After a few days off at home – Ross training for the marathon onSunday and me catching up with work on the book and my charitable endeavours – we set off on part two of our staycation, via lunch with old friends John and Hilary in Penn. Ross is loving experimenting with our new electric car, although we have some interesting challenges plugging it in overnight in our two hostelries. This time we are headed for Hartwell House near Aylesbury where the Bourbon Court were housed after they fled from France.
our sumptuous bedroom
The house is full of their memorabilia – portraits in particular of Louis XVIII or ‘Fattypoo’ as Clare nicknames him. She is particularly keen to locate the portrait of his wife, Marie-Josephine de Savoie, who died there an alcoholic and hating England, as she bought a painting based on it via Artist Support Pledge and was intrigued to see the original. We find it after dinner on our first night during a tour by the night manager who knows every single picture and its story in the house.
There they are in the background – Louis XVIII and Marie-Josephine. Apparently he asked for his head to be painted more flatteringly but the thighs are still thick!
Fattypoo in the rear behind his guardian
And here is the fabulous pastel by Ellie Burelli that Clare bought!
Hartwell is obsessed with anti-COVID measures so everything is covered in plastic, there are sanitsers liberally stationed all about and a strict one-way system to get in and out of our rooms! On our first day we meet up with other old friends for a pub lunch in Brill, before setting off for tea with another couple whom we met in Singapore. Anna is a fan expert and also an expert guide for Waddesdon Manor where we are headed the following day. She has another splendid garden, with a truly enviable veg patch.
Gerrit Dou, one of the most charming Dutch masters on display
The visit to Waddesdon is really the core purpose for our expedition to Bucks. Built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild from 1784 in the French château style it sits atop a hill, looking quite improbable in the English countryside. He was a passionate collector of art and furniture and scooped up treasures from châteaux discarded during the revolution, as well as commissioning major new works, especially paintings (Gainsborough, Reynolds and old Dutch masters abound).
Famous Pink Boy by Gainsborough
The house is a cornucopia of over-the-top – stupendous chandeliers, overly ornate bureaus and writing desks, musical automatons and so on. Despite being largely closed with only a few rooms on display, you still get an overwhelming impression of its grandeur. Now owned by the National Trust, Waddesdon continues to be managed by Jacob Rothschild so it retains a family attachment and, indeed, the collection is still being added to.
Sevres pottery on top of the ornate cabinet
Elephant automanton that played four tunes while trunk, eyes and ears move!
The gardens are famous with its intricate Victorian Aviary, parterres and eccentric plantings of banana trees, canna lilies and even a vegetable plot in the middle of the lawn!
Abundant veg patch in the middle of the gardens
We arrive in pouring rain and are happy to queue to enter the house, not for long luckily. When we emerge, dazzled by its opulence, the rain has stuttered to a drizzle and we admire the aviary and its collection of rare and colourful tropical birds (they have a heated rom at the back to keep them warm in winter). The centrepiece of this edifice is a strangely pornographic sculpture…I can’t see any other interpretation for the reclining figure’s action…answers on a postcard please!
What on earth is this lady doing?
A rather delightful fountain in the grounds
So we end our very English celebration of country houses and gardens with a bang. We feel refreshed, cultured (thanks to our storehouse of knowledge, Clare) windswept, wet and ready for what comes next! We will be back in warmer climes next year for sure…
Meanwhile here is Ross fresh from completing 26 miles in 3 hrs 56 mins, just a tad wet and sans phone!
I am a writer and traveller. Our darling daughter Louise died on 2 March 2011, aged 21 (www.louisecattell.com) and I started writing as therapy. We never know how long we have on this earth, so I live for every day...in November 2013 I was diagnosed and operated on for a malignant soft tissue sarcoma in the calf, followed by 6.5 weeks of radiotherapy, so am embarking on a different kind of journey which you can follow here. I also have another site www.healthylivingwithcancer.co with my blueprint for health and well-being.