We’re spoilt for choice for beautiful National Trust buildings in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire compared to many other counties, and no doubt you already have your favourites – often the ones closest to home that you know like the back of your hand (mine: the flouncy, turretted Waddesdon Manor, I recommend it!).
But today I saw the sunshine, and decided to try somewhere different for a picnic and day out with my kids, and I can’t recommend it enough – Hughenden Manor, near High Wycombe, the former house of PM Disraeli, high in the Chilterns in its Victorian red-brick splendour with the Hughenden Valley beneath. Perhaps because it’s less showy than its Rothschild cousin nearby, it’s quieter here, and feels very relaxed, though it has the amenities of an elegant courtyard café, shop and, just opened, a lovely wooden playground for the kids 10 and under.
Anyway, here are some thoughts to help you make the most of your day out here, if you fancy giving it a go.
BEST PICNIC SPOTS
I’d taken my promise of a picnic seriously, though no credit to me as I’d bought it all ready prepared (sue me, life’s too short to cook in this heat) from the 2022 Muddy deli winners Kitchen Food Co. Charcuterie, cheeses, salads, hummous and crudites and even a bottle of fizz all arrived prettily prepared in perfect packaged.
Kitchen Food Co grazing platters and crudites
Full of food. What’s new.?
But where to park your picnic? Hughenden Manor is set in 680 acres of beautiful grounds – some formal, much of it woodland – and you’re welcome to lay down your blanket wherever you see fit. We did our homework and walked around the whole manor before deciding that the best spot for us was actually the east slope, with its far-reaching views over the ha-ha and across Hughenden valley and the Chiltern Hills. Stunning isn’t ? My photo below doesn’t convey it somehow (sorry!), but it’s tiered and sloping; perfect roly-poly territory for those who thrill at spilling down hills and creating havoc with grass stains.
The east slope of Hughenden, looking down the valley
This picnic area is dog friendly, and I’d say ideal for families or couples – shade if you want it, opportunities for people-watching, plenty of space, and also just around the corner from the café and the toilets, which have baby-change facilities.
Other lovely areas for lounging and picnicing include the north lawn (mowed grass and shady for hot days), and then there’s the parterre at the rear of the house, where stripy deck chairs, below, and occasional benches are dotted around the periphery, though this feels like a more adult space – individuals or couples were there, enjoying the flower and mansion.
If you have small children, perhaps the easiest option is the series of wooden picnic benches in the orchard, handily next to the new children’s playground.
The brand new woodland play area for children is deliberately simple to encourage imagination, with everything wooden – carved from giant fallen trees- with rope walkways, nooks and crannies and head-height climbing. It’s relatively small as its for Under 10s so don’t think you’re booting your tweens and teens in there for hours!
Families can take part in the Big Butterfly Count until 7 August – a great one for keeping younger children still for 15 minutes and engaged with nature, while they make a note of which butterflies and moths they see. There’s also a Buzzy Bee Nectar Race every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout summer on the middle lawn (between the Manor and the ha-ha), where your kids will be able to race between the flowers to fill up their hive tray with nectar balls. It has Britain’s Biggest Bloomers all over it. Overall I’d say Hughenden is suited to primary schoolers, unless your teen is an avid walker and nature lover (in which case; respect, and how the hell have you managed that?).
Plenty for all ages and abilities here, with four main circular trails, ranging from one to four miles in length no nothing too taxing. Because it was hot and I’m lazy, my 13 year old and I did the blue-waymarked one-mile Royalty in Nature trail, designed for younger legs or those with less time perhaps.
In shady glades, we passed royal hats pinned on tree trunks, crowns to be made from twigs and a lovely section at the end with wheat fields all around.
Longer routes take you to Disraeli’s monument (2 miles) with stunning views of the valley below; a four mile walk around the boundary of the estate, taking in woodland, open parkland, farmland and a rare chalk stream; and 1.5 mile exploration of the evergreen woods inspired by Disraeli’s German travels.
Open every day throughout summer from 11-5pm, the house is definitely worth a visit for its political and regal associations, and the furnishings and gifts that came with Disraeli’s position as Queen Victoria’s favourite PM. Younger visitors may get more out Hughenden’s Second World War secret – its role in a hidden map-making operation that put the manor house at the top of Hitler’s target list for bombing.
We stepped out of the heat and into the cool of the ground floor, set up as Disraeli would have known it, with the dining room set for supper and the library stacked with an immense book collection. The call of the picnic was too much at that point, but play it smarter than me and visit it after you’ve eaten – the house and hits history are worth chewing over.