We had time only to see the house, so I am unable to comment on the grounds. However, just to visit the house takes you through part of the grounds and you have to admire its enviable setting. There is a strong Dutch theme about the interior of the house as it was built and furnished by its first owner, William Blathwayt. He was a Netherlands-lover, and fluent in Dutch. He built this property from 1692, just after the assumption of the English throne by the House of Orange. He considerably extended an older Tudor house (the current Great Hall is all that is left of it). Desiring to flaunt his wealth, some of the rooms were decorated with Spanish leather. In one room this is still intact, though faded. Another room still has on show two highly controversial pieces from the slave-trading era. Blathwayt was not himself a slave-trader, but some of his commercial interests profited from slave labour. The pieces are stands with a dish resting of the back of a slave - complete with chains! In the 18th century no-one seemed to raise an eyebrow at this, but now they cause revulsion.
We left the property slightly puzzled. We know that the house has had a chequered history since it passed out of the hands of the Blathwayt family, which would explain why many of the rooms you visit are in a poor state of repair or lack any decor to speak of; one has a state bed intended to be used by Queen Anne which looks like it has just been dragged from centuries in a dusty attic. But why is this still the case? I know the work of conservation and restoration is expensive, but that is what the NT is for. It looks as though the NT only took it over a few years ago and hasn't got round to fixing it yet! But it has owned it since 1961! What have they been doing these last 57 years?
Finally, this is not a place to visit if you are on a tight timetable. The handbook doesn't make it clear that it can take at least 20 minutes to get from where you park your car to the entrance of the house. This is because on a busy day (the grounds were crawling in the Easter holidays) you may park at the far end of the car park. Then it is a further 15-minute walk down a very steep hill to the house. There is a shuttle bus, but if you just miss it, that's a 15-minute wait. Fine if you're not in a hurry.
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