My first trip to Cliveden.
Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Dear mummy, spring has sprung! It’s the first day of March and the weather is beautiful! Being St David’s Day we decide to hunt for daffodils at Cliveden. Our journey takes us down the M4 towards Slough, off at junction 7 and down the A4 towards Maidenhead. Cliveden was very easy to find and I was chattering away as we drove through Taplow towards the estate.
There are two National Trust car parks on the Cliveden estate, the first we past is the woodland one which is a mile or so down the road from the main entrance. As it’s our first visit and mummy’s on her own we decide to park at the main entrance so we are close to the visitors centre.
The 376 acre Cliveden Estate is owned by The National Trust but the Main House is a very posh hotel called ‘Cliveden House Hotel’ part of the Relais Chateaux brand and is a grade 1 listed property. Cliveden is an Italianate mansion and estate at Taplow, Buckinghamshire. It’s set on banks 40 metres (130 ft) above the River Thames and its grounds slope down to the river.
The site has been home to an Earl, three Countesses, two Dukes, a Prince of Wales and the Viscounts Astor. The views are amazing here and you can see for miles around.
Cliveden is very grand and has lots of royal connections, even the Queen has visited! The Duke of Buckingham built the first house here for his mistress, Ooooo errr I say!! And it has been rocked with scandal ever since. Including the Profumo Affair, after a pool party at Cliveden, which practically brought down the whole British Macmillan government in 1963. Woweee they know how to party at Cliveden.
The full history of Cliveden can be found here. Timeline
We drive through impressive, but very narrow gates and down the long drive towards the carpark. Helpful NT staff are there to scan our membership cards and direct us to a parking space. We are one of the first people there and mummy bundles me into the buggy. This place is so huge and we don’t know where to start. It’s definitely one of the most impressive National Trust places we’ve ever been to, in grandeaur and history. The nearest attraction from the carpark is the Cinema in the Gas Yard, which is great for getting a quick overview of the history of the estate.
Next is the Water Garden opposite the large Maze and it is beautiful, the the bright morning sun glimmers on the water, with the fountain casting rainbows. It’s so quiet as nobody is here yet, so we pause and look at the ducks and the large fish in the pond. We walk round to the top corner of the estate and stop for a coffee and juice at the Storybook Play Den, a great little place for children with a play park and a cottage which looks like a dolls house.
This would be a great place for a summer picnic.
A lovely owl greats us at the entrance to the Storybook Play Den and lots of play trails for children are held here. When I’m a bit older I can’t wait to come back here and play on the climbing frame. Lots of children are now running into the play area with weary parents behind them and the day hasn’t even started yet! Phew!
We stop and have a juice cartoon to share as mummy forgot my beaker and have a look at the map of the grounds. Mummy tries to get her bearings, this place is so huge!
We go on search for some history and follow the map, one of the main reasons why mummy wanted to visit Cliveden was for the large collection of sculptures, most of them acquired by the 1st Lord Astor from 1893 to 1906.
We head towards the main house and are greeted with Thomas Waldo Story’s impressive Fountain of Love at the end of the Grand Avenue. It’s so beautiful and the backdrop of the cobalt blue sky makes the white marble pop! It was sculpted by Thomas Waldo Story (American, 1855–1915) in Rome in 1897 and was commissioned by Lord Astor for this site.
It features a large marble shell supporting three life-size female figures attended by cupid. The “Tortoise” fountain near the parterre was also made by T.W. Story at around the same time. We spend a good 10 minutes looking at this fountain and chilling out in the sun. There is something quite relaxing with hearing running water splash on a mild spring day.
Before long we are back on our journey, the house seems miles away as we look down the Grand Avenue. Mummy finds it a bit hard to push the buggy on the stony path, but I enjoy jiggling around making funny noises. I can imagine what it would have been like in its hay day, large horse drawn carriages and old fashioned wartime cars driving up and down this avenue. Seem strange to be walking down towards a house that’s played host to the likes of Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria. We met Winston Churchill at Chartwell last year, well his painting anyway!
Mummy and I aren’t allowed in the main house unless we are hotel guests so we head around the side of the property to the South Terrace and gaze over the the famous Parterre. One of the largest in Britain and very French! A Parterre is a formal garden on a level surface and the best time to visit the one at Cliveden is between mid-April to mid-May for it’s spring displays, then June to September for the summer displays.
It was originally laid out in 1855 by John Fleming and his colourful planting schemes set a precedent for gardens the world over. The triangular shaped beds have been beautifully restored with seasonal bedding displays using Fleming’s original design and complete the breathtaking views from the house. Very nice mummy! It was a truly spectacular view and the gardens are not yet in bloom! The National Trust are doing some restoration work to the South Terrace but that didn’t spoil the views looking out over the grounds.
At this stage in our journey around the grounds I’m eager to get out of the buggy and get some nosh inside me, so mummy and I head to the Orangery Cafe just around the corner before we start our epic woodland walk. It’s only 11:30 and the crowds haven’t yet descended on us.
It’s nice having the whole cafe to yourself I think. Mummy has a nice cuppa and a lovely bit of Victoria sponge, why is it that National Trust places make the nicest cakes?!?
So we’ve seen the house and the Dukes Gardens and Parterre, we decide to head on our long woodland walk. It’s a bit of a faff to find out how to get down to the lower levels with a buggy, as it’s not clearly signposted. We end up doubling back on ourselves and head towards the back of the house towards Blenheim Pavilion and the Amphitheatre.
Our woodland walk is slowing turning into a casual stroll. I start to get restless, so mummy decides to stop for a break.
We end up at the Italian-style Long Garden which consists of topiary in the form of corkscrew-spirals, peacocks and box hedges and was designed by Norah Lindsay in c.1900. I kick off the covers of my buggy and mummy puts my waterproofs on. Bright pink, so she can’t miss me! I have a good walk around the gardens, touching the spicky headges and pushing my fingers into the soft grass. We spend over half an hour here, talking to other visitors and playing hide and seek. I am fascinated with all the statues and glide my little hands over the cold stone. Mummy teaches me about textures in the garden and I find it great fun.
Mummy bundles me back into the buggy as we walk down the woodland path towards the River Thames, we walk right around the Parterre, but don’t attempt the other side of the estate, deeper into the woods, we might leave that till next time when we have more ‘daddy’ support to help us with the buggy. The National Trust has many routes around the 376 acre site, include some great paths for dog walkers. We end up missing the boat trips, Clive’s Den, Dukes Seat, Woodland Lounge and the start of the fitness and play trails. Maybe next time.
Steps prevent us walking river side with the buggy as well. So next time I will demand to be carried!! On our way back towards the car park we get a good look at the restoration work being carried out on the South Terrace of the house. This place is great, so much to see and do that I think we will be retuning for many years to come. Well done National Trust another great day. Pooped now.