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National Trust Homes & Gardens in England

Can anyone recommend a reasonably priced tour company to see some of the stately homes and gardens in the National Trust of England?

Posted by
33339 posts

The best gardens are fairly far apart and you would be paying a king's ransom to be shuttled around, and it is likely that 2 at most in a day, or if very lucky and very superficially, 3. That's a lot of money.

On the other hand if we can narrow down the houses and gardens that really call to you perhaps with trains and local taxis we can get you into a few.

Where will you be? What time of year?

Do you have a wish list? Can you share it?

Are you more intrigued by the houses or the gardens?

As a long time National Trust member (and active at AGMs) I may be able to share some experience with you.

But the target is huge - please narrow it down.

First time to England?

Posted by
6766 posts

Nigel might like to bring the matter up at the National Trust as to why the public transport information for National Trust properties is often either vague or incorrect. On the forum this keeps cropping up.
One example I have just been looking at is Acorn Bank in Westmorland.

Almost a year after the service restarted the NT website still says that there is no Saturday bus to Temple Sowerby. Also the Friday bus from Penrith to Acorn Bank Car Park which started in November 2023 is not yet mentioned. This is being run by the Fellrunner so local management must be aware of it, and been involved in the decision making to start the service.
From March Temple Sowerby will also have a bus from Kendal on weekdays.

I have no idea how to get through National Trust bureaucracy.

Posted by
7030 posts

I agree with Nigel. It would be helpful to know what areas you are looking and your time frame as well. And quite frankly, this is something you could easily do on your own. I will be spending 5 1/2 weeks in England starting mid-March and plan on seeing quite a few National Trust and English Heritage homes and gardens while I'm here, but have planned it all by myself.

If you want a little help, National Trust does give you some guidance and help in choosing your visits. For example, you can narrow it down by area, or places with famous or literary connections, or places with Tudor history. Check out this link, and even if you decide to go with a tour, this will help you get started. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/houses-buildings

Posted by
33339 posts

I have no idea how to get through National Trust bureaucracy.

I'm surprised to see that you can't google the property and main contact for the National Trust.

To save you the trouble, Acorn Bank Garden, the Watermill reopens on the 16th of this month, is at 01768361893 or
[email protected]

National Trust Head Office at Heelis, also very easily findable on a google search can be written to, telephoned or emailed.

Heelis
Kemble Drive
Swindon
SN2 2NA
Tel: 0344 800 1895
Email: [email protected]

I am sure they would be glad to hear from you.

Posted by
33339 posts

but this side issue and complaint does very little to help our poster who has not yet said if their trip will include the far northwest of England.

Posted by
27447 posts

The information is useful to me, because I had assumed the public-transportation info provided on the venue websites was complete. I might easily give up on an interesting-sounding property unnecessarily, if there are train/bus options available but unmentioned. There are so many wonderful gardens in the UK that seem difficult to access without a car. Now I know I should do some independent research to be sure I'm not skipping over a viable destination.

Posted by
1196 posts

It really irritates me that the National Trust does so little to make it possible for people to visit without a car. They’re supposed to be a sustainable organisation yet they just encourage car use and seek to build bigger and bigger car parks on their land.

Posted by
6766 posts

Within the last few weeks we have had properties in Wiltshire, Oxford and Kent highlighted with wrong transport information.

And I have looked tonight, even their headline property at Hill Top, Hawkshead has wrong information, so this is a systemic problem. Last summer Lindisfarne Castle had wrong information (which caused issues to at least one forum member).

In the isolated case of Acorn Bank I have written to the property- I will be surprised if they even deign to reply. Oh and Acorn Bank opens for the season on 11 March, all except the water mill, after a short 2 week pre spring closure period. The water mill opens the following weekend.

But I am not the web manager for the National Trust. It is not my job to check and correct every property, even in Cumbria. As an outsider I have no influence on their policies.

This is not something which can be easily resolved without internal will. It goes well beyond one particular OP's question.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you, Nigel, for your suggestion to narrow down our focus. We are a senior couple, not very mobile physically. We have travelled a bit in your lovely country years ago, when we were younger and much more adventurous in taking on the challenge of driving there. Now, we prefer public transportation, if on our own, or a reasonably priced tour of at least a few places. If we cannot find a tour, then we thought we would locate ourselves in an area for two or three days to visit some nearby homes, then move on to another location for another two or three days to visit another few homes. Without a car, I know this will be a challenge.
We are a retired architect and interior designer from San Francisco, California and have a great interest in stately homes. The gardens would be an extra treat. Our time frame is the last two weeks of May, but, it is open ended and can be extended.
Mardee, the website is very helpful. Thank you.

Posted by
33339 posts

I'm glad that you've returned.

Your answer brings up another question - looking at stately homes from the viewpoint of the architecture, do you want to find particular periods, and particularly good examples (my father trained as an architect but then the war intervened) or would you like to visit relatively unique (I know, like relatively pregnant) buildings and follies?

I'm not sure what areas of the UK you will be in. Is it only England and Wales, or maybe perhaps venture further north? Will you be in the southeast or other parts of the country?

Posted by
8 posts

Nigel, It sounds like you have been to a very many of the properties and know them well! We do appreciate your suggestions!
We will be completing a tour of the Scottish Highlands (from Inverness to Edinburg), so Edinburg will be our starting point to tour some National Trust homes. Not particular about architectural style as much as the uniqueness of the homes, and of course, accessibility by public transport. We are willing to travel to any part of the UK; we have always been a bit of the vagabond and our schedule is open ended.

Posted by
1196 posts

Particularly interesting properties that I can recall from an interiors point of view are Eltham Palace (amazing art deco) and Tyntesfield near Bristol which is a Victorian home that remains practically untouched internally since its heyday.

Posted by
7030 posts

If you are heading out from Edinburgh, you might want to consider some of the stately homes in the north of England. Yorkshire, The Peak District and Northumberland have a good share of beautiful estates.

Do they have to be National Trust properties? The reason I ask is that there are some magnificent homes that are worth a visit, but are not owned by the National Trust; such as Chatsworth House, Castle Howard, Harewood House and so on.

Posted by
6766 posts

In Scotland it is a separate organisation - the National Trust for Scotland. For each of their properties travel instructions (by any mode) are given by a link to Google Maps, which is great.
That takes all the effort and any doubt over planning a journey as Google Maps always seems to be really accurate for all modes (barring it's tendency to under estimate drive times on country roads).

Posted by
8 posts

Helen, Mardee, & isn31c,
All your suggestions are wonderful and so appreciated! The stately homes do not need to be the National Trust for England; any place especially interesting is on our wish list. I am taking notes on all suggestions and will do my research. This is getting exciting! Thank you!

Posted by
6766 posts

If you were in "Cumbria" I would be inclined to do this for starters-

Lowther Castle and Gardens (from 23 March, for the first time in almost 20 years you can get there by bus from Penrith)- the Castle is in ruins (a long story, paraphrased on their website). I've not been there since re-opening but everyone I know who has says it is really worth while going;

Dalemain Mansion, Ullswater (best by taxi from Penrith). If you can get there on Marmalade weekend so much the better;

Mirehouse (Bassenthwaite)- on the X4 bus from Penrith and the 554 from Keswick (and see the Ospreys while you are there)

Muncaster Castle (train to Ravenglass from Workington or Whitehaven);

Holker Hall (taxi from Grange over Sands or walk from Cark and Cartmel station);

Sizergh Castle (National Trust)- bus X6 from Grange over Sands or 555 from Keswick or 755 from Windermere

The nearby Levens Hall and it's topiary- bus 755 and 555 as above.

That's just a start but quite adequate for one county.

Then, creeping south into Lancashire you have Leighton Hall, near Silverdale- taxi from Silverdale or Carnforth rail stations or bus 51 between the two towns passes the road end.

Posted by
33339 posts

I imagine that both of you might be interested in Cragside, if you're coming down the east coast. National Trust, the outside is magnificent late Victorian Arts and Crafts, the inside was one of the first to be powered by electricity, the garden is truly wonderful. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/north-east/cragside has all the visiting info; I highly recommend reading the webpage with the history of the place - wait until you see the photo at the top of the page https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/north-east/cragside/history-of-cragside

Be sure to have your breakfast before you go and have good walking shoes. It is big (both the house and the gardens). But there is a shuttle buggy available to all.

One of my favourite properties. After all, he designed and built the mechanism for Tower Bridge in London.

Posted by
8 posts

Nigel: Cragside sounds perfect for our interests. A definite on our list. Thank you!
Mardee: Chatsworth, Castle Howard, Harewood House all look great. Keep ‘em coming!

isn31c (wish I could call you by name): I look forward to looking up your many suggestions in Cumbria.
Lots of work here for us to research, but all is appreciated!

Posted by
82 posts

Check out seymour travels - he has a Gardens of SE England on 2 dates in 2025

Posted by
7030 posts

isn31c (wish I could call you by name)

isn31c is Stuart, and one of the very knowledgeable members here. He and Nigel, along with Helen and many other Brits provide so much invaluable information on this forum. We are very lucky to have them all!

And in case you're interested, here is a list of the top-10 most visited stately homes in the UK (from The Guardian).

  • Kensington Palace, London
  • Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
  • Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
  • Castle Howard, York
  • Highclere Castle, Hampshire
  • Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
  • Burghley House, Stamford
  • Cliveden House, Berkshire
  • Osborne House, Isle of Wight
  • Longleat House, Wiltshire
Posted by
1196 posts

From that list the only one I’ve been to is Longleat! That’s only well visited because of the safari park. The house isn’t open very often and isn’t particularly interesting. I went there for a corporate event which is the type of thing they use all the main rooms for these days. The family live in private apartments.

Oh I went to Osbourne House as a child…

Posted by
6766 posts

I've only been to 4 of those- Blenheim, Chatsworth, Castle Howard and Hardwick Hall.

None of the others are even on my bucket list (except maybe Osborne House)- even Kensington Palace. I was offered free tickets to Cliveden a few months ago and was sorely tempted, but it was too short notice to arrange the travel there.

Posted by
33339 posts

Kensington Palace, London
Member, have gone several times but not for a couple of years, going for the new show this year

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Just been once, it is very large. When we lived closer considered just walking on the paths through the grounds but it was always muddy

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
Went once many years ago. The two large National Trust properties nearby attract us regularly

Castle Howard, York
Not yet, but one day

Highclere Castle, Hampshire
No interest in either the tv show or the house

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
see above under Chatsworth. Love the place.

Burghley House, Stamford
Fabulous. And a half way decent 3 day 5 ✨✨✨✨✨ eventing. The town is pretty special too. (local to me)

Cliveden House, Berkshire
National Trust member, very nice place and great water views. Many visits

Osborne House, Isle of Wight
English Heritage member, one visit. And one visit was enough

Longleat House, Wiltshire
Went when i was in short trousers. Fond memories. Fully intend to visit the animals this year, but it is a bit far.

Posted by
6766 posts

This is not a stately home, but new for 2024 are guided tours of Calder Abbey in West Cumberland- a former Cistercian Monastery.

Tours have not been available for many decades, and it seems that you can have afternoon tea with your tour. -https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61556821169581

For anyone with a car, or willing to take a taxi from Seascale Railway Station (pre-booked, there is no rank there) this is a very interesting new opportunity.

Posted by
8 posts

Mardee, Nigel, Stuart & Helen: This list from The Guardian is a great help! And, I appreciate the comments all of you have made on the ones visited. Of course, these are the famous ones, but the less well known ones are treasures, too. Now, I am busily looking up each one and accessing our ability to visit using public transport.
Calder Abbey looks fascinating. Gorgeous arches. Would love to wander through there.
By the way, I have been struggling to find a reasonable way to get to Cragside, but will have to give that one up. Getting there is a bit convoluted and the cost is too high.
Will keep you posted on the other ones.

Posted by
6766 posts

Cragside is one of the easier ones to get to. If you were coming from Edinburgh or York you can normally pick up very good train fares to Newcastle or Morpeth, especially on Trans Pennine services. Then the X14 bus- don't forget that we are still on £2 single bus fares currently.
For Northumberland there is also a £5 day ticket valid on almost all operators (a very new ticket). At Morpeth train to bus is only a short walk down the hill, or there is a frequent link bus, #35 from memory- every 15 minutes I think.
If you are on an X14 not calling at Cragside it is not far to walk back from Rothbury. Also the Arriva timetable is very oddly laid out- the journeys from Newcastle are in practice through journeys across Morpeth- book through and stay on the bus.

You can certainly make that work, and it would really be worth your while to make it work.

In fact, as an architect, I think you would also find Rothbury village interesting.

At Newcastle there is a Tyne and Wear metro stop at Haymarket Bus Station where the X14 starts.

Posted by
6766 posts

I am wondering if you could pair Cragside with Wallington Hall (in 2023 there was a free summer weekend bus to Wallington from Newcastle) the following day.

Maybe also look at Seaton Delaval Hall, Bamburgh Castle and Alnwick Castle as other reasons to travel into Northumberland.

For Seaton Delaval and Wallington, maybe stay in Newcastle, for Bamburgh and Alnwick maybe stay in Alnwick.

While in the area I also wonder about whether Washington Old Hall would be a worthwhile side visit.

Posted by
6766 posts

It really irritates me that the National Trust does so little to make it possible for people to visit without a car. They’re supposed to be a sustainable organisation yet they just encourage car use and seek to build bigger and bigger car parks on their land.

To give the National Trust a tiny bit of credit they are part subsidising the Cross Lakes bus this year to give £2 bus fares to Hill Top from Hawkshead and the Windermere car ferry. Tiny beginnings, but you have to start somewhere.

In spite of Nigel's confidence that I could get public transport details changed on the NT website it is taking a lot of effort, too much effort. The individual properties can not make that web site change (I have been in touch with two), they just push it up to Corporate Communications, who then do nothing. It should not take so much of my time up to get things correct. If I thought Acorn Bank was bad, then for the Whitehaven Coast they cite bus services which haven't run in 20 years- and when they did had different numbers to those the NT cite. That would not be so bad except that the 6/X6 numbers they give are still live routes- from Barrow to Kendal and Windermere so dangerously misleading.