Ten country houses for spring
A serpentine lake, an Augustinian priory, Isaac Newton's boyhood home and an old hunting lodge for Scottish kings and queens – ten country houses to see this spring.
A treasure-packed, gossip-filled house standing in a magnificent 300-acre deer park, Dunham Massey was a finalist for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the year in 2015. Behold the impressive collection of silver that belonged to the Earls upstairs before heading to the basement quarters to see how the service staff lived. Among the salacious scandals you can expect to discover is the tale of the 7th Earl of Stamford, who married Catherine Cocks, a former bare-back circus rider.
With over 1,800 acres of parkland designed by Capability Brown, the house and its grounds were created as a homage to Italy – and you can tell. There's also a fantastic painting collection including works by Velázquez, Titian and Poussin.
Inspired by Renaissance art and a Grand Tour visit to Italy, the Honourable Charles Hamilton created his 'garden of moods' between 1738 and 1773. Regarded as England's most elegant 18th-century landscape, its 158 acres feature a serpentine lake, crystal grotto (open at selected times), ruined abbey, Gothic temple and Turkish tent. The ornamental pleasure grounds, vineyard, heritage trees and shrubs offer seasonal interest.
A fine example of an early Tudor manor house, Athelhampton's Great Hall was built in 1485. Its other period rooms include a library in the East Wing, the Kings Room and a wine cellar, while the second floor has been converted into a gallery. Here you can see works by the Russian émigrée artist Marevna, who lived at Athelhampton between 1948 and 1957. Make sure you take a walk through the 160-acre garden with its pyramid-shaped yew trees.
Isaac Newton was born in this manor house in 1642 and during the plague years, when Cambridge University was closed, he used it as a place to study. It was here he made his historic breakthroughs about the nature of light and gravity and you can still see the famous apple tree, said to have inspired Newton's theory of gravitation. Don't miss James Thornhill's Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton, acquired in 1994 with Art Fund support. Unusually, it shows the great mathematician without his wig.
Weston Park was the vision of 21-year-old Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham, a new bride who took charge of the design and building of her dream marital home in 1671. The estate was later inherited by Sir Henry Bridgeman, who commissioned Capability Brown to landscape the surrounding park, and James Paine to add a Roman bridge, a temple to Diana and a granary. Over the years, Weston has played host to many distinguished guests, including King George V's daughter Mary, and the Princess Royal, who spent part of her honeymoon there. It was also the venue for the G8 Summit Retreat in 1998.
Dating back to 1107, Traquair was originally a hunting lodge for Scottish kings and queens, and is the oldest continually inhabited house in the country. It has a strong Catholic tradition; mass was once held in secret in a small chamber on the top floor, with an escape route for the priest hidden behind a concealed cupboard. See the bed where Mary Queen of Scots slept when she visited the house in 1566 and the cradle where she rocked her baby son James, before heading outdoors to lose yourself in one of the largest mazes in Scotland.
The manor was the 19th-century country house of Benjamin Disraeli, the Victorian Conservative politician, writer, aristocrat and dandy who twice served as Prime Minister. It is decorated as it might have been during the mid-late 1800s when Disraeli and his wife, Mary Anne, were living there, and you can see the Gothic architecture and angular brickwork that featured in their dramatic remodel of 1862, or visit the dining room where the couple entertained guests, including Queen Victoria. Outside, take a stroll through the German forest and formal gardens that were recreated based on Mary Anne's original designs.
Originally a 13th-century Augustinian priory, the house still retains many Gothic features. It was bought by Gilbert and Maud Russell in 1934 and developed into a sprawling country house where Maud entertained prominent figures such as Ben Nicholson and Ian Fleming. She also commissioned some of her artist friends to embellish Mottisfont. Rex Whistler created the illusion of Gothic architecture in her salon while Boris Anrep designed mosaics. See if you can spot the angel featuring Maud's face – a reminder of her and Anrep's long love affair.
A big house on a small island, this grand 19th-century mansion rises between the hills of the diminutive Isle of Bute. Mount Stuart was the first house in Scotland to boast electric lighting, central heating and telephones, as well as a passenger lift and a heated indoor pool – most of which still remain in operation.