I’ve always thought that National Trust memberships were for older people. Now at 31, I don’t consider myself ‘old’ just yet but as James and I entered the gates of Ham House at the weekend, we seriously considered signing up on the spot. With an entry fee of £10.80 each versus a monthly direct debit of £9.00 between us that covers access to 100s of places, the numbers certainly add up. Yet, what appeals to me about National Trust places now is the chance to peek at someone’s home, take away a snippet of history and relax in their luxurious grounds. Does this mean I’m old or was I wrong all along?
Ham House has been on my radar since a trip to Petersham Nurseries over the winter. After a few busy weeks at work, all I crave right now is peace and quiet, somewhere I can let my mind unravel a little bit. Ham House seemed like the perfect option.
It’s a couple of miles away from Richmond station, but the walk along the River Thames is lovely, especially on a sunny day (when there is no shortage of ice cream vans).
We ambled along taking in the gentle rythm of the river, talking about our house purchase and where life would take us next. (These days you’ll often catch me saying ‘when we move in…’. But the journey of house buying is a whole other post in itself.)
About half an hour later we arrived at the gates, Ham House basking in the sunshine.
We decided to pay the one-off entry fee, promising to get a full membership when our move date has been settled and we have access to a car, meaning we can make full use of the properties available. For then, we were happy with exploring the house and gardens and making the most of our entry fee.
Since the sun was shining but the clouds threatened rain, we started with the garden. I wasn’t sure what to expect and as the grounds are protected by tall walls I had no clue until we wandered through the arched entrance to the Kitchen Garden in front of the Orangery. You can imagine the wisteria hysteria I experienced upon discovering a whole wall full of wisteria vines.
It smelt wonderful.
And I loved how it framed every window and doorway.
Can you imagine if this was your home? Let alone just part of the grounds!
We were tempted to take a seat and order something to eat from the Orangery, but having only just got there I was keen to keep exploring.
As spring has just sprung in the UK, a lot of the garden is tucked underground awaiting rain and the warm weather of the seasons ahead.
But what is blooming at the moment is lovely on its own.
I could have happily spent an afternoon on this bench with a good book.
It’s funny how I crave peace and quiet so much more than I used to. It seems the busier life gets, the more precious relaxation and silence becomes.
As we explored the other parts of the gardens, I discovered that Ham House has plently of peaceful pockets to escape to.
You can choose to take a seat or gently amble along the grass, admiring the beautiful symmetry before you.
Back in the day, Ham House was known for its opulence and the perfect presentation of the latest fashion. Even today, it must be quite a task for the gardeners to maintain such perfection.
As I stood there shaded by the leaves above me, I couldn’t quite believe how much there was to explore and how few people were around.
It allows you to let your imagination loose, picturing what life might have been like back in the 17th century (when the building was created), soaking up the sunshine in several layers of petticoats.
But before I got too comfortable, there was one more secret spot to discover.
The Cherry Garden was once a private garden and really symbolises how much attention to detail went into Ham House and its garden.
I literally gasped a little at its lovely perfection. The kind that I’m afraid normal folk like you and I are unlikely to achieve.
All the better to appreciate the effort that goes in to all this as it must be incredible.
By this point, James and I managed to while away a couple of hours and with the house closing to visitors at 4pm, we decided to turn our exploring indoors.
You may be wondering by now who lived in such opulence. Well, Ham House was built in 1610. The lease was given as a gift from King Charles I to his friend William Murray and what you’ll find there today is a mixture of both his taste and that of his daughter Elizabeth. The house became her own under Charles II’s rule and as the Duchess of Lauderdale it was transformed into one of the grandest houses in England.
We started with the more modest part of the house, the cook’s kitchen and servant quarters.
Moving on to the more lavish parts of the main house.
With the Duke and Duchess being well-travelled, there are both exotic and English influences throughout.
Some of the most interesting parts of the house were the tiny closets where residents could lock themselves away and get away from it all.
If only that’s what closets allowed us to do today! (Are you now picturing yourself squeezing into your own ‘closet’ for some peace and quiet?)
One more peek at that perfect garden…
And we returned to the Orangery for a light lunch of warm sausage rolls and soft drinks, with a side of wisteria.
For the next few months Ham House itself is open for visitors to explore at their own will between 12pm and 4pm. The gardens are open between 10am and 5pm. As the open times can vary depending on the day of the week and the time of year, it’s worth checking out the website before you visit.
A bit of a mamouth post there! I’ll leave now and just ask what your views are on National Trust memberships and properties? Have you been to any that you’ve loved at first sight?