The well-heeled Georgian town of Buckingham was declared Buckinghamshire’s county town by Alfred the Great as long ago as the 9th century.
Buckingham lost that status to Aylesbury in the 16th century, not long before Mary Tudor granted it the right to a weekly market, which still trades on Tuesday and Saturday.
Major attractions like Stowe and Silverstone are moments from Buckingham, while you have to give yourself an hour or two to walk the town trail to appreciate Buckingham’s 18th-century streetscapes, and pop inside the Old Gaol.
The Victorian architect and master restorer Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was born just outside Buckingham in Gawcott, and shaped many of the town’s monuments, like the Old Gaol, Church of Peter and Paul and the Medieval Chantry Chapel.
1. Buckingham Town Trail
The first place to visit is Buckingham Old Gaol on the High Street, which, as well as being a museum also contains the Tourist Information Centre, handing out maps for the town trail.
Buckingham was mostly rebuilt in the first decades of the 18th century, and so has a distinguished Georgian townscape, which lends itself well to an easy wander.
Leading up to the Old Gaol there’s a leafy avenue between the High Street and Ouse Valley Way, while at the southern end of the Market Square is the solemn Old Town, completed in 1783 and with filled-in arches where a market used to be.
Take time to poke around the tight, twisting streets of the Old Town, and see if Buckingham’s array of locally run boutiques, tearooms, bakeries, restaurants and gift shops take your fancy.
2. National Trust Stowe
The Stowe Estate belonged to the Temple-Grenvilles, who were as rich as they were eccentric.
Throughout the 18th century this free-spending family redeveloped Stowe House in ever more extravagant style, and surrounded it in an idyllic landscape scattered with Classical temples as reminders of Grand Tours.
The grounds are owned by the National Trust and open 365 days a year.
Because of the quantity of things to see, they can be taken as a separate attraction.
Luminaries of Georgian landscape architecture, like Charles Bridgeman, William Kent and Capability Brown all worked at Stowe, leaving behind a small world of monuments forming one of the largest concentrations of Grade I listed buildings in the UK.
Among the many must-sees are the Lake Pavilions (1719), the Statue of George II (1724), Boycott Pavilions (1728-29), the Temple of Ancient Virtue (1737), Palladian Bridge (1744), the Corinthian Arch (1765) and the Cook Monument from 1778 for Captain James Cook.
3. Stowe House
The estate’s glorious country house is not actually owned by the National Trust, but opens for tours to fund a long-term restoration.
Stowe House was built in four phases over the course of a century, starting in 1677 and culminating with nine years of extravagant construction commissioned by Earl Temple.
The interiors are inspired by Classical ruins and mythology, which are coded into almost every aspect of the design.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were two of the many august guests at Stowe House, and were taken aback by the overwhelming splendour of the building and its decor.
Just by way of a very brief introduction, the standouts are the Pantheon-inspired Marble Saloon, the North Hall with an astounding painted ceiling, the State Music Room with abundant gilding and the State Dining Room with octagonal ceiling paintings alluding the Classical mythology enclosed in rich gilded stucco-work.
You can sign up for a 15-minute or 45-minute tour, departing on the hour, or on the half-hour respectively.
4. Old Gaol Museum
Buckingham’s Georgian gaol is a Gothic Revival building designed like a castle and raised in 1748. The building’s rounded front is a later addition, by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1839, as accommodation for the gaoler.
For a lot of the 19th century the Old Gaol was a police station, then becoming, in turn, a fire station, public toilet, antiques shop and cafe, before being rescued in the 1980s and turned into a museum.
Inside you can get to know the thieves, poachers, counterfeiters and murderers who did time at the gaol, some of whom made audacious escapes.
The museum also covers Buckingham’s history, with exhibitions like the Lenborough Hoard, 5,000 Anglo-Saxon-era coins found in a field a mile outside Buckingham in 2014.
5. Chantry Chapel
A large fire in 1725 left nearly all of Buckingham in ruins, so very few older buildings remain.
The Chantry Chapel is the oldest of them all, and is owned by the National Trust.
Going back to the 12th century, this was initially a hospital before being turned into a chantry chapel (for the souls of wealthy benefactors) in 1238 by the Archdeacon of Buckingham, Matthew de Stratton.
The building was reworked in the 1470s, but there’s a clear 12th-century Norman feature in the round-arched main portal with lozenge patterns on its archivolts.
After being adopted by Buckingham’s Royal Latin School following the Reformation, the Chantry Chapel was restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1875 and is now a bookshop.
6. National Trust Claydon
If Stowe isn’t enough you can make an excursion to the 18th-century Claydon House, a comfortable drive south of Buckingham.
Completed in 1771, this Neoclassical property has simple, unadorned facades, belying its exuberant Rococo interiors.
Although managed by the National Trust the house is still home to the Verney family, who have been here since 1620. Every day of the week except Thursdays (Thursdays and Fridays outside of summer), you can peruse exquisite rooms like the Chinese Room with exquisite chinoiserie and the Museum Room, where all kinds of curiosities assembled by the Verneys are on display.
This might be a Javanese gamelan or an orange given by Florence Nightingale to a soldier in the Crimean War.
The 18th-century garden, with herbaceous borders, a large walled garden, ornamental pools and a fabulous old glasshouse, is not to be missed.
It was laid out by John Sanderson who was mentored by Capability Brown.
At just six miles Buckingham is one of the closest towns to the home of the British Grand Prix.
Like many racing tracks Silverstone was born as an airfield, in this case a WWII-era RAF bomber station, the three runways of which are inside the outline of the track.
The circuit has hosted the British Grand Prix since 1948, and this normally falls in mid-July.
Silverstone is also on a number of other major tours like MotoGP (in late-August), the FIA World Endurance Championship (mid-August) and the FIA World Rallycross Championship at the end of May.
As well as events like classic car festivals and club meetings from spring to autumn, the circuit offers a big choice of driving experiences right on the track.
You can get behind the wheel of a single-seater race car, an Aston Martin Vantage or a Ferrari F430 coupe, to name a small few, or test your drift skills careering around the track in a 165bhp Caterham.
8. St Peter and Paul Church
The Anglican parish church for Buckingham is a Grade I listed building, but not quite as old as it might seem.
Until the late-18th century there was a Medieval church here, but the spire collapsed enough times that a new building had to erected.
This first Georgian construction was reshaped in a neo-Gothic style to the highest standards of Victorian workmanship by none other than Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s.
Some elements from the older church were reused inside, like the pew ends with ornate blank tracery panels and poppy heads in the Lady Chapel from the turn of the 16th century.
There’s also a charity board with gilded frame from 1685 and a chandelier dating to 1705 with a gilded dove on top.
9. Railway Walk
This path is 1.3 kilometres along a disused stretch of railway between Tingewick Road and the A421 southern bypass . As of 2019 this path was in the process of being turned into a formal right of way by Buckingham Town Council.
The Railway Walk was set up in 2003 as a wildlife initiative, cutting back scrub and creating a habitat for birds, insects, small mammals and reptiles.
The route is short, but takes you past a series of habitats like open water, marsh, orchard, grassland and woodland.
You’ll also see what’s left of the Medieval St Rumbold’s Well in a field by the path.
10. Evenley Wood Garden
A few short miles into Northamptonshire, Evenley Wood Garden is on a seam of acid soil in an otherwise alkaline region.
This allows the garden to cultivate plants like magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias, not normally grown in the area.
As you might glean from the name, this is a woodland garden, in 60 acres planted with seldom seen trees, as well as numerous bulbs and shrubs.
Among the high points in the calendar are the 80 varieties of snowdrops in February, the 800-metre scilla “stream”, followed by around 100 magnolias, and then azaleas and rhododendrons.
The summer months are a delight too, for the 150 lilies, including a variety developed and propagated right here, as well as 300 roses.
And then finally there’s stunning autumn colour as the garden’s oak, maple, apple and pear trees turn.
11. Thornborough Bridge
Just past the eastern boundary of the parish is the only remaining Medieval bridge in Buckinghamshire.
Thornborough Bridge is on the old Buckingham to Bletchley road and dates from the end of the 14th century.
Spanning the Padbury Brook, a tributary of the River Great Ouse, the Grade I-listed bridge has six pointed arches, as well as three triangular refuges cut into the parapet on the crossing.
Up to 1974 the Thornborough Bridge carried the A421 road over the Padbury Brook until a new road bridge was constructed.
12. The Film Place
Buckingham’s only cinema is in a rather unusual location, at a lecture theatre for the University of Buckingham.
The Film Place is a real community enterprise, showing UK and worldwide independent films, new Hollywood releases and live broadcasts from the West End in a 160-seater auditorium, part funded by the National Lottery via the British Film Institute.
The company running the Film Place is a not-for-profit charity, and staff are all volunteers.
Screenings are on Friday and Saturday nights, and ticket and refreshment prices are kept affordable to tempt all comers.
13. Chandos Park
A peaceful place to end up after exploring Buckingham, Chandos Park is on the River Great Ouse as it snakes through the University of Buckingham’s main campus.
There are benches for picnics by the river, as well as a children’s playground and facilities for tennis, bowls and football/basketball.
The river is exceptionally clean, so you should be able to see fish and crayfish from the bridges, while children come to wade in the water in the summer.
14. Buckingham Summer Festival
Now more than 30 years old, the Buckingham Summer Festival invites high class classical music performers to the town over a week every July.
Centred on the Radcliffe Centre there’s a wealth of live music throughout the day.
You can catch morning piano recitals, lunchtime concerts by all sorts of interesting duos, trios and quarters, and then large-scale concerts in the evening by the festival’s regular ensemble (mainly from the Orchestra of Stowe Opera) and important guests from the classical music world.
What’s special is the diversity of music crammed into the week: In 2018 you could take in Mozart, Dvořák and Argentinean tango on the same day.
Every March there’s also a “Winter Warmer” concert as an early taster for each year’s festival.
15. Buckingham Market
The town was first granted its market charter by Mary Tudor in 1554, so when you come shopping at Buckingham’s weekly street markets you’ll be taking part in a tradition more than 450 years old.
These take place on Market Hill on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with the Old Gaol setting the scene.
The choice varies a little depending on when you visit, but you can expect fruits and vegetables, fresh bread, pastries, pies, cakes, confectionery, fish, flowers, haberdashery, fashion, watches, homewares, tools and products for pets.