Who doesn’t love a weekend away? Here are my great ideas for a weekend in Buckinghamshire.
I have visited Buckinghamshire many times but my last visit was as a guest of Visit Buckinghamshire
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Perfect Weekend in Buckinghamshire
For me the best weekends away involve no more than two hours travelling from Cultural Wednesday Towers. Buckinghamshire fits the bill perfectly. About an hour from London. Beautiful scenery with the Chiltern Hills and the Vale of Aylesbury and packed full of cultural gems. Buckinghamshire is quite long thin county with a nipped in waist, dividing neatly into North and South.
South Buckinghamshire for Prime Ministers and the Big Friendly Giant
Disraeli, Roald Dahl and the current Prime Minister all lived in Buckinghamshire, you can see why. Easily accessible to London and extremely pretty.
Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
I cannot count the hours I have spent reading Roald Dahl stories, both on my own account and with the Cultural Young Men. Helicopters have been known as “bellypoppers” from the moment we first read The BFG to them. Visiting The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden is a joy. There are doors that look and smell like chocolate. Roald Dahl’s shed where he created all his stories has been transported to the museum and is on show. Children are encouraged to create, stories, pictures it doesn’t matter. There are dressing up clothes and they come in grown up sizes too. Best of all there is a story telling room. I was transfixed as I listened to how Sophie managed to avoid being eaten by a giant.
Walking around Great Missenden is magical too, not just because it is a pretty place (and it is very pretty) but also because the buildings you walk past inspired Roald Dahl. That black and white timbered house? The orphanage Sophie lived in. The non-descript 1970s library? Matilda honed her love of books here. You can collect a map from the museum or take one of the excellent guided tours. Take a look at the museum website for details of activities of which there are many.
- Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, 81-83 High Street, Great Missenden, HP16 0AL
- Open: Thursday – Sunday 10am – 4.30pm
- Admission: over 5 £7.95 ticket valid for a year
Walk from Great Missenden to the Nags Head pub
Don’t confine your meanders to the village. Head up the hill St Peter & St Paul’s Church where Roald Dahl is buried. Follow the giant footsteps to find him. Afterwards take the stile to your left just after you cross over the A413. You will find yourself in a meadow. Great Missenden Abbey is visible on the opposite bank of the river Misbourne. Follow the path until you get to the High Street, turn left and the Nags Head will be on your right. Roald Dahl loved to walk here for a pint and maybe something to eat. The Nag’s Head looks like a country pub straight out of central casting. We ate in a teepee over looking the gardens, perfect for a day that threatened rain but never actually delivered it.
I always rather liked Disraeli in my history lessons. Gladstone stomped about cutting down trees and saving fallen women whilst Disraeli wrote novels and was altogether flashier. Hughenden Manor was Disraeli’s country house. There has been a house here since at least the time of the Domesday Book. Once Disraeli bought it he set about giving it the Gothic makeover that we see today. Outside in the gardens, in summer the brightly coloured bedding plants loved by Mr and Mrs Disraeli still bloom.
Hughenden is a place of two big stories. During World War II the house was requisitioned by the Air Ministry. It became a secret map making centre code named “Hillside”. It remained secret for another 60 years until a chance conversation between a visitor and a National Trust room guide. Now the story of maps and Hughenden is told in special displays.
- Hughenden Manor,
- Open: Daily House 11am – 5pm, Garden 10am – 5pm
- Admission: Adult £14
- National Trust members free
Combe Hill and Chequers
Disraeli is not the only Prime Minister to have a country house in Buckinghamshire. Chequers is the official country residence of British Prime Minsters and nestles in the Vale of Aylesbury. You can’t visit Chequers but you can get a jolly good look. One of my favourite walks is a fairly challenging 7 miles from the National Trust Combe Hill car park. You climb steeply up the chalk escarpment and then along the ridge with spectacular views of the Chilterns, Chequers and the Vale of Alyesbury. Take a look at the direction on the National Trust website, they advise taking an OS map which is wise.
North Buckinghamshire for Landscape Gardens and War Time Secrets
Beyond Aylesbury you leave the green folds of the Chilterns behind you and head into a more gently rolling landscape. Perfect for creating a landscape garden or concealing secrets.
Stowe – House and Landscape Gardens
Stowe Landscape Gardens are quite simply one of the best Georgian landscape gardens anywhere. The grounds are strewn with temples and statues. Biggest and most magnificent temple of all is Stowe House, every grand vista leads it. Both house and garden were at the centre of the Georgian political and artistic worlds. Stowe fell into decline in the twentieth century and were saved by becoming the home of Stowe School. Now the gardens are owned by the National Trust and the House by a Trust. You can visit both but the house is still occupied by the school and so visiting times are more restricted.
I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was when I realised that you visit Stowe House. I had assumed that I would need to send my children there to get a glimpse inside, WRONG. Anyone can visit, guided tours during term time and just like any other stately home during the holidays.
Let’s start with the architects who have helped to create Stowe House: Sir John Vanbrugh, William Kent, James Gibbs, Robert Adam, Thomas Pitt and Sir John Soane. Quite an impressive line up. Since the turn of this century the house has been undergoing restoration with the magnificent State rooms being returned to their former glory. What is incredible is that these rooms are used by the school. The State Dining room is still used as a dining room, the music room for concerts and so on. I like this about Stowe, it still lives as a building and is not just a static showpiece.
You start your visit by walking through the Egyptian room, created by Sir John Soane and thought to be the first Egyptian themed room in Britain. Then you step into the awe inspiring north hall with a ceiling by William Kent. Jaw dropping. But only the start.
If I went to Stowe School I don’t think I would ever leave the library. It is the library of dreams. With views over the parkland and even a secret book lined door. From the library you enter the state music room, festooned with wall paintings inspired by those seen in Pompeii by the Marquess of Buckingham on his grand tour. Next you are into the Marble Saloon. Now your jaw will have dropped even further. Modelled on the Pantheon in Rome it is actually made of fake marble but oh my goodness.
My head was full of the fantasticness of the Marble Saloon. I was boggling at the impressive enfilade that runs the length of Stowe House. Then I walked into the State Dining Room. Quite simply one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever been in. It helps that it is newly restored, gold glistening everywhere. On the walls are recreations for the tapestries that used to hang here until the 1920s. The originals were tracked down and scanned, colours taken from the unfaded back and wipeable wallpaper printed. Hey presto the appearance of tapestries but in the glowing original colours.
- Stowe House, Stowe MK18 5EH
- Open: Check website for details, essentially school holidays 11am – 4.30pm but always book
- Admission: Adult £9.50, National Trust member £7.50
Stowe Landscape Gardens
The gardens at Stowe tell a story. Well stories. Everywhere there are temples. From each temple you get a glimpse of the next luring you on. It is a landscape that calls to be visited often in in different seasons. Capability Brown created the lake. Sir John Vanbrugh created the initial outline. Sir John Soane created the Elysian Fields, a series of lakes running down the valley strewn with temples and statues that subtly underline Lord Cobham’s opposition to Walpole and support of Frederick, Prince of Wales.
- Stowe Landscape Gardens, Stowe, MK18 5EQ
- Open: Daily 10am – 5pm
- Admission: Adult £13
- National Trust members free
Bletchley Park was secret for much of the 20th century. Well not its existence, it is hard to hide a country house, but what went on here during World War II. Then it was the home of Government Code and Cypher School. 9,000 people worked here, the vast majority women, cracking enemy codes. The most well known was Alan Turing and his cracking of the German Enigma code.
Nowadays you can go into the huts where the codes were broken and hear about the stories of the people who worked here and the work they did. It is reckoned that the work done here shaved two years off the war, saving countless lives. Much of the work is mind boggling. Bletchley is a fascinating day out with lots to see and comprehend.
For an excellent insight into working at Bletchley Park during World War II read Code Breaking Sisters: Our Secret War by Patrica and Jean Owtram
- Bletchley Park, Sherwood Drive, MK3 6EB
- Open: Daily 9.30am – 5pm (4pm in the winter)
- Admission: Adult £25.50 ticket lasts all year
- Local residents (within a 10 mile radius) half price, Art Fund card holders half price
Churches in Buckinghamshire
Church crawling is one of my favourite things to do. Churches are often the oldest buildings around and hold the history of the community. Buckinghamshire has some particularly fine churches.
Jordans Quaker Meeting House
Jordans Quaker Meeting House was one of the first Quaker churches to be built in England in 1688 after James II issued his Declaration of Indulgence in 1687 that allowed Quakers and other Christian non-conformists to worship lawfully for the first time. Surrounding the meeting house is a burial ground. Here you will find the graves of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania and his family. The whole site has an aura of tremendous calm.
- Jordans Quaker Meeting House, Welders Lane, HP9 2SN
- Open to visitors April – October Tuesday – Saturday 2pm – 5pm
- Sunday service
- Burial grounds are open all year during daylight
St John the Baptist, Little Missenden
From the outside St John the Baptist, Little Missenden looks like chocolate box image of an English country church. Step inside and you are treated to a display of medieval wall paintings rarely seen today. Once upon a time most churches would have been decorated like this but the Reformation put paid to that. These paintings were discovered by the then vicar in 1931 and underwent conservation in 2014. Easily the most spectacular church wall paintings I have seen.
- St John the Baptist, Little Missenden
- Open during daylight hours
- Cream teas are served in the churchyard on summer Sunday afternoons
All Saints, Wing
One of the oldest churches in the country dating back to Saxon times. Feel the history as you step through the door. Every wooden surface is intricately carved depicting saints, kings and musicians. There are several fine tombs to the Dormer family.
Rothschilds in Buckinghamshire
During the latter part of the nineteenth century several members of the Rothschild banking family decided to build country homes in the Chilterns. Many of these still stand and some can be visited. Mentmore Towers was designed by Joseph Paxton now stands empty and at risk. Halton House was taken over by the RAF during World War II and is still an Officer’s Mess, you might have seen it in its role as Bridgerton House in Bridgerton.
Waddesdon Manor was built by purely as a party pad. It was never envisioned that anyone would actually live here. You do get that feeling as you wander round the grand rooms. With whole rooms dedicated to playing snooker or smoking. Everything in each room absolutely exquisite. Outside the house the gardens are also perfect. I like the French style knot gardens to look at but love walking in the woods.
Joana Vasconelos Wedding Cake
The present Lord Rothschild commissioned Joana Vasconelos to create a three tier ceramic wedding cake in the grounds of the old dairy at Waddesdon. It is a twenty first century folly. Newly married couples can pose as the figurines on top of the cake. You can visit the cake but need to book, even National Trust members have to pay.
Christmas Lights at Waddesdon Manor
Every year the house and gardens are lit up for Christmas. It is always spectacular. Son et Lumiere lights up the facade of the house and inside the house is dressed for Christmas. You can do your Christmas shopping in a festive shopping village that pops up on the lawn.
- Waddesdon Manor, HP18 0JH
- Open: Wednesday – Sunday, Gardens 10am – 5pm, House 11am – 4.30pm
- Admission: Garden only £14.20, House and Garden £27.10
- National Trust, Art Fund and Historic House members free
- Wedding Cake tours: £15 in addition to general admission
Altogether smaller and more homely. You could imagine living in Ascott House. Well in my grander imagining, when I have paintings by Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough hanging on the walls. Outside the gardens are a delight with a topiary sundial, a haze of delphiniums and roses and a contemporary garden complete with a reflecting pool.
- Ascott House, Wing, LU7 0PT
- Open: March – September, Tuesday – Sunday
- Gardens: 11.30am – 5:.00pm
- House: 12.30pm – 3.30pm
- Admission: Garden only £10.50, House and Garden £16.50
- National Trust members free
Where to eat in Buckinghamshire
There are many excellent pubs dotting the Buckinghamshire countryside. On my last visit I ate lunch at the Nags Head just outside Great Missenden and dinner at the Duke’s Bar at the Villiers Hotel. In the past I have followed in the footsteps of Prime Ministers and eaten at the Plough at Cadsden, right next to Chequers.
Where to stay in Buckinghamshire
Villiers Hotel, Buckingham
How could I resist staying in the Villiers Hotel in Buckingham? Firstly it is an old coaching inn and I love the idea staying in a place that travellers have done for centuries. Second it is named for the Duke of Buckingham, favourite of James I and subject of one of the most magnificent portraits in the the National Portrait Gallery. It was everything I want in a coaching inn. Right in the centre of town. You enter through the arch that the coaches would have done. The rooms are modern and comfortable with wifi everywhere and the restaurant excellent.
Stowe Gothic Temple
Yes, you can actually stay in one of the temples in Stowe Landscape Garden available via the Landmark Trust. Over the years I have stayed in many Landmark Trust properties, they are the stuff of Cultural Wednesday dreams. You can read about our stay in their Spanish Steps apartment in Rome here.
Jordans Youth Hostel
One of the best weekends away that the Cultural Wednesday family had was when we hired the whole of Tanners Hatch Youth Hostel and filled it friends and their children. Jordans Youth Hostel is right next to Jordans Quaker Meeting House, has four dorm rooms, sleeps up to 22 people and is only available for private hire. Not glamorous but well priced and beautifully located (walking distance from a train station too).
A weekend in Buckinghamshire is the perfect break, less than two hours from London and packed with cultural gems. For other weekends away close to London take a look at my guide to Bury St Edmunds, finding Quiet Norfolk, the joys of Dungeness or a review of a child free Cotswolds country house hotel Heythrop Park.