The great, the good and the not-so-good have all made their homes in the Chilterns. Many of their finest houses are now in the care of the National Trust. Make your own selection to plan a short break or a Grand Tour with more than its fair share of opulence, interest and intrigue:
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, boosted his social status by choosing Hughenden Manor near High Wycombe as his country seat. A house with two tales, Hughenden Manor has a rich history: on the one hand it was the Victorian home to Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria's favourite Prime Minister, and on the other, it was the base for a secret map-making organisation during the Second World War. Both stories can be explored as you roam the historic building.
Rake and reprobate Sir Francis Dashwood built elegant, Italianate West Wycombe Park, adding a hilltop Mausoleum and remodelling the church to include a giant Golden Ball equipped for drinking sessions. He also created the Hellfire Caves which hosted the outrageous antics of his Hellfire Club. Passages plunge deep into the hillside, crossing the River Styx to scenes of the debauch. West Wycombe Village is now owned by the National Trust.
What the locals say: “My favourite place is standing on the top of West Wycombe Hill, drinking in the view. Then I scramble down the hill into West Wycombe village for a drink in a pub.” – Sue
Nancy Astor, Britain’s first serving woman MP, held court at sumptuous Cliveden – later a setting for scandals of the Profumo Affair and now a hotel. The magnificent grounds are open, with superb river views.
The Brunner family lived at the 16th-century Greys Court until quite recently. Tucked away in a tranquil valley among a series of courtyard gardens and romantic ruins. There are walks around the Estate, or you can enjoy the spring blooms nearer the house. The National Trust house still exudes a welcoming atmosphere, with a well-stocked kitchen and homely living rooms.
Nuffield Place is typical of the Chilterns: modest, intriguing and tucked away in a beautiful place you have probably near heard of.
The William Morris of the British Arts and Crafts Movement-fame casts a huge shadow on this William Morris who brought affordable motoring to Britain, and this is his story. Lord Nuffield, William Morris of motor car fame, made his home at Nuffield Place near Henley. A 1930s time capsule, complete with his personal possessions, the house is a remarkable insight into the frugal mindset of England’s richest man. Combine this with a visit to Stoke Row to view the gift of the Maharaja of Benares – an ornate and exuberant village well, designed specifically "to lend itself to photography" or the nearby splendid above-mentioned Greys Court.
Stonor Park near Henley has been home to the Stonor family since the 12th century and has a beautiful situation in the Stoner Valley. There is a private deer park and interesting Catholic chapel that has been in uninterrupted use for over 800 years.
King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I both visited picturesque Chenies Manor, Chenies, where Catherine Howard carried on the fatal dalliance with her lover Thomas Culpepper. Now much used for filming, the MacLeod Matthews family home and gardens are a gem.
As a family, the Rothschilds were the greatest collectors of the 19th century, seeking the highest quality of workmanship and with a keen sense of historical importance. The houses that they built, the interiors they created and the magnificent collections within them became known internationally as the 'goût Rothschild'. Waddesdon Manor is one of the rare survivors of that splendour. Victorian landscaped gardens, a fitting setting for the chateau-style house, also include a woodland playground and adventure trail for children. The Events Calendar presents a wide choice of quality activities and events for both adults and children. You'll find fine wine and food here too, in a choice of restaurants and shops.
The threads of intriguing art, exquisite design and architecture were stylishly woven together at the Rothschild Foundation at Windmill Hill, Waddesdon, upstaged only by the beautiful sunset and view that are also part of the local story, and on display every day!
Sir John Wenlock, builder of Someries Castle in Hyde, could never have imagined 600 years ago what would be at the bottom of his formal garden, no more than we can imagine what will be at the end of Luton Airport runway in another 600 years.