Sizergh and Levens

Sizergh Castle. The ‘finest inlaid panelling ever made for an English country house’ is one of the biggest attractions at Sizergh which came into the hands of the Strickland family through marriage in 1239.  
And for more than 700 years, until it was handed over to the National Trust in 1950, it remained in their possession. 
In the late 16th century Walter Strickland decided to turn a medieval house, with its great hall and 14th century solar tower, into a desirable Elizabethan property by adding two wings and rebuilding the service block. 
He also commissioned much of the oak panelling and decorative wood carving, including the elaborate fireplace overmantels, that are such a feature of the castle.
In 1891, when Sizergh’s then incumbent fell on hard times, the panelling in the Inlaid Chamber was sold to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum for £1,000. 
The whole lot has been gifted back to Sizergh by the V&A and now complements the ornate plasterwork on the room’s ceiling. The four-poster bed is pretty grand too. 
Outside, the 18 acre (7.3ha) garden includes a large limestone rock garden, a kitchen garden whose produce supplies the café, a lake, a wildflower bank, a long herbaceous border and an orchard. There are four national collections of ferns. 
Sizergh Castle, Sizergh, near Kendal LA8 8AE (Sat Nav postcode LA8 8DZ): 015395 60951. Café, shop, second hand bookshop, 1,600 acre (647ha) parkland, children’s wild play trail, parking. Wheelchair access: via ramps to ground floor. Directions: Sizergh is just over three miles (4.8km) south of Kendal, signposted off the A590.

Levens Hall. A fine Elizabethan mansion, Levens Hall is best known for its topiary gardens, ‘the world’s oldest’. That said, the oak panelling and ornate ceiling plasterwork in some of the rooms is pretty special too.
The first building on this site was the pele tower in about 1300, its height and strength suitable for troubled times along the Anglo/Scottish border. But by the late 16th century things were more peaceful, hence the desire of James Bellingham - who moved here in about 1580 - to turn Levens Hall into a gentleman’s residence. 
Sadly his great-grandson Alan Bellingham lost the whole estate through gambling and in 1689 the property came into the hands of Colonel James Grahme who added two wings and a brewhouse. 
Apart from the wood carving and plasterwork, there’s plenty of fine furniture to see and a number of items relating to the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte. Look out for the Charles II walnut chairs in the dining room where the walls are of Cordova leather.
Colonel Grahme’s masterstroke, of course, was engaging Frenchman Guillaume Beaumont (gardener to King James II) to design and build the garden. Although it has evolved over three centuries, the extraordinary variety of shapes and sizes in yews and box hedges is a tribute to this great designer. 
Levens Hall, near Kendal LA8 0PD: 015395 60321. Levens Kitchen, gift shop, parking. Wheelchair access: access to the gardens, the Kitchen and shop; no wheelchair access to the house. Walks in the deer park. Directions: Levens Hall is five miles (8km) south of Kendal on the A6.

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