Frequently (as today) on Sunday mornings in England the train is a bus, so that English Rail can maintain the track. We've always been early birds, and were surprised that few passengers disembarked for the first tour at Audley End. We saw the great house from the bus, but whooshed right on by about a mile or so to the railroad station in the quiet village. 15 miles from Cambridge This is an English Heritage property, and the directions said it was a twenty-minute walk, so off we went, on a misty morning that threatened but did not produce rain.
English walkers are assuredly very fit. Forty-five minutes later we were still trudging along, on a pedestrian path with a brick wall on our right side. The mileage sign from long ago didn't make us feel much better! Finally we reached the long driveway and queued up in a string of cars to pay our entrance fee. From that moment on, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
All entrance to the house is by guided tour managed by the English Heritage and our tour guide was terrific -- Sue has a wonderful dry sense of humor and a thorough command of her material.
It's a beautiful house, one of the first restored and maintained by the English Heritage trust which has noticeably expanded since 2003 when we had a membership but didn't find so many places to visit. The house was built during the Reformation on the ruins of a Benedictine monastery that Henry VIII tore down. Audley End These were the days when the king and his entourage would visit several homes during the course of the year; the original owner was hoping for a visit from King James I.
Since that time, the house has passed through several families, many of whom were forced into bankruptcy, but in the good times the house was beautifully fitted and furnished. We learned about the differences between Jacobean and Georgian decoration and the significance of the plaster objects on the ceilings (the longer these stalactite-like protrusions descend from the ceiling, the more formal and important the room). Finally the house was lost to the government for payment of death duties; the Crown passed it to English Heritage which has maintained it ever since.
During World War II, Audley End housed a training school for Polish Resistance fighters.
In addition to the house and gorgeous grounds, the stables are now open during the summer. There are also displays of the kitchens and the dairy and the laundry.
By the time we finished our exploration, the wind had risen and the temperature had dropped, so we opted for a taxi ride back to the railroad station where a real train returned us to Cambridge.