A visit to Woburn Abbey will appeal to admirers of Canaletto, or Gold / Silver / Porcelain artefacts. It might frustrate those who go there looking for notable architecture, fine vistas or well-landscaped gardens.
When the Abbey was one of the first ancestral homes opened to the public it clearly would have had a “wow” factor, but more travellers these days will have seen far finer examples of much of what is on offer here.
Getting a good view of the Abbey itself is the first challenge – on entry to the grounds you are on a two mile one-way single-track loop road through the deer park which passes the house after half-a-mile or so – but unless it is a quiet day with little traffic you will find it a challenge to stop and admire this – and you cannot revisit the view from this point on foot. Similarly any chance of stopping to view the deer is also limited by the road condition. Once you are in the grounds the best potential view of the house is frustratingly out of reach as what looks an innocuous viewing point is labelled as “private”.
The gardens are unremarkable – the only neat symmetrical patterns were in the private area that can only be seen once you are inside the Abbey – and there is strictly no photography allowed there. What would have been nice views of small lakes and a bridge spanning a channel in one of them have been spoilt by dense lily pads and huge leaved vegetation surrounding them. The sculptures in the gardens are a good addition – although the remote ones are in the unkempt area of the garden with narrow strips cut in grass 2 feet high.
The house itself was never finished to plan, so lacks an impressive angle – and although inside there are a couple of impressive corridors and a reasonably impressive staircase, the general feeling is that of a museum, as artworks are used to fill up all available space on the walls. Even the collection of Canalettos sees over 20 of them crammed into one room.
The claustrophobic feeling is enhanced by each room being watched over, as well as the receptionist feeling the need to re-stress the “no photos, mobile phones off” rule just after you’ve walked past signs to that effect.
Those visiting the Abbey might also like to note that the Abbey website directions focus on the Safari Park – but there are plenty of “brown signs” in the area – essentially leading to Woburn village where you reach a crossroads and turn off the main road.
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