“ Address: The Rotunda / Horringer / Bury St Edmunds IP29 5QE / Suffolk „
Ickworth House, which is situated just three miles from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, is the former home of the Hervey family. It was originally built between 1795 and 1841, although its signature Rotunda was completed in 1829. Construction began during the time of Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, but after his death money ran out and it was some time before his son, the 1st Marquess of Bristol gained enough money to continue to build it. He also travelled Europe in order to purchase art and textiles for the house. His descendants were not always the best at looking after the house but the 4th Marquess saved the house by firstly marrying an heiress and secondly by bequeathing it to the National Trust upon his death in 1951. This is just as well as both his son and grandson (who also lived in the house) were colourful characters and not particularly good at managing money or living within the law. However, despite its colourful residents often doing everything they can to lose the house and its treasures, the house (and its gardens) has prevailed and is well worth a visit.
You enter the house into the impressive entrance hall through the doors of the Rotunda. There is a large marble statue at the back and an interesting table with carved dogs for legs as well as floor to ceiling paintings. Beyond this I had a number of favourite rooms and pieces. The green drawing room is very smart with its silk furnishings and ornate mirrors and occasional tables. There is also a very interesting chess table in the pink room (possibly not its official name) as well as some lovely inlaid wood furniture.
There are some amazing chandeliers in many of the rooms, but my favourite was a Murano glass one in one of the bedrooms. Of the artefacts to view there are many paintings but one of my favourites was an elephant model under glass as well as a a number of display cases containing a collection of ladies' fans. Most rooms will have a curator in them and I found them pleasant and engaging, and always happy to talk and share their knowledge.
THE GARDENS AND PARK
You can walk all the way around the house, but part of it is a hotel now. The gardens in the immediate vicinity vary from manicured Italian style gardens to managed wilderness with some interesting trees. They are very pleasant to wander through on a summery day.
There are a number of walks you can do both within the gardens and through the surrounding parks and woodland. My friend and I picked the 4 mile blue walk which took us on a one way journey to the Fairy Lake (which we never actually found) past an abandoned church, lake, walled garden and vineyard. The longest walk is 7 miles, so all are doable if you have the time.
There is a restaurant in the West Wing (beyond the ticket office) it is waitress service and serves drinks, snacks like scones or soup as well as hot lunches. There is also a good sized gift shop here, selling guide books, National Trust gifts and other gifts (I bought a wooden carved penguin, which is probably a bit random). I also spotted a second hand bookshop and a stall selling plants. The lavatories are in the basement but there are lifts. I gather from the map there are other toilets that are also wheelchair accessible around the property. I believe that the house is fully accessible as I recall for wheelchair users. The Terrace Walk is also fully accessible, but other paths may be gravel, although the short walks near the house are on flat ground. Braille guides, large prin guides and induction loops are also available.
The property is still run by the National Trust and is free to members. As a non-member I paid £10.60 admission in 2011 as an adult but I believe you can just do the park and grounds for £4.00 The house is only open from the beginning of March to the end of October, but the shop and restaurant are open all year round. Winter opening hours are reduced to 11am to 4pm, extended to 10am to 5pm in summer. The grounds and park are open every day except December 25 from dawn until dusk, with the exception of the Italianate gardens which operate similar hours to the shop.
I initially thought the entrance price quite steep but we were here nearly all day, and really enjoyed the house and the gardens. We were fortunate with the weather - I don't think I would have wandered so far if it had been wet and/or cold however. The gardens around the house are the most attractive, so you will not miss much in that respect if you choose not to wander so far but the countryside is lovely and I believe there is also a family cycle route if you are so inclined. Overall I do recommend a visit here, the property is attractive and interesting and the extensive grounds make for some lovely walks.