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Stepping through the imposing gates of Cliveden feels like a step back in time, to a more glamorous and possibly more chaotic era than our own. Its history starts with a duel over a mistress and ends with a sexual scandal over a call-girl; its roll of visitors reads like a who's who of Kings and Queens, newspaper magnates and government heads.
A bit of history:
The first house was built there in 1666 by the Duke of Buckingham for his mistress, Anna. Later it was developed in the current Italianate layout by the Duchess of Sutherland, during the early part of Queen Victoria's reign. The Duchess was a friend of the Queen, and she wished to have a house conveniently located not too far away from Windsor Palace. In fact, when the new house caught fire, the Queen was able to see it from the palace windows and sent the fire engines.
Nowadays, Cliveden is a magnificent estate on the river Thames, near Maidenhead, a National Trust property being only 45 minutes away from central London, and therefore one of the most accessible and impressive of all.
On the day of our visit, there was a vintage Jaguar show in the alley leading from the Fountain of Love to the gates. This imposing perspective seemed the perfect setting for such a glamorous gathering and the polished bonnets gleaming in the sunshine, recalled other glossy times in the gardens that were once the settings of the Profumo affair.
The gardens :
The grounds offers woodlands, orchards and a beautiful walk along the river. From the Duke statue at the top of the estate, you get amazing views of the Thames Valley and over to the house. J.K. Jerome wrote in Three Men in a Boat
that its "unbroken loveliness (made it), perhaps, the sweetest stretch of all the river ..."
My favourite features are the pagodas in the water garden and in the long garden, a pair of 2500 year olds baboons, carved in single blocks of granite, who seem to contemplate the topiary with the distant gaze of one standing guard in the Valley of the Kings. For a more secluded hideaway, you need to find the flint house, a grotto hidden in the woods and made entirely out of raw flint stones, or you can climb the hill to gasp at the sequoia section, brought by boat from America to win a bet.
The river :
There are two delightful cottages and a boat house by the river, with a picnic area and benches. You can book boat trips to explore one of the nicest stretch of the Thames. Or come in style and moor your boat there for a small fee (for up to 24 hours). The trust also rents out two properties on the Estate, and the main house is now an exclusive hotel and spa.
Eating in the Orangery or the Dovecote café:
We stopped after our walk to take some tea, ice cream and cakes in the bright Dovecote café. The walled garden opens up in good weather, as it was open then, as a very sunny and sheltered tea-room. The Orangery next door offers warm lunches and sandwiches.
Cliveden, like many National Trust properties, is launching a great number of events to celebrate the forthcoming Royal Jubilee. Events highlights include a Jubilee picnic, Big Lunch Style and a Spirit of the 60s Festival (Sat 23rd of June), as well as a string of outdoor theatre plays. See website for details. Indeed, there are no better times than now to re-visit Cliveden!
60920 - 2023-01-20 01:13:55