FOR more than four decades Chartwell in Kent was more than just a family home for the great statesman Sir Winston Churchill.
It was his refuge from the worries of the world, a place of inspiration for his art and provided surroundings in which he could fully indulge his love of nature.
The country house near Westerham boasts stunning views over the Weald of Kent which were the deciding factor in Churchill buying the estate in 1922.
And for National Trust members in the Chilterns wanting a change of scene, Chartwell is the perfect distance for a leisurely day out.
The legendary wartime prime minister stayed there until 1964, shortly before his death, and a prominent quotation around the property is his assertion that “a day away from Chartwell is a day wasted”.
It’s not hard to understand why the place became such a perfect retreat for the Churchills, and the visitor’s book in the hall reads like a who’s who of 20th-century history.
Those keen to find out more can get a timed entry ticket to the house where Winston and Clementine brought up their young family, and it is decorated pretty much as it was in the 1930s, with the library, study, sitting room and dining room laid out very much as if the family had only just left the room.
Everywhere there are mementoes drawn from different periods in his life, and upstairs there are museum rooms filled with gifts he received from around the world, along with some of his extraordinary collection of uniforms and other memorabilia.
Churchill may have demanded absolute quiet when he was working in his study, but his biographers recount how he joined in alarmingly strenuous high jinx with his children and turned the garden into a place of enchantment with a tree-house for the older children and a little brick summer house for the youngest that continues to delight visiting children.
In its heyday, Chartwell supported a staff of indoor servants, a chauffeur, three gardeners, a groom for the polo ponies and an estate bailiff.
Here, dinner parties would be hosted for family and friends, political and business associates, and celebrities from around the world. These were the highlight of the day for a man who inspired so many people through his use of language and went on to become one of the most quoted individuals in English history.
At these dinners, biographers recount how table talk, dominated by Churchill, was as important as the meal and the drinks and cigars might extend well past midnight – even though the great man himself might well return to his study for another hour or so of work once his guests had retired.
A recent addition to the displays at Chartwell, A History of Winston Churchill in 50 Objects contains a fascinating collection of the possessions accumulated by him during his lifetime, from personal mementos to gifts he received from friends, family and political contacts from around the world.
Those intrigued by his art can also find a huge collection of his paintings in his studio in the grounds, a favourite refuge teeming with his canvasses, many unframed and in various stages of completion, his oil paints still out and a whisky and soda poured.
Although he only began to paint in his forties, it soon became an engrossing occupation that would remain with him for the rest of his active life, with subjects ranging from local landscapes to places seen on his travels, from Paris to Egypt and Marrakech.
For those visitors keen to sample a taste of the great outdoors, livelier walkers can set off for a walk in the woods or even embark on a five-mark circular ramble linking the estate with the nearby Edwardian garden at Emmetts, also owned by the Trust.
The less energetic might prefer to loiter on the terrace listening to the twitter of the swifts and house martins, or soak up the buzz of insect activity around Lady Churchill’s rose garden.
The estate dates from the 14th century, but the house itself was largely rebuilt and extended by the society architect Philip Tilden in the 1920s.
In 1946, when financial pressures forced Churchill to consider selling Chartwell, it was acquired by the National Trust with funds raised by a consortium of the wartime prime minister’s friends on condition that the Churchills retain a life tenancy.
After Churchill’s death, Clementine surrendered her lease on the house and it was opened to the public by the Trust in 1966, becoming one of its most popular properties.
In the 50th anniversary year of its opening, more than 230,000 visitors made tracks for the Grade I listed building – and a new generation may have been inspired to find out more about the wartime leader following the release of two major films in 2017, the biopic Churchill and war drama Darkest Hour.
Today, guests can explore the house, studio and 80 acres of gardens, although check the main website for opening times and individual entry costs.
Anyone prepared to make the journey round the M25 to Kent can also visit a variety of other Trust properties nearby, including the impressive medieval moated manor house at Ightham Mote, the remains of a knight’s house at Old Soar Manor and the 14th-century moated castle at Scotney.
National Trust membership ranges from £120 a year for two adults living at the same address, and £126 for families.