Since the 1630s, members of the same family have owned this imposing, almost fortress-like Jacobean mansion. Acquiring a nice bit of turf was all the rage (for rich people) on the eve of the English Civil War, and this plot on the curve on the River Cherwell hit the spot for staunch Royalist Sir Robert Dormer. The gardens, designed to complement the house and blend effortlessly into the Oxfordshire countryside, have changed little since landscape architect William Kent designed them a little more than a century later. As the only classical landscape gardens to have survived almost unaltered, they have acquired a unique place in the history of horticultural design. Charles Bridgeman, a royal gardener, laid down the original plan for the gardens in the 1720s. It was Kent, however, who created an Augustan landscape, with features that evoke not only the glories of Renaissance Italy but also the splendor of ancient Rome. Kent was a Yorkshireman who’d studied art in London and then moved to Italy and painted frescoes for ten years. He envisaged this Oxfordshire garden as a landscape painting, and his design for it used shape, form, light and shade to maximum effect. He used water from springs in the hill above to create cascades, rills and ornamental pools: simple features that formed romantic cameos within the classical framework. One curvaceous rill runs through a stone channel linking the Cold Bath and the so-called Venus’s Vale. Other rills, sparkling and light-catching, feed into ornamental pools, and a white-water cascade tumbles into a grotto. Photos: Harpur Garden Images
Facilities – at a glance
Assist dogs allowed
- Parking onsite
- Restricted access as some areas of garden quite steep
- Open all year
- Opening Times: Garden open all year, daily 10-4.30 (last entry). House, May-Sep for groups 12+ by arrangement
Also in the area
About the area
Located at the heart of England, Oxfordshire enjoys a rich heritage and surprisingly varied scenery. Its landscape encompasses open chalk downland and glorious beechwoods, picturesque rivers and attractive villages set in peaceful farmland. The countryside in the northwest of Oxfordshire seems isolated by comparison, more redolent of the north of England, with its broad views, undulating landscape and dry-stone walls. The sleepy backwaters of Abingdon, Wallingford, Wantage, Watlington and Witney reveal how Oxfordshire’s old towns evolved over the centuries, while Oxford’s imposing streets reflect the beauty and elegance of ‘that sweet city with her dreaming spires.’ Fans of the fictional sleuth Inspector Morse will recognise many Oxford landmarks described in the books and used in the television series.
The county demonstrates how the strong influence of humans has shaped this part of England over the centuries. The Romans built villas in the pretty river valleys that thread their way through Oxfordshire, the Saxons constructed royal palaces here, and the Normans left an impressive legacy of castles and churches. The philanthropic wool merchants made their mark too, and many of their fine buildings serve as a long-lasting testimony to what they did for the good of the local community.
Places to Stay
Restaurants and Pubs
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