With a sunny weekend and some free time on our hands a friend and I decided to go Audley End House for the day, which isn't far from us. It is situated near the pretty Essex town of Saffron Walden, which is about 15-20 minute drive for Junction 8 of the M11 through a number of picture postcard villages. We arrived about 12.30pm and there was a queue to go in, it seemed to be a bit slow, but basically you drive up to the ticket booth and pay your money (English Heritage members are free). It cost £13 for adults, with prices for concessions and children also available, as well as a family ticket. If you don't want to visit the house then the cost is £9.00 for adults. The house and gardens are open everyday during the summer months and the half term. At other times the house maybe closed, and during the winter they are both open only at weekends. We were advised that access to the house is by guided tour and to book our tour at the visitor information building as soon as possible. I understand that this isn't always the case. As it was quiet busy we ended up in the overflow car park, there did seem to be some disabled parking but this was full, however the car park is quite near the house. I would recommend phoning ahead if you have any access needs. As advised we headed straight to the Visitor Centre and queued up for a few minutes to get our tour slot. It was 12.45pm at this time, and the first tour available was 2.30pm.
Our first stop was for some lunch at the tearoom. They had two delicious sounding soups available served with fresh homemade bread, and a selection of sandwiches and quiches. This included vegetarian and gluten free options. My friend and I both selected the Cheddar cheese and Suffolk Ale chutney sandwich with rocket, which was filling and tasty of £3.95. They also sell Tyrell's crisps, and hot and cold drinks. The cold drinks are the premium Fentimans brand, rather than the bog standard colas etc. The lunch with crisps and drinks came to just under £13 for the two of us. You can bring a picnic to eat in the grounds if you wish. We just weren't that organised. We came back in the afternoon so I could have a homemade cheese scone. They also sell cakes. If you just want a sandwich or a drink, then you can also use the Courtyard Café near the Stables. There are toilets nearby also, which seemed to be well stocked, but a bit untidy but that may have been due to the peak time we were visiting.
After our lunch we decided to do a couple of the short walks marked on the map. The Lime Tree walk circumnavigates the house and could take 10 minutes but we decided to combine it with the 30 minute Temple walk. One of the first points of interest we came across was the Polish war memorial. Apparently Polish Special Forces were billeted and trained here during the Second World War, and the small but attractive memorial is for those that served but didn't return. The rest of the Temple walk takes you near the boundaries around the Temple of Concord which was built to honour George III who was due to visit here, before he became ill. There are good views of the house from here. The grounds had been designed by 'Capability' Brown. The Parterre garden at the back of the house is very attractive. Flowers were coming to the end of their bloom at the time we were there (September) but it still looked pretty. It was in the style of a Jacobean knot garden and was symmetrical. There is also a fountain here, but it was empty during our visit, whilst awaiting repairs. This left us a little time to explore the Victorian Service wing - kitchens, laundry and dairy - before joining our tour.
The guided tour took just over an hour and was very informative and well presented by our two guides. The house was built during Jacobean period, and was much larger than the property we see today, and has had many illustrious owners. There are a number of portraits of the family, as well as an original Holbein (portrait of an unknown man) and a Canaletto landscape. There is a library with some 7000 books (I didn't count them) which include first editions of Johnson's dictionary and Pepys Memoirs. There are also a number of beautiful old furniture items which your guide will inform you about. The Robert Adam wing was designed in the 1760s and includes a rather OTT pink patterned room, which confirms that money doesn't always buy taste. I think it is well worth spending the extra money to visit here. My friend's favourite part was the natural history rooms of stuffed birds and wildlife. Sadly you cannot take photos inside the house.
After leaving the house we decided to head over to the Stables area, and on the way spotted a falconry demonstration, which was very well done with an informative talk and some obliging birds. Although the massive Eagle Owl wasn't in too much of a hurry to digest his chick reward and let the back end of the chick hang out of his mouth whilst he surveyed his audience with interest. We also saw a Peregrine Falcon. I gather there were other birds but we had missed the start as we had been in the house. The sign indicated there were three demos a day, but I don't know if this is a regular occurrence or something that happens occasionally. The falconry area was near the car park opposite the visitor centre, so if you are interested, check the times beforehand to help plan your day.
The Kitchen garden walk (as indicated on the map in the brochure) is 30 mins and takes you around the ponds and gardens to the organic kitchen garden. We spotted lots of butterflies in one of the gardens and I did get bitten a few times by the pond part, so bug spray is recommended. The gardens are organic and I believe you can purchase produce and plants from here at the Gift Shop. There is also a children's playground by the café in this part.
The stables are here and you can pop in and see the two horses. They had just been fed when we went in, so weren't interested in being patted, but I understand that you are welcome to do so. There are a number of small exhibitions here, partly interactive, where you can 'meet' video footage of people who used to work here. The Gift Shop is by the Visitor Centre and contains themed gifts, as well as general English Heritage merchandise. Gifts include regional foods, books and toys. You can purchase a guide book to the House for £3.99.
Overall we were here almost five hours and that included a lunch stop and a scone stop as well as a tour of the house. I recommend a visit here as the grounds are pretty and the house both interesting and magnificent. Obviously you would need a fine day to explore the grounds properly, but none of the walks are lengthy, although some aren't on paths so could get muddy. I would recommend checking if tours are running on the day you go, and booking early to avoid disappointment. At other times the house is 'free-flow', so you can just explore at your own pace and ask questions of the staff. Check out their website for special events also: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk /daysout/properties/audley-end-house-and-gardens
---Intro - Me and Audley End---
I remember the last time (well, prior to this time!) that I visited Audley End. It was with my mum, and her friend and son. It was at a time that I was preparing for my 'Collectors' badge at Brownies - I was collecting badges (how funny to get a badge for collecting badges) and I remember buying a badge in the gift shop. This must've been 1990/1991.
Fast-forward to 2011 and being down in Essex for the weekend, and with my sister and her two children (aged 7 and 4) also over she had decided that Audley End would be a nice place for them, me and my parents to visit.
My sister drove us there (and back) as she has a car big enough for the 6 of us, and it took about an hour in the car. It was a nice journey from Brentwood with lots of picturesque villages and the like on the way. Audley End is a mile away from Saffron Waldon - address as follows - Off London Road, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11 4JF
Although we found signs for Audley End as we approached, finding where to enter wasn't so easy. We ended up in the car park for the Audley End Miniature Railway. Although we were intending to visit this (and we did - another review perhaps? We'll see...), we did want to be parked in the main Audley End car park, so had to get back on the road, following the wall of Audley End until we found the entrance (this was a very sudden an unexpected turning off the road). There followed a very bumpy track up to the field in which we parked!
Current prices are as follows:
Adults - £12.50
Children - £7.50
Concessions - £11.30
EH Member Cost - Free
Family Ticket - £32.50 (2 adults and 2 children)
We got a family ticket and 2 concessions (my parents). We (I say, we, I mean my parents!) also paid £1 each for the children who were participating in some Time Travellers thing which meant that they got a stamp on their Time Travellers passports. I should possibly add here that when we visited there were some activities laid on for the children (my sister and nephew went to look and participate), but I didn't investigate myself!
The cost does sound excessive (well, to me anyway since I'm poor), but if you're a member of English Heritage it's free to get in. Currently it costs £46 per year for an adult, £80 for a couple (visit English website - www.english-heritage.org.uk - for other rates). So it's well worth it if you go out and about (and it's a good cause to support anyway). My ex and I did join and were members for several years, but really I couldn't justify renewing the membership for myself if I only visit one or possibly two attractions in a year.
---A picnic in the rain/food in general---
When we arrived it was getting close to midday, and the rain clouds were looming, so we thought we'd have our picnic there and then. There were quite a few picnic benches, but I imagine it would be hard to get one on a nice day (mind you, if it was nice you could sit on the ground - in the extensive grounds). As far as I can tell, the grounds are generally open from 10am with the House opening at 11am, but you'd do better checking the website before you go rather than relying on me!
There are also two cafés "serving locally produced food to eat in or take away. The Cart Yard Café is close to the children's play area or you can relax in The Housekeeper's Room with its views across the park." We did sit out in the Court Yard Café later on in the day - it was closed (but we had our own refreshments)
As we munched on our ham, salmon, and tuna mayo sandwiches (how sophisticated) it did start to rain, but in true British spirit we soldiered on, and I chased paper napkins in the wind and rain - as one does! Following our picnic we went across the road for the miniature railway experience which took a good chunk out of the day, but then it was back to Audley End.
When we arrived there were a load of portaloos which were not in use - probably because it wasn't that busy. But there was a unisex one available. There were also toilets round the side of the house (near the laundry).
---Details about Audley End---
The blurb, which I've taken from the English Heritage Handbook (from when I used to be a member) - "Audley End takes its name from Sir Thomas Audley, Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, who adapted the extensive buildings of suppressed Walden Abbey as his mansion. His grandson Thomas Howard, first Earl of Suffolk, rebuilt the house on a massive scale between 1603 and 1614, This 'Palace of Audley End' was three times its present size, and one of the largest mansions in England. But in 1618 Suffolk fell from favour into massive debt, and his great house went into decline."
The house as it is today inside "represents the taste of the third Baron Braybrooke, who during the 1820s redecorated many of its rooms in the Jacobean style. He installed his extensive picture collection, and filled the rooms with inherited furnishings."
---Our experience in the house---
On entering the house it's made clear that you're not allowed to take any pictures (stiletto heels are also not allowed - mind you, if you'd made it over from the car park in them I think you'd deserve a prize!).
We were offered the use of a guidebook to aide us through the house (different from a guidebook that could be bought), which gave details of every artefact in the house. My dad snapped this up...but I think he possibly came to regret it since my 4 year old niece asked him "who's that" every time we came across a painting (and there are lots!) and he then explained to her who everyone was!
I enjoyed just walking around, not paying too much attention to anything in particular...there's little point in me learning historical facts as my memory doesn't retain them. I did like the chapel though...the other tourists in the chapel (it suddenly seemed to get a bit busier - possibly due to the rain) when I was in there didn't seem overly impressed, but I thought it was nice.
---Is that a herd of deer?---
Absolutely classic moment with my mum was when she turned to me as we looked out of a window in Audley End and said "Are they deer over there Mary?" to which I responded "er, no, I think it's a flock of geese!" It was indeed a flock of geese, which was reinforced when they started flying.
---The moose head---
Back in 1997 when I was in the early days of my Moose obsession, my friend Sarah visited Audley End, and took a photo of the moose head (tut tut, no photos are allowed to be taken in the house) to give me. I don't like moose heads. I have my own moose antlers, but moose shed their antlers every year, so that's ok. But moose heads mean that a moose was killed. Mind you, what's done is done, and that moose is never going to come back to life...so if it brings more people to loving moose then I'm all for it.
Towards the beginning of the Audley End house tour there is a huge room dedicated to taxidermy. I'm not a fan myself, but my 7-year old nephew seemed to like it - I probably did too at that age. But now I find it all a bit creepy.
---Debates on Audley End---
It took about an hour to walk round the house. We had a bit of debate as to whether we'd want to live somewhere that big or not. I decided that I wouldn't...primarily I was thinking of heating costs (but then if you can afford that sort of a house then you can probably afford the heating?) and because it wouldn't be easy for me to get to work in Carlisle each day (again, if I could afford such a house would I need to go to work in Carlisle?)..and then the cleaning - Dobby the Dyson really wouldn't like it (but then if I could afford to have servants...) Seriously though, I don't think I'd really want to live somewhere THAT big, there's not enough time in a day! My sister on the other hand had ideas for each room...I suppose it's nice to dream...
After our tour of the house we visited the 'Service Wing' which includes the kitchen, dairy, dry larder and laundries. This was all very well laid out, and there were films projected onto the wall which memorised my 4-year old niece. The adults amongst us debated the woman on the film's lack of skills in chopping carrots.
I can imagine that when they do open days with 'costumed' actors that this would be really good (a bit like Kentwell Hell I imagine - now there's somewhere I need to revisit!)
It seems (from the website) that we missed out by not visiting the Stable Yard - I think it was closed anyway.
We did miss out on quite a bit I think. However, since we had taken up a lot of time doing the railway attraction across the road, we'd have needed another day anyway to see everything, since we had to get back. That said, the plants that we did see were lovely.
---The shop...and more English Heritage Stuff---
The gift shop wasn't much to write home about. There were a variety of overpriced gifts. My nephew settled for a reasonably priced bow and arrow at £5.99, which was a relief to my parents as the other one he'd picked up was £29.99 (for a bit of wood?!!!), and my parents bought me (I'm poor, remember) an overpriced fridge magnet for £2.55 as that seems to be my collection these days (do I get another Brownie badge?)
There were plants outside - herbs and others, which looked reasonably priced. There was also the usual English heritage merchandise which includes 'wine-tasting" in the shop (the Elderflower stuff and Sloe Gin is good - but expensive) but you can do this at any English Heritage site.
Talking of English Heritage, we were accosted by a man doing market research while we were sat outside in the rain eating our Kit Kats and drinking Fruit Shoots (brought from home) , and we undertook some market research into out day at Audley End. It went on for a bit, but I think it was useful to reinforce that yes, we had had a good time, that yes, it was a good family day out (our party ranged from aged 4 to 70), and yes we would recommend it.
My review has primarily focused on our day's outing - the section on the English Heritage website about Audley End is excellent - interactive maps and pictures and lots of stuff:
It would probably be much better to visit this than to read my review (especially if you want up-to-date info)...but since there wasn't a review on Ciao/dooyoo about Audley End I thought I'd rise to the challenge!
I can't imagine disabled access being that great, but they have got info on the website.
On a day with nice weather Audley End would be a lovely place to visit, and I'm sure it would be lovely walking around the grounds and seeing the geese up close (or are they deer?!) Reading the information on the website makes me see just how much we did miss out...
That said, we had a good day out and we missed most of the rain as most of it was while we were inside. We spent a good 5 hours there (but that included the railway),
I'd highly recommend a visit if you're a member of English Heritage. And if you're not, then this would be a good place to start to take out membership (since you get your money back when you join). But it would be better to go when the weather's nice so that you can explore the gardens.