It is always fun going Out there to meet friends and spend time going around beautiful gardens or grounds. A few weeks ago on one of the rare sunny July 2015 days Di, Titania, and I chose Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire to enjoy being Out there with John and Sue.
This National Trust property is easy to find being about 7 miles north-west of Aylesbury on the A41. It is relatively close to home for us, and we have visited it before though that was a good many years ago. It has “grown up” in those years and is now a mature visitor attraction and judging by the size of the new car park attracts a large number of visitors. The car park surface is all tarmac and there are a lot (i.e. 30 blue badge and 26 “Limited Mobility” according to their web site) of disabled parking spaces available near to the reception kiosk. When we visited they were just starting to build a new reception area here which apparently will have loos and other facilities available. All of this is some distance from the house and the main gardens and grounds and although you can walk down most people catch the bus which runs constantly between the car park and the house. The bus carries a ramp which makes it easy to get Titania, or any other wheelchair, or children’s buggy on board. Once on board the bus trundles to the North Fountain in front of the house and as you leave the bus you are presented with the impressive view of the driveway leading up to the facade of the Manor.
With Titania, her eye set up and running, and the rest of us suitably hatted we headed down the red tarmac pathway towards the Manor House. Although the grounds are huge and you can wander where you like, entry into the house is more controlled, presumably to ensure there are not too many folk trying to go round at the same time. As a result you need to get a timed ticket to go round the house. We could have acquired the ticket at the reception in the car park, but being previously indecisive we now needed to find the information kiosk. Map (provided when we arrived) in hand we quickly found the kiosk, which had a sign outside it saying “mobility assistance vehicle wait here”. It was problematical to get to the kiosk with Titania, the problem being a table and chair blocking the flat access path and a kerb needing to be negotiated the other way, so Di went into the kiosk to get the house tickets.
With House tickets obtained for the afternoon and guided by a map we decided to look at the formal gardens at the south side of the house. So we walked (or in Titania’s case trundled) across the front of the house and round to the south side. This trip was made more difficult by the fact that the tarmac gave way to gravel paths around the house, and in some places this new deeper gravel provided Titania with a challenge. However extra motive power (in this case John) was at hand and round to the south side of the house we went. Arriving at the south terrace we looked over the formal gardens and fountains. Steps prevented Titania going down to trundle around them, though had we headed further along the terrace we would have found a sloping path which would be more to Titania’s liking.
Instead we retraced some of our steps and followed the signs to the Aviaries. The gravel gave way to tarmac en route to the birds. The Aviaries themselves were easily viewed from the comfort of Titania, although patience is needed to see some of the birds.
Inside the Aviaries the birds have plenty of cover providing a reasonable place for a bird to live if it must be in captivity. Once you get your eye in you will start to see them, and they are beautiful and fascinating creatures. As is you would expect, Waddesdon Aviaries are part of conservation projects, helping breed threatened species mainly from Indonesia. Disappearing habitat means that some of the species of birds found here have more chance of survival in captivity than in the wild.
We went up the hill from the Aviaries to where someone carelessly has left behind a Henry Moore sculpture – Hill Arches – which is pleasing on the eye, and is popular with children.
Regular readers of Access Out there will have picked up on a theme which appears in most of our visits, which is that we do tend to enjoy woodland walks. At Waddesdon Miss Alice’s Drive provided us with the opportunity to indulge this obsession. We walked from the Aviary, past the coach drop at which we had started our perambulations and via a picnic area which was popular on this day with young families. Moving from there we found ourselves on Miss Alice’s Drive proper. The Drive is an unmade track through the trees winding gently downhill. There along the way, as well as bird life flitting in the trees encouraged by bird boxes and feeders, are large wood piles deliberately left as “bug hotels” providing opportunity for kids of all ages to find mini-beasts.
The path descends through the woods, occasionally giving great views of the countryside around. We ambled pleasantly along the walk and finally reached the end arriving at the stables.
The Stables are .. well stables for the manor or at least they were. Now they have been converted to house the Coach House exhibition rooms, a cafe and a children’s shop. You will also find an accessible loo here.
When we visited there was an exhibition called “Henry Moore: from Paper to Bronze” in the Coach House in the Stables area. There were 100 paintings and drawings as well as his magnificent sculpture “King and Queen”. It was well worth a visit (and it will stay at the Coach House until 25th October ).
After all that exercise and culture it was time for refuelling. A little spot of something from the Stable Cafe hit the spot, and left us enough time to make back to the house, via a steep path from the Stables. This tarmac path did require extra drive power for Titania, shared this time by Di and John, but at least there weren’t any steps, and it was considerably shorter than retracing our steps back up Miss Alice’s Drive. The extra calories from lunch thus consumed we headed into the house.
The afternoon was then spent going around the house the entrance to which has several steps. On seeing Titania staff quickly put out ramps to enable her and us to enter the building. The staff would prefer if disabled people used the “House wheelchairs” and will tell you this when you get the tickets for the house. However for some reason they did not take exception to Titania so we did not avail ourselves of the fairly standard looking wheelchairs, and Titania was allowed to accompany us around the rooms. We were able to work our way around the ground floor, and then by talking to one of the numerous members of staff we were taken through a non-public part of the house to a lift which itself dates from the 1920s and taken up to the first floor. So we were able to look around the bedrooms and bathrooms and the various collections and a funereal exhibition which included a celebration of 200 years since Waterloo, and Queen Victoria exhibits.
It may be difficult to believe that Waddesdon Manor was only built in the latter half of the 19th century. Its design was based on older grand houses, and it is filled with much older antiques and pictures, giving the whole place a feeling of age and grandeur. There was much to see, and it was a good idea to ask questions of one of the staff members, as when we did we received an interesting insight into the house and owners from her. Eventually we were reminded that the house closed at 4:30. Where had the time gone!? We descended in the old lift and came out of the house into the bright sunshine.
In front of the house was the mobility assistance vehicle waiting empty. We decided to give it a go and so hitched a lift on it to the coach which would take us back to the car park.
The driver was keen to help us on board. Pressing various buttons stabilisers sank to the ground around the vehicle. Then another button caused a hydraulic powered lift comes out ready to take Titania on board. There was plenty of room inside for a couple of wheelchairs, and seats for those not requiring chairs. So the distance and the path surface wasn’t a problem as we headed back to the bus without any effort. The vehicle’s lift was supposed to work again at the other end, but as a technical hitch prevented it from doing so Titania and I disembarked in the time honoured fashion. We then boarded the coach back to the car park, busy at this time of day, and were soon back to our car are ready to head home.
Our day out to Waddesdon had been loads of fun, the gardens, the Aviaries, Miss Alice’s Drive, the Stables and going round the house. Here is a one minute reminder of our day especially for those of you who think our film clips are too long...
There was much that we didn’t get to see, so a follow up visit may be on the cards. If you have your own Titania there is plenty of opportunity to get Out there and if you want there is assistance to get around. If you have kids to take out in the summer months it is a great place to take them, with plenty of space and much to do and see.
Don’t forget we are always happy to hear any thoughts you may have to help us improve our writings. Please do get in touch to tell us. Is there somewhere you particularly enjoy Out there which you would like us to visit and write about? Please feel free to contact us either by using the Contact us page or just drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Richard & Di
6 August 2015