18 unsung historical attractions in Great Britain

24 July 2017

If you enjoy a day out to a stately home but don't want to trek around a vast sprawling pile or thousands of acres here are 18 unsung little gems from across Great Britain that are well worth a trip.



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South East England

Orford Castle

Woodbridge, Suffolk

Built by King Henry II on the Suffolk coast, the polygonal tower is one of Britain’s most complete keeps. Explore the maze of tunnels that lead to the chapel, kitchen and other chambers in the turrets.

Don’t miss: Display of Roman brooches, medieval seals and coins.

Details: Open daily 10am-6pm until 30 Sept, then times vary. english-heritage.org.uk, 01394 450472

Even if you’ve lived your whole life in the UK, there’s always somewhere new to discover. Find out more here.

Chiddingstone Castle

Near Edenbridge, Kent

The castle was originally a Tudor dwelling and has fantastic views over the North Downs. Enjoy the eclectic collections of former owner Denys Eyre Bower, from Egyptian antiquities to Japanese and Jacobite artefacts. Its traditional gardens – heritage roses, peonies and lavender – are blended with more modern planting.

Don’t miss: Broadswords used at the Battle of Culloden.

Details: Open 11am-5pm, Sun-Wed, until end Oct. chiddingstonecastle.org.uk, 01892 870347

Fenton House

Hampstead, North London

A perfectly proportioned 17th-century house tucked away in a secluded part of the capital. It’s furnished with fine examples of Georgian furniture, delicate porcelain and needlework. You can also see the Benton Fletcher collection of early keyboards. Escape the city bustle in the 300-year-old walled garden and orchard. 

Don’t miss: Views of central London from the balcony.

Details: Open 11am-5pm, Wed-Sun. national trust.org.uk/fenton-house-and-garden, 020 7435 3471

Nuffield Place

Near Henley on Thames, Oxon

The modest 20th-century home of Lord Nuffield, founder of Morris Motors, and his wife, is a real time capsule. Everything is just as it was when they lived here – from the simple sitting room with its small black and white TV set, to the couple’s bedroom. The garden reflects the Arts & Crafts style of the house.

Don’t miss: The pond lawn.

Details: Open daily 1pm-5pm (house), 10am-5pm (garden), until end of Oct nationaltrust.org.uk/nuffield-place, 01491 641224

Down House

Near Downe, Kent

This Georgian house has changed little since Charles Darwin lived there. His bedroom has been recreated and you can see his study – complete with desk where he wrote On the Origin of Species. The garden was central to Darwin’s studies and the experimental beds and kitchen gardens are still there.

Don’t miss: The restored greenhouses stocked with many of the plants Darwin studied.

Details: Open 10am-6pm daily until 30 Sept, then times vary. english-heritage.org.uk, 01689 859119

Powderham Castle, near Exeter, Devon
Powderham Castle, near Exeter, Devon.

South West England

Powderham Castle

Near Exeter, Devon

This 14th-century fortified manor house, home to the Earl and Countess of Devon, is a lavish mix of medieval and 18th-century decoration. The marble hall, with its overhanging minstrels’ gallery is a must-see, along with the music room and Victorian kitchens. Extensive grounds include a restored Gothic summerhouse.

Don’t miss: The ornate chimney-piece in the dining hall.

Details: Open 11am-5.30pm (4.30pm Oct) Sun-Fri until 27 Oct. House open by guided tour only. powderham.co.uk, 01626 890243

Pencarrow House

Near Bodmin, Cornwall

A grand Georgian manor, though there has been a settlement here for centuries. Ornate wood panelling, fine drapes, portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Meissen figurines. Restored mid-18th century gardens, including a sunken Italian garden with quatrefoil fountain.

Don’t miss: The Iron Age hill fort situated in the grounds.

Details: Open House 11.15am-3pm Sun-Thurs until 28 Sept; garden 10am-5.30pm until 31 Oct. pencarrow.co.uk, 01208 841369

Discover the Cornish coast from a spectacular location Find out more here.

Blakesley Hall,  Yardley, Birmingham
Blakesley Hall, Yardley, Birmingham

Midlands

Blakesley Hall

Yardley, Birmingham

Built in 1590, this timber-framed house is one of the oldest in the city. Many original features can still be seen, such as the herringbone floor, and you can walk around the parlours, kitchen and bedchambers. The pretty grounds include a herb garden and orchard.

Don’t miss: The 16th-century Moorish decoration of the painted bedchamber.

Details: Open 11am-4pm, Tues-Sun until 29 Oct. birmingham museums.org.uk/blakesley, 0121 348 8120

Hellens Manor

Much Marcle, Herefordshire

One of the oldest houses in Britain; its first owner Earl Harold Godwinson died at the Battle of Hastings. It’s now home to many important historic artefacts including items linked to Anne Boleyn, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. Watch out for the ghosts: people report seeing a restless monk. Check out the knot and physic gardens.

Don’t miss: The still-working old cider mill, used every autumn to produce perries and ciders.

Details: Open Wed and Sun by guided tour only at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm, until early Oct. hellensmanor.com, 01531 660504

Shibden Hall, Halifax, Yorkshire
Shibden Hall, Halifax, Yorkshire

Northern England

Shibden Hall

Halifax, Yorkshire

A striking half-timbered hall, originally dating from 1420, the furnishings reflect the different tastes of the residents who have made Shibden their home over the centuries. Enjoy the beautifully restored grounds with pools, cascades, fruit gardens and Victorian-style bedding designs.

Don’t miss: A selection of horse-drawn vehicles.

Details: Open 10am-5pm Mon-Thurs, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm, until end Oct, then times vary. museums.calderdale.gov.uk, 01422 352246

Blackwell

Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria

An atmospheric Arts & Crafts home with spectacular views over Windermere, Blackwell is a celebration of beauty and craftsmanship. Many of its original design features remain, including leaf-shaped door handles. Furnished by Morris & Co, and with ceramics from Ruskin Pottery. Relax in the terraced gardens.

Don’t miss: The Arts & Crafts furniture.

Details: Open 10.30-5pm daily. blackwell.org.uk, 015394 46139

Washington Old Hall

Washington, Tyne and Wear

This grand manor house incorporates part of the medieval home of US president George Washington’s ancestors, the Hartburn family. Take in the great hall, kitchen and panelled room with beautifully carved wooden furniture and see how the gentry lived 400 years ago. Outside there’s a 17th-century parterre, plus knot garden and nuttery.

Don’t miss: The collection of blue and white Delftware from the Netherlands.

Details: Open 10am-5pm daily until 24 Dec. nationaltrust.org.uk/washington-old-hall, 0191 416 6879

Hoghton Tower

Near Preston, Lancashire

Part fortress, part manor house, and the only true baronial hall in Lancashire, hilltop Hoghton enjoys spectacular views. The current house dates from the mid-1500s but was rebuilt during the 19th century. It has hosted an array of celebrated guests from Shakespeare to Dickens, while in 1617 James I famously knighted a loin of beef – ‘Arise, Sir Loin’.

Don’t miss: The collection of 27 dolls’ houses.

Details: Open Sun-Thurs, 10am-5pm May-Sept, 11am-4pm Oct. hoghtontower.co.uk, 01254 852986

Belsay Hall

Near Morpeth, Northumberland

A 19th-century neo-Grecian home, built using rock from its own quarry, teamed with a medieval castle. The pillar hall has Ionic columns and a light airy atrium and is deliberately left empty. Belsay is surrounded by lawns and restored heritage gardens, including a winter garden and magnolia terrace.

Don’t miss: The exotic plants, ravines and pinnacles of the quarry garden.

Details: Open 10am-6pm, daily Apr – Sept and then at other times. English-heritage.org.uk and search for Belsay, 01661 881636

Find out about some of the best walks in the Lake District

Doune Castle, Doune, Perthshire
Doune Castle, Doune, Perthshire

Scotland

Doune Castle

Doune, Perthshire

Most impressive in this medieval castle is the great hall, with its minstrels’ gallery and central hearth. The tower housed a kitchen, servery and high-status chambers. Doune has been the backdrop for films and TV series such as Game of Thrones and Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Terry Jones provides the audio narration! 

Don’t miss: The views from the battlements.

Details: Open 9.30am-5.30pm, April-Sept, 10am-4pm, Oct-March. historicenvironment.scot, 01786 841742

Skaill House

Sandwick, Orkney

This fine 17th-century mansion overlooks the Bay of Skaill and 12 generations of one family have lived here. There are collections of Stone Age and Iron Age finds, plus Captain Cook’s dinner service. Skaill House is said to be haunted and during renovations 15 skeletons were discovered near the south wing.

Don’t miss: The Neolithic village of Skara Brae within the grounds.

Details: Open 9.30am-5.30pm April-Sept, 10am-4pm Oct.skaillhouse.co.uk, 01856 841501

Find out about some of the best gardens in Scotland to visit

Chirk Castle  Wrexham, North Wales
Chirk Castle Wrexham, North Wales

Wales

Plas Mawr

Conwy, North Wales

At the town’s medieval heart stands an exquisite Elizabethan house. Its eye-catching ornamental plasterwork ceilings and friezes – which incorporate heraldic symbols – reflect the enormous wealth of Robert Wynn, the merchant who commissioned it.

Don’t miss: The decorated fireplace in the Great Chamber.

Details: Open daily 9.30-5pm (4pm Oct) until 31 Oct. cadw.gov.wales, 01492 580167

Chirk Castle

Wrexham, North Wales

Constructed by Roger Mortimer between 1295 and 1310 as part of a chain of fortresses. In the Adam Tower, you can see the two-level dungeons, garderobes and murder holes. The castle is set within a 5.5 acre landscaped garden featuring yew topiary and herbaceous borders. Beyond that are 480 acres of parkland and working landscape.

Don’t miss: Demonstrations of the castle’s weapons.

Details: Open 10am-5pm daily in summer, then times vary. nationaltrust.org.uk/chirk-castle, 01691 777701

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