We revisited Greys Court a few days ago. Access-Out-There originally went to the National Trust’s Greys Court one sunny April day last year. (actually it was the Queens 90th birthday .. I seem to remember church bells being rung!) That day the daffodils were still in bloom in the grounds and the warmth of an early spring day promised much. Greys Court is a 16th century mansion set in a beautiful Oxfordshire estate. The mansion is served by a series of gardens which are well maintained providing colour and interest throughout the year. Our journey there had taken us through Henley-on-Thames (where I heard the bells). From the town centre we followed the signs towards Peppard. As we neared the village of Rotherfield Greys about three miles from Henley we spotted the brown signs which led us in to Greys Court, where we were to meet John and Sue for our day of discovery. This property does have one of the National Trust’s wonderful Access Statements which you can find (if you look hard) on their website or if you follow this link
As we arrived we were told that as we had a blue badge we could go beyond the parking area and pull up outside the mansion itself. We drove slowly up to the mansion and parked on the gravel parking spaces near the doors. John and Sue were already here waiting for us. We were thankful for Titania’s FreeWheel enabling the ride over the gravel to be easier. Together we set off to look around the gardens and save the delights of the house for later.
We passed by the ramped entrance to the mansion and followed the gravel path towards the Tower garden. We went under an archway which was part of the ruins of the tower and through a gate and found ourselves on a narrow path which crept round the edge of the garden. Metal hoops alongside the path were designed to keep you from roaming this particular garden but the width of the path was only millimetres broader than Richard with Titania. It really was a tight squeeze in places, Titania’s wheels getting caught up on the wire hoops. We should probably have found an alternative route into the main gardens to reduce Titania’s problems.
On our return trip we went through this garden again and found the hoops had gone, so we were no longer restricted to the path. Being a month later in the year we discovered that we were in the White garden, and in May the flora certainly lived up to its name. A focal point of this garden was a lily pond which on closer investigation turned out to be home for crested newts which we spent some time watching.
Back to our original visit; soon we were through another gate and into the next section of the gardens. Gone were the paving slabs and we were back onto gravel paths albeit nice wide ones. Spring flowers abounded and we soon came to a wisteria tunnel, at this time just structural branches of which while a dramatic architecture promised to be delight of wisteria blooms later in the year. The paths through the wisteria were roughly paved again and narrow, but not too restricting for Titania. The wisteria was the main reason for the return visit. We were not disappointed – the garden’s structure was festooned with the gorgeous purple flowers.
Then we were through another archway to another garden area with a different feeling to it. This was the kitchen garden, beautifully laid out with wide gravel paths flanked by beds filled with herbs and other plants. A month later in the year and the vegetable and herb beds were even more verdant. There were a couple of gazebos with small steps into them but there were benches so we could sit and enjoy the tranquillity of the garden. Then we went on again through more gardens, past greenhouses packed with seedlings – industrious volunteers busily tending them.
Through a gate in the wall behind the greenhouses we crossed a little bridge (which had been closed to us when we were here last year) into a brick path maze which Di enjoyed tracing out.
Then we went back into the garden and beyond the greenhouses into the Cherry garden leaving the gravel paths behind and onto crazy paving which gave Titania a case of the zigzags.
The path flanked by the stunning cherry blossom took us back towards the Cromwellian Building, the flint walls providing a fine background for the flower borders and the blossom trees.
We found ourselves back in front of the mansion again which was due to open in about half an hour, so we followed the gravel path round the buildings behind it where there were intriguing signs to a “donkey wheel”. We found it but a couple of steep steps prevented Titania from taking Richard down to get a good look at it. Instead, beyond that and opposite the shop we found a horse wheel which John delighted in demonstrating.
Then down the tarmac slope we found the restaurant where we stopped for a fortifying spot of something before going to look in the mansion. The restaurant entrance was ramped, and the tables easy to access for Titania with moveable chairs. While we ate our lunch we were witnesses to a bit of natural drama as a sparrowhawk chased a starling around the outside tables!
The three steps into the mansion were nicely ramped, enabling easy access to the stone flagged entrance hall. We found ourselves in a homely set of rooms decked out in the early 20th century style of the last owners who had passed the estate on to the National Trust. Sadly you are requested not to take photographs inside the mansion so apart from some shots of flagstone floors and in the entrance hall taken from Titania’s eye we have not included any here. The house though, has a pleasant friendly atmosphere and there is not the feeling that nothing can be touched or even too heavily breathed on. Three ground floor rooms were easily accessed and Di, John and Sue went up the stairs to view the upstairs which were impractical for Titania and Richard. Instead there is a book of photographs of the rooms upstairs so Richard was able to get a taste of the upstairs visit. The staff also showed Richard and Titania the back way to the kitchen. There turned out to be two quite steep steps down into the kitchen but with the aid of a volunteer or two these were negotiated so that the kitchen could be seen (and the freshly baked biscuits tasted!). All of us met again in the kitchen and negotiated two more steps out of the back door and into the sunshine.
We had been told that the bluebells were out in the Spinney so it would be worth the trek. We left the gravel path going up the grassy hill and came up to our first obstacle – a very picturesque Moon Bridge over the ha ha. Titania was going to find this difficult as there was a steep step to get onto what was a steep hump of the bridge, but with John, Sue and Di all taking hold of a bit Titania and Richard were soon over the top and trundling over the fields towards the Spinney.
Once through the gate into the woods we were not disappointed by the carpet of bluebells spread through the trees. The woodland track led down through the bluebells to a gate out of the woods into the fields on the other side. From there we found ourselves walking back up the slope towards the car park and then along the road to the mansion to where we had parked our car!
On the recent return visit the route of this walk around the grounds down to the Spinney and back had been changed so that it no longer ended in the car park. Instead it returned to the mansion running alongside the outer wall of the gardens. Here there is another bridge, but this one is flat with just a single small step at one end. Much easier from Titania to negotiate with no extra help required. Our second visit, timed to coincide with the wisteria in the garden, found the bluebells still in full bloom in the Spinney, so the trek up and down hill was well worth it. The Spinney path itself is a challenge as it is up hill from the easily managed bridge and near the gate it is particularly steep and needed some Di power to get up that bit!
Both days Out there at Greys Court had been beautiful sunny days and the gardens provided different areas of interest and beauty each time. It is perhaps Access-Out-There’s favourite National Trust location as the magnificently managed gardens must surely provide something to see and inspire whatever time of year it is visited. Certainly this can be seen in the photographs we have taken, the early spring of April dressing in different colours of May. The house itself had a homely feel. All of the volunteers we had spoken to had been friendly and informative. The walk to the Spinney was good, especially when the alternative to the Moon Bridge was found although you still need to be prepared for an uphill push. There is also a longer “Greys Estate Walk” marked on the map provided which is said to be a stile free 1 ¾ miles. Access-out-there has not tried this out yet ... maybe next time. All in all Greys Court will give you a good day out there.
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Richard & Di
17th May 2017