We had booked to take a boat trip on the River Thames as part of an afternoon visiting Mapledurham which is a village situated in Oxfordshire not far from Reading where there's an Elizabethan country house and working corn mill.
We waited on the bank of the river for the boat to arrive, but due to a steering problem which happened as the boat came into its mooring our trip upstream had to be cancelled. We're able to re- book for a day in the future when we can get together again and the extra time enabled us to take a leisurely stroll to the house and then back to the corn mill before enjoying a cream tea.
Mapledurham has belonged to the Blount family since 1490 and the present house was built between 1588 and 1609 by Sir Michael Blount.
The gardens were laid out and the great cedar tree planted about 1740. The parkland is designed in a naturalistic style due to the influence of the poet, Alexander Pope, who was a frequent visitor to the estate because of his friendship with two sisters, Martha and Theresa Blount.
A statue of Father Thames and huge fish (dolphin?) on the back lawn looked old and weathered and in the distance is an 18th century brick and flint fern house.
In the same area is an 18th century copy of The Pedlar by Giovanni da Bologna.
On either side of the front porch are magnolia grandiflora trees said to be the oldest pair in England and two stone urns (not shown) that had been designed and made for Pope's Twickenham garden.
Another tree of interest is a cedar growing in the parkland that was planted by the Queen Mother when she visited the house and on the day Prince William was born.
It was not possible to take photos inside the house which has many interesting items and 16th, 17th and 18th century portraits of the Blounts and their social circles and a chapel designed in a style of architecture known as the Strawberry Hill Gothick. The Blounts kept their allegiance to Roman Catholicism secret in times of persecution when Mapledurham was a safe house for fugitive priests. A priest hole where someone could be hidden was only just discovered in 2002. In fact, Mapledurham is in quite an isolated spot and even today there's only a long winding lane through the countryside to get to it and the present estate. The river would have been an alternative and better access or departure route. Safe houses would have a secret sign somewhere on the building and at Mapledurham there's a small gable which is covered in oyster shells. It's so high up it can be seen from the river and it's the one in between the two tall chimneys in the photo below.
After our tour around the house we returned to the mill to hear a talk about its function today as a working enterprise.
Kenneth Graham, the author of Wind in the Willows lived in Pangbourne which is the next village located upstream on the River Thames. It's believed that Mapledurham House and Mill were the inspiration for Toad Hall in the book and the Wood is based on one nearby. More about the mill and our cream tea in the stable block next time!