On 18th September, I visited the Wimpole Estate near Cambridge. I had a picnic on the lawn outside the manor house and walked to the Gothic Folly.
I worked at Wimpole for a year from January 2010. My BA is in Heritage, Archaeology and History so it was a dream to be able to work for the National Trust! I was a Visitor Experience Assistant, welcoming visitors, selling National Trust memberships and tickets, and answering questions about the estate.
It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Everyday was different and a lot of fun (even on the days it got so cold I couldn’t feel my toes). The staff and volunteers created a fantastic community, who were kind and welcoming. I still keep in touch with some of the people I worked with.
My one regret from my time there was that I never managed to walk up to the Gothic Folly in the grounds. I had always meant to, but after being on my feet all day at work, I just wanted to go home. So, I decided to take a day off and go. (Yes, only almost ten years later!)
Thomas Chicheley built the current house in 1640. It was much smaller (just the central section) and was in a Tudor style. Over the years, various families have owned the house, extending it and redesigning it to suit current trends.
Wimpole has a vast 3,000 acre estate, encompassing a formal avenue at the front which is 2.5 miles long, a walled kitchen garden, a parterre and stable block. It also includes Home Farm, a working farm that specialises in rare breeds. Capability Brown landscaped the grounds in the 1760s to include woodland, rolling hills and lakes.
The folly was originally designed by Sanderson Miller in 1749 and was built by Capability Brown in 1769. It is Grade II* listed and has a large four-storey gothic tower, as well as a range of smaller buildings.
When I worked at Wimpole, it was fenced off, surrounded by brambles and nettles, and you couldn’t get close to it — as you can see in this photo from the Wimpole Estate’s Wikipedia page. Fortunately, it was fully restored in 2016. The work included stabilising of the structure and restoration of the crenellations along the top. You can learn more about the conservation project and see photographs on the Cliveden Conservation Workshop Ltd website.
About my visit
Eating a picnic on the lawn in front of the house, looking down towards the avenue, I was reminded of a story about Elsie Bambridge (the last private owner of the estate). One lunchtime she looked out of her window to see a young couple had parked up onto the lawn and were having a picnic. Elsie went out to send them off, asking “how would you like it if someone had a picnic on your lawn?” She took down their registration plate and got their address. A few days later, she ate a picnic on their lawn in revenge!
It was about an hour each way (at a fairly relaxed pace). The folly walk takes you through the park and towards the double lake, over a cute Japanese bridge. I didn’t even know there were lakes in the grounds! (With lots of big fish.) There are footbridges over the ha-has, so you are slightly restricted on your route. But the grounds are so peaceful and there are amazing views over the park and surrounding farmland.
The folly is much bigger than I expected. Unfortunately you can’t go inside the tower, but it’s on top of a hill that offers great views from all angles. I love that it has stonework on the outside and brickwork on the inside, too — again, not what I expected!
Planning your visit
I had forgotten to bring my National Trust membership with me (because I am well organised) but staff were able to look up my details. Each time a member visits a property, it receives a small amount from HQ. I’m not sure if this is still the case, but I recommend showing your membership card at the ticket office each time you visit, even for a walk in the grounds.
The park is open from dawn until dusk and the car park from 7.30am to 6.30pm. This is important! I saw that the park was open until dusk and assumed the car park would be too. But I left at 7.30pm to find a padlocked gate across the driveway! By chance a member of staff was nearby and let me out, saving me from a night sleeping in my car. Don’t repeat my mistake — make sure you are out by 6.30pm!
Entry is free to the hall, gardens and farm for National Trust members. A parking charge applies to non-members if just visiting the park. Visit the National Trust website for up-to-date details of pricing and opening times.