Yesterday was "stick a pin on the map" day here. Our National Trust cards have been idle since March, and with NT membership dues going up every year, I hate not getting my money's worth. So it was time to pick a place we haven't been to, within a reasonable distance—which turned out to be the tricky part. As soon as we got on the M25 we saw signs warning that the A1(M) was closed. A diversion around Luton turned a one hour drive into a nearly two hour drive.
But we still arrived well before we were famished. We produced our crisp new cards at the ticket entrance and proceeded to the Hall, an imposing pile first built in 1643. It's been improved and modified by successive owners since then. The last owner, Lady Bambridge, did away with much of the Victorian "ugliness" and left her imprint on the place before bequeathing it to the National Trust in 1976.
A display on the third floor describes the architectural modifications by some of the well-known architects who left their mark on Wimpole, including James Gibbs and Sir John Soane.
When the Bambridges acquired the home in the 1930s, there wasn't much in the way of furnishings, though they did pay extra for the contents of the library, one of the best stocked libraries in the National Trust. And though Elsie Bambridge didn't like the Victorian tile floors, they've now been uncovered, all the better for having been covered by carpets. (Elsie Bambridge was the daughter of Rudyard Kipling.)
The front hall overlooks the house chapel, painted in 1724 by James Thornhill (who also found time to paint the dome of St Paul's Cathedral).
The drawing room
The darkened dining room was set for dinner, lit solely by electric candlelight. It was easy to see, so to speak, how difficult it would have been to see one's meal before the advent of proper lighting.
The view from the back of the house is stunning. Past the precise parterre gardens is pasture land, grazed by sheep who ignore the purpose-built "gothic ruin"—the folly built in 1768 in order to amuse the occupants of the house.
The view from inside the house
The Victorian parterre garden was restored in 1996 in a Union Jack design, after the outlines of the original garden beds were seen in the snow one year.
Some of my favorite rooms were below stairs, the housekeeper's cupboard and the butler's pantry. I imagine the servants in the house were kept on their toes by the servants' bells.
One of the most unusual sights at Wimpole, however, is the large Bathhouse, an indoor "hot tub" designed by Sir John Soane. Holding 3000 gallons of water, It reminded me of a church baptismal.
We finished the afternoon with a walk to the working farm, which was overrun by children and their prams, and cost an extra £4. (We did get some good photos of the furry cows near the entrance of the estate, who were excited to be featured on the next Friday Cow Blogging.)
To learn more about Wimpole Estate, including opening times, see the National Trust website for more. It's located near Cambridge in Cambridgeshire, about 15 miles off the A1(M). (Remember to check for traffic and road closures before you head out!)
More photos below: