Birkdale House

Historic Houses in the Lake District

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Birkdale House

17th August 2023

Every September, historic buildings and monuments across the country throw open their doors to the public as part of Heritage Open Days. Heritage Open Days is England’s largest festival of history and culture, your chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences.

This year, Heritage Open Days runs from 8 – 17 September with events taking place in every corner of the Lake District, from Carlisle to Cartmel, Ambleside to Appleby.

There are so many events taking place, and way too much for us to include, so for a full list of events across South Lakeland, simply click here.

In the meantime, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to round up a few of our favourite historic houses in the Lake District – our top five in fact. And so that you don’t have to travel too far from Birkdale House, we’ve kept our selection relatively local, starting right here in Windermere.

Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House, Bowness-on-Windermere

Blackwell has appeared in a few of our posts to date and with good reason – it’s well worth a visit. Originally designed as a holiday home for Manchester brewery owner Sir Edward Holt, the house later became a school and then an office space. Nowadays, Blackwell is one of the UK’s finest examples of Arts and Crafts movement.

When you visit, you’ll discover beautiful furniture and objects from leading designers and makers of the time, including MH Baillie Scott, Archibald Knox and William de Morgan. There are also pieces by local makers and designers such as Annie Garrett and Arthur Simpson of Kendal.

After your visit, soak up the wonderful views of Lake Windermere and the Lake District fells beyond while you enjoy a tasty treat in the tea-room.

Hill Top – Beatrix Potter’s farmhouse home

Just across Lake Windermere from Blackwell is Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s former home and a time capsule of her life in the Lake District. The house appears as if the author has just popped out for a walk.

Managed by the National Trust, Hill Top was bought by Beatrix Potter with the proceeds of Peter Rabbit in 1905 and the house and its surroundings provided the inspiration for so many of her books. If you’re a true fan – and so many of us are, having grown up with the tales – you’ll recognise the rhubarb patch where Jemima Puddle-Duck laid her egg, as well as the garden where Tom Kitten and his sisters played.

For more information about availability and how to book your trip to Hill Top, click here.

Sizergh Castle, Kendal

Sticking with National Trust properties, our next recommendation is Sizergh Castle, a few miles south of Kendal.

The house started life as a pele tower, built by the Strickland family circa 1350. The tower offered refuge from the frequent border raids which had long troubled this part of the country.

In the mid-1500s, the family undertook a major rebuilding programme, transforming it into a fashionable Elizabethan residence. This included fitting out the interior with some of the finest carved and inlaid decoration ever to be seen in the north of England. This exceptional wood panelling culminates in the Inlaid Chamber, internationally recognised as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan craftsmanship in the world.

Outside, the 647-hectare estate includes wetlands, orchards and breath-taking gardens, home to a mirror lake, topiary yew trees and a superb limestone rock garden.

Levens Hall

Just a few miles down the road from Sizergh Castle is Levens Hall. Like Sizergh, Levens Hall began life as a thirteenth century pele tower, before being expanded and rebuilt towards the end of the sixteenth century.

Levens Hall is also home to the world’s oldest topiary, laid out from 1694 by Guillaume Beaumont, gardener to King James II and Colonel James Grahme, former owner of Levens Hall. The design, which features over one hundred pieces of topiary (some over nine metres high), remains largely unchanged to this day.

Inside the house, visitors are treated to fine panelling and intricate plaster work, period furniture, paintings by Rubens, Lely and Cuyp, and the earliest English patchwork.

If you are planning on going to Levens Hall, make sure you visit Levens Kitchen. Opened in March 2019, it has already won a number of awards including Best Newcomer, Cumbria Life’s Food and Drink Awards 2020 and Great Place to Eat, UK Heritage Awards 2020.

The kitchen is open between 10am and 4pm and much of the delicious food on offer comes from the estate and the gardens of Levens Hall.

Holker Hall, nr Grange-over-Sands

Our final visit takes us to Holker Hall, just a short distance from Grange-over-Sands. Currently the home of Lucy Cavendish, Holker Hall dates backs to the 1600s and has been passed down by inheritance from generation to generation.

In 1871, the entire west wing was lost when a fire broke out and despite the actions of the servants and family members, when the fire had abated it became obvious that a new house was needed. The result is what we see today. The exterior is very much a Victorian residence with large bay windows, towers and cupolas, while inside the house retains much of its Georgian elegance and refinement.

Outside, the gardens are a mix of Italianate design mixed with English tradition which will thrill and excite even the most discerning. Look out for the 17th century Great Holker Lime, which measures 7’6” at its widest and is one of Britain’s 50 greatest trees. Other highlights include land art feature “Pagan Grove”, the peaceful Sunken Garden, and the wonderful labyrinth.

After your visit, pop along to the Courtyard Café where a warm and welcoming atmosphere awaits, not to mention delicious local and seasonal food.

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to historic houses in the Lake District. We’ve stayed relatively close to Birkdale House, but other jewels include Brantwood on the shores of Coniston; Muncaster Castle in Ravenglass; and Mirehouse on Bassenthwaite Lake, to name just a few. The list goes on, so if you would like more information, please get in touch.

Photo credit for Blackwell – Dave Willis (Cumbria Tourism) / Photo Credit for Holker Hall – Cumbria Tourism