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Top 5: Historic Houses and Gardens in Bath

Longleat House, David Phillips

In the words of Cicero, 'if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need' – in which case the rolling emerald hills around Bath ought to leave visitors wanting for nothing. This portal into the West Country holds a host of beautiful gardens and book-filled stately homes just waiting to be explored. From deer parks to picturesque cottages, here's our run-down of the top 5 historic houses and gardens in the Bath area.

Prior Park

Let's start off with Prior Park, which just might be the secret jewel in Bath's leafy crown. With views over the whole of Bath, this stunning landscape garden dates back to the eighteenth century, when it was devised and shaped by local entrepeneur Ralph Allen, with advice from the famed landscape architect 'Capability' Brown and poet Alexander Pope. The house is a Grade I listed building designed in the Palladian style, and the twenty-eight acres of garden occupy a steep valley leading down to a lake, complete with one of only four Palladian bridges to exist in the world. Now owned and run by the National Trust, it's worth a visit for those vistas alone.

Image Credit: Ingrid Truemper, Prior Park Landscape Garden

Prior Park can be found at Ralph Allen Drive, Bath, Somerset, BA2 5AH.

The Courts Garden

Another National Trust-run property, The Courts Garden near Bradford on Avon is on a much smaller scale, but it's full of charm nonetheless. The eighteenth-century house is built in the classic Bath stone, and around it is a carefully considered collection of 'garden rooms'; each section designed to be distinct. Everything you could hope for from an impressive cottage garden is here, including tranquil water gardens and lush herbaceous borders, elegant topiary and a three-acre arboretum with many tree species. Come here for a typically English space and enjoy the corner of calm.

Image Credit: The Courts Garden, Bradford on Avon Museum

The Courts Garden can be found at Holt, near Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, BA14 6RR.

Dyrham Park

No list of gardens would be complete without at least one ancient deer park, which in this case comes in the form of Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire. A herd of fallow deer are free to roam over this estate of 270 acres of parkland, with a seventeenth-century house and garden thrown in, too. Pay a visit to their West garden, which has a twenty-first-century twist, boasting glassy ponds and a wildflower orchard. Meanwhile, younger visitors can set off on a nature trail or run around in the Old Lodge picnic and play area. Seek out Dyrham Park for great wildlife-spotting and wide open spaces.

Image Credit: Paul L, Deer at Dyrham Park

Dyrham Park can be found at Dyrham, Gloucestershire SN14 8HY.

Iford Manor Peto Garden

Dating back to Roman times, the area surrounding Iford Manor is a quiet, rural idyll, perfect for country walks. For those lucky ramblers who stumble across this Medieval manor house, they'd be astonished not to have missed it - semi-concealed as it is behind hanging woodlands. The romantic garden is spread over the hillside, leading down the valley toward the Frome river, and was designed by the architect and landscape gardener Harold Ainsworth Peto in the late nineteenth century. He combined plants and architecture to produce truly breath-taking gardens, all inspired by the old Italian style. During the summer Iford Manor hosts many of the operas and recitals that take place as part of the Iford Arts programme.

Image Credit: Rictor Norton & David Allen, Peto Garden

Iford Manor can be found at Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 2BA.

Longleat House and Grounds

Certainly one of the most grandiose houses in the area, Longleat also has one of the most intriguing histories. Set amid a staggering 900 acres of 'Capability' Brown (here he is again) landscaped gardens, this eye-popping spectacle of Elizabethan architecture is one of the best examples of its kind that is open to the public, which is not surprising given that it happens to be the seat of the Marquesses of Bath. But that's not all – it is also home to the first drive-through safari park outside Africa, which opened in 1966 and is still going strong today. Complete with it's own railway, this imposing estate is extremely popular with visitors, so better start planning your day trip now!

Image Credit: Longleat House

Longleat House and Grounds can be found at Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire, BA12 7NW.