Elizabethan and Jacobean design swirled together with contemporary sculptures and gorgeous green spaces. What are you waiting for?
How about this for a day out. Brush up on your Tudors, be inspired by colour and texture for interiors at home, feed some goats, filch ideas for your garden, indulge in forest bathing, and check out a wedding venue. Hatfield House is the childhood home of Elizabeth I, and I think she’d be amazed to see that jazz bands are playing, La La Land is being screened outside, and in the banqueting hall where she held her first Council of State in 1558 with Robert Cecil, Ocado is now holding team building days. To say that Hatfield House and Hatfield Park Farm offer something for everyone is an understatement. Here are a few highlights:
The Old Palace
The Old Palace dates back to 1485 and the only original remaining part is the banqueting hall, now popular for weddings and corporate team building. The Old Palace was the nursery for Henry VIII’s children, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and it was first built around a central courtyard, forming a quadrangle. It’s not open to visitors every day but you can visit on Tues 29 and Weds 30 August. On other days, you can still visit the Old Palace gardens, where the soft planting scheme makes for a dreamy slo-mo wander.
The Stable Yard
Retail opportunities galore in the Stable Yard, with jewellery, interiors, toys and gifts. You can even buy a gun, or at the very least try on some tweed. On Bank Holiday Monday there is jazz in the courtyard. You can visit the courtyard for free (and parking is also free), and many people do come here to the restaurant and for shopping without ever visiting the house or gardens. The real jewels lie in the gardens and house, so it’s worth paying the entry fee for both (£19 adults; £9 child) for the full experience. And yes, you can eat in the Coach House, which is called a restaurant but is more of a cafe, but I would take a picnic, just because there is so much glorious green space.
Where to start? As with any stately home, you can go in deep, or you can simply think about what it would be like to live here and be inspired by the ceilings then pop in to B&Q on your way home for a pot of gold paint. The house is completely stunning, and as well as the famous Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I in the Marble Hall, you can also look at photos of the Salisbury family who live here today, and various Royals who have visited Hatfield House over the years, including Queen Victoria. It was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury, next to the site of the Old Palace.
High wow factor. If you’re visiting en famille, the people who work there are very welcoming to children, although children and adults alike are discouraged from sitting on the furniture thanks to strategically placed pine cones. There are fantastic views of the East Garden, the Salisbury family’s private garden, which is only open on Wednesdays, and you do have that sense that you’re snooping around someone’s home, while at the same time, feeling the immense and dramatic history. You can also play at deer spotting from the windows.
Sundials, parterres, roses, small mazes, sculptures, comfy benches for quiet contemplation, these gardens have got the lot. I’m talking about the West Garden, and you can visit here without going into the house. The East Garden is open on Wednesdays and the Old Palace garden is also accessible most of the time, and even if it’s not, you still get a good view.
Picnics and parkland
Woodland walks abound here where you can enjoy some of the health benefits of forest bathing. There are a huge number of different trees and there is an active conservation programme going on here. Dogs are welcome on leads and again, many people visit Hatfield House just for the walks, rather than visiting the house. While walking you’ll come across all kinds of areas for hiding, splodging and picnicking. You’re incredibly close to the A1 yet on the day I was there, all I could hear was birdsong. The grounds are so vast that even if there seem to be a lot of cars in the car park, you can walk for ages without seeing anybody else.
Hatfield Park Farm
Hatfield Park Farm is open every day until the end of October and everything has been thought of and there’s loads to do, and often extra events. There’s a birds of prey event on Weds 30 Aug. Lots of hand washing facilities between animal feeding opportunities. A train, tractor rides, loads of running around space, and a play area called Bloody Hollow. A couple of the children I talked to said that they come here a lot, and just to go the farm, and a very grown up girl said that she still enjoyed visiting to feed the goats. I was there when the hens were being put to bed and I felt very reassured to hear the carers talking to them with great love and affection.
Hatfield Park Farm is open every day until the end of October. Hatfield House is open Weds – Sun, 11am – 5pm until Sat 30 September and is open Mon 28 Aug. The Old Palace is open Tues 29 and Weds 30 Aug. Entry to the house and garden £19 adults; £9 children; £49 family ticket. Hatfield Park Farm: £5 adults; £2.50 child and free for under 3s. Map
Jazz in the Stable Yard, Mon 28 Aug. Free. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by The Pantaloons in the Elephant Dell, Thurs 31 Aug, 3pm. La La Land, Top Gun and Mama Mia, Luna Cinema, Fri 22 – Sun 24 September.
Hatfield House AL9 5NQ