The Great Escape to Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury
Mark Bibby Jackson swaps the gloom of a UK lockdown for the spring blooms of Waddesdon Manor, the former country home of Lord Rothschild, nestled somewhere near Aylesbury.
Often during the last few months I have felt like Steve McQueen, cooped up in my Essex home while lockdown rules have changed with the alacrity of cards being dealt by an agile croupier in a game of baccarat. Just in this game even the house never wins. If only I had a motorbike to launch my Great Escape.
Waddesdon Manor History
When my day of freedom did finally arrive, it was Waddesdon Manor I chose for my day release.
Despite being tempted by the annual Chilli Fest, this was my first visit to the country home built as a country retreat for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1870 in the Neo-Renaissance style of a French château. Here he entertained the famous and the politically influential at his famous weekend house parties.
The Manor was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957. However, it continues to be run by the Rothschild family through a charitable trust under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild.
Waddesdon Manor Gardens and Grounds
Fortunately Waddesdon Manor Gardens are now open, even if the manor house itself will only open on 19 May, government regulations permitted.
In 2019, 350,000 spring bulbs were planted around Waddesdon’s grounds, promising to transform the gardens into a riot of colour. Unfortunately, the first bloom occurred behind closed doors, so this was the first opportunity to see them.
Equipped with my handy Waddesdon Manor map, I set off in search of the spectacular Daffodil Valley. Beyond the yellow canopy I could just make out sheep in distant fields. No doubt their lambs were munching nearby, a sign that Nature at least is taking its rightful course.
On such a lovely, sunny spring day, it was unbelievably pleasant to be out of lockdown. Simply enjoying the beautifully landscaped grounds – and space – surrounded by families and people from a diverse background after spending months in Essex was such a relief.
It has already become a cliché, but the lockdown has provided us all a chance to appreciate what we have missed and reconnect with nature. I have also realised how much I have missed the company of others. I was content to watch children enjoying themselves at the nearby Aviary.
I recalled how just prior to the first lockdown, we had travelled to Cornwall, and visited a deserted Eden Project. Then I had gloried in the sense of solitude. Now I found the sound of children enjoying themselves in the spring sun equally reassuring. How Covid has changed our attitude towards life.
Despite the architectural splendour of the exterior of Waddesdon Manor and the extensive grounds, for me the standout feature was the Parterre at the rear of the house itself.
Here spring flowers, daffodils, tulips and bluebells were carefully arranged around the ornate gardens. Adults laid out in the perfect sun, while children played games contentedly, reassured that the longest of long winters was eventually over.
It might have been my first trip to Waddesdon Manor, but it will surely not be my last. Hopefully next time, once government regulations have relaxed I will be able to venture inside.
Waddesdon Manor Events
In addition to the annual Chilli Fest in September, there are a series of events at Waddesdon Manor throughout the year. In May there is an Artisan Food Market, as well as Mindfulness Nature Walks, in June there will be an exhibition of the works by the surrealist artist Gustave Moreau entitled The Fables, and a performance of Macbeth by the wonderful Lord Chamberlain’s Men. More details and bookings can be found here.
Reopening of Manor House
The plan is to reopen Waddesdon Manor with the exhibition Roses from My Garden by Nick Knight on 19 May, 2021 in the Coach House Gallery. This will also mark the gradual re-opening of the rooms in the Manor, which will be timed and have to be pre-booked, due to covid health regulations. The Five Arrows Hotel bar restaurant and rooms will open on this day.
If you are looking for a little different Covid-safe dining at Waddesson then why not try the Dining Domes on a hill overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury. Lunch, dinner and afternoon tea are available from 20 May to 13 June. Click here to book.
Waddesdon Manor Tickets
Entrance to the Grounds cost £12 for an adult, and £6 for a child. Infants are free.
Waddesdon Manor Opening Times
Open from Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm (last entry at 3pm). Booking is essential.
Where is Waddesdon Manor?
The manor is a short drive from London. Take the A41 off the M25 towards Aylesbury and follow the route to the town of Waddesdon. Alternatively, you can take the train to Aylesbury Vale Parkway from London Marylebone. Train times can be found here. There is a safe cycle and walking route from the station to Waddesdon Manor.
More information on Waddesdon Manor
For everything else you need to know, click here.
Cover image: Daffodils at Waddesdon. Photo Derek Pelling © National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.