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The recent short break at Hambleton was the second of such holidays at this gloriously sited hotel overlooking Rutland Water. By some magic the first week of October always seems to be a fine sunny week and this was certainly true for our party.

Our visits this time were to Boughton House, the enigmatic palace of the Dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry. Being little-known and rarely open always casts its own spell on a house and this is certainly true of Boughton. With its French-inspired architecture it stands apart from many English Houses, an allure which is in no way lessened by the superlative contents. “Of course, the State Rooms have not been used since William III was here.” Is surely not a bad throw-away line, and to a certain degree accounts for the miraculous preservation of 16th century carpets and tapestries, not to mention Sèvres porcelain, French furniture and breath-taking paintings. We were fortunate, after an excellent lunch to walk in the grounds and see the new “Orpheus Project”, a fascinating new water feature created by the Duke and, for the grown-up juveniles in the party a chance to watch the diggers as they widened one of the canals which are a feature of the grounds.

Our other visits were to Rockingham Castle, guarding the wide expanse of the River Welland. Again a sun-filled day where we were amazed to find the rose-garden as abundantly in flower as if on a June day. This house contains remarkable pictures including a rare representation by Johann Zoffany of cricketers. There cannot be many pictures of the English national sport painted by a German! In the muniment room we were shown a unique common-place book dating from the reign of Henry VIII, as well as a recently discovered album of watercolours done by a member of the family travelling in the Mediterranean. Rarely-shown treasures only available for private parties.

The greatest of the treasures we were shown were at Burghley where a selection of the “Countess’s Jewels” were brought from their vault and described for us by the Curator, Carolyn Cowell. Such wondrous and intricate objects which were as fascinating to us as they must have been to their original owners nearly 500 years ago.

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