Bowood House is a beautiful stately home hidden away in the Wiltshire countryside, which opens its doors to the public every year. Just a short car journey off the M4 motorway and the iconic Great West Way, the Bowood Estate has been home to the Lansdowne family since 1754, with the 9th marquis, Lord Lansdowne, still living in Bowood House today.
A very popular Wiltshire attraction, it first opened its doors in 1975, giving visitors the chance to explore a number of attractions across the 2,000-acre estate and it expects to see its five millionth visitor this summer.
Where is Bowood House?
Bowood House is on the outskirts of Calne, in Wiltshire, not far from Chippenham, off the M4 junction 17. It’s a beautiful drive to get there as you’ll pass through picturesque Wiltshire villages like Sandy Lane, with its cute thatched roof cottages. If you’re travelling along the Great West Way it’s well worth a stop.
You can even base yourself at Bowood as the luxurious Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf Course is also found on the estate. Guests can don Hunter wellies and go for a walk through fields of lambs, or simply visit for the day for a round of golf, a relaxing spa experience or a delicious dinner at The Shelburne Restaurant. During our recent visit we had the pleasure of being guests there and had the most amazing lunch in a beautiful setting.
Things to do at Bowood
There’s so much to do at Bowood – something for all ages. Here’s a short run through of the different things on offer…
- Explore the Grade 1 listed parkland created by the renowned gardener designer Capability Brown. Highlights include the arboretum, pinetum, rock landscapes, cascade, hermit’s cave and lakeside Doric temple.
- The Bowood Estate is a wonderful spot for a walk on a spring or summer day – you can even bring your dogs to the Woodland Garden if kept on a lead.
- Children will love the expansive adventure playground.
- Have a spa day at Bowood Hotel
- Play a round of golf
- Have a luxurious escape at Bowood Hotel
- Take afternoon tea after a guided tour of the Walled Garden.
- Eat and drink at a number of locations including the Treehouse Café, Stables and Shelburne restaurants.
- Go along to one of its special events that take place throughout the open season.
- Step back in history with a visit to Bowood House itself.
You easily spend a full day at Bowood, especially exploring the beautiful grounds, but the main attraction has to be Bowood House itself. Although the Marquis and his wife still live in the property, over half of the house is open to the public, and tells the story of the Lansdownes as well as sharing history on the area.
Victoria, Albert and the Lansdownes
Every year a new exhibition is held. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the births of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 2019’s exhibition takes a look at ‘Victoria, Albert and the Lansdownes’, who as I discovered, were close to the Queen – and Albert – throughout her life.
Emma and I had the pleasure to be invited to an exclusive pre-opening tour of the exhibition, given by its curator and Bowood’s archivist, Dr Cathryn Spence. We were also honoured to be joined by Lord Lansdowne himself, who shared his own tales of his family’s past and connections with Victoria and Albert.
Displayed in Bowood House’s Robert Adam Orangery, the exhibition reveals the important cultural and political roles played by the third, fourth and fifth Marquesses that helped shape Victorian Britain and its empire. They were seen throughout Victoria’s life – Henry, third Marquis of Lansdowne was present at her birth and was looked up to by the young Victoria. When she married he also became close to Albert, working closely with him on projects like the Palace of Westminster and the Great Exhibition as well as campaigning for the abolition of the slave trade and promoting the sciences and arts.
His son, the fourth Marquis was Chairman of the Great Western Railway – an amazing feat of engineering. Then later, the fifth Marquis took the roles of Governor-General of Canada and Viceroy of India when the empire was at its height and living conditions for Britons had drastically improved due to the political and cultural reforms the Queen and Prince had introduced.
I don’t want to give away all the stories shared, but on displays include letters to and from Victoria and Albert and the Lansdownes, artwork, photos and tickets to big events from their lives – invitations to balls, Victoria’s funeral and both of King Edward VII’s coronations!
There’s much more to see at Bowood House, however. There are several floors of exhibition rooms, which showcase the Bowood’s collection of art, antiques and historical artefacts from the Georgian period onwards. Highlights include the Sculpture Gallery, a chapel, the library (house goals!) and also the laboratory where Dr Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen gas. This particularly interested me after discovering so much about Dr Priestley when I visited Calne. It was amazing to hear that discoveries like this had taken place so close to home!
Events at Bowood in 2019
Special events take place at Bowood House throughout its open season. There are regular events that take place every year, for example guided tours inside Lord and Lady Lansdowne’s spectacular walled garden (they do afternoon tea there too!) and the six-week opening of the Woodland Garden where you can see an amazing display of rhododendrons, magnolias and azaleas, which usually flower until the start of June.
There are classic car festivals, creative workshops and open-air concerts, meaning there’s something for everyone. It’s well worth seeing if anything special is on when you’re in the area – here’s a taster of the things I know they already have planned. Walled garden guided tours take place across a selection of dates, so if this interests you I recommend checking out the website which lists all available slots.
- 19th April – The Woodland Garden opens for its six-week season just ahead of Easter.
- 1st May – Venetia Welby’s Creative Writing Class for Beginners.
- 5th May – Spring Classic Car & Motorcycle Show.
- 25th-27th May – Tractor Ted Big Machines Weekend.
- 31st May – 2nd June – RunFestRun, a family-friendly, three-day camping and running festival headed up by DJ Chris Evans. Running stars already signed up to attend include Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram.
- 15th June – Bowood’s Treasure Island Day.
- 29th–30th June – LPS Events Triathlon.
- 8th July – Matt Inwood’s Instagram Workshop.
- 12th July – Clive Nichols’ ‘Garden & Flower Photography Master Class’.
- 27th July – Bowood’s Summer Garden Party.
- 3rd August – Classic Ibiza open air concert.
- 18th August – Summer Classic Car & Motorcycle Show.
- 28th-29th September – Wiltshire Game & Country Fair.
- 13th October – LPS Events Triathlon.
- 23rd October-3rd November – Bowood’s Enchanted Autumn.
Interested in visiting? Well this year (2019) Bowood House is open from 30th March – 3rd November. Tickets cost between £8-11 for children and £13 for adults. Family, senior and season tickets are also available.
If you visit we’d love to hear what you thought – we’ll definitely be returning, so maybe see you there!
Full disclosure: We were the guests of Bowood House during this recent visit. However, as always, all views are own own.