Saturday 14 June 2014


FINALLY, FINALLY, FINALLY I made it to Cliveden! Woo-hoo! Every single time I've suggested going there, my other half has vetoed it for no reason other than he "doesn't feel like it". He was only two when the Profumo scandal broke, so it's unlikely that he's hiding any involvement in it. 

And let's face it, Cliveden will always be known for the Profumo affair. On balance I'd say it has been a positive thing for them - saying "I'm off to a wedding at Cliveden - you know, the Profumo scandal" carries an air of sophistication about it, compared to "I'm off to a wedding at Cliveden - you know, the plutonium leak" or "you know, where that serial killer hid all the bodies." 

ANYWAY. You can't just wander into the house at Cliveden as it's now an extremely posh hotel. I did try to persuade His Reluctancy to stay over (in the name of research) but he baulked at £462 a night. 

Cliveden House

But it doesn't actually matter - the Cliveden estate is huge and there's plenty to look at. Here are three highlights:

1. The Parterre - the South Terrace of the house is huge and it overlooks the magnificent Parterre Garden. It was first created by gardener John Fleming during the residence of the Duchess of Sutherland, which began in 1849:

 2. The Borghese Balustrade & The Cliveden Snail - the sculpture in the Parterre (see picture above) was brought to Cliveden from the Villa Borghese in Italy by William Astor in 1896. National Trust Guidebook Factoid of the Week: in 2004, a colony of Mediterranean snails was found living on the Balustrade - they must have been stowaways when it was imported and somehow the colony has managed to survive for over a hundred years. Let's hope Nigel Farage doesn't find out.

3. The Maze - William Astor first created the Maze in 1894 but by the 1950s it was a forgotten mess. The National Trust recreated it and it was opened in 2011 by Alan Titchmarsh. I don't know why this amuses me - Alan is the John Fleming of our times after all, although I don't think John had a chat show.

But there are loads of other sights - you could easily spend a whole day there. The Fountain of Love for example:

Fountain of Love at Cliveden

And the very spectacular Water Garden:

Cliveden Water Garden

There has been a house at Cliveden since 1666, although a couple of them have burnt down. The building you see today was designed by Charles Barry for the Duchess of Sutherland in the mid 19th century. 

In 1906, William Astor gave Cliveden to his son and daughter-in-law, Waldorf and Nancy Astor, whose connections in political, literary and artistic society because known as The Cliveden Set. Nancy was an incredible woman - she was the first female MP for one thing and Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor is well worth a read.

In 1961, Waldorf and Nancy's son Bill had inherited Cliveden, Waldorf having died in 1952. Bill rented a cottage on the estate to the osteopath Stephen Ward, who entertained friends there, including a Soviet naval attache called Yevgeny Ivanov and call-girls Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. Bill also liked entertaining and one evening he and his guests, which included John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, crossed paths with those of Stephen Ward. Profumo began an affair with Keeler, who was also involved with Ivanov, and the whole thing blew up into the mother of all scandals in 1963. Profumo had to resign, the Prime Minister Harold MacMillan went 7 months later, and the Conservatives lost the next election.

(Factoid Not In The National Trust Guidebook: Mandy Rice-Davies is famous for a quip she made in court, when asked why the man she claimed to have had an affair with had denied it - "well he would, wouldn't he?". That man was Bill Astor.)

Moving on though, Cliveden definitely wins the award for Most Innovative and Possibly Most Bonkers Fundraising Idea Ever. The South Terrace at the back of the house is in urgent need of repair - I was walking across it, admiring the amazing views, when I read a sign that said 'this terrace is basically falling to bits' so I scootled off it quite quickly and boggled at the extent of the works: 

Cliveden South Terrace

They need a lot of money to Save The South Terrace but they're not raising it with a second hand book stall or a sponsored walk. No, the people at Cliveden have built a massive temporary slide on the side of the house and you pay £2 to come down it: 

Slide at Cliveden

I have to say, I absolutely love the idea. It seems to me that it's very much in keeping with the spirit of Nancy Astor, in that it's very bold and from what little I know of her, she wasn't a woman for small gestures. I wasn't there long enough to see anyone using it, although there were a few toddlers eyeing it up.

The Cliveden scone
Cliveden also wins another award, this time for the smallest scone yet seen on the National Trust Scone Odyssey. A cream tea cost £4.25, which isn't the most expensive I've encountered, and I bet you'd pay a LOT more in the hotel, but even so - it felt a little bit measly. It wasn't the greatest scone in the world either - it wasn't very fresh and it somehow seemed a bit soggy. BUT! There WAS a choice of jam! And The Orangery is a smashing place to rest your weary legs when you're parterre-d out - I could have sat there all day.

National Trust Scone at Cliveden

There was a distinct lack of Profumo-inspired souvenirs in the shop, which was a shame as I'd have liked a 'What Would Christine Keeler Do?' mug. But I definitely recommend that you fit in a trip to Cliveden as soon as you can. It's like Waddesdon Manor, in that it's utterly magnificent and you have to see it to believe it. Plus, at which other National Trust property can you go on a massive slide? 

Cliveden: 4.5 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Opportunity to go 'Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!': 5 out of 5


  1. OMG. They are fundraising WITH A SLIDE?!?!?!

  2. Maybe throwing a tantrum... 'I wannna go onnna SLIDE!' would work? I want to visit Cliveden now and give it a go, particularly if I'm in the company of my children, who all worked this number on me when they were small...