Ellie Harrison explores some of Britain's finest country estates. She visits the Ernest Cook estate in Gloucestershire, examining the legacy left by the philanthropist and recluse.
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Wealth, scandal, art and culture -
it's all there in the long history of Britain's great country estates
and the changing fortunes of those who own them.
Today, many are looked after by charitable trusts
rather than family dynasties, but their role as landowners
and custodians of large swathes of our countryside
is as important as ever.
Here at the Fairford estate in Gloucestershire, I'll be discovering
how an unassuming travel agent from the city
fell in love with the countryside
and went on to create a legacy here that would last for generations.
This estate is putting education first,
and I'll be going back to the classroom
at a school deep in the woods.
Who likes marshmallows?
With the help of the Countryfile team,
I'll also be delving into the archives to see what makes Britain's great estates tick,
from Matt's trip to the gardens of Tatton...
I'm not kidding, that's the nicest apple I've ever tasted.
..to Julia's day at the races...
Goodwood's finest, there you go, my love.
Lovely, thank you.
..and for sheer splendour there's Adam's visit
to one of the grandest estates of them all.
What a stunning view. You must be very proud.
It is, it's wonderful,
I wake up to this view every morning, which is fantastic.
The Fairford Estate.
4,000 acres of woods, park and farmland
on the banks of the River Coln.
Lying on the southern edge of the Cotswolds,
this is an estate without pomp or ceremony.
The stately home which once graced it is long gone,
leaving a scattering of buildings cast in the famous local stone.
Today, it's in the hands of a trust founded by its last owner -
If you haven't heard of him before you will have heard of
his grandfather, Thomas - as in the travel agent, Thomas Cook -
where Ernest spent his whole working life in the banking department.
So far, so dull.
But Ernest had a surprise up his sleeve.
'When he retired, he sold the family business, making him a fortune.
'He then began buying up country estates,
'including this one just after the war.'
Nicholas, how was it Ernest Cook came to buy,
not just one estate, but some estates?
He bought them, and indeed he bought 17,
so he rose from owning virtually no land at all to being one of
the largest landowners in the country in a short space of time.
And he bought them because he cared passionately about rural England,
about the communities and the landscape,
which were being sold off and broken up at the time
he was doing that, in the '30s, '40s and early '50s.
And he therefore bought them to preserve them.
But he was an urbanite, wasn't he?
He lived in London, so why did he care about country living?
He saw that way of life being threatened
by the continuing urbanisation,
which he could see, obviously, from living in a city,
and wanted to make sure that that way of life did not disappear completely.
'But some of this is guesswork,
'as very little is known for certain about the man himself.
'Even in the archives of the trust which bears his name,
'there are just three photographs of him and few clues to how
'this city gentleman came to champion the countryside.'
So this was Ernest Cook?
Yes, and I always think it's slightly sad
that one of the best-known pictures of him is as a really old man.
It's terribly easy to paint a picture of him
as being a dry, Edwardian bachelor, recluse, philanthropist,
which he wasn't, but he was so unassuming and shy
that he did not want and didn't write anything down about what he was doing.
Gosh, for such a huge legacy it's surprising there is so little
-to give us a clue about what he was like.
-It's extraordinary, isn't it?
And you have to read between lines,
-but he was about as far as you can get from today's celebrity culture, really.
'Ernest, it seems, is destined to remain an enigma.'
At the heart of many estates is the manor house,
traditionally home to the Lord and his family,
not to mention a whole army of staff.
But what does running a stately pile involve today?
As Dunham Massey in Cheshire opened for the season,
Katie was there to find out.
I don't know about you,
but I do enjoy a beautifully-shot costume drama,
giving a snapshot of how life used to be for the upper classes,
who lived in houses like these, and the lower classes, who worked for them -
a life upstairs and downstairs.
'This year marks the 30th anniversary of the house being open to the public,
'but as the covers come off for a new season, there's change afoot.
'The National trust wants the traditions of the past
'to meet demands of the future by bringing their houses alive,
'and that's the responsibility of the staff -
'the modern downstairs people.'
-Hello, Katie, good to see you.
-This looks like something I can help with.
-You certainly can.
-OK, removing the dust covers.
-Ready for a new season.
500,000 visitors a year come to Dunham,
so we've got to actually
show the house in a completely different way,
and I like to think we've radically changed.
In what way?
Well, in those days it was basically "Come in, look, don't touch, don't get involved,"
and nowadays, really, we want to involve and interact with our visitors.
-Sit on some of our furniture...
..play the piano upstairs,
go into the kitchen at a weekend, meet the cook,
go into the dining room, the footmen preparing for a great party.
So, people coming here can really experience their own slice of a costume drama?
Absolutely. Upstairs, Downstairs lives at Dunham Massey.
'Keeping the house in pristine condition
'whilst throwing open the doors to visitors isn't easy.
'The devil's in the detail, and knowing the boundaries.'
So, why are there ropes in some of the rooms partitioning bits off?
Sometimes it's small areas like this,
but other times the carpets may be 100 or 150 years old
and those in themselves are fragile - the carpets would disappear.
Over the centuries, just like the houses in our favourite television period dramas,
Dunham Massey has witnessed a fair few scandals
that would have made even the servants' heads turn.
The 7th Earl of Stamford married Catharine Cocks -
a former bareback circus rider.
And the 2nd Earl of Warrington loved his wife so much
that he wrote a book anonymously on the desirability of...divorce?
You just couldn't make this stuff up.
'Of course, these upstairs folk are ghosts of the past.'
-Or are they?
'Memories of the real family live on through the elaborate outfits they left behind.'
What a beautiful dress. What are you doing here?
I'm checking the fastenings and seams, making sure it's strong enough to go on this mannequin.
Who would have worn this?
This dress was worn by Lady Jane Grey in about 1924,
and she wore it to a party in London.
She was dressed as her ancestor, Lady Jane Grey,
who was the Nine Days' Queen.
'Now, any house worth its costume drama bonnet
'needs gardeners and aspirational grounds, and a project
'to restore the rose garden is establishing a new pecking order.'
So, Damian, what have you got here? Puppies? Kittens?
-No, they're chickens.
-These are our eco-warriors.
-So are we going to let them out?
-There are seven in total.
-And what's the idea here?
These are literally going to clean up all the weed seeds
and any weeds that come through.
So you're expecting these few chickens to clear this large area of weeds?
No, we're actually bringing in another 50 ex-battery chickens,
so we're going to a battery farm and we're going to liberate them.
'These batteries will have to power-peck for months
'if the rose garden is to be restored to its former glory.
'And the clock's ticking for the grand opening, much too fast.'
I'm going to the clock mechanism, I need to wind it every week, check it hasn't gained time.
Here we go!
-That should do it.
-Is that it? OK.
I was very worried for a minute there!
'Well, like the folk that once lived here, today I've seen it all.'
Do you know what?
After a hard day working on the estate,
I feel I could fit right in here.
But it can't have been easy in days gone by,
and it's certainly not easy now getting ready for the visitors coming in two weeks.
Oh, excuse me.
KNOCK AT DOOR
-Your tea, Lady Stamford.
-Thank you. That will be all.
Just a few miles away from Dunham Massey
is another great Cheshire estate - Tatton Park.
It may be famous for its annual flower show,
but it was the fruit and veg keeping Matt busy at harvest time.
'I've come to help out in the kitchen garden,
'a dedication to Edwardian horticulture.
'It's the legacy of the late Lord Egerton, Tatton's last resident.'
It's incredible how much you've got in what is quite a small area.
Well, it's less than an acre. You've got 350 trees in less than an acre.
That was the skill,
to compact as many different varieties into a small area.
-We've got about 60 in this small space.
-Have you really?
And is the idea to keep them quite contained? They are quite quaint.
They're eight years old, but they should never get any bigger.
The idea is you can get a lot into a small space,
but you've got to think of it as her ladyship doing some pruning,
a bit of picking. It was there for them to play around with,
as well as the gardeners.
It was very much a place of recreation.
In its day, there were 2,000 varieties. We now have about 200.
One reason we were looking at restoring an orchard of this period
was to hold onto some of those varieties before they get lost.
This is the Duchess' favourite here.
Isn't that beautiful-looking?
That was a really popular Victorian variety.
Dates from around 1700.
It was grown for the Duchess of York.
It's got a great flavour.
Strawberry, kind of pear drops flavour.
Let's have a go at that.
-A really popular Victorian variety.
-How about these days?
No. You just never find stuff like this.
You can just imagine a Victorian commuter chomping on his apple.
-Oh, that is special!
-What do you reckon, eh? Hm?
That's lovely! There's all sorts of things going on in there.
-That's the nicest apple I've ever tasted.
-Thank you very much.
It is! Beautiful. Oh, man! Right.
I tell you what, I'll get one more for luck.
'Although this garden was designed just eight years ago,
'all the trees here were sourced from 1911 catalogues.
'In fact, everything grown here dates back to that era.'
So, is this a very traditional plan that you've worked to
with the path going around as a border?
Very much. It's a standard pattern for great country houses.
These walled orchards and the walled vegetable garden.
It has to be a productive garden,
but it also is ornamental.
Lord and Lady Egerton would be here on a Sunday with their guests,
viewing all the fruit as they walk down for their Sunday walk.
And it has to provide many functions.
It has to be very highly productive,
producing stuff all times of the year,
but highly ornamental, as well,
such was the Victorian need for beauty.
'Tatton's keeping this tradition of the Victorian garden alive.
'There's a wonderful array of colourful fruit and veg here.
'With preparations for harvest well under way,
'we're gathering the pick of the crop to take to the estate's farm.'
-Elly, how are you doing?
-I'm all right, Matt. How are you?
I've got some lovely bits and pieces for you.
From the gardens. It looks lovely.
This is where the harvest festival will take place?
That's right. We're busy cleaning and starting to set up.
It's a wonderful rare-breeds farm.
We've held Rare Breeds Survival Trust's
Approved Conservation Centre since 2007.
So we've got a variety and a large number of rare-breed animals,
including our Clydesdales, a little flock of Leicester Longwool sheep.
-And some very springy Angora goats.
My word! Hello.
They're just waiting here, ready for shearing. Do you fancy having a go?
-I've never sheared a goat before.
-It's much the same as a sheep.
What lovely fleece they have.
Yeah. They've got a lot of tummy wool on there.
'The wool from the goats
'will be used in a spinning demonstration during the festival.
'These goats are tricky to shear.
'Unlike sheep, their fleece comes off in bits and pieces.'
Well, I'll tell you what, you're certainly the wrinkliest
and hairiest thing that I've ever shaved.
He doesn't look like he's going to win any prizes.
'The animals are also prepared in other ways for the harvest festival.
'Next up, Reverend Andrew Bradley's busy carrying out a blessing.'
We thank you for the part they play in our lives and in this world
and in all you've created. And now, Father, we pray you bless them.
'Every single animal on the farm gets blessed,
'another Tatton tradition that's stood the test of time.'
Matt enjoying the harvest at Tatton.
Those giddy summer months might seem like ages ago,
but the chill in the air here in Fairford
isn't enough to put off some of its regular visitors.
And they should be arriving any minute now.
-Done a bit of walking already?
You're dressed up for the occasion, for the weather.
'25 pupils from a local school
'are coming for a morning of outdoor learning.
'The classroom's very different to my school days,
'but the story has a more familiar ring.'
-Then I'll huff
and I'll puff
and I'll blow your house down.
So I wondered if we could build some houses in the wood.
-Do you think we could?
'That's houses for the three little piggies, of course.
'At this school, though, you can't rely on the stationery cupboard.'
The pig's getting squashed now.
Shall we move the sticks?
Where shall we put this?
Oh, that's far too big!
I'm surprised you can carry that. Aren't you strong?!
'The Ernest Cook Trust is all about education.
'45 schools make these visits to the Fairford Estate.
'Some now and then, others every week.'
I'd have loved this when I was a kid. We didn't do anything like this.
Do they perform differently in their classrooms to out here?
Children are very different outside.
Without the restriction of those four walls,
which is not where children are designed to be,
they act much more naturally,
they actually develop different skills outside.
They're more aware of each other.
And their own self-esteem is raised because whatever they do,
they can achieve at whatever level they want to do.
Children are very happy outside.
What about today? It's really chilly.
I could see my breath this morning. It feels really bitter.
-Do you bring them out in all weathers?
The old saying - there's no such thing as bad weather,
only bad clothing, is very true.
'How much the children are enjoying all this is plain to see.
'The teaching also includes valuable lessons about the countryside.'
So the roots go into the ground and they take...
They take the water up.
So the roots of the tree are really important
because they are the pieces that take the water into the tree.
What did we say the leaves do?
-They're going to take in the...?
The sun, to give the tree energy in which to grow. That's right.
Why is this a good lesson for the little ones?
Well, as part of every lesson we do, whatever subject we're doing,
we always incorporate into that some care for the environment.
Hopefully, this will lead on to the fact
that they'll be interested in the environment and care for it.
And as part of looking after their piece of the woodland here,
they're going to plant this tree.
As the children visit regularly though the year,
we'll measure it and see how it's developing
and whether it's getting everything it needs.
It comes into part of their science and nature learning,
as well as looking after the environment.
A little bit wonky, but essentially good.
'But before things all get too serious,
'the highlight of the morning is bound to keep the punters happy.
'Marshmallows around the campfire.'
I'm terrible at making fires. I'm going to take notes.
-Are you having a bad hair day?
-I'm laughing at Casper's hat hair!
This is the best bit! The bit we've been waiting for.
-Who likes marshmallows? ALL:
It's Guide camp, circa 1990-something.
All in one! Down in one!
With over 250 acres of woodland here at Fairford,
it's the perfect place to witness the changing of the seasons.
And when Julia was in search of some autumn colour,
she went to another estate, Ashridge, in the Chilterns.
'The Chilterns may only be a short drive
'from the bright lights of London, but it feels much further.
'These hills are covered in dense woodland.
'There are trees everywhere.'
The most famous tree here is the beech,
surely one of the nation's favourites.
And as autumn kicks in, its blaze of amber igniting the canopy,
what better time of year to hug a tree?
The Bridgewater Monument on the Ashridge Estate
provides the perfect view of the canopy.
Chrissie, marvellous views from up here,
and it looks as nature intended, but it's not, is it?
No, you're right. It's all man-made, really.
It's been planted over many hundreds of years
and managed for many hundreds of years by people.
-That's what a lot of the woodlands in the Chilterns are about.
High Wycombe, Chesham, Amersham, that's where all the sawmills were.
The beech was the popular timber for making furniture.
What qualities does beech have to make good furniture?
It's very durable and it's perfect for indoor furniture.
By the end of the 18th century,
chair-making was a thriving industry here.
The Chilterns were famous for the Windsor chair,
exported all over the world.
But as fashion moved on and imports became cheaper,
the industry declined.
-So the market's changed?
-Absolutely, it has.
In many ways that's our gain because we manage this estate
for conservation and for recreation
and the public get to enjoy the wonders of this beautiful scenery
and this wonderful place.
As you look around, you can see how wonderfully tall and straight
these trees grow.
They've been managed specifically for that,
and it makes them the perfect crop, really,
when they're this straight and unblemished.
'But not all beeches grow straight and true.'
Just around this corner, Julia,
we have one of the most beautiful trees on the Ashridge Estate.
It's a wonderful tree for filming.
It's been used in Harry Potter's Goblet of Fire,
it's been used in Sleepy Hollow.
Oh, my word!
-Look at all its tentacles.
-Isn't it just fabulous?
How old is it?
We don't know for definite, and the only way we could find out
would be to fell it and count the rings.
It's got to be 500, 600, 700, hasn't it?
-Look at the size of the trunk.
-Yeah, the girth of it.
She's so gnarly, isn't she?
She is, and in many ways that's a product of the fact
she's a pollarded, tree which means that it's been cut above head height
and allowed to grow, but we don't think the tree's been pollarded
for probably 100, 200 years.
You can see from the size of the stems we now have coming out,
-They're the size of a mature beech tree.
It's amazing the tree still has the strength
to keep the weight of those limbs.
Once again, this is nature and man together that have created this.
Yeah, it is.
The beech tree has been allowed to retire gracefully in these parts.
The larch, however, is still on active duty,
being turned into everything from fence posts to bird boxes.
On a small scale, this serves as a reminder of an industry
that once dominated the landscape.
But humans aren't the only species who shape the trees here.
There's another beast doing its fair share of pruning.
The deer go way back in Ashridge.
They were farmed here by monks in monastic times,
and there's been a deer park in Ashridge through until about 1926.
Until the fences of that park came down,
the deer became wild and roamed free.
Now, woodland and deer don't necessarily, erm,
-marry up very happily, do they?
Well, as deer increase in numbers, and they are going to do that,
because we now have six species of deer in the UK
and none of their predators exist any more, they're all extinct.
Their numbers will increase, the behaviour of the deer isn't the same
as when predators are in place.
Inevitably the woodland's affected.
As the deer numbers increase, the habitat starts to become affected,
and you can see that at Ashridge very clearly
with what we refer to as the browse line.
If you look around any of the areas in the woodland,
you can actually see a very clipped vegetation height
up to about five or six feet.
It's not the staff going round with a hedge trimmer,
it's actually the presence of large numbers of fallow deer.
They're still quite active. What are they doing? They're prancing around.
-Rutting season's over, isn't it?
-It is. It's winding up now, really.
We have got a larger buck there and he's sort of calming down.
He's not making the groaning sounds any more.
But there are younger males there which you can see,
and they're sparring.
They're the males that are about two years old,
and they're practising to become mature bucks
and own a stand of their own.
While Julia was enchanted by the woods of Ashridge,
it was the Lees Court Estate in Kent which grabbed me
when I visited this summer, all thanks to the fruits of the sea.
A Countryfile presenter's life isn't always that glamorous.
Not usually, anyway.
They've had me doing all sorts from sniffing otter poo...
It's not a bad smell.
They've even had me being chased by a pack of dogs.
-They're here, I can hear them.
But today, thankfully, things are altogether different.
-Oh, don't mind if I do!
-You see, it's all about these things.
Between you and me, I'm not particularly fond of them,
but I am fascinated by how this stretch of the Swale estuary in Kent
has become an oyster hotspot.
'Countess Sondes, a native New Yorker,
'married into the British aristocracy
'and has managed the whole estate for the last 15 years.
'A formidable job for a formidable lady.'
So what can we see here? How much is part of the estate?
I can best answer that with some folklore.
The story goes, in the old days they would define
the Sondes' estate on the Swale, a horseman, and it was always a man,
would ride his horse as far as he could and where his spear lands.
I don't know if that would work today but that's a bit of the story.
That's quite a sizeable area.
It must be unique, because the estate owns part of the seabed,
and that's the unique part, isn't it?
It's usually assumed the Crown owns all of that.
I think there are three or four privately owned.
I'm from New York, but the only place I feel I belong
is on the Lees Court Estate.
This is so much part of that now.
It's brought another culture and dimension to Lees Court.
It's very different from New York.
It certainly is. I don't understand a lot of today's culture,
or feel I fit into it, but here's where I do feel I fit and belong.
'Someone who also belongs here is Bluey Walpole.
'He's been fishing these waters for 50 years.'
-Hello, Lady Sondes.
'He's effectively a tenant farmer here,
'but the oysters aren't harvested in the conventional way.
'and Bluey and his crew are certainly not short of them.'
So, where are these oysters, then, Bluey?
Well, they're here, there and everywhere,
but there's millions of them.
We've got two or three patches up the river here a bit.
Have they always been here, the oysters?
No, no, '82 I believe was the first lot that were put in.
And they flourished then?
They've flourished more in the last 15 years.
We had lots of problems in the early days
because we had bad pollution problems
in the upper reaches of the Swale.
'Bluey campaigned hard to improve the water quality
'in this stretch of water.
'30 years ago you'd be hard pressed to find many oysters at all.
'He managed to revitalise both native and rock oysters,
'and it's the rock we're looking for today.'
Right, then, Blue, what am I looking for?
-What we're looking for is a nice medium-sized oyster.
-What about this one?
-These are the ones we're looking for, for our market.
No, that's all right.
What is the advantage of hand-picking oysters
rather than using machinery or dredging?
Well, if you dredge the oysters when they're covered by water.
they're feeding and they're open
and they knocked into the ground by the dredge blade
and then you get an oyster with a lump of mud
and shell and bits in it.
It's difficult for them to clean.
'Bluey and his crew will pick about 2,000 oysters in just a few hours.
'At 30 pence a piece that's not a bad harvest.
'Any that don't make the grade are left to reproduce,
'keeping the stocks alive.'
They have a fascinating reproductive biology.
They're protandrous alternating hermaphrodites.
In one reproductive cycle, it can produce eggs
and in the next reproductive cycle, they can produce sperm.
'Once picked, oysters have to be purified for 48 hours.
'But that doesn't stop Bluey and Lady Sondes sampling their wares.'
You're going to eat that here?
I wouldn't do this anywhere else, but everything is so clean and the water is wonderful.
-You'll never have a better oyster.
-There you are, madam.
-Wow! Straight out of the water.
-Wonderful. How about one for you?
Well, erm, I might have one in a while.
-I'll leave it for now.
'I think I got away with that one.
'With a fresh batch on board, we're heading for dry land.
'On the short journey back, it's plain to see why this place is so special to Lady Sondes and Bluey.
'I've tried my best all day not to eat an oyster,
'but Lady Sondes is trying to convince me.
'Her butler is preparing some of Bluey's delicacies.
'Hopefully, the surroundings of our dinner date will take my mind off it.'
I can smell a very delicious smell coming through the cave.
We've tried very hard during the course of the day in different types of oysters.
I'm very excited to see your reaction.
Wow! I shall have an oyster.
Delicious! And one of these? Thank-you.
-That's an oyster rolled in Parma ham.
Is this a "down the hatch" as they are when they're raw?
You could, or maybe it's easier to have a go.
The moment of truth, then!
That's lovely. I feel I'm tasting seafood
rather than throwing something down my throat.
That's very good to know.
'Well, who'd have thought it? Me enjoying eating an oyster!
'The Swale Estuary has had a profound effect on me and my palate.'
Coming up on this celebration of our country estates -
has Adam met his match?
-It's a blend of temptation and firm persuasion!
Will Julia have any luck at the races?
Give me a little tip?
I'm not allowed to tip or back, actually,
being the clerk of the course!
And there's the Countryfile weather forecast for the week ahead.
Now, estates come in all shapes and sizes.
It's the responsibility for managing the land that's common to them all.
At Fairford, that can mean anything from agricultural land to woodlands.
But when Matt visited an estate in Cumbria,
it was its dramatic coastal location that set it apart.
Between the shifting sands of Morecambe
and the hills of the Lake District lies the Cartmel Peninsula.
Jutting out into the bay
with views to die for, most of this land is owned by the Holker Estate.
And at the heart of the estate is the stunning Holker Hall,
which has been home to the Cavendish family since the 1700s.
The Cavendishes throw open the doors to their home
and garden to the public.
There's more to the estate than a visitor attraction. It also supports a number of farms.
'Harry Wilson was originally a dairy farmer.
'He was struggling after foot and mouth, so for the last ten years,
'he's also been grazing sheep on the coastal marshes behind his farm.'
Do you often come to this spot to look out, because it's great spot?
Yes, to look stock and to glance over,
and I know if there's any trouble.
-It must be a challenging area to farm.
-A lot of walking.
'I'm about to find that out myself as we head down towards the shore.'
-This is the marsh, then?
-This is it. All the way out there!
It just goes on and on and on!
'The fertile salt marsh is rich in herbs, making it fantastic grazing for the lambs.
'It allows Harry to sell the meat at a premium.
'But farming near the sea isn't without its difficulties.'
Here we are at the gullies. Goodness me!
This is the problem you've got.
You can see all the footprints here of the sheep and the lambs.
If it's restricted to one place it's not so bad,
but then they go in between, they can get stuck easily.
-How many lambs have you had stuck in there?
-Lambs haven't been too bad.
A couple have got out. Sheep have been worse.
This year, we've had a lot of sheep stuck.
-And it's difficult to get down here. You can't use vehicles.
-You can't cross these with quads.
'Farming in such a challenging environment may seem a hassle,
'but ultimately it's the taste and price tag of the lamb that makes it worth it.'
It's this grass here.
It looks quite arid here towards the edge of the gully
but there's some magic in there.
-I don't know what the magic is, but they like it.
'I'm in a hurry to see what all the fuss is about.
'I'm heading back to the farm where I'm meeting another fan of Harry's lambs.
'Simon Rogan owns a Michelin-starred restaurant in Cartmel.
We're going to do some nice chops, quite simply. Beautiful, thick chops there.
What I thought I'd do is to coordinate it with coastal herbs
so we're going to enhance the flavour of the lamb
with what it's been eating.
That's what you've got down here?
We've got rock samphire, sea asters
and sea arrow-grass, which we picked this morning.
'Into the pan goes some butter and the fresh coastal herbs.
'While they simmer, it's on to the sauce.'
How do you find the flavour of salt marshland?
It's got a very sweet, mild flavour. Not over-salty.
Because like any good cooking technique, beforehand,
you should salt the ingredient first,
because it brings out the flavours in the cooking.
As the sheep have been feeding on herbs which have been under the sea,
it's actually starting the cooking, the salting process at an early age.
-They're actually doing it for you!
Look at that.
Pour the sauce over the top.
Brilliant. Absolutely first class. It looks terrific.
-Nice and rustic.
-Who wants to play table?
You go on, you go first.
Saltmarsh lamb on the saltmarsh.
That's a dream. That is beautiful. Really is lovely.
'Back in Gloucestershire, farming is part and parcel of the Fairford Estate too,
'and I'm on my way to meet one of the tenants.
'Doubt I'll be getting any fresh lamb, though.'
-Pleased to meet you. Welcome to the farm.
'Jeremy Iles farms a mixture of arable and livestock.
'He's by no means the first in his family to call this estate home.'
How long have you farmed here?
I'm actually the sixth generation to be a tenant on this estate.
-Farming is definitely in your blood?
-It certainly is.
So what breed have you got here?
It's a breed called the Stabiliser.
They're a composite breed of Red Angus, Hereford, Simmental
and Gelbvieh. They produce a good cow with really good maternal instincts.
-Nice and calm, which is important for us.
-They look hungry.
Yes, let's give them a feed.
I'll stick to the other side of you.
Here we go. There's some hungry girls there.
-How many did you say there were?
-46 here. They're all in calf.
There's one bull in here as well.
There he is. He's a beast. Wow.
What are the benefits of being on a tenant farm here in Fairford?
The Ernest Cook Trust are long-term holders of the land,
so it gives us confidence to invest in the farm ourselves because we know we have a long tenancy here.
So very much, we treat the farm as our own
and keep it in condition as if it were our own.
And that means not standing still.
Since taking over, Jeremy has merged his farm with a neighbour's.
Together, they've invested in an anaerobic digester,
which uses manure to generate electricity to sell to the National Grid.
Even though it's quite a historic estate,
you feel that there's plenty of room for innovation and modern thinking?
Absolutely. From there, who knows where it will grow?
I'm sure we'll be going back to the trust in a couple of years,
maybe with an idea to use renewable heat.
Do you think you'll stay and pass it on to your children?
I sincerely hope so.
I'll continue investing in the estate and the farm,
assuming one of my children might want to take it on.
Our very own Adam is himself a tenant farmer.
But on a trip to the Castle Howard estate,
he found the tenants enjoying much grander surroundings than his own.
If you like beautiful, sweeping views,
gentle hills and picture-postcard villages of honey-coloured stone,
this might be just the part of the world for you.
These are the Howardian Hills in Yorkshire. It's a beautiful spot.
The best thing about it is it feels like you've got it all to yourself.
Covering 79 square miles, they're designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
At their heart is the magnificent centrepiece of Castle Howard.
It's been a setting for many films including Brideshead Revisited.
The house and gardens attract around 250,000 visitors a year,
and it's certainly easy to see why.
Home to the same family since it was built 300 years ago, it took more than a century to complete.
The effect today is awe-inspiring.
But how has the presence of such a grand estate shaped its environment?
With its creamy limestone buildings and its rolling hills,
the landscape around here reminds me of my home in the Cotswolds.
This house is a bit grander than mine, though.
-Hi, how are you?
'Who better to ask than a member of that family,
'the Honourable Simon Howard, who still lives here on the estate.
'And where better to ask him than from up high?'
What a stunning view. You must be very proud.
It is, it's wonderful. I wake up to this view every morning, which is fantastic.
You've got a lot of staff and people living and working on the land here.
We have about 13 tenant farmers, there's 185 properties,
and they all help make this gel.
The tenant farmers are incredibly important,
because they help shape the landscape too
with cropping and hedging,
and, indeed, the way they look after some of their buildings.
They are very important.
And there's no better illustration of that than Mike Fargher -
his dad and his grandad both farmed on the estate before him.
Now he's hoping his son Ben will follow in his footsteps.
'To see how the estate's shaped this land, we need to get out and see it.
'The legacy of one family's continuous care over the hills is clear,
'from a lush and well-stocked arboretum
'to gracefully sweeping driveways.
'There can't be many farmers' fields which are overlooked
'by buildings like these.'
Here we are, we've made it.
-What an amazing spot!
-Fantastic, isn't it?
-With this in the background!
-This is the Temple of Four Winds.
These are some of the Aberdeen Angus.
This sight we're looking at now,
that view has never altered for the last 350 years.
It's kept as it was in the Enclosure Act,
-and let's hope it can stay like that for another 350 years.
'This farmer is certainly playing his part in managing the landscape.'
Just wanted to check that one. She's due to calve, but she's a bit off yet.
-But they look all right.
-They do, yeah.
'It's not just the estate and its workers who helped shape these hills.
'Over the years, conservation organisations have become very involved.
'I've left Mike checking his herd and come to see one of the area's
'more surprising success stories.'
It seemed like a long drive for me coming up the M1 from Gloucestershire.
But I've come to meet a group of countryside workers who are all the way from Devon.
But not people - they're these guys, Exmoor ponies.
'If these ponies weren't here,
'this field would be choked in scrub and coarse grasses.'
When I first saw this site about ten years ago,
it would be waist-high, and so we were looking for
some livestock that would help us to graze it.
The Exmoor ponies came along, and that seemed the opportunity to use them.
-Why not just let it run to scrub?
-Well, in the Howardian Hills
what we don't have is very much unimproved grassland
or fen-type habitat,
so the bits that we do have left are particularly important.
So if we left this, it would just scrub over with hawthorn and elder
and it would lose all its value
for the plants and insects that are found on this type of habitat.
'Today, two of the ponies are being moved from here
'to a new spot that's in need of grazing just a few miles away.
'Vet Clare Sutton is on hand to advise.'
-Which ones are we taking?
-We're taking a pony called Sidney,
who's up by the gate, and also his friend Skylark, who's the only mare
of the six ponies we've got here today.
-This is an important part of what they do.
It's what they're designed to do. Exmoor's a very bleak place,
and the ponies thrive in this kind of harsher environment.
-I'll just see if I can get round the left-hand...
-I'll wait here.
I've got Exmoors at home, and they're very lively,
so I'd be surprised if we just walk up and load them up into a trailer.
Oh, there we go!
'Amazingly, they're totally calm.
'It seems so easy. But not so fast...'
Walk on. Good boy.
'He know what he wants, and it doesn't involve
'getting into a van.'
Come on, little man.
It's a blend of, er, temptation
-and firm persuasion.
'At last they're in and we're off.
'For me, the drive is another chance to enjoy this special landscape.'
So, then, just let them go?
-Yeah, we usually just let them go.
-About the same time.
-So when you're ready, just...
-OK, one, two, three.
-One, two, three.
Go on, then.
'And they're free.'
There we go. They're very happy!
'Hopefully, the Exmoor ponies will continue to help maintain
'the natural beauty of the Howardian Hills.'
And if you're inspired by the beauty of the British countryside,
don't forget the Countryfile calendar for 2012,
sold in aid of Children in Need.
Here's how you can get your hands on one.
The calendar costs £9,
and a minimum of £4 from each sale will go to Children in Need.
You can order it right now on our website:
Or you can call the order line:
You can also order by post. Send your name, address and cheque to:
And please make your cheques payable to BBC Countryfile Calendar.
If you're planning on working off that turkey and getting out this week,
you'll want to know what the weather's going to be like. Here's the Countryfile forecast.
'I'm at Fairford in Gloucestershire,
'where, with the help of the Countryfile archives,
'I'm finding out what makes Britain's great estates tick.
'This one's all about education,
'but there's plenty of other work to do
'to keep the estate in good shape,
'not least for woodman Steve Boulton.'
-All right there, Steve?
-You're a busy man!
-Why has this one had to come down?
-It's dead. We take deadwood down
-because of the children playing. We like to be safe.
-And what happens to the deadwood?
The larger pieces will go back to Fairford for firewood.
The smaller pieces are left in the woods for bugs and for children to play with.
-This is a dream job. Do you love it?
-I absolutely love it.
-I've done it all my life. This is my 31st year of being a woodman.
-You'll get your carriage clock soon.
-This one's going off for wood?
I shall leave you to it.
Life on the modern estate isn't all about work,
and there's one estate in particular for which sport is its beating heart,
So at the start of the season,
Julia headed to Sussex for a day at the races.
Because of its high position perched on the top of the Downs,
Goodwood is often described
as the most beautiful racecourse in the world.
It's also unusual, as it's formed within the natural landscape.
And although racing is described as flat rather than over fences,
it's anything but,
as the horses have to cope with severe undulations and sharp turns.
It's played host to the sport of kings for over 200 years.
The racing season here starts in May and runs till October,
and I'm here to get a sneaky peek behind the scenes.
Preparation starts early at the course.
A few miles away in Pulborough, Amanda Perrett's getting ready.
She's a trainer.
Today, she's got four horses running at Goodwood, her local course,
and she's keen to get some of her charges into the winners' enclosure.
This is Blank Czech, who runs in the 2.40.
It's his first race of his life.
A little bit nervous. He was very nervous to be broken in.
He's been gaining confidence, so we just hope that he'll relax
and behave himself and run a nice first race today.
Amanda, Blank Czech and the rest of the team
leave the stables for the 15-mile trip to Goodwood.
Before the racing begins,
I'm heading to the course to meet the man in charge of the whole day.
This is Seamus, the clerk of the course.
-So, how's it looking, Seamus?
It's looking all right to me, plenty of moisture down there.
-And what is the going?
-I'm calling it officially good to firm.
That's the perfect flat-racing going.
If it's any firmer than that, the horses don't like to gallop on it.
And as the clerk of the course, what is your job today?
Well, to make sure the show gets running and everything goes well
with jockeys, horses, doctors, vets and all that lot.
-The whole shebang.
-The whole shebang.
Anything that's between these rails is sort of under my jurisdiction.
Give me a little tip. Whisper.
I'm not allowed to tip or back, actually,
being the clerk of the course. I'm not allowed to.
In the weighing room is local jockey Jim Crowley.
He's going to be riding Blank Czech.
-Here's the man. Hey, Jim. How are you feeling?
-Yeah, good, thank you.
Do you think your local knowledge gives you an upper hand?
-I think it helps, yeah.
-And how's Blank Czech feeling?
I sat on him the other morning for the first time,
and he seemed to give me a nice feel.
He's a bit of a nervous horse, so we're just hoping
he takes it all in his stride today.
It's like his first day at school. Looking forward to it.
-And you're the teacher.
-Well, I hope so.
-Thanks very much.
I'm about to meet one of the unsung heroes of racing, a jockey valet.
The job of the jockey valet
is to make sure that the jockeys are spick and span, ready for the races.
-Chris is Jim's man. Hello.
-Hi there. How are you?
-Hello?! What are we doing with tights?!
-Well, it's a little secret.
-All the jockeys actually wear tights.
-They don't?! I never knew that!
Just because they like the feel of them, I think!
But it's because they're light and they keep you warm.
We're in charge of bringing all the kit,
most importantly the owners' colours. That's the silk. Goes on the helmet.
These belong to the owner, go everywhere with his horses,
-and it's my job not to lose them.
-Do you have to iron them as well?
I don't. Thank goodness - I'm not very good at that.
While Blank Czech enters the parade ring under the watchful eye of the punters,
I should really show a bit of confidence in him, shouldn't I?
Time to put some money down.
-That's all right. Hello!
See, he's my man.
-There you go.
-Big Jim, how could I resist a man with such a fine tie?
-How are you doing?
-How are you?
-Very good, thank you.
So, I'm interested in Blank Czech, 8/1. Can I go £10 each way?
Certainly can. And seeing as you walked all the way down here,
-give her eight and a half.
-Oh, look at that! I knew I liked this gent!
-There we go.
-Thank you very much.
-Goodwood's finest. There, my love.
Lovely. Thank you! Right...
And they're off!
Hmm, but Blank Czech's not exactly leading the field.
In fact, there he is, bringing up the rear,
as he has done for most of the way. Come on, lad!
he wasn't last.
Wasn't first, second or third either.
Never mind, it was his first time out, and Goodwood is a tricky course
for the most experienced runners and riders.
Hopefully, the team behind Blank Czech aren't too disappointed.
Blank Czech may have lost me my 20 quid,
but soaking up the racing atmosphere
while enjoying the setting on the Sussex Downs is what it's about.
Since Julia was at Goodwood,
I'm pleased to say that Blank Czech has been on the up.
No wins, but a couple of second places. Not bad!
And that's all we've got time for.
Next Wednesday, Adam will be taking a look back at the farming year,
and he'll be splashing out on some jewellery for his prize bull.
-You have a choice of ring sizes.
That's a difficult-to-get-hold-of three-and-a-half-inch.
It's like matching up a lady's earring, isn't it?
See you then.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Ellie Harrison explores some of Britain's finest country estates. She visits the Ernest Cook estate in Gloucestershire, looking at the legacy left by the philanthropist and recluse. She also delves into the Countryfile archives and re-visits Matt Baker's visit to the historic Holker estate in Cumbria.
Julia Bradbury is at the Goodwood estate in West Sussex exploring its racing heritage, whilst Adam Henson is at Castle Howard in North Yorkshire meeting the tenant farmers who have been working on the estate for the last four generations.