Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Country house pursuits

A few weeks ago I suggested to The Cottage Smallholder that we should give ourselves a well deserved 'day off' and visit a garden or country house for lunch. We selected Audley End, a large country estate owned by English Heritage; recently the Victorian Service Wing of the house has been opened up to show the 'real life below stairs' as it would have been in 1880.

We looked around the kitchens, actors play the part of the kitchen maids and cooks making elaborate pies and pastries. The shelves are stacked high with gleaming copper pots and pans, we loved reading the handwitten recipes and menus. Next door was the scullery and the laundry, where a clever projected film of two laundry maids chatting as they worked set the scene as we looked at wash boards, dollies, irons and mangles.

Outside in the back yard the authenticity continued, wooded crates from deliveries of produce were stacked by the door, mops were propped up to dry, a huge meat safe complete with amazingly realistic pig carcasses has been reconstructed as has the game larder . . .

We then walked through landscaped gardens to the Walled Kitchen Garden, a showcase for Garden Organic's heritage vegetables. We both loved the Vinehouse built along the length of one side of the walled garden, it dates from 1804 and is one of the oldest in the country. It is divided into sections, this one contained dozens of different varieties of tomatoes . . .

And further along in the Vinehouse are vines which are over 200 years old! Meticulously trained inside the roof the bunches of grapes hang down among the sunlit leaves . . .

We had packed a picnic to share and we timed our lunch to coincide with a falconry display in the park – smoked salmon sandwiches, courgette frittata, olive and herb focaccia and strawberries and cream – yummy! We hadn't expected to be completely captivated by the falconry demonstration showing some different styles of hunting game birds, but the 'Master of Falcons' and 'His Lady' were engaging speakers and the stunning birds put on fantastic aerial displays – this was an unexpected treat.

Thank you Cottage Smallholder for joining me for a day away from the studio and garden, with so many inspiring things to see I think Audley End was a great choice for our 'Bloggers Day Out'.


  1. Sounds great. Will take a trip there myself!

  2. Looks beautiful, I've been meaning to go to look at the gardens, now I definitely will!

  3. Friends used to live in the village and we went over to the Big House one day, but it was long before this set-up.And how lovely to see birds being hawked. Thanks for another memory, Celia!

  4. Sounds wonderful and if anyone else is visiting you should try and combine your outing with a trip to Bridge End Garden in Saffron Walden. The garden has been transformed and at this time of the year the maze is often open for visitors.

  5. Ahhh, sounds lovely! If I ever get over there for a visit I would like to go there... and see Jane Austen's house.

  6. I always meant to visit some time, but it seems such a hike from West London - from your pictures though, it looks like it will be worth it.

  7. The more that I think about it the more I've got out of our day out. Thanks for suggesting it.

  8. What a lovely idea, to take time off together. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it, thanks for letting us see it too.

  9. Soilman - try to visit when they have actors playing the part of the servants - same price/added value.

    Silverpebble - it's well worth a visit.

    Moreidlethoughts - The visit was like walking back in time for us too. A lot of the Victorian kitchen equipment was still being used by our grandparents when we were children!

    Tracy - that's a good tip, Bridge End Gardens are lovely!

    Artslice - I haven't seen Jane Austen's House either. There are so many historic houses in England.

    Matron - you'd love it! I think the special Christmas re-enactment days sound tempting.

    CS - I agree, it was a real treat.

    Toffeeapple - it was a good day, we both love gardening and cooking and the countryside.


  10. Audley End is on my list of must sees. I've so enjoyed these photos and your description of some of the highlights. x


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