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Mapledurham Estate (Reading)

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Country estate located in Reading

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      12.10.2010 10:27
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      Historic country estate best reached by boat

      Fans of war films will recognie the village of Mapledurham with its picturesque medieval church, watermill and a Tudor hall , from the 1970 Michael Cain film " The Eagle Has Landed" I'm not one but was still charmed by this lovely country estate "The Eagle Has Landed" is set in Norfolk whilst Mapledurham is located in a completely different part of the country on the river Thames four miles north of Reading. The first thing to note before planning a visit there is that it is a very seasonal attraction. Limited to weekend and bank holiday afternoon from Easter to September and Saturday afternoon in October. You can access Mapledurham by road following the Oxford Road from Reading. Alternatively you can take a boat from Caversham Bridge in Reading to the jetty at Mapledurham. This is what we did and its really adds to the visiting experience, as its such a nicer way of arriving . The journey last 45 minutes each way and leaves Reading at 14.00 hours a whilst the return boat leaves Mapledurham at 17.00 hours giving just under three hours to explore Mapledurham which is sufficient time. The boat trip costs £7 return for adults, £6.50 for senior an £5.50 for children 5 and over. A further £2 is charged as a landing fee but can be redeemed towards the cost of visiting the house and the watermill. Our boat on the way to Mapledurham was full capacity due to a coach party embarking. The trip down the river on the Devon Belle, a 1930s boat was pretty relaxing although it was standing room only. It was the weekend after the Reading Festival and we got great views of the remaining tents just abandoned by their owners. On disembarking we were treated to a very pretty rural scene with the watermill in the foreground and the church and house peaking out in between the trees. We passed the picturesque watermill with its huge wheel harnessing the power of the water. The mill dating back to the 15th century is th only working one remaining on the Thames. Its £3 for an adult to visit whilst a child is £1. There is a joint ticket for the Watermill and house at £7 for adults and £3 for children. However we decided against visiting the watermill, as we were not particularly interested in seeing inside. I've visited other watermills namely the one at New Abbey near my hometown of Dumfries and felt most watermills will operate in a similar way. We did visit Mapledurhm Housem as I have a passion for country houses. Mapledurham House is the residence of the noble and ancient Blount family who can trace their ancestry back to the Norman era and include two Lieutenants of the Tower of London during the Tudor era. The Blounts are particularly interesting as they remained staunchly Catholic during and after the Reformation and remain so to this day. The current house was built between 1585 and 1612 and with its gables and chimneys is very much of its period. The brick facade was added slightly later but the timber frames remain behind the brick. You may recognise it not just from "The Eagle has Landed" but also as Toad Hall in the original illustrations for the "Wind in the Willows" You enter the first room the Great Hall via a small porch where we were greeted by a gentleman to explain where to go and collect our entrance fee. We were offered a Guidebook at £3.99 which we bought. However there were laminated sheets in each of the rooms pointing out the important features in each room. There were also plenty of room guides who were enthusiastic and willing to answer question or share anecdotes about the family. Mapledurham House is still in the hands of the Blount (now Eyston) family and is still very much their family home. The owner can often be seen pottering around the house which is a nice thing. I found Mapledurham House to be slightly haphazard in a charming and refreshing way. I sometimes find National Trust and English Heritage properties a bit too over curated and pristine trying to reconstruct the era too much. Here you had family photos jostling with paintings and a an old fashioned radio on the floor of the bedroom along with a couple of retro style cases, which made the place feel homely and less sterile. The first thing I noticed about the hall was the two life size stuffed red deer flanking the fireplace and the mounted animal heads on the wall. Next to the hall is a library with a portable altar alluding to th days when their religion was practiced in secret. Apparently there are three hiding places including a trapdoor up into the chimney ready to hide any priests. Since the Catholic Emancipation Bill was passed a permanent chapel at the back house was built. Once leaving the ground floor we processed up the grand stair case to the upper floor. I was impressed by the intricateness of the beautiful 17th century ceilings in the parlour. Its a room full of paintings and chairs which the attendant told us were embroidered in the 19th century by the 9 daughters in the family (there were a further 5 sons now that is a huge family). There are a couple of Victorian dresses thrown in for good measures. Next door is the bedroom with a four poster bed and a four poster doll;s bed too. The final room upstairs is a bathroom full of hip baths and other Victorian sanitation We headed downstairs down the second staircases that was flanked by portraits and drawings of beloved horses and hounds which I found quite touching. A trip to the grand dining room finished out visit to Mapledurham House. Its not a huge house and you could easily go round it in 30 or 40 minutes. I thought the price was reasonable as it worked out at £2 wit taking away the landing charge. St Margaret's Church with its small churchyard is everything a village church should be. Its th sort if place I would love to get married in if I had the chance, a it exudes history. The building dates from the 13th century , as does some of the stained glass in the east end of the church. Inside its small but perfectly formed with a lovely beamed ceiling and a south aisle with tombs daring back of the medieval period. Sightseeing is thirsty wok so after seeing the house and church we headed to the outbuildings containing the shop and tearooms. I was very impressed with the quality and value for money in the tearoom. We bought a cream tea, a can of cola and a scone and it came to under £6. The scones were homemade using the flour milked from the mill and the clotted cream was plentiful. It was a delight to sit outside in the courtyard watching the world go by whilst eating such a tasty fare.Looking around us we realised we were the youngest people there by a good 25 years.There is plenty of land to run about but it seems apledurham attractors a more mature visitor. The gift shop was small and sold little Mapledurham knick knacks, jams and the aforementioned flour from the mill/. My only slight niggle with the facilities would be the toilets. The ones near the tearoom were basic but adequate in a portacabin. After tea and a bit of walking we still found we had about half an hour until our boat arrived to take us back to Reading and reality. Thus an afternoon is more than enough to see the delightful Mapledurham. If in Reading or any of th other Berkshire towns such as Windsor or Maidenhead I'd recommend a trip top the village where eagles landed. http://www.mapledurham.co.uk/

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