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Greys Court (Henley)

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Address: Rotherfield Greys / Henley-on-Thames / RG9 4PG

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      21.06.2013 18:14
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      A small National Trust house with beautiful walled gardens and parkland - definitely worth a visit.

      Built in the 16th century, the brick built, Tudor house of Greys Court is one of my favourite local National Trust properties to visit. It's not a huge imposing mansion as many NT properties are, but is instead, a large, not overly ornate, homely house with a rambling sequence of spectacular walled gardens set amidst acres of parkland and woods.

      **The practical bits**

      You'll find Greys Court in the beautiful open countryside to the West of Henley on Thames in Buckinghamshire. A car is needed to reach the village of Rutherford Greys on the B481 where it is located. Entering the postcode, RG9 4PG into a sat nav should get you there safely. From March to October Greys Court is open daily with the gardens open from 11 - 5 and the house opening up for the afternoon from 1.00. It also opens up again in December for Christmas festivities.

      As with all National Trust properties the cost of entry is pretty extortionate, but this is essential, as so much expensive maintenance is required to preserve these properties for us to continue enjoying and learning from. Indeed, a couple of years ago when we visited Greys Court it was under scaffolding and polythene wraps as extensive repair work was carried out to many of the Tudor timbers. It is now thankfully back on full view in its fully restored glory. I would recommend joining the National Trust if you like visiting old houses and gardens. Our family ticket to the house and gardens at Greys Court cost £24.75 whereas our years membership was £93.00, so it won't take us long to have made the membership worthwhile. You can join at any property that you visit. An adult costs £9.90 and a child £4.95 with gardens only tickets being £7.70, £3.85 and £19.25 for adult, child and family tickets.

      The shop is a typical National Trust one selling books, gardening equipment, smellies, a few toys and in this case lots of bee and bug habitats to encourage insects into your garden, as can be seen in the kitchen garden here.

      The toilets are right by the shop and include facilities for people with disabilities.

      Most of the paths are gravel so could be a bit of a challenge for pushing wheelchairs over, but certainly not impossible and there is also ramped access to the ground floor of the house. There is disabled parking just outside or drop off is permitted at the entrance to the house.

      ***What is there to see and do***

      **The house**

      Whenever I look around the house I can't help but smile. It's a strange but lived in combination of grandness and historical elegance mixed with 1980s and 90s modernity which in turn are now becoming antiquated in their own rights and lead me to reminisce as I walk around. It feels quite quirky but is very much the natural way in which the house was lived in and you are in no doubt at all that this is a home that until very recently was alive and full of action.

      One of the most renowned former occupants of the house was Francis Knolleys who was the treasurer for Queen Elizabeth 1 as well as the jailer of Mary Queen of Scots. However, the family whose lives you get an insight into as you explore their home are Sir Felix Brunner and Lady Elizabeth Brunner who moved here in 1937 and brought up their four sons in the house and grounds. Despite donating the property to the National Trust in 1969, Lady Brunner continued to live in the house until 2003 and it has been left just as she and her family last used it.

      Downstairs you will visit four rooms. None of the rooms are overly large and pretentious. The drawing room has an ornate fireplace and a wonderful 18th century moulded plaster ceiling and some superb Chinese themed antiques, but the sofa is a comfortable modern one and it feels warm and welcoming. Participation is certainly encouraged here by the National Trust and the children's guide booklet encourages them to lie on the floor so that they can look up at the ceiling. Nowhere is roped off so you can look at anything as closely as you like and sit on the window seat and listen to music. My daughter had a wonderful time playing the grand piano and music is left out to encourage visitors to do this.

      The dining room is functional and the NT have told the history of the house by writing it on the plates laid on the table. Embroidered cushions are also used in this way in the bedrooms. The school room is one of my favourites. There are quite a few old toys from the mid 20th century including a beautiful fully furnished large dolls house. There's commemorative bunting hanging from the fireplace and paperwork on the desk alongside the 1980s style telephone and television. The sofas are practical and apart from books there is much more evidence of modernity and less of the grand past of the house. I think the Brunner's must have spent most of their time in here and I could spend ages browsing as there are so many bits of everyday 20th century life to see.

      The kitchen is fabulous. It's big and has a wonderful range and open cupboards with pretty curtains across. The utensils look as though they have been collected together over many years, but then there is the modern cooker and hob and the big miele fridge and freezer added in too. Nothing has been fully modernised; it has evolved and technology has been incorporated as needed without destroying the past. It is fascinating to look and see what things come from which eras of the houses history. It really does have to be seen as it feels indescribably blended.

      There are two staircases; the grand one from the hall and the back stairs into the kitchen complete with Lady Brunner's stairlift which itself is taking on the look of an antique now. Upstairs you visit three bedrooms and Sir Felix's study. The bedrooms are fairly unremarkable and retain more of the look of the more distant past; they seem to have far fewer possessions in their bedrooms than elsewhere in the house.
      The bathroom though is a very fetching yellowy 70s style - lovely! The study is packed with books and I recognised my old Hitachi record player form the 1980s in here. A classical LP was playing and my 13 year old reminded me that this was the first time that she had ever seen a record player in action! It's then that you start to feel old and realise that your own past is becoming a history lesson.

      You will need a timed ticket, available from the entry kiosk to look around the house.

      **The walled gardens**

      I love to meander around the five areas of the walled gardens with their linking wooden gates. It still comes as a surprise what I will find as I make my way through each little wooden door, especially as everything changes as the seasons progress. Unusually the walled gardens are not to the rear of the property but lie to the front of the main house across the green front lawn and behind a building now housing the tearoom (more of that later) and the dower house which is a private residence.

      The white garden has always been my favourite. Unsurprisingly all of the planting here is white and a vast magnolia tree looks magnificent in spring against the remains of the 14th century stone castle and fortified castle, which forms one wall of this garden. The large pond is home to many frogs and we've spent many hours kneeling on the ground watching them go about their business. There's also a lovely white veranda with table and chairs that you can sit and relax on. It's a very natural unregimented and restful area to sit in.
      The wisteria garden is also impressive as the gnarled 130 year old plant coils around on itself as well as over an arched trellis. The purple blooms are best seen in June. Other themed areas are the rose garden and cherry garden as well as a large and immaculately kept kitchen garden where you will find some unusual ways of attracting bees to the garden and some fun ways of presenting plants to give colour.

      **Parkland and woodland**

      If you have time to spare you can venture over the 'moon bridge' that crosses the ha ha and out into the many acres of parkland, not forgetting to peer into the old ice house. The thatched roof little hut has been restored and you can peer into the deep pit where snow and ice was stored throughout the year to use to keep food fresh.

      Further out still there are marked paths through woods and I would definitely recommend a late spring visit when the woods are bursting with the vibrant scent and colour of bluebells. We've had fun climbing on fallen trees around the pond area as you walk back around towards the carpark.

      **The Maze**

      If like me you picture hedges when the word maze is mentioned, you may be surprised to come across this grassy area with narrow brick pathways, which form the Greys Court maze. The fun is still there aplenty though and we enjoy running around the little paths until we hit the feature in the middle. It's only small and takes a few minutes to complete but it's fun to see where your friends are and to race them to the middle and it's just a little bit different to the norm.

      **The tower**

      The earliest known habitation of this site was a castle built in 1347. An impressive tower and a few walls are all that remains of this now. The tower doesn't look all that high but it feels it as you climb the stone steps to the roof where you can look down on the house and gardens and out over the rolling valley and the woods. It forms a beautiful backdrop to the walled gardens and is the main view from the front of the house.

      **The donkey wheel**

      I never looked down a well so deep before. It's well worth going and seeing the building where donkeys were used to pull water from the well which was used right up to 100 years ago.

      **Tea and cake**

      No visit to a National Trust property is complete without tea and cake in a quant tearoom and this one doesn't disappoint. Recently the small tearoom has been extended by the addition of a large marquee where all of the seating is now provided - maybe not the warmest on a cold Easter day, but with a laid wooden floor and windows all around it was a pleasant place to tuck into a hot chocolate and piece of homemade flapjack. In warmer weather there is also seating outside and people will often be seen sitting out on the lawns at the front of the house or on the daffodil flanked banks near the tower. The selection of cakes is delectable and slices of carrot cake, lemon and blueberry drizzle to name but a few looked both large and very tempting priced from £1.50 - £2.80. Cream tea may be more appealing to some or even soup of the day or homemade vegetable or salmon tartlets and salad or a ploughman's for £6.20. A range of sandwiches and baguettes is also available.

      Picnics are only allowed in the designated but very nice area near the carpark.

      On a chilly Easter day we spent a happy three hours here, but when the weather is brighter and more flowers are in bloom we happily spend a lot longer here and venture out into the woods. I would definitely recommend visiting especially in late spring when the numerous daffodils are in bloom and the white garden looks exquisite and early summer when the wisteria is breath taking as well as all of the roses. Throughout the year special events are held so it is worth checking out the website, for instance there have been Easter Egg hunts for children and theatre productions are planned.

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