm quite sure it would have made having to "lie down" with a man 50 years her senior that much more bearable!
Uppark is famed for its 18th-century dolls' house which still houses its original contents. Personally it didn't hold much interest for me, but you can get really quite close up should you wish and see all the tiny details on the dolls and furnishings inside. Obviously you cannot handle the items or touch the house, as there is a thin glass panel protecting it, but you can certainly peer inside and see. I found the exhibition on the 1989 fire much more interesting and that room is definitely well worth a visit.
Whilst I enjoy wandering around a stately home as much as the next person, I always find life below stairs that much more interesting. At Uppark they have left the servants' quarters as they were in Victorian days when H.G. Wells' mother was the housekeeper, so everything is laid out circa 1875. Both my Grandparents were in service so a tour below stairs is very interesting to me and Uppark gives a good indication of what life below stairs would have been like for them. Whilst my grandparents were in service in the 1920's and 30's rather than in the 1870's, life below stairs was still strictly hierarchical and everyone still had their place. My Grandmother went into service as a kitchen maid when she was just 14, and began "walking out" with one of the footmen. That footman (my Grandfather!) eventually went on to become butler to Duke of Norfolk at Arundel Castle.
The kitchen at Uppark is a cold and gloomy room - no magnificent views for the servants allowed. All the servant's quarters and rooms are in the basement with long damp stone tunnels linking them - they must have been freezing cold, slippery underfoot and rather spooky for the poor staff. Such a contrast to the elegant and delicate saloons upstairs! The kitchen is dominated by a huge scrubbed wooden table and a dresser groaning under the weight of various old fashioned pots, pans and copper jelly moulds. A metal set of scales graces the centre of the table with old fashioned weights scattered around. As you'd expect in the kitchen of a house of this size, there is a huge black range to one wall, and one can imagine the hours spent trying to get it clean....no Mr Muscle in those days :o(
The Housekeeper's Room has been done out as it would have been when HG Wells' mother was in charge. There is the cupboard containing all household linens and a strong room so that all the silver could be kept under lock and key and away from any thieving staff or delivery tradesmen. There is also a desk where the housekeeper would keep the household accounts in a huge ledger...evidently the undoing of the soon-to-be-sacked Mrs Wells, as she evidently had great troubles keeping the books balanced :o( I did enjoy my wander around the servant's quarters at Uppark, but I did think that the similar exhibition at nearby Stansted House was a little better done and slightly more informative. However, the staff at Uppark are very good should you wish to learn more. The house is staffed by an army of volunteers who all seemed to be extremely knowledgeable on the house and its treasures. They are happy to answer any questions you might have as you wander around. Just before we entered the house, we listened to a short talk on the highlights we were about to see, and that was very good. The gentleman who gave the talk very obviously knew the history of the house inside out and back to front, and it was a great taster of what was to come, with plenty of humour and a hint towards intrigue and scandal (mainly involving Sir Harry and good-time girl Emma Hart and his later shenanigans with the dairy maid!)
The gardens are very pretty with plenty of flowering shrubs and herbaceous boarders. However, they have left the south side of the house as one huge expanse of lawn which works really well as it leaves the magnificent views unimpeded. You can imagine the lords and ladies of yesteryear, or even the Prince Regent himself, before he became George IV, enjoying a spot of croquet or afternoon tea and feeling like they were on top of the south of England. After all they had hundreds of workers on hand to cart all the things they'd need for their life of leisure up the steep hills surrounding the house's entrance!
Special mention must go the tearooms and the gift shop at Uppark, both of which are excellent. I normally dislike gift shops intensely finding them full of overpriced tat that you neither need nor want. However, the gift shop at Uppark is lovely and was full of lots of tempting and imaginative gift ideas and pretty greetings cards. It's a shame that you cannot visit the gift shop without doing a tour of the house, as it's the sort of shop that would work just as well as a stand-alone entity. The same goes for the tearooms, which were well run, clean and nicely laid out. There were a tempting range of lunches and other snacks on offer, and we had a most delicious afternoon tea on the lawn to the east of the house. The sun shone, the scones were fresh, the jam was by Tiptree and the views were splendid - what more could you ask for in an English country garden? Again you need to visit the house to gain entry to the tearooms. They might do well to consider making the tearooms and gift shop available to all at Uppark like they do at Stansted Park, but then again it could be a deliberate ploy to keep all-comers out and make Uppark that much more special.
~~ RECOMMENDATION? ~~
I enjoyed my afternoon at Uppark, and it did make me wonder why it had taken me nearly twenty years of living in the area to get round to visiting it. I was lucky enough to have a free entrance ticket, which was the icing on the cake...or jam on my scone in this case. However, it has to be said that I do think that Uppark has a rather expensive entry fee for what you actually get to see. You are only allowed to view the rooms on the ground floor of the house and the servant's quarters downstairs. The entire second floor of the building still belongs to the family and that is out of bounds to the paying public. With only 50ish percent of the house on display I do think nearly £9 is quite a lot of money to pay for entry. The gardens are nice, but they're certainly nothing out of the ordinary and not the sort of gardens that would win any horticultural prizes. Yes the views are superb, but they were there first and they certainly weren't created by the National Trust or the Fetherstonhaugh family! When all is said and done, I do feel they're charging over the odds for what there is to see. Stansted House is cheaper to visit and there is a LOT more to see and do there.
However, please don't let the pricey entry fees put you off a visit here, as it truly is a gem of a house, and the restoration work is superb. You can spend a most interesting afternoon here and come away with a good impression of life above stairs in the 18th century, coupled with life below stairs in the mid 19th century. And that view is to die for...you literally can see for miles and miles.....
~~ FURTHER INFORMATION ~~
Uppark is located five miles south east of Petersfield (Hampshire) and 1½ miles south of South Harting (West Sussex) on the B2146. The nearest railway station is in Petersfield. Car parking at Uppark is free and plentiful, which is always a nice bonus in this day and age.
Tel: 01730 825415
Please note that Uppark is not open all year round so it's best to check with the National Trust first. As a very rough guide the house opens from mid March until early November. Opening hours are from 11.30am to 4.30pm.
Admission to Uppark 2013
Family Ticket £21.00
Wheelchair access is good, with ramped access to the ground floor and a specially adapted toilet near the car park. The shop and tearoom are also easily accessible, but there are some steep slopes and steps in the gardens.
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