How walking can keep our heritage alive during the COVID-19 pandemic
During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen hundreds of heritage sites, including stately homes across the country, close their doors to the public. With successive lockdowns attempting to stem the spread of the disease, these houses – which serve as such important reminders of our country’s rich history – have sadly been left standing empty.
However, with the success of the vaccine programme and the government’s roadmap out of lockdown providing a timetable for the relaxation of restrictions, many stately homes have already, or are soon due, to reopen their grounds, meaning that you can combine your daily bout of exercise with exploring the often centuries-old gardens and grounds of country estates located throughout Hertfordshire and Essex.
In our Private Wealth Guide for 2020-21, we profiled Hatfield House, a country estate owned by the seventh Marquess of Salisbury – one of Hertfordshire’s richest men. Visitors will be able to stroll around its extensive parkland and gardens from 29 March, with three different signposted walks available ranging in length from 1.5 to 3 miles. Of particular interest will be the magnificent water sculpture designed by Angela Conner, one of Britain’s most prolific sculptors.
Ashridge Estate is owned by the National Trust and is famed for the beauty of its 5,000 acres of countryside. From a short stroll in the park to the estate’s popular 17-mile boundary trail, the whole estate is currently open to local visitors for exercise. The house itself has played host to both royalty and aristocrats throughout its long history, and was a convalescent home for St Albans Hospital during the two World Wars.
While many country estates now belong to charities and other organisations who oversee their upkeep, there are still many beautiful country estates on the private market for those looking for their own slice of history. Julians Park, a Grade II listed Georgian mansion built in 1605, is set in almost 183 acres of land and is currently on the market with Strutt and Parker for £5,750,000.
Across the border in Essex, the gardens and grounds of Audley End House, owned by English Heritage, also remain open to local visitors for exercise during lockdown (although advanced booking is required). The gardens are the work of famous landscape architect ‘Capability’ Brown, and have been beautifully maintained in his style. We hope that the beautiful House, once Charles II’s royal palace and now opulently decorated in the Jacobean style, will reopen to visitors very soon.
Also of interest to ramblers will be the 574-acre Hylands Park, which is open to the public for outdoor exercise. Walkers can follow one of five mapped walks around the park, ranging from a 30-minute stroll to a four-mile walk. The Estate’s Pleasure Gardens, which date back to the 1900s, and the One World Garden, officially opened by Prince William and the Duke of York in 2007, are also open to explore.
Those looking for their own piece of Essex grandeur, however, may be interested by Saffron House, a £6,750,000 Georgian country house set in 17 acres of grounds. Currently on the market with Savills, it boasts 11 en-suite bedrooms, a lake and stables.
Surge in country house purchases
As our examples above show, those looking to purchase a country estate on the private property market have had a rich selection of luxury properties to choose from this year. In November, Savills reported 21 sales of estates worth at least £15 million since the start of the pandemic – compared with just one the previous year. Meanwhile, Knight Frank reported that sales of country houses valued between £5 million and £10 million were up 182% compared with the five-year average. With lockdown leading to a ‘race for space’ among many segments of the population, wealthy buyers have flocked to the countryside to buy “their own version of Downton Abbey.”
For those not looking to own a country estate, however (and the significant upkeep and maintenance that entails), there are plenty of local estates to visit and explore without the expense! For more extensive profiles of the very best country estates the local area has to offer, please take a look at our Private Wealth Guide for more information.