Slow Cotswolds

  • The finest house in England

    You will not find better. I promise you. You may find grander. You may find more ornamental. You may find larger, more stately, more anything. Except beauty - and a sense of something that, actually, is hard to explain. Even for a writer! I think that is, perhaps, when you know that you have found the best; when it's not possible to put into words. That is Broughton Castle.

    In the chapter titled 'Four Shires' (Chapter 3, page 102-3), I write, "Of all the castles (it's actually a fortified manor house) in Britain, this is the one I love the most for its sheer visual impact, and the one I would recommend to visit more than any other. I'm not the first to say it sums up England (Historian Simon Jenkins describes it as one of the very finest), but it certainly does. As it is just about on my doorstep, I've visited the house on many occasions and driven by hundreds of times and yet I never tire of the sight of it." Today, it was more lovely than ever.

    Lord and Lady Saye and Sele, mentioned in the book, have 'retired' from living in, and the day to day upkeep of, the house. But they were still there today, greeting visitors and chatting about plants in the garden and the state of the box hedges.

    The house dates back to the 14th century and it played a very important role in the English Civil War - as did the Fiennes family who have lived at Broughton Castle for centuries. Internally, it has both warm grandeur - The Great Hall has been used in numerous Hollywood film and television productions - and a comforting, homely feel. Everyone and anyone gets the sense they could quite easily move in tomorrow and put their feet up beside the log fire! Secret stone stairways (harking back to Civil War days), some of the finest linen-fold wood panelling in Britain and imposing, oil-painted portraits of ancestors that hang alongside photographs of more recent family members enjoying time together show that this is a house with a remarkable history.

    But, my oh my, it is the exterior that is even more remarkable. It's one of those houses that you can simply gaze at and not tire of looking: a fortified entrance that approaches the house across a pretty moat, magnificent parkland with extended views over open countryside - and gardens filled with colour.

    It is the gardens, in particular, that you should come and visit - right now. Yes really, right now. Talking to Lady Saye and Sele, she commented that the gardens, which should be at their peak next week, are probably at their best now. More than 150 rose varieties in bloom, some that tumble over gorgeously gothic archways, others that fall about along lengthy walls. The electricity of vibrant delphiniums that pull out the intense colour of the lichen-smothered ironstone walls. Scent hangs everywhere. It is sublime.

    The Ladies' Garden is about as pretty as a garden can get. It's ordered in one respect, with neatly clipped box hedging, yet rambling at the same time with roses that flop and flirt with passers by.

    Do visit - now, if you can. You won't be disappointed.

    Broughton Castle is situated on the fringes of the Cotswolds, in North Oxfordshire. It is open Wednesday and Sunday afternoons and Bank Holidays. There is a very pleasing tearoom, serving an excellent pot of tea and delicious homemade cakes.

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