near Leighton Buzzard,
Being Out there on a bright sunny afternoon is always fun. We had such an afternoon early in September 2015, and we didn’t have far to go Out there. We decided to go to a National Trust property which is just down the road from home but in all the years we’ve lived in the area we have never visited it. It was time to rectify this.
Ascott House is a National Trust property in the Rothschild Ascott Estate two miles from Leighton Buzzard on the A418 about half a mile before you get to Wing. It is open only in the afternoons (after 2pm actually) six days a week (closed Mondays) from mid-March to end of April, 3 days midweek May & June, and then six days a week again from beginning of July to mid-September. Your best bet is to check on their web-site before you go. We turned up there on a perfect September day just a couple of days before the house closed to the public for the autumn and winter months.
The car park is near to the gate and there are three or four designated disabled car parking spaces. The parking surface is tarmac so it is an easy trundle over to the ticket kiosk where we were given a map of the gardens. We noticed an electric cart parked in the car park which was available to take people of limited mobility down the long driveway to the house and gardens. We didn’t take advantage of this and instead went down the tarmac drive past the stone dogs which guard the entrance and headed towards the house. It was a beautiful breezy day and the trees were beginning to show off their autumn finery which the blue sky and bright sunlight helped display to its best. As we proceeded down the drive we were presented with fantastic views of the countryside.
Resisting the temptation to turn off to the Pavilion Tea Room we carried on and instead turned towards the house, here the flawlessly striped lawns and immaculate lollipop trees invite you down the path to the entrance to the house. There was a small step up to the porch way, and when we arrived one of the double doors was bolted shut, so Di went ahead to get door open so we could see what the house had to offer.
As the door to the house was opened for us I was asked to leave Titania outside and transfer to an “indoor” wheelchair kept in the house. The reason for this is to protect the historic floor coverings in the house. Had we insisted I could probably have taken Titania into the house, but I reluctantly agreed to do so out of an understanding of their desire to maintain the property, and also to try out this indoor chair in my role as an Access-Out-There reporter. The chair was a reasonable average chair, which can be self propelled, obviously not being Titania did not fit as well (too big for me in my case), and seemed less manoeuvrable. In the end though, it was perfectly manageable although not necessarily particularly comfortable for the half an hour or so which we were viewing the house.
Visitors to Ascott House are asked not to take any photographs or videos, so we left Titania, and Titania’s and any other cameras in the foyer of the house. This is a shame because there are some beautiful things in the few rooms you can go around. Six rooms are open to the public the rest of the large house is still the country residence for part of the Rothschild family. We started our tour in the Hall Room, which is adorned with portraits and some of George Stubbs’ iconic horse paintings. There are interesting books both old and new and fine furniture. You can wander around and admire, but don’t touch! Then we went through the Lobby (more wonderful paintings and furniture) and up a couple of steps which are ramped to enable the wheelchair to go up and into the Dining room. This room was remodelled in the 1930s but still has the antique feel to it. Into the Common Room, and on to the Library which does have some areas roped off, and is full of wonderful old books. You really want to turn some pages but for obvious reasons it also is “no touch”. Finally we went through the Porcelain Room which is full of incredible collections, some beautiful, some fascinating and some of it ancient. Overall it is well worth going round the house, and the thing to do in National Trust properties is to talk to the some of the volunteers manning each room. You’ll usually get some fascinating insight into the history of the place.
For us now, reunited with Titania at the front door it was time to go back out into the bright sunlight past the striped lawns to discover the gardens.
You may remember that we were given a map of the grounds as we left the car park. Well I’m not sure we remembered. The map is marked with a few red blobs which the legend clearly says “Restricted wheelchair access / location of steps”. We tried to take the more direct route to the garden along the gravel paths but of course we encountered some of the locations of these red blobs.
At each red blob location we found stone steps which caused us to turn around and try another direction, but we enjoyed the plants along the paths as we traced and retraced our tracks.
Eventually we did find the right route which was a path which went a long way round the Sunken Garden which had been the cause of some of the red blobs. The path descended down a slope and rose up again before we left the gravel path on to the grass and made our way towards the Ascott Circle which turned out to be a fascinating perfectly circular sculpture of slates. As you go round the Circle the sun shines off the different stones and you see different colours. We thought it was magnificent!
Having torn ourselves away from the Ascott Circle we trundled around the garden. Mostly this involved travelling over neatly mown grass, although there are also gravel paths. On some of these the gravel was thick enough to make travelling on the grass preferable. We eventually found a part of the garden called the Madeira Walk. The entrance to the Walk at which we arrived was one of those red blob points. Two fairly shallow stone steps blocked the path but we decided we could negotiate these onto the Madeira Walk which certainly didn’t disappoint. It was buzzing with insect life and colour.
Having been round most of the gardens (although looking at the map now I realise we didn’t get to the Dutch Garden .. oh well .. a reason to return in the spring ) we decided to retrace our steps avoiding red blobs and go down to the Lily Pond on the other side of the house. We went down the long straight Serpentine Walk opposite the door to the house down to the pond and were able to circumnavigate the pond pausing to enjoy the tranquillity of the place and watch a busy dragonfly patrolling the far end of the pool. From there we went through the Lynn Garden, which is a series of large mounds covered with different textures of plants, here lavender, the next mound short mown grass and the next long wavy grasses and finally a circular moat surrounding a stand of trees on a small island.
After our trip through this modern garden we retraced our steps back up the long drive to the car to return home. We had enjoyed our afternoon out there at Ascott. We could get round all the rooms on view to the public in the house which was filled with interesting items. We got plenty of exercise taking wrong turns in the gardens (should have looked at that map!) but we loved it especially the Ascott Circle and the Lily pond. It was well worth the visit. We forgot to try out the tea room in the Pavilion, but since home was just ten minutes away we wouldn’t have to wait long for that cup of tea and a bun.
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Richard & Di
17 November 2015