A winter landscape

PUBLISHED: 11:44 16 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013

Cliveden's magnificent grounds

Cliveden's magnificent grounds

Cliveden's magnificent grounds make for a perfect seasonal constitutional

While a bijou summer garden with shady seating, delicate blossoms and drowsy bees can be heaven, a winter nirvana is an entirely different prospect. December necessitates brisk walks to stave off frozen extremities and robust action in the face of a mince pie too many. And this requires a garden on an entirely different scale.

Set on a chalk river-cliff near Maidenhead, Cliveden boasts a full 376 acres of gardens and parkland and with fantastic views and woodland walks along an unspoilt stretch of the river Thames, it is a prime venue for a festive constitutional.

Originally built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1666, it was the glittering hub of high society in the mid-20th century while owned by the Astor family, including Nancy Astor, the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons. It was where 'The Cliveden Set', an influential group of artists and politicians would meet to hunt, debate, stroll in the gardens and attend lavish parties, one of which sparked the scandalous Profumo affair in 1963.

Now owned by the National Trust, Cliveden recently hit the headlines again due to the discovery of a family of small snails that hitched a ride with a consignment of Italian stone over 100 years ago.

Near the house, the formal gardens are packed with urns, statuary and ancient Roman sarcophagi and the garden also incorporates the work of famous designers including Norah Lindsay. One of the most impressive features is the 1000-yard long parterre, laid out in 1855 by John Fleming and truly innovative in its time.

The list of attractions goes on; an octagonal temple built by Giacomo Leoni in 1735, an ornate dovecote, the secret garden, the water gardens, a pavilion to commemorate the Battle of Blenheim and an amphitheatre where the first recital of Rule Britannia was played.

All in all, Cliveden has so much going on that it barely matters what season it is, but the opalescent mid-winter light becomes it. The herbaceous borders may have lost some of their glory, but a palimpsest of spent seed heads remains as an elegy to summer passed and long shadows and lingering frost make tightly clipped greenery look as if it, too, were carved from stone.

The days may be dull, short and chilly, but with its red-blooded history of glamour, scandal, lavish parties, Italianate sculpture, eminent garden designers and stowaway snails - and some decent winter walks and scenery to boot - Cliveden is a garden to get steamed up about.

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