Tag Archives: gardens

Burghley House

Burghley House is, in my opinion, one of the most impressive stately homes in the country.

On entering the building via a converted barn, visitors are treated to a history of the house, recounted by the family themselves, projected onto the stone walls. From here you exit into a courtyard and then into the main part of the house through the enormous kitchen, which is decorated, believe it or not, with a moose head and turtle skulls.

The artwork throughout the house is stunning – especially the Heaven and Hell rooms

BurleighsurpriseThe outside is just as amazing as the inside: the Garden of Surprises lives up to its name, with mirror mazes, fountains and grottos all hidden from view until you get right up close. If the weather is nice and you have young children, be sure to take their swimsuits.

The sculpture garden is beautiful to stroll around, especially in the height of summer, and is also full of unexpected surprises such as the ice house. It’s definitely a place where you could pass a whole day.

Q and A Part 2

So here are some more questions about me and my work as a guide…

What do you do when you’re not guiding?

Alongside my guiding, I work as a freelance German-English translator.  I am fluent in German – which I am also fully qualified to guide in – and the combination works well as I can do as many tours as possible and take translation work for other times.  When I’m not working I love to read, either novels or books on history and travel.  I also spend a lot of time listening to music – varied styles but rock music is my favourite – and attempting to play the guitar.  I am a keen sports fan, especially ice hockey, which I have been watching since the age of 7, cricket and football.  I try to keep fit by running, swimming and walking.  As you might expect, travel is a big passion and I am always finding new places to explore, in this country and others.

What is your favourite castle?

To be honest, I think that most castles are fantastic places to visit, as they have links to some of the great people and events in history.  Many are also very impressive buildings in scenic locations too. If I had to pick one, however, it would be Kenilworth Castle.  Mainly in ruins, it has enough of its buildings left to retain some of the atmosphere of its glorious past, while its countryside setting and sandstone construction make it extremely picturesque, especially when the sun shines on its walls and makes them glow.  I prefer exploring ruined castles with my imagination and a good guide to visiting better preserved or reconstructed ones with costumed staff and the like, as I think this helps to bring the place to life much more effectively.

And what about stately homes or country houses?

Again, they are fascinating places, as each has its own stories.  While I am keen on what I would call “big history” – kings and queens, great events and so on – my real love is social history, and I am intrigued to discover as much as I can about the people who lived and worked in places, what they might have been like and how they lived.  The best houses manage to convey this effectively through their choice of how they present themselves.  Generally, I tend to prefer smaller ones to the huge palaces, but I have to make one exception here as my absolute favourite is Burghley House near Stamford in Lincolnshire.  Everything about it is impressive, from the architecture to the gardens to the absolutely stunning paintings and wall decorations to the presentation of the house and the family who created it.  Every time I go there, I am amazed all over again and I highly recommend a visit if you haven’t had the chance yet.

Where do you most like to unwind with a well-earned drink after a tour?

My drink of choice is real ale, and I’m fortunate that I get to sample the delights of local pubs and brews throughout England.  It is hard to mention just one favourite but if I had to choose it would be the Red Lion, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.  It is a small local pub with a long tradition, and serves superb food and a great choice of regional ales.  Our Birmingham Graveyard Ghost Walks finish there too, so I do literally get to unwind and refresh my vocal chords after tours there on quite a regular basis!

Aston Hall

It is easy to spend a whole morning or afternoon at Aston Hall. It is a beautiful manor house in the Aston area of Birmingham, which was involved in the Civil War – you can still see the hole in one of the staircases where it was hit by a cannonball .  It is fascinating to explore the rooms from the elegantly furnished rooms where entertaining would have been done, to the kitchens and servants quarters. The hall is reputed to be haunted by several ghosts, the most famous being the White Lady who haunts the upper floors.

Aston Hall also has a small tearoom, separate exhibition centre, and extensive gardens which are beautiful on a sunny day.

Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so with this many beautiful pictures we don’t think we need to add anything, other than “Go and visit”!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For more ideas for places to visit, come and browse the photos on our Facebook Page.

Weston Park

Weston Park may not be as famous as Blenheim Palace, Hampton Court, or even Chatsworth House, but it is well worth a visit and considerably cheaper than many stately homes and gardens. It is located in the superbly named Weston-under-Lizard, between Wolverhampton and Telford.

There are guided tours of the house which last about 45 minutes, and the guides are extremely knowledgeable and really bring the place to life. As well as admiring the artwork and furniture, you get a glimpse inside the safe that contains the silverware, and the chance to identify the hidden doorways in the library.

The gardens are stunning. There are 1000 acres of land to explore, which include a deer park, landscaped walks, a Victorian conservatory and a lake. You will also find St Andrews church within the grounds, which is interesting to visit. If you want to see some of the gardens without walking too far, you can hop on the miniature railway which takes about 10 minutes to cover a 1 mile loop of track, taking in parts of the woodland.

For children there is an adventure playground and life-size games of chess.

There is a restaurant and café, as well as a farm shop, but if you prefer to pack your own lunch you will find plenty of beautiful spots to sit and eat.
To see this month’s “Highlight of the Month” visit www.iabtours.com.

Charlecote Park

If you like stately homes and gardens, then Charlecote Park is a must-see. The house itself is quite small by stately home standards, but, as you would expect from a National Trust property, there is a guide in every room to answer any questions you may have and to bring the place to life.

The grounds are extensive and beautiful. You can stroll along the river, wander through the gardens, play a game of croquet, or just settle under a tree with a book and enjoy the views. If you’re really lucky you may even spot the deer that live in the park.

The Orangery tearoom sells a range of hot and cold food, but there are also a couple of kiosks selling cold snack, drinks and ice-creams, or you can of course take your own picnic.

In the summer it is also provides a perfect setting for outdoor theatre, so do check their events lists to see what’s on.

And if the gardens have really inspired you, make sure you stop at the nurseries over the road to stock up on herbs and flowers to take home.

For tour planning, or to book a Blue Badge Guide, visit our website www.iabtours.com.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Winterbourne House and Gardens

Winterbourne House is one of Birmingham’s hidden treasures – even many of the locals don’t know it’s there. It’s just a short walk from the Birmingham University campus, and easily accessible by bus and train.

The house is small, but beautifully furnished and there are very informative displays – many of which you can touch. For the children there is a games room with clothes to dress up in and old-fashioned toys and games. Admission to the house is free.

There is a small charge if you wish to visit the gardens, but it is well worth the price. There are 7 acres of land which includes landscaped areas and woodlands, pathways, a fishpond, a greenhouse containing enormous cacti and succulents, and a chicken coop amongst other things. You will also find the old washhouse with some of the equipment used, and a selection of wooden hoops for children to play with.

There is a tearoom which offers a selection of hot and cold food, and plenty of places where you could have a picnic.

To see this month’s “Highlight of the Month” visit www.iabtours.com.

Selly Manor

One of Birmingham’s well-kept little secrets is Selly Manor. It’s a small, beautifully preserved, Tudor house in Bournville. It’s inexpensive to visit and although there are only a few rooms, there are plenty of activities to do – especially if you have children. There are Tudor games to play, toys to play with and costumes to dress up in. You can even examine various helmets as well as trying to pick up a piece of chainmail and find out how heavy it actually is.

The grounds are also small, but the layout is well-thought out. You will find herbs, flowers, vegetables…and even a Tudor toilet!

To see this month’s “Highlight of the Month” visit www.iabtours.com.

Althorp House

When you think about stately homes, Althorp House probably isn’t one that would immediately spring to mind. However, it is a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon.

It is smaller than places such as Blenheim Palace or Chatsworth, but this gives it a lovely, welcoming feel.

The staff are extremely friendly and go out of their way to be helpful. It’s about a five minute walk from the drive to the house, but there is a shuttlebus to take wheelchair users and the elderly. Although there is no wheelchair access to the upper floors of the house, access around the rest of the house and grounds is good.

The house is beautifully decorated inside, and in good weather you can enjoy a walk around the lake to see the monument built in memory of the late Princess Diana.

It is only open to the public in July and August, so bear this in mind when you plan a visit.

For tour planning, or to book a Blue Badge Tourist Guide, visit www.iabtours.com

Outdoor theatre

Open-air theatre is a great experience. There are several companies that do it, but the ones we recommend are Heartbreak Productions and the Rain or Shine Theatre Company.

They perform their plays in some of the most beautiful gardens in the country, and it is remarkable to see how they can bring the stories to life without the elaborate set changes that indoor theatre so often relies on. The cast is quite small, with each person taking on several roles. It is amazing how they not only manage to remember the lines for several parts, but also switch between the characters seemingly effortlessly.

Since there is no auditorium, you have to take your own chairs or blankets to sit on. Then you choose your spot, unpack your picnic, relax and enjoy the show.  Some of the venues we’ve enjoyed in the Midlands are Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Shugborough Hall, Wightwick Manor (in photo above) and Charlecote Park.