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Muddy visits Boughton House

Fancy a cultured day out in Northants that'll really knock your socks off? From upside down pyramids to Gainsboroughs, the English Versailles has got it all.

Boughton House the colonnades
Boughton House Northamptonshire

Marius and Cosette’s jaw-dropping wedding venue in Tom Hooper’s 2012 ensemble-cast production of Les Mis, the magnificent Boughton House is a big hitter if you’re looking for an impressive cultural call sheet. Rewind about 500 years and you’ll find Ralph, the 1st Duke of Montagu, in situ. He acted as Ambassador to the court of Louis XIV and Master of the Great Wardrobe – that means he was boss of what the King (Charles II) wore, a pretty influential post, which may help in some small way to explain why this grand estate really does have the X Factor. Oh, did we mention they filmed that here too? It served as Gary Barlow’s house in the 2012 series. But enough of the celeb anecdotes and on to the juicy details.

Les Miserables at Boughton
Eddie Redmayne and Amada Seyfried as Marius and Cosette in Les Miserables, shot at Boughton House

Approaching Boughton across its vast parkland (there’s over 11 thousand acres of estate in total), the public entrance is somewhat deceptive. I mean, it is obviously grand, but as you enter via the (notably large) stable block you don’t quite get how spectacular this place really is until you round the corner to stand in front of the picturesque colonnades and the restored 18th century Grand Etang, a shimmering pond with its 75ft plume of water, reflecting the the perfectly manicured grounds. Beyond, the eye is led towards tree-lined avenues and water features inspired by Versailles and then, further, hiding from view within the landscape is Orpheus, a 20ft deep inverted pyramid created by artist Kim Wilkie in 2009 and named after the musician of Greek mythology who reclaimed his wife Eurydice from the underworld, as you do.

Boughton house landscaping

The formal gardens stretch to around 100 acres and have been painstakingly restored in recent years by the current Duke of Buccleuch. There’s a sense of poetry and harmony to the grounds here, where old and new meet in rhythm and reflection. The rather grandiose landscaping is happily balanced as you draw back towards the (slightly) more domestic walled gardens beside the house.

Boughton Walled Garden

Green-fingered visitors will love the riot of flowers and veggies grown here. There’s a fruit orchard, bee hives, a wildlife garden and a greenhouse absolutely stuffed with orchids, succulents and banana palms alongside a beautiful cuttings garden that is well-used to adorn the inside of the house too. When we visited there were marble side tables overflowing with bright red gladioli to complement the family portraits hanging in the Great Hall.

Boughton Greenhouse
Orchids at Boughton House

Once a Tudor manor, it was Ralph, the first Duke, who transformed Boughton into the grand seat it is today, adding formal State Rooms boasting parquet de Versailles flooring, French tapestries and sumptuously painted ceilings. Room after room induced gasps of amazement as we toured the frankly glorious interiors. Art nerds won’t want to miss The Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco, Gainsborough’s portrait of Elizabeth Montagu and a collection of works by Van Dyck. One of my Mudlets’ favourite things about her visit to Boughton was spotting the griffins, featuring in the family heraldry, you can find in many of the rooms (Harry Potter obsessive, obvs), so if your mini-mes aren’t that in to Baroque portraiture you can always keep them entertained with that.

The Great Hall Boughton House
Egyptian Room Boughton House

But there’s more to Boughton than meets the eye, on our visit we did notice the odd board game and cocktail glass left behind, evidence that the family really do live and entertain here and in spite of the formality, there is a sense that this is a home too. It’s hard to believe that, for much of the later 18th and 19th centuries, with the house passing down through the female line (horror!) it wasn’t lived in by the family at all. Though perhaps this is precisely what has enabled Boughton to remain so well-preserved.

Succulents Boughton House

Last but by no means least we headed to the Stables Café for coffee and homemade cakes (the chocolate and Guinness comes highly recommended) where we sat surrounded by vases of fresh flowers on the tables and artworks adorning the walls by four of the talented artists taking part in Northants Open Studios, which you can catch throughout August. I even managed to bag some rather spectacular succulents from the shop for my ever-growing collection and, potted up on a table in my hallway, they will always make me think of Boughton’s glorious gardens.

Boughton House, Kettering, Northamptonshire, NN14 1BJ, Tel: 01536 515731, email: info@boughtonhouse.co.uk

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