Kingston Bagpuize House is a beautiful 1660s red brick manor near Abingdon in South Oxfordshire. It is set in mature parkland and gardens containing a notable collection of plants including rare trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs.
I love a stately home and gardens. Indeed, my kids have spent so much time in their short lives visiting and even camping out at places like Blenheim and Windsor that I fear it will come as quite a disappointment to them when they discover we have no coat of arms.
For when your usual palace gets boring…
But it’s always nice to have a bit of variety (“not Lemming Palace, again, mummy”), so I was intrigued when a friend of mine invited me to one of the ‘Snowdrop Sundays’ that run at Kingston Bagpuize House throughout February.
With no real idea what to expect, but with a desperate need to run the children out, we decided to give it a go. We were actually greeted at the gate by the lady of the house, who was utterly charming and welcoming, in spite of the excited screeching from the four lunatics in the back. Miraculously, she didn’t even flinch (much). Instead, she provided us with a map and talked through each area, asking only that we try to stop the children from trampling through the flowers. “Grass good, colour bad,” she joked.
Kingston Bagpuize (pronounced Bag-pews) House is a beautiful property with exceptional gardens planted with all sorts of rare and exotic trees, plants and flowers. If you have some knowledge of such things, I dare say you would be hugely impressed. As a botanical ignoramus (the Guide leader in me is suitably ashamed) I can’t speak from anything but an aesthetic point of view but the gardens are breathtakingly beautiful and just the right balance of wild and maintained.
I’ve got this thing about old red brick walls; muted colours of the kind you find from Farrow & Ball; heritage trees; green, green grass, and bright red berries, and this place has all of it in abundance. While my friend and I enjoyed the surroundings (and as is our custom, set the world to rights), the kids were able to release all of their pent up energy chasing each other round through the woodland garden pretending to be Harry Potter et al, and clambering through the trees. The snowdrops were indeed out in force – blankets of beautiful white – and we were largely successful in keeping the children out of them, although it did require a close eye and frequent reminders.
The house itself isn’t open on Snowdrop Sundays – quite sensibly because of the amount of mud that would be trailed through the house when they tried this in the past. This is, after all, a family home. I am therefore unable to comment (yet) on the house interior. However, the owner did tell me that they no longer do guided tours but rather allow people to peruse at their leisure so they can be more flexible in how they approach the tour with children.
With the main house always splendid in the background, there are a number of out-buildings too, including (sorry to bring down the tone here) a really modern, immaculately clean toilet block. I don’t think I saw a baby-change though I wasn’t actually looking since those days are sadly behind me.
The Terrace walk, one of the original features of the garden from the 1800s is accessed via a narrow stone staircase (cobweb free, thank goodness) through the ‘pavilion’, a slightly dilapidated tower leading up to an old dining room on the left and the terrace on the right. This empty room, with original fireplace, windows and window-seat hints at former glory and creates a strong sense of the history of the place. The kids would happily have stayed there half an hour just running in a loop up the stairs, along the terrace, and back down again. My friend and I would have happily stayed there giving it a mental makeover: big sofas, scatter cushions, a roaring fire and bubbles on tap. Basically a Wendy house for grown-ups.
If you’re interested in visiting Kingston Bagpuize House just be aware that it’s only open on certain days of the year, and only in the afternoon – so do check out their calendar before you set off. It’s also worth knowing in advance that while children are very welcome, dogs are less-so. (The owners have dogs themselves so it’s not a prejudice thing – and more about consideration for young visitors who could be alarmed).
For Snowdrop Sundays, there is a £5 charge per adult, while children go free. However, it’s slightly more expensive to visit the house; a £20 family ticket is available.
For more details visit http://www.kbhevents.uk/