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Stately homes and palaces
Sitting in acres of Northamptonshire countryside, Althorp has been the residence of the Spencer family for 500 years and is one of England's grand stately homes. It is packed full of treasures, including some fascinating portraits. The original Tudor house is still there, beneath the later restorations and refurbishments, but the overall feel of the place is distinctly 18th century. The gardens are lovely and regular events are held, including an annual literary festival. Althorp is, sadly, best known for the association with possibly the most famous Spencer, Lady Diana, whose last resting place is on an island in the Round Oval lake.
Althorp has limited opening - it is essential to check their website before making a special trip.
Enormous 18th century home of the Dukes of Marlborough. The estate was given to the 1st Duke, John Churchill, as a reward for his military victories against the French. Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim and has many associations with it. The estate is a World Heritage Site and one of the 'treasure houses of England."
Scone Palace stands on a site of enormous historical significance. It was at the heart of the ancient Kingdom of the Picts, a meeting place, and traditionally where the kings of Scotland have been crowned, on the sacred Stone of Scone - stolen by King Edward I in 1296 and returned to Scotland in 1996 (it is now in Edinburgh Castle). The Moot Hill where kings were declared and crowned is opposite the palace, which is mainly 19th century, built near the site of the medieval Abbey of Scone - which itself replaced an early Christian church. The Palace contains an impressive collection which includes furniture gifted by Mary Antoinette, bed-hangings embroidered by Mary, Queen of Scots and rare porcelain and ivory. A particular feature is the painting of Dido Belle, whose mother was a slave, and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. The long gallery is where Charles II processed to his coronation and where Queen Victoria watched curling. In the 100 acre grounds are walks, gardens and a maze. Regular events are held. Scone Palace has been home to the Murrays, later the Earls of Mansfield, since 1600.
This was the holiday home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - and their nine children - a palatial pile designed by Albert in Italian Renaissance style. Victoria had loved the Isle of Wight since childhood and Albert said that the Solent reminded him of the Bay of Naples. The royal couple even bought a real Swiss Cottage from Switzerland for the children, where the youngsters could learn important life-skills like gardening and preparing afternoon tea. This can still be visited. Further highlights include the royal apartments, nursery and the family's private bathing beach. Even after Albert's death, Victoria loved visiting Osborne House; she died there in 1901.
Home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, Highclere is a predominantly Victorian mansion set in extensive grounds in Hampshire - though, confusingly, the postal address is for neighbouring Berkshire. The house was redeveloped in Jacobean style by Sir Charles Barry, the architect responsible for the Houses of Parliament, from an earlier Georgian mansion which, itself, replaced a Tudor House. Before that, a medieval palace stood on the site, property of the Bishops of Winchester. The property has earlier roots, however, and there is an Iron Age fort in the grounds.
The 5th Earl sponsored the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by Howard Carter in 1922.
Highclere was used as the location for the TV series Jeeves and Wooster and, more recently, played the title role in the highly successful Downton Abbey.
NOTE: Highclere has limited opening - check details before making a special trip.
The ruins of the grand palace of the bishops of St Davids sit next to the Cathedral - the latter still very much in use. The palace dates from the 13th century though it is largely the work of Bishop Henry de Gower (1328-47). Even now, it is impressive, with decorative chequered stonework, carved faces staring down at you from the past and a grand banqueting hall. The rose window in the east gable is a peach. It must have been hard, being a bishop.
Lambeth Palace has been the official London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury for 800 years. It is famous for its gardens, and its extensive ecclesiastical library, which holds records dating back before the Norman Conquest and the archives of the Archbishops of Canterbury. Architecturally, the Palace is famous for its Tudor gate, Morton's Tower, but also has a medieval chapel and Stuart Great Hall. It is not, generally, open top the public, but guided tours available - see the website.
Windsor Castle was built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror and is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. It has been used by the British monarchy for almost 1,000 years and is an official residence of Her Majesty The Queen, whose standard flies from the Round Tower when she is at home. Parts are open to the public, including the State Apartments and St George's Chapel. A further highlight is Queen Mary's Dolls' House.
However, because Windsor Castle is a working palace, opening arrangements are subject to change, sometimes at short notice, and you should check before making a special journey.
Beaulieu is a stately home as well as home to the National Motor Museum. The estate has been in the hands of the Montagu family since the 16th century and is based around the ruins of the medieval Beaulieu Abbey. The National Motor Museum tells the story of motoring and the collection includes some 250 vehicles, old and not so old, cars, motor cycles and racing cars. As well as the museum and the abbey, a visit to Beaulieu can include the palace/house, the extensive gardens, at least two exhibitions - at the time of writing there are exhibitions of 'the World of Top Gear', featuring many original vehicles from the TV show, and an exhibition about SOE - the secret Special Operations Executive - who used Beaulieu for training during WW2. On top of that, there's a monorail and loads of things going on, like a vintage bus chugging about, offering rides.