Susana’s Adventures in England: Brockhampton Estate

Much thanks to Heather King for providing transportation and companionship, as well as the infamous super dog Roxy, and not least, to Cora Lee, who formed the fourth part of our party.



Lower Brockhampton is a timber-framed manor house dating back to the 14th century. The manor house is surrounded by a moat and entered by a newly-restored gatehouse. The estate includes 1000 acres of farmland and 700 acres of woodland. The ruins of a Norman church are also located on the property.


The manor house was probably built from timber sourced from the estate itself, and the history of the house is intimately connected to the rich wooded landscape that it sits within.


Making good use of the estate’s productivity was the secret to the continued wealth of the family that lived here. We know from ancient seeds and pollen found during archaeological excavations that in medieval times cereal crops were grown near the manor house, to the north of the moat.

chinacabinet-copyOver the years the house was adapted by each successive generation that lived here, the original medieval great hall had an upper floor inserted into it by the Barneby family, in order to accommodate their many children.


As society changed it became more important for the owning family to live separately from their servants and estate workers. Eventually in the Georgian period, and under the care of Bartholomew Barneby, the owning family moved out from the ancient timber framed building and into a grander mansion house at the top of the estate.


From the eighteenth century onwards the timber framed manor house was home to estate workers such as Joseph Cureton and his family. Joseph was the estate wagoner in the nineteenth century. He cared for the horses that carried out much of the heavy work on the farms and woodland that makes up Brockhampton estate.

In 2010, the National Trust undertook a major restoration project to the house using traditional wattle and daub building methods.

example of wattle and daub

example of wattle and daub

The site of the medieval village of Studmarsh is thought to be located in the estate. In 2012, an archaeological dig unearthed the foundations of two buildings that may have been part of the village.


Rolling green parklands and ancient woods surround the charming Brockhampton Estate. Situated on 687 hectars (1,700 acres), Brockhampton has been a farming estate for nearly 1,000 years. At the heart of the estate lies the romantic timber-framed manor house dating back to the late 14th century, and the ruined Norman chapel. To arrive here one must first cross the picturesque moat and enterer via the gatehouse, built in 1530-40. Today, Brockhampton Estate is not only a time capsule for visitors, but the grounds also provide an idyllic setting for 40 residential houses and cottages.



The grounds of Brockhampton Estate feature ancient trees, the picturesque Lawn Pool, and numerous sculptures depicting of the history of Brockhampton and the local area. Native wildlife is bountiful on the Estate, and every effort has been made to preserve and enhance habitats. This is particularly apparent in the ancient woods, where less common species can be found by the patient observer, including the scarce lesser spotted woodpecker and noctule bat.

brockhampton-3The Estate runs traditional livestock breeds, such as Hereford cattle and Ryeland sheep. However the main point of sustainability lies in the conservation and preservation of the traditional orchards. The Estate boasts some magnificent orchards, some of the most extensive in the National Trust’s care. Over 50 hectares (124 acres) is dedicated to trees bearing cherries, apples, pears, damsons and quince. The orchards are rich in bird, mammal and insect life, and provide habitats and forage for many important species. Two rare species have made the orchards their home, the mistletoe weevil and the noble chafer beetle. The orchards are part of an ongoing restoration project, and over the winter of 2011 a further 75 fruit trees were planted.


Keeping true to the history and spirit of Brockhampton Estate, a monthly farmers’ market is held on the grounds. All produce sold is produced in the local district. The Estate also hosts an annual “pick your own” event in early September where visitors can bring a bag to fill with treats from the orchard.

Author Cora Lee coming up the stairs of the gatehouse

Author Cora Lee coming up the stairs of the gatehouse

More photos on my Pinterest board.

Susana’s Adventures in England: Hanbury Hall


Hanbury Hall and the Vernon Family

Originally built by the wealthy chancery lawyer Thomas Vernon, in the early 18th century, Hanbury Hall was the home of the Vernon family for nearly 250 years before it passed into the hands of the National Trust. Hanbury is the first of the National Trust’s properties in the West Midlands to have received a “green” make-over. Today, services such as electricity and water are brought in, but the goal is for the property to be as self-sufficient as possible, much as estates were meant to do in years past, producing meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables for their households.

The Family

thomas-vernonThomas Vernon and his wife Mary inherited the property near Hanbury from a bachelor uncle, but it was Thomas who was responsible for acquiring the lion’s share of the 8,000 acres he left to his cousin’s son, Bowalter. Unfortunately, Bowater turned out to be a spendthrift who managed to go through much of the fortune acquired by his predecessor.

Bowater’s granddaughter Emma wed Henry Cecil, heir to the 9th Earl of Exeter, and they moved into Hanbury Hall. Unfortunately, Emma fell in love with the local church curate. When Emma confessed all to her husband, he persuaded her to break things off with the curate. But instead she ran off and escaped with her lover to Lisbon, where they were married following a scandalous divorce. Her second husband died soon, however, and Emma returned, later marrying a local lawyer.

Her humiliated first husband abandoned the place for Shropshire, posing as a gentleman farmer and marrying a farmer’s daughter. Follow his death, she and her third husband managed to regain possession, but by that time, the house had been abandoned and needed extensive repairs. Following Emma’s death in 1818, Phillips remarried and had two daughters at Hanbury Hall before moving out in 1829.


Probably the happiest inhabitants of Hanbury Hall were the Victorian Vernons, Sir Harry and Lady Georgina. Having never expected to inherit such wealth, they lived simply and happily, committed to each other and the local community.

British School; Sir Harry Foley Vernon (1834-1920), 1st Bt, MP; National Trust, Hanbury Hall;

Sir Harry Foley Vernon (1834-1920), 1st Bt, MP; National Trust, Hanbury Hall

Lady Georgina Sophia Baillie-Hamilton, Lady Vernon (1839-1928)

Lady Georgina Sophia Baillie-Hamilton, Lady Vernon (1839-1928)

The last Vernon, their son, Sir George, made an unhappy marriage and ended by committing suicide in 1940, thus ending the baronetcy. Eventually, the property came into the hands of the National Trust, who manages it to this day.

The House

Built of red brick, Hanbury Hall was built in the Queen Anne style, or a “William and Mary house.” Emma’s husband Henry Cecil remodeled it, creating larger rooms and enlarging the northeast pavilion, as well as landscaping the park in the style of the times. Growing up at Burghley House, he would have contact with the famous Capability Brown.


The Sitting Room was once “My Lady’s Parlour” with an attached withdrawing room. The parlour was strategically placed between the formal garden and the service quarters so that Mrs. Vernon could both entertain her guests and oversee her servants. The withdrawing room was a more private place where she could socialize with her more particular friends.



Staircase paintings by Sir James Thornhill

Staircase paintings by Sir James Thornhill

With a strongly architectural appearance, the Main Hall has an air of masculine antiquity. The cantilevered staircase with its huge wall paintings by Sir James Thornhill, rises directly from one end of the hall. The aim of the wall paintings was to represent the staircase as an open-air gallery, the ceiling removed to admit the tumbling crowd of classical gods and goddesses.


The Smoking Room, set at the back of the house, was a convenient location for conducting the business of overseeing the estate. Paintings of the estate and one of Bowater Vernon hunting there line the walls.

Dining Room

Dining Room

The ceiling of the Dining Room is decorated with classical paintings by Sir James Thornhill, while portraits of the Vernons line the walls.

Sir James Thornhill,self-portrait

Sir James Thornhill, self-portrait

Sir James Thornhill (1665/6-1734) was the only British large-scale painter of his time. His most famous work was the cupola at St. Paul’s Cathedral (1716), but in 1705, he was still taking smaller commissions such as this one.


The Drawing Room takes its name from the 18th century habit of the ladies “withdrawing” from the dining room, leaving the men to discuss business and personal matters over port and tobacco.


The “flying tester” bed in the Blue Bedroom is remarkably well-preserved. The worsted damask hangings date from the 1770s and have kept much of their original color since they have not been exposed to much ultraviolet light.


The Gothick Corridors are named after the wallpaper. The Gothick style romanticized the history of Northern Europe and was inspired by wild nature, tending toward strong colors.

Cedar Bedroom (Lady Georgina’s)

The Cedar Bedroom was Lady Georgina’s bedroom. She was married to Sir Harry Vernon in 1861 (although the baronetcy came along later).

The governess's bedroom

The governess’s bedroom

The Nursery is displayed as the Victorian Vernon children would have known it. The Day Room was a room for the governess, away from the children.

Hercules Bedroom

Hercules Bedroom

The Hercules Bedroom and Dressing-Room still appear as they must have in the 18th century. The windows have a superb view of the gardens. The Hercules Dressing-Room has a corner chimneypiece topped with a figure of Hercules.

Long Gallery

Long Gallery

The Long Gallery is actually found in a separate building, probably because it was once attached to an earlier building on the site. In Thomas Vernon’s time, it was a gentleman’s study. By Bowater Vernon’s time, it had become a picture gallery.

The Formal Gardens include the Sunken Parterre, the Fruit Garden, the Wilderness, the Grove, the Orangery, and the Bowling Green.


Parterre Garden

In order to sustain a house like Hanbury, there had to be large areas given over to the serious production of food. “Snobs” Tunnel” led from the Walled Garden to the house, preventing the gardeners from being seen by the family when delivering produce. Behind the “polite” garden building of the Orangery lies the Mushroom House. The Victorian slate beds are still used to produce mushrooms today, as well as forcing rhubarb. There is also a 1750s Ice House, filled by ice gathered from a shallow ‘freezing pool’ on winter nights. An orchard has been largely replanted with over 136 apple trees. Beehives and chickens have also been introduced in the Walled Garden and Orchard.

Within the Park there is a wealth of archaeology from the Iron Age onwards. Traces of medieval ridge and furrow cultivation still exist, and to the south lie the remains of the vanished medieval village of Moreweysend.

Hanbury Hall and Garden, the National Trust, ©2010


With thanks to Heather King for being so kind as to drive Cora Lee and me to visit Hanbury Hall, along with Roxy the Quadralingual Dog!

More photos of Hanbury Hall on my Pinterest board.

Susana’s Adventures in England: Lyme Park


Lyme Park has been in the possession of the Legh family for 550 years. The manor was granted to the first Piers Legh and his wife Margaret in 1398 by Richard II, son of the Black Prince, as a reward for the heroic deeds in battle of her grandfather, Sir Thomas Danyers. The Leghs themselves campaigned in many 15th and 16th century battles.

Colonel Thomas Peter Legh

Craik; Colonel Thomas Peter Legh (1753-1797) of Lyme Park; Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry Museum;

Colonel Thomas Peter Legh (1753-1797) of Lyme Park

From Lyme Park House & Garden, a National Trust Publication:

He was best known for having raised six troops of cavalry in fourteen days in 1794—following Pitt’s call to arms in the face of increasing trouble in Europe—and for having sired seven children by seven different women, none of whom was his wife.

He left the estate to his oldest natural son, Thomas.

Thomas Legh

Thomas Legh

Thomas Legh

Thomas Legh, who inherited Lyme in 1797, was one of the most remarkable members of the family. By the time he came of age in 1814 he had already followed the Nile into parts of Nubia previously unexplored by Europeans, and the following year he was present at the Battle of Waterloo. He also became a well-known Egyptologist and collector of antiquities, modernised the estate farms, exploited the industrial potential of his Lancashire lands and had Lyme itself restored and extensively, but sympathetically, altered by Lewis Wyatt.

The House

The Stag Parlour

The Stag Parlour

The Leghs were notoriously fond of hunting the red deer indigenous to Lyme Park, which is no doubt the reason they made it their primary home from the late 16th century on.

The architectural style of the house varies from Elizabethan-Jacobean to Italian Palladian and baroque.

Unusual settee in the Yellow Bedroom

Unusual settee in the Yellow Bedroom

The exterior of the house was used as Pemberley in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

The Lyme Caxton Missal


The Leghs were Roman Catholic supporters of the Stuarts in the 18th century. The missal they owned was an early printed book containing the liturgy of the mass according to the Sarum Rite, published by William Caxton in 1487. It is the only nearly complete surviving copy of its earliest known edition.

Drawing Room

Drawing Room


Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, `The Black Prince

Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, ‘The Black Prince’


The Dutch Garden in the rain

The Dutch Garden in the rain


See more photos on my Lyme Park Pinterest page.

Susana’s Adventures in England: Arundel Castle


Arundel Castle was established by Roger de Montgomery, a cousin of William the Conqueror, on Christmas Day in 1067 after he was given one-fifth of Sussex and the title of Earl of Arundel in return for his agreement to defend it. The castle was damaged in the English Civil War and restored in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has been the principal seat of the Dukes of Norfolk for almost 400 years.


Stone apartments constructed for the Empress Matilda’s visit in 1139 still exist today.

The 11th Duke of Norfolk held a large party at Arundel in 1815 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Architect Frances Hiorne built a folly on the hill above Swanbourne Lake.

Hiorne's Tower (Folly)

Hiorne’s Tower (Folly)

Queen Victoria, when she and Prince Albert visited on 1 December 1846, did not appreciate the 11th Duke’s attempts at renovations, calling it “bad architecture.” Consequently, the 15th Duke, upon his inheritance of the Castle, carried on a “massive and scholarly renovation” of the entire house between 1875 and 1900, except for the library. This included carefully restoring the remains of the Norman castle.

The Keep

The Keep

During the second world war, the Castle was occupied by British, American, and Commonwealth troops right up to the 1944 D-Day landings.

The present 18th Duke lives in a private wing with his family. He had his wife, along with the Castle Trustees, have restored and redecorated the whole interior to its Victorian magnificence, as well as improved the visitor facilities. The gardens have been upgraded to match the historic authenticity of the Castle.



On exhibit at the Castle are nearly all of the family’s collection of art and historic archives, including many brought from Worksop and Norfolk House.

For more photos of Arundel Castle, check out my Pinterest Page.

Susana’s Adventures in England: Charlecote Park

In my mind, Charlecote Park will always be associated with buses—and the frustration of trying to find the one you need to take you to your destination. Maybe it’s not fair, since the problem I had was in part due to my own error, and it was certainly not the first time I’ve had issues finding transportation between train stations and stately manors, but it will forever be remembered as the place where I “lost it.” Or, as I put it when relating the story later to my friend Cora Lee, “I totally freaked out.”


The rail system in the UK is fabulous, especially if you get a BritRail pass before you leave. The BritRail pass makes reservations unnecessary, so you can get on any train without having to worry about timing. Unfortunately, there is a little matter of the distance between the rail station and your destination.

I’ve found Cheryl Bolen’s England’s Stately Homes By Train very helpful in this regard because she gives specific instructions for buses and taxis. But things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. For example, when you leave the train station and are confronted with a listing of buses that shows every number except the one you need, and nobody around you knows anything about that one, what do you do? My solution: find a taxi. The extra money is definitely worth the peace of mind.


But you still have to find a way back to the train station. If you have a mobile phone, you can call the cab company that brought you there. Or you can make an arrangement with the taxi driver to pick you up at a certain time, but then you might have to cut your visit short, which is a shame, since these stately manors have so many sights to see besides the interior of the house.

So, make sure you have a mobile phone. Because you never know when you are going to find yourself at a station that has no taxi and no pay telephone. Even if the online information says there is a telephone there, it won’t help you if the telephone is inside a building and the building is closed for the weekend—or the bank holiday—or is just always closed and nobody bothered to update the information on the website.

So what happened at Charlecote Park?

At Leamington Spa, I walked outside looking for a bus station adjacent to the train station. (Later, I realized the directions said “bus stop”, but the bus stop in front of the train station did not list Charlecote anywhere, and the one across the road had a sign that said, “Check schedule,” which was not helpful, since I didn’t have one.) I walked around and asked several people if they knew how to get to Charlecote Park. They did not. So I returned to the train station and asked an employee at a window there where the bus station was. He said to take the path to the left, follow it around a bend, and it would be on the next street. Um, no. It was just a street.

I walked one way for a few blocks, then saw a bus going the other way, so I changed direction. On the way, I asked a construction worker, who scratched his head and said first one way, then the other. I kept walking. The road curved around and I asked an older couple who were getting out of a car with tennis racquets.

“The bus station? Oh, it’s right next to the rail station, right around this curve!”

Really? How had I missed it? I must be a real dunce. So I asked them if I should turn and go back the way I came or just keep going around the curve. They discussed it for a few moments, and then shrugged and said it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. So I decided to follow the curve rather than retrace my steps, which was probably a mistake, since I found myself on a busy highway that seemed to go on forever.

By the time I had reached the rail station again, I had already walked four miles and was about to lose my temper. But then I saw a taxi stand, and my problems were over. Or so I thought.

I did finally get to Charlecote Park. My first action was to get a latte and scone at the cafe and rest my aching feet. I did feel better after that, and kept telling myself the same thing I told my ten-year-old nephew when I took him and my sister to Mexico for two weeks: Think of it as an adventure you can brag to your friends about. What are a few hardships to a veteran traveler?


But getting there is only half the problem. You always have to find a way to get back.

This time, I queried the staff in the ticket office, telling them the story of the non-existent bus station. They were sympathetic, but couldn’t tell me anything about a bus station. An elderly volunteer “who knows everything about the buses here” shook his head and said, “There hasn’t been a bus station in Leamington Spa for more than fifteen years.”

Aha! No wonder I couldn’t find it!

But there are buses to Leamington Spa. One employee got out the schedule to prove it to me. The bus stop is just around the corner. Turn right at the entrance and go around the corner and it’s right there. Such nice, reassuring people. This time I would find the bus stop!

But I didn’t. There wasn’t any bus stop. Had I misunderstood the directions? Or was this an unmarked bus stop that only locals knew about? By this time, I was really upset. Hopping mad, in fact.

But I had to do something. So I found myself at the Charlecote Pheasant Hotel. At first there didn’t appear to be anyone there. Really? This just wasn’t my day. Finally, I found a workman who directed me to the front desk, where, when I got there, I promptly burst into tears.

Humiliating, you say? I was way beyond that. The kind young woman at the desk offered me water and showed me to a place where I could sit and calm down. She was so helpful! When I was ready, she showed me where the bus stop was (and no, there wasn’t a sign), and I managed to get back to the train station all in one piece, and only slightly the worse for wear.

The moral of the story is—. Well, there really isn’t one. Having a mobile phone wouldn’t have helped in this situation. But when you travel, even if you have a great guidebook, expect to find unexpected difficulties. Do not expect that locals will always be able to help you—especially if you ask them for something that doesn’t exist. But do expect to find kind, compassionate people who will help you when you need it most. In the end, it will turn out to be a grand adventure you can tell all your friends and even laugh about. Maybe.

Charlecote Park


Charlecote Park was built by Sir Thomas Lucy in 1558. Located in Warwickshire, four miles from Shakespeare’s home, Stratford-upon-Avon, it is famous for having housed Queen Elizabeth I. According to legend, a young William Shakespeare was caught poaching deer here, and he took his revenge on Sir Thomas by portraying him as the fussy Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor. The famous Capability Brown worked his magic on the landscaping here, but he had to do it without cutting down a single tree.


George Hammond Lucy and his wife Mary Elizabeth refitted the house in the mid-nineteenth century in the style of “Good Queen Bess” or Elizabethan Revival. With the help of designer and heraldic expert Thomas Willement, they filled the new rooms with heraldic stained glass, early editions of Shakespeare, and ebony furniture (which they thought to be Tudor). Many tables and cabinets came from the bankruptcy sale of collector William Beckford.

Check out my photos from Charlecote Park here.

Susana’s Adventures in England: Syon House


If you’re looking for a stately home to visit in or near London, Syon House is a great choice. Located on the Thames across from Kew Gardens, you can get there by Underground (take the District line toward Richmond, get off at Gunnarsbury) and bus, (take the 237 or 267 bus to Brentlea). The pedestrian entrance is on your right when you get off the bus).

Syon House history

Syon began as an abbey, founded in 1415 by Henry V and closed in 1539 by the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, was imprisoned here prior to her execution in 1542. The 1st Duke of Somerset acquired it and had it renovated in Italian Renaissance style. In 1594, the 9th Earl of Northumberland acquired it and has owned it ever since.

A Royal Row

Queen Anne (1705)

Queen Anne (1705)

(from Wikipedia)

In the late 17th century, Syon was in the possession of Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, through his wife, Elizabeth Seymour (née Percy). After the future Queen Anne had a disagreement with her sister, Mary II (wife of William III, also known as William of Orange), over her friendship with Sarah Churchill, Countess of Marlborough, she was evicted from her court residence at the Palace of Whitehall and stayed at Syon with her close friends, the Somersets, in 1692. Anne gave birth to a stillborn child there. Shortly after the birth, Mary came to visit her, again demanding that Anne dismiss the Countess of Marlborough and stormed out again when Anne flatly refused.

Mary II, 1685

Mary II, 1685

In the 18th century, Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, commissioned architect and interior designer Robert Adam and landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown to redesign the house and estate. Work began on the interior reconstruction project in 1762. Five large rooms on the west, south and east sides of the House, were completed before work ceased in 1769. A central rotunda, which Adams had intended for the interior courtyard space, was not implemented, due to cost.

Robert Adam!

Robert Adam's plan for Syon House

Robert Adam’s plan for Syon House

from Wikipedia:

Syon House’s exterior was erected in 1547 while under the ownership of the 1st Duke of Somerset. Syon’s current interior was designed by Robert Adam in 1762 under the commission of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.

coloredceilingcornerThe well known “Adam style” is said to have begun with Syon House. It was commissioned to be built in the Neo-classical style, which was fulfilled, but Adam’s eclectic style doesn’t end there. Syon is filled with multiple styles and inspirations including a huge influence of Roman antiquity, highly visible Romantic, Picturesque, Baroque and Mannerist styles and a dash of Gothic. There is also evidence in his decorative motifs of his influence by Pompeii that he received while studying in Italy. Adam’s plan of Syon House included a complete set of rooms on the main floor, a domed rotunda with a circular inner colonnade meant for the main courtyard (‘meant for’ meaning that this rotunda was not built due to a lack of funds), five main rooms on the west, east and south side of the building, a pillared ante-room famous for its colour, a Great Hall, a grand staircase (though not built as grand as originally designed) and a Long Gallery stretching 136 feet long. Adam’s most famous addition is the suite of state rooms and as such they remain exactly as they were built.

geometricceiling2More specific to the interior of Adam’s rooms is where the elaborate detail and colour shines through. Adam added detailed marble chimneypieces, shuttering doors and doorways in the Drawing Room, along with fluted columns with Corinthian capitals. The long gallery, which is about 14 feet high and 14 feet wide, contains many recesses and niches into the thick wall for books along with rich and light decoration and stucco-covered walls and ceiling. At the end of the gallery is a closet with a domed circle supported by eight columns; halfway through the columns is a doorway imitating a niche.

More photos on my Syon Park Pinterest Page:







Susana’s 2015 English Adventure: Travel Tips

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 7.13.26 AM

Plan in advance

As I’ve mentioned before, I planned mine with Cheryl Bolen’s excellent book, English Stately Homes By Train. I used the print version during the planning stage and the digital version for reference while in England. It’s always a good idea to check each location’s website before you go for updated information such as opening times.


Arrange for a home base

If your trip is longer than a week, consider renting a flat in a location central to the area you want to visit. London (Baker Street) is my choice, but it is pricey, so you’ll have to weigh the price against the value of convenience. On my recent trip, I spent six of my nineteen paid nights outside of London, which added to the cost, but was totally worth it, in my opinion, not to have to carry all of my luggage around with me.

Of course, traveling with others and splitting the cost is a great way to economize, even if you have to find a larger flat. Mine is a studio efficiency consisting of one room, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. Perfect for one person or perhaps a married couple.

Be sure to check for amenities before you sign the contract. My flat has satellite TV and Wifi, but no air conditioning. Last year when I was there in May and June, it was so hot I couldn’t sleep. The management finally got me a small fan, which was a great help, and I was glad to see it was still there this year.

No matter how careful you are, there may be unforeseen issues. For example, last year, someone in a nearby flat was doing construction during the day. If you plan to be out most of the day, this won’t be a problem. But if you want to stay home and rest or write on a weekday, you’ll need some really good noise-canceling headphones.

Get a cell phone

My U.S. phone does not work outside of the U.S., but my rental flat comes with one. I didn’t use it last year, but found that to be a mistake. As wonderful as the rail system in England is, there are plenty of unmanned train stations in the middle of nowhere. Last year, I found myself stranded at such a place, finding not even a public telephone, and panicked for a few moments until a kind person offered to make a call for me. This year I took the rental flat phone around with me, and needed to use it several times. (As helpful as Cheryl Bolen’s book is, there are times when you will find there are no taxis at the taxi queue you are counting on being there and you will need to call for one to get to your destination.)

If I hadn’t had to use it, it would still have been worth it for the peace of mind. I’m used to traveling on my own—although this year I did have Squidgeworth with me—but I don’t like to think I might get stranded in some unknown place. The Brits I’ve met have been exceedingly friendly and helpful, but there’s always a chance I might meet up with one who is not.

Get an Oyster card

An Oyster card is an electronic card for use in the London Underground system, which includes buses and some localized trains. You can get the card upon arrival at the airport. You pay something like £5 for the card and then whatever amount you want to load onto it. I bought mine four years ago and use it every year. It’s easy to load the card from one of the machines at each Underground station. I estimate I used about £90 on mine during my three-week trip.


If this is your first trip, you can purchase the London Pass, which gives you fast-track entry to many of the most popular London sights, and an Oyster card is included. Keep the Oyster card for future trips.

Get a BritRail pass


This is a Google image. Mine did not cost this much.

In previous years I simply used my computer to buy rail tickets online and learned how to retrieve them from the machine at the rail station. This year I decided to try a BritRail pass instead—which must be obtained before your arrival in England. I purchased mine from the VisitBritain Shop. I wasn’t sure how many days I’d be traveling by train, but the eight-day, non-consecutive one proved perfect for my three-week trip. Besides being a money-saver, it’s convenient not to have to make a commitment for a specific train and then worry about missing it and having to buy another ticket. For example, when I went to Waddesdon Manor, I simply checked online beforehand to ascertain the availability of trains for the return journey and while there I could enjoy myself without having to rush to make it in time for the train. (I did, however, have to make arrangements with the taxi driver to pick me up at a certain time, since there is no taxi queue at Waddesdon Manor either.)

Consider purchasing English Heritage and National Trust passes


If many of the sights you wish to see are designated as English Heritage or National Trust locations, you might be able to save money by purchasing passes valid for the length of your trip. I purchased a National Trust pass from the VisitBritain Shop, but lost it. Oh well. I always feel good about supporting the efforts to maintain these wonderful-but-expensive historic buildings.


Prepare for inclement weather

It rains in England. Get over it.

As much as we would all love having warm, sunny days for our long-anticipated visit, chances are it’s going to rain. Maybe it’ll just rain for a few minutes. But it might rain all day, and if you’re really unlucky, it might rain all day, every day. Don’t let it spoil your trip. Take a waterproof jacket and an umbrella and some good walking shoes that won’t be ruined by mud. You might not feel like traipsing through miles of gardens in rainy weather, but you can still see the manor house and the outbuildings (if any), and get a few photos of the grounds. At Witley Court, I took a video of the fountain in the rain (goes off every hour).

Frankly, I prefer a bit of rain to 80-90-degree weather. These manor houses do not have air conditioning, so when it’s hot outside, it’s at least as hot inside. But if that’s what I get, oh well. C’est la vie. Some things are just not worth whining over.

Prepare to do lots of walking

You walk to the Tube station. You walk a lot inside the Tube station. You walk from the Tube station to your destination. While at your destination, you walk. The same goes for trains. While you can take the Tube to Osterley, you still have to walk a bit to get to the grounds of Ostlerley Park, and then there is a very long driveway to get to the house. (There is a shuttle, but I didn’t encounter the shuttle until I was almost there.) In any case, you have to remember that these stately manors were built on huge estates, often set back a mile or more from the main road. If—like me—you’ve decided not to try to drive in England, you’re going to have to get used to walking. And paying for taxis for the more inaccessible places. That’s just the way it is.

The way I figure it, walking is good for me. I should walk more than I do. It’s great to be able to walk. I wear good walking shoes, carry as little as possible with me, and take Extra-Strength Tylenol when my back starts to hurt. (And I wear my Fitbit and brag online about my walking, but that’s optional.)

If you are a great walker to begin with and would like to extensively explore the grounds of the manor you are visiting, you might consider staying overnight nearby. Oftentimes the house is open only four or five hours, and the grounds a bit longer, but if you want to make thorough visits to both, you might want to plan for two days or even more. You’ll probably have to pay an extra entrance fee for an additional day, but most places have a lower fee for the grounds only. And if it’s a National Trust or English Heritage site, having the pass will save you lots if you want to visit multiple times.

Consider staying overnight at a historical site

Last year I stayed at Leeds Castle (the Stable Courtyard) and Hever Castle (the Astor Wing), and loved being able to get up early in the morning and walk in the grounds before the gates opened to the public. I also stayed at the Devonshire Arms in Beeley the night before I went to Chatsworth. Lovely little town on the Devonshire estate.

This year I stayed at the Bear Inn at Devizes, which was one of the coaching inns mentioned in my Coaching Days & Coaching Ways blog series last year. There are so many of these out-of-the-way places in England. Seek out a few and enjoy the atmosphere that comes with centuries-old buildings and towns. You won’t regret it.

Consider… gulp… renting a car and driving

Did I just say that? I guess I did. The thing is, there are lots of great places to visit  that might be more than a little problematic to get to without driving. At the moment, I still have quite a few to go before I get to that point. But if I do, would I forego visiting them just because I’m hesitant to drive on the left side of the road? I don’t think so. I’ll find a way to do it if I have to. Because I don’t think I’ll ever be done with visiting England’s great historical sites.


But when I do get to that point, I’ll be sure to warn my English friends of my travel plans so they can stay out of my way.

Addendum: About electrical converters…

You probably won’t need them. Yes, you’ll need an adapter plug or two for charging up your electronic equipment, but these days most (if not all) of them are multi-voltage devices. Click here for more information. In most cases, you won’t need to take a hair dryer with you, since hotels and B&B’s usually provide them. Newer hair dryers are dual-voltage and have a switch for 110- or 220-volt electrical currents. If you need something like a curling or straightening iron, you might consider buying one in the UK to use for this and future trips. It’s a lot simpler than messing around with converters and the like. For a toothbrush, I keep a battery-operated one in my travel case, so there’s no need to recharge it.