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You might not have heard of it before, but the National Trust in the United Kingdom is credited with preserving many notable landmarks, preserves, and historic buildings across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Established in 1895, the National Trust was created by social reformer Octavia Hill, civil servant Sir Robert Hunter, and priest and poet Hardwicke Rawnsley, who together believed that preserving such monumental places across the country would be beneficial for all citizens. Today, the National Trust is one of the largest conservation charities in Europe.
The National Trust’s collection includes 957 square miles of land, 780 miles of coastline, and 250 parks in addition to numerous villages, lighthouses, and pubs. The trust also manages the former homes of culturally significant figures such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Roughly 28 million visitors to National Trust sites were recorded during 2019 to 2020. Here are 10 of the most popular sites.
Polesdon Lacey, England
Situated within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in southeast England is the one-time weekend retreat of socialite Dame Margaret Greville. During her 38-year tenure at this magnificent, Regency-style house, Greville entertained celebrities, dignitaries, and members of the royal family. The most famous of her guests were the Duke and Duchess of York (who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother), who spent their honeymoon here in 1923. Today, the opulent, Edwardian interiors are replete with artistic masterpieces, including paintings by Pieter de Hooch and Sir Henry Raeburn alongside Cartier and Fabergé treasures.
Beautiful, formal gardens surround the house and dazzle with snowdrops and daffodils in winter, herbaceous borders in spring, and roses in summertime. Four marked trails meander around the grounds and vary in length. The Polesdon Lacey big walk crosses a Roman-era estate and offers views of the Surrey Hills. For the complete English country house experience, visitors can stay overnight at a garden cottage and a family-friendly campsite.
Kingston Lacy, England
At the southernmost tip of the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the Venetian-style house called Kingston Lacy. Built in the 1660s, the house was owned by the Bankes family, who were British nobility. Several generations of the family left their mark on the house, but it was William John Bankes who had the vision to turn it into the showpiece it is today. A keen traveler and collector, he amassed one of the National Trust’s finest art collections. As a result, the estate boasts the United Kingdom’s most complete collection of Egyptian artifacts, as well as paintings by Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, and Titian.
The property is also surrounded by acres of pristine countryside featuring walking trails. The seven-acre Japanese Garden is easily the main attraction, however, with its cherry blossoms come spring and Japanese maple trees that change a bright red come fall.
Belton House, England
Of all the historic homes managed by the National Trust, Belton House is arguably the most quintessential. It once served as a filming location for the BBC television adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. English member of parliament Sir John Brownlow commissioned the Restoration-style masterpiece in the 1680s, and generations of his descendants lived here and added to the art collection for almost three centuries. Like many manor houses, parts of the estate were used as military barracks, hospitals, and training grounds during the world wars.
Humble from the outside, the interior of Belton House holds a grand exhibition of art and valuable artifacts amassed over four centuries. On display are examples of oriental ceramics, portraiture, and royal silverware. Works by John Vanderbank, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and William Wissing hang from the walls. Fallow deer have roamed the estate for over 300 years and can be spotted around the 1,300 acres of parkland. The house’s aristocratic countryside ambience is enhanced by a network of ornamental gardens.Geography3ptsTest Your Knowledge!Which of these seas has mostly disappeared since the 1960s?PLAY!
Calke Abbey, England
Situated in the peaceful Derbyshire countryside, Calke Abbey is a historic home like many other National Trust properties, but strolling the grounds of this estate offers a different perspective. Rather than being restored to its former glory, the house stands in decline with decaying paintwork and rooms left as they were by the last residing family. Calke Abbey isn’t a religious property as its name suggests, but rather a baroque-style mansion built in the early 1700s. It does, however, occupy the grounds of a 12th-century priory and was owned by the Harpur family for nearly 300 years.
The house’s maze-like architecture presents captivating insight into the eccentricity of the Harpur family and their passion for collecting rarities. Exhibits range from the family’s ancestral library to portraits, taxidermy displays, and toy soldiers. Some 600 acres of pristine parkland and ancient woodland surround the Calke estate and are home to red and fallow deer, rare butterflies, and woodland birds.
Waddesdon Manor, England
In 1874, banker and art collector Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild purchased an estate with a plan to build a countryside retreat called Waddesdon Manor. After over a decade of construction, the ornate, neo-Renaissance mansion was ready to entertain esteemed guests from around the world. The house passed to Rothschild’s sister in 1898 and later to the sister’s great-nephew, James A. de Rothschild. During World War II, James and his wife converted the property into a home for children evacuated from London. With no descendants and dwindling health, Rothschild bequeathed the manor to the National Trust.
Throughout the 19th century the Rothschilds garnered a reputation for being some of the finest collectors of art and antiquities. Rooms at Waddesdon Manor are beautified with French furniture, porcelain, and textiles from the 1700s. There are also paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and many sculptures by prominent French artists. Within the manor’s grounds are an aviary, parterre garden, woodland playground, and walking trails. In addition, the manor boasts a wine cellar that stores over 15,000 bottles of historical Rothschild wines.
Carrick-a-Rede and Larrybane, Northern Ireland
Connecting the mainland of Northern Ireland to Carrick-a-Rede Island is one of the world’s most impressive pedestrian bridges. Its story is linked to the area’s 400-year-old salmon fishing industry. In 1755, fishermen erected a rickety, single-handrail bridge to the island. This eased the reliance on boats to access the island and helped the fishing community of nearby Ballintoy to flourish. Visitors can cross the bridge before hiking across the island, which is a great place for birdwatching.
From the entrance to the bridge, a trail travels west over the dramatic clifftops of the North Antrim coastline. It then drops down into Larrybane Quarry, which was a filming location for Renly Baratheon’s Camp in Game of Thrones. The adventurous often combine a visit to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge with a clifftop and coastal walk to Giant’s Causeway.
Cliveden, a Victorian mansion overlooking the River Thames, has a history of hosting high-society parties. Built by the second Duke of Buckingham for his mistress in 1666, the mansion has entertained many elite guests such as American millionaire William Waldorf Astor in the late 1800s, Charlie Chaplin, Gandhi, and Winston Churchill.
Today, the house functions as an upscale hotel, although non-guests can take guided tours of the ground floor. Visitors are welcome to stroll the nine themed gardens, where royalty and luminaries have walked. There’s a lakeside picnic area, maze, woodland, and boating dock on the River Thames to enjoy. During World War I, a hospital was also built to treat Allied troops. The War Memorial Garden is home to 42 wartime graves and a statue by Australian sculptor Bertram Mackennal.
Attingham Park, England
Attingham Park looks like it’s straight from a period television drama. Dominating the estate is a Palladian-style mansion that tells a story of affluence, exuberance, loss, and survival. For 160 years, it was called home by the Berwick family and the rooms showcase their ever-changing fortunes. From the constant spending of Thomas, the second Lord Berwick, to the humble lifestyle of the eighth Lord and Lady Berwick, the contrasts are fascinating.
The surrounding parkland and woodland wraps around a pond, while seasonal flowers, fruits, and vegetables flourish in the Walled Garden (much of the produce is utilized at the estate’s café). Other stately structures further accent the landscape and include John Nash’s Italianate villa, Cronkhill. The buildings also have strong historical significance because they’re home to various Roman, Anglo Saxon, and Viking period artifacts.
Clumber Park, England
Located in England’s East Midlands region, Clumber Park has been home to the Dukes of Newcastle for three centuries. The dukes resided in a grand, lake-facing mansion, which at one time was deemed the finest non-royal house in the country. Although it was demolished in 1938, remnants of the aristocratic past remain at this 3,800 acre parkland. The Victorian Gothic-style Chapel of St. Mary features a soaring 180-foot-tall spire. Recognized architect G.F. Bodley designed the chapel in 1899 for the seventh Duke of Newcastle.
Roughly 120 different species of trees stand scattered around the park, lakeshore, and woodland. Particularly impressive is a two-mile avenue framed by over a thousand lime trees. This is the longest of its kind in Europe and creates a dramatic approach to the property. The Pleasure Ground replicates the landscaped gardens that the Dukes, their families, and guests once enjoyed. For sweat-inducing adventures, cycling trails skirt the manmade Clumber Lake and traverse across the picturesque countryside.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Consisting of roughly 40,000 interlocking and hexagon-shaped basalt rock columns, Giant’s Causeway is one of the world’s most fascinating natural phenomena. This dramatic stretch of shoreline on Northern Ireland’s County Antrim coastline appeared some 50 to 60 million years ago following volcanic activity. Ask a local and they might tell you a different story about how it originated. Irish legend associates this UNESCO World Heritage Site with the mythological giant Finn McCool. McCool is said to have thrown chunks of rock into the Irish Sea in order to cross the water and face the Scottish giant Benandonner.
Clambering over the ancient tessellated columns is like retracing the footsteps of Finn McCool himself. Notable sites such as the nearly seven-foot Giant’s Boot and the Wishing Chair, are supposed signs of the giant’s movements. Self-guided walking trails and guided tours lead to spectacular viewpoints and scenic picnic spots. Visitors can decide for themselves if this is a story of science or Celtic folklore via multimedia exhibitions at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre.
Written by Bradley O’Neil