Wimpole Hall is a National Trust property located about 8 miles south-west of Cambridge in the East of England. It is a stately home with extensive grounds, and has various cafes and restaurants, formal gardens and a farm. The grounds are open all year round in daylight hours, but check on the website if you want to visit any of the other attractions there – the hall is closed over the winter months and the farm and gardens have shorter opening hours (often restricted to weekends) too.
The hall itself dates originally to the 17th Century and is according to the guide I spoke to is the largest house in Cambridgeshire. It has changed hugely over the years, with parts of it being demolished and rebuilt according to the whim of each owner. During the summer months it is open to the public- free for National Trust members, but £8 if you aren’t a member (£4.40 for children). Don’t wear high heels if you visit the hall because you won’t be let in. Amazingly enough, though, hiking boots are OK (of course I do wipe the mud from my feet first!).
When going around the hall, I always find that it’s hard to imagine being rich enough to afford to live that sort of lifestyle, but easy to imagine being a maid or a ward there! To some extent, I think that if you’ve seen one stately home, you’ve seen them all. They all have rich, opulent hangings and furnishings, ornate antique furniture, oil paintings, South-facing rooms with the blinds perpetually lowered to stop light damaging the furnishings. So far, Wimpole hall is no exception.
The extensive library is a bit different though – it is full of Rudyard Kipling’s works and has a strong Kipling family connection because his daughter Elsie was its last owner, and after her death thirty or so years ago, she left the hall and grounds to the National Trust. She is largely the one responsible for its restoration and the excellent state of the gardens.
When visiting, I particularly like looking out of the windows on the North side (where you can see over to the Folly) and imagining what it must be like to wake up here, take a bracing stroll, then go and curl up in front of the fire with one of the books from the library – sounds the sort of lifestyle I’d like if I won the lottery!
The dark and cramped servants quarters in the chilly basement are by far the most interesting parts of the house here – you really get to see how the poorer half of the household lived. The housekeeper really ruled the roost here! Plus there are some fun period dressing up clothes for children to try on.
Even National Trust members have to pay £3.35 to visit Wimpole Home Farm. Everyone else has to pay more than that (prices vary according to if you go to the Hall or not, but start from £6.60 for an adult and £4.40 for a child). This is a proper working farm and they farm many rare breeds here, particularly pigs and sheep. You can buy a wide selection of the sausages and meat produced here in the main shop. I’m afraid I don’t know if it is nicer than Tesco’s meat, because I’ve never tried it – I’m vegetarian.
The farm is very child-friendly and a good way to introduce children to the idea of farming in a non-scary way. Indeed it sometimes seems to be more or less mandatory to bring a small child with you if you visit the farm, judging by the number of families who go there. It is an excellent place to go during lambing season, because if you are lucky then you get to watch the lambs being born.
For most of the winter months, the farm is open from 11-4 at weekends, but in summer months it opens a little earlier and closes a little later than this and is open some weekdays as well.
The formal gardens here are a bit dull and stylised for my taste so I wouldn’t recommend paying money (£3.30 for an adult non-member, £1.75 for a child non-member)especially to go and see them – go see the gardens in Anglesey Abbey (another National Trust property) instead if you are in the Cambridge area. However, if you are visiting another attraction here, the Hall ticket or the Farm tickets also gets you entry to these gardens for free though (and it is free if you show a NT membership card). The only bit of the gardens I really bother with is the fruit and vegetable stall in their walled garden – for most of the year, you can buy the produce. At this time of year, you can get some tasty squashes there.
You can actually see most of the gardens from the outside if you walk around and peer over the fence. That will give you an idea if you like the geometric layout enough to see it closer. Much of the grounds of the Hall were worked on by several landscape designers, including Capability Brown. The best bit of the gardens in my opinion is the Ha-ha (a concealed ditch with a wall in it) which means that you get unspoiled vistas for long distances, even though there are also cattle grazing in the neighbouring fields. There are other hidden ditches out in the (heavily-landscaped) fields as well, which make the views look fantastic, but they do make navigating the fields a bit tricky in places – there are only a few crossing points to the deep ditches, and you can’t see them until you get right up close, meaning you often end up walking in completely the wrong direction and having to double back to find the right place!
Walking around the grounds is free, even for non- Members, though you are encouraged to give a £1 per person donation. There are several excellent walks around the grounds available, which I do regularly as a gentle Sunday afternoon stroll. It’s not really strenuous walking, but it isn’t really suitable for people with restricted mobility though – the ground is rough in places and often gets muddy. The grass gets very long and covers rabbit holes up, so you have to be careful where you tread. I recommend two walks that I recommend in particular. The first walk takes you up on a ridge and gives you excellent views to the flat lands lying to the South and West of Wimpole, then follows a belt of woodland around the North edge of the grounds (great for blackberries in August/September), then comes back through the old village with its quaint old buildings. All in, this takes about 1-2 hours in total at a gentle pace, though you can cut it short if daylight fails. The second walk is the walk across the cow fields over to the Folly, which is great to photograph.
The stable yard at the Hall has a wide range of interesting little shops available (as well as being the location in the grounds for the loos). I don’t dare to visit the second hand bookstall or the home made fudge shop there very often – I always come away with something! There is also a traditional National Trust shop there, selling all the calendars and chutneys and the like which you get at nearly all National Trust places, but it also has a lot of meat products from the farm. In the courtyard here, come rain or shine, there are usually some people outside making and selling woollen garments the old fashioned way, with a spinning wheel and knitting by hand – fascinating to watch!
The hall is a few miles away from two main roads bypassing Cambridge – the A14 and the M11, and is readily signposted – I’m terrible at giving directions usually, but I’ve given several people sets of directions that just read “Turn off the A14 when you get to the M11 and carry on down there until you see the National Trust signs and then just follow those through the next couple of villages” and they managed to get there in one piece without getting lost.
Usually, when I visit, I go by car because the buses aren’t at all frequent and the train line doesn’t go nearer than 5 miles away. I’ve never found the car park to be completely full, even at Easter, though it does often get extremely muddy when you park in one of the fields on a busy wet weekend.
I have cycled here once from Cambridge. I can’t say I recommend the experience - you either need to go on some extremely busy roads with cars going past you far too close, or you need to cycle on some very muddy and grassy bridleways. Hopefully when the new Sustrans bike networks get going, this will be a nice route. Currently, it’s a pleasant place to hike to, but a little bit too far for a round trip from Cambridge.
This is a nice National Trust property to go visit of a Sunday afternoon. I like coming here for walks around the grounds followed by a nice cup of tea at the cafe afterwards. Good for taking small children to and good for taking visiting family members who like stately homes.
Other National Trust properties nearby include Wicken Fen and Anglesey Abbey.
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