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Stately homes and palaces
Woburn Abbey is one of the great treasure houses of Britain. It began life as a Cistercian abbey. The estate was given to John Russell, later Earl of Bedford, by Edward VI in 1547 and his ancestors became the Dukes of Bedford. Woburn Abbey is still the home of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, but has been open to the public since 1955. The Palladian mansion contains a world-famous art collection, including works by Canaletto, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Lely, Rembrandt, Tintoretto and Van Dyck, as well as collections of porcelain and silver. The estate also includes gardens, a deer park and the Woburn Safari Park.
Balmoral is a 50,000 acre estate and the private Scottish home of the British Royal Family. It was purchased by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1852, close to the Highlands they both loved. The current castle is new - Victoria and Albert had it constructed between 1853 and 1856; the old castle was then demolished. There is limited public access to the grounds, gardens and exhibitions (including access to the castle ballroom only) between spring and early summer, when the Royal Family is not in residence. Apart from the ballroom, the castle is not open to the public. Cottages in the grounds can also be hired.
Part-ruined home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for 800 years, the palace dates from 13th century and is surrounded by a moat, upon which swans glide gracefully. Croquet is played on the lawn. The highlight, though, is the gardens. These are a delight to wander in and include the well pools that give the city its name.
Chatsworth is one of Britain's great stately homes. It is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, whose family, the Cavendishes, has owned the 35,000 acre estate since the 16th century, when the first house was built. The house is famous for its magnificent Baroque interiors and works of art from ancient Egypt, Rome, the great masters - and more modern artists. Outside, there are acres of parkland and lovely gardens to explore, including a maze to get lost in. It is famous for its cascade, a large water feature with water tumbling down a long series of steps - which dates from the 17th century. It is also famous for its Emperor Fountain. Events are held throughout the year, including concerts and outdoor theatre.
Magnificent ruins of a late medieval/16th century royal palace, overlooking a loch. The 'pleasure palace' for several Scottish monarchs, it was also the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. It takes little imagination to picture it as it was, full of the nobility in their finery, with its wide stairs, elegant windows, rich furnishings and a fountain running with wine. Was this Scotland's Hampton Court? It could have been.
Linlithgow has another claim to fame - it was the birthplace of Scottish Nationalist politician Alex Salmond, who also grew up in the town.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse was built around an abbey founded by King David I in the 12th century, which had royal chambers attached to it. James IV (1488-1513) decided to upgrade the chambers to a palace, and this work was added to by subsequent monarchs. The Palace is the British monarch's official residence in Scotland and Her Majesty Her Majesty The Queen visits during Holyrood week, at the end of June/beginning of July. When The Queen is in residence, the Scottish variant of the Royal Standard is flown.
Parts of the Palace are open to the public, though opening arrangements are subject to change, sometimes at short notice, and you should check before making a special journey. Highlights of a visit include the magnificent State Apartments and the fascinating Mary, Queen of Scots', chambers. You can also walk round the ruins of Holyrood Abbey and parts of the gardens.
The origins of Hampton court are medieval. However, it is famously the palace created by Thomas Wolsey, cardinal, Lord Chancellor of England and friend of King Henry VIII. The palace was 'acquired' by Henry and is often associated with him and Anne Boleyn. It has been a royal palace ever since and was extensively remodelled by Sir Christopher Wren on behalf of William and Mary in the late 17th century. Hampton Court is a highly popular visitor attraction which is also famous for its annual flower show.
Dunrobin is the largest great house in the northern Highlands and has been home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland for more than 700 years. Though dating from the 13th century, the present house is largely Victorian, built in Scottish baronial style with a nod to a French chateau. It has been used as a hospital and school, but is still the Sutherland family and clan home. There are also extensive gardens and grounds.
Alnwick Castle dates from the 11th century and has been in the hands of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, since 14th century. The family still lives there. Their castle is one of the most visited in England, steeped in Percy history with gruesome discoveries to be made as well as magnificent state rooms. Alnwick is often used for filming and has starred in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey (to mention just two). The castle also houses a number of special exhibitions, including the Regimental Museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Adjacent to the castle is the Alnwick Garden, a formal garden built around a huge cascading fountain.
The former Palace of the Archbishop of York stands on the site of a Roman villa, next door to the Minster and adjoining the present official residence of the Bishop of Southwell. It dates from 14th century, was wrecked during the Civil War of the 17th century and the house restored in the 19th century. Cardinal Wolsey stayed here on his last journey and Charles I was imprisoned here, having been captured in the town. Part of the building is now a choral school. There is public access to the ruins and an area of garden (including a sensory garden) and the restored state chamber.
The palace is used for functions so check opening before making a special trip.