Leaving early for a two day break in Cheshire, we found that a late afternoon hotel check-in time, meant that we had three hours to fill. With an itinerary of visits already planned, we hastily thumbed our way through our National Trust brochure and came across an entry for Dunham Massey. It filled our requirements on many levels. Only 30 minutes drive from our hotel, to get there required only a slight detour from our existing route. Furthermore, it was one of the few heritage venues that opened on a Monday. We just had to visit and see what it had to offer.
This last minute decision proved to be an inspired choice.
Dunham Massey features a Georgian house set within a 300-acre deer park comprising a mix of pasture and park woodland and one of the great gardens in the North of England. The present hall was originally built by Sir George Booth in 1616. Between 1732 and 1740 it was remodelled by John Norris for George, Earl of Stamford and Warrington. Further alterations were carried out by John Hope towards the end of the 18th century and by Joseph Compton Hall between 1905 and 1908. As a result, the hall, stables, and the carriage house at Dunham Massey are all Grade I listed.
The hall and parkland was donated to the National Trust by the last Earl of Stamford, in 1976.
On the day we visited, the grounds were packed with families who were enjoying the grounds and other facilities. For a car park charge of £5 for a day, this represents excellent value. National trust members can view the whole property, house and gardens, at no charge. Entry for non members and families is very reasonable when you consider how much there is for adults and children to see and do.
Our tour of the hall drew attention to the scandal surrounding the 7th Earl of Stamford as well as many other fascinating stories about the inhabitants over the centuries. The rooms contain a magnificent collection of paintings and artifacts from all over Europe. The collection of Huguenot silver was particularly impressive.
Outside, the deer park is little changed from medieval times and supports a wide range of animals, including fallow deer that roam everywhere, seemingly unnaffected by the presence of so many humans. Many of the oak trees, that dominate the woodland areas, date back to the 17th century.
Our stroll through the gardens revealed, amongst other things, a beautiful collection of hydrangeas, giant lillies that only flower every seven years, the magnificent canal borders and an Edible Garden featuring ornamental vegetable beds using a variety of plants including purple cabbage and beans with flowers.
Three hours simply flew by and, after coffee and cakes in the Stables Restaurant, it was time to continue our journey.
We may have visited Dunham Massey as a last minute choice but there is no doubt that we will return. The destination will be included within the itinerary of the tour of Cheshire that we are currently developing as part of the Ambient Tours, Town and Country collections for groups. These will be available for Spring 2013.