Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 4SJ – Visit Now
Fallow deer, Haile Selassie and dead wood beetles: why Dunham Massey is our number one spot for a winter’s walk.
I’ll come right out and say it: I love Dunham Massey. I love its fallow deer, which gambol gaily around a country pile that wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of Countryfile. I’m fond of its stately gardens. I have a thing for its aristocrats, those old Earls of Stamford who variously helped and/or hindered assorted monarchs to keep and/or lose their heads. But, actually, the real reason I love this National Trust house and estate on the edge of Altrincham is all of the above and more: I love it because it is a place that rolls in rich, glorious history as gleefully as a dung beetle rollicking with a steaming pile of elephant manure.
Dunham Massey was given – in a rather remarkable feat of generosity – to the National Trust in 1976. This was the final act of the unmarried Roger Grey, the 10th Earl of Stamford who, incidentally, was friends with the exiled Emperor Haile Selassie and who, with the help of his mother, turned the estate’s Georgian house into a hospital for World War One soldiers. The house itself is always worth a poke around and was temporarily converted back into Stamford Military Hospital in 2014 in commemoration of WWI), but is closed for a few months each winter. Despite its locked and bolted front door, Dunham Massey is still worthy of your wintry attention – because, despite the frigid conditions, the coldest months see Dunham come into bloom.
It’s worthy of your wintry attention; despite the frigid conditions, the coldest months see Dunham come into bloom
During the hoary depths of wintertime over 25,000 early flowering bulbs – dwarf daffs, snowdrops, cowslips and cyclamen – emerge from its Winter Garden. Beyond the boundaries of house and garden (including a café, shop and ice cream parlour that remains open for those hardy souls able to stomach an al fresco ice in sub-zero temperatures) lies an ancient deer park. The park is contained within a two-mile boundary wall, constructed by the second Earl of Stamford in 1748. Designed to keep in deer whose meat both fed and lined the Earl’s pockets, what Lord Stamford couldn’t have known was that his wall would end up preserving the sort of English pasture-woodland that is now, centuries on, as rare as an African dung beetle on an icy morning.
The park’s deer continue to graze in a manner more or less unchanged since Norman times. Little disturbs the ecosystem – the biggest threat to Dunham’s trees, for example, is not the impatient whine of a chainsaw, but the bucks that will strip a sapling’s bark given half the delicious chance. It is thus a landscape dominated by ancient trees, and one littered with dead wood. Branches are deliberately left where they fall; they become twisted and bleached into grotesque shapes by the wind and rain. On a crisp winter’s day, they sparkle with frosty glory.
The decaying beauty of trees that are on average 300 years old is not the only reason to fall in love with this landscape. Dunham’s woodland detritus provides a home for slow moving, dead-wood-munching beetles. Over 180 different kinds, in fact and some so rare they’ve not been seen anywhere else since Victorian times. Dunham Massey is a Site of Special Scientific Interest; those funny-looking trees are food and shelter for some of Britain’s rarest invertebrates.
So, what with the beetles, the bulbs, the deer and the close proximity of real ale boozer, the Swan With Two Nicks (which is only a field away), there is much to like at Dunham Massey. If you’re not convinced, head for the oak tree by the stable block. It stands – on slightly doddery roots – in the spot where it was planted some 500 years ago. This tree has witnessed more aristocratic comings and goings than the current royal heir apparent is ever likely to. At Dunham Massey, history continues to evolve in a landscape that’s as ancient as merry old England.
Services and FacilitiesBritain's largest and best winter garden awaits you Truly now a garden for all seasons Enjoy a game of croquet on a summer's afternoon Park and garden tours available at no extra charge Access to the house is limited, and not all of our collections are on show. Please visit the NT collections website www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk for further information. If you have a more specific query or would like to request to see something that isn’t on display please contact our House & Collections team on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to make an appointment
AccessibilityUnfortunately access to the house is limited. Please call 0161 941 1025 for more information if you have queries about visiting the house. Shuttle transfer available from March to October Drop-off point available PMVs available on free hire, booking required Adapted toilets near visitor reception Designated mobility parking in main car park, approx 200 yards from visitor facilities Accessible grounds, flat paths with firm surfaces. Cobbled area which can be avoided, map available