A COUNTRY place of your own, away from the city crush? Somewhere to watch the shadows lengthen on the greensward or listen to the geese on the pond? A fine thought -- but what about the upkeep, the never-to-be-found repairmen, the cost of maintaining the establishment?

If this is your quandary, or you merely want a country egress with quietude and privacy, discover estate cottages. They're the new country retreats available to guests, now that fewer estate dependencies are needed for farming. The carriage house, the ice house, the summer kitchen and the plantation school house are almost forgotten, but they serve admirably as lodgings for guests.

The cottages are found in the groves and gardens of mansions and other country houses not far from Washington. From the privacy of your own porch, delight in the vista of a plantation's park, swim in the estate's swimming pool or arrange for horses or numberless other outings. While the cottages may not be as grand as the "grace and favor cottages" bestowed by the kings and queens of England upon their favorites, they can prove memorable indeed.WELBOURNE

Welbourne is one of the stately mansions near Middleburg, and the estate with four cottages possesses the charm of the Old South.

The Greenhouse is set in Welbourne's park and overlooks acres of lawns with towering trees. Not only does the cottage have the mansion's vista, there are even four small pillars on its porch, a modest echo of the great house.

Built shortly before the Civil War, as a greenhouse for the chatelaine, the cottage was converted into a dwelling after her death. Walk past the Virginia boxwood and great trees sheltering the cottage and enter the sunny living room, furnished with wing chairs, a writing desk and comfortable sofa. In the bedroom, there's a romantic 19th- century bed with a high carved headboard and an Empire bureau. Even the kitchen has an antique or two.

While guests enjoy having a kitchen and not having to venture out for meals, they almost invariably make an appearance at the mansion for the splendid breakfast served in the dining room. There amidst ancestral portraits and numerous antiques, a long mahogany table holds a three-course breakfast, served on the family's heirloom china.

Cottage guests are welcome in the drawing room and music room, furnished with large mirrors, enormous Italian paintings and French and American antiques. Linger in the library, an imposing, quiet retreat. And catch up with Nathaniel Morison, a seventh- generation member of the family to live at Welbourne, who, with his wife, Sherry, acts as host. And as the resident historian, Morison regales visitors with tales of family ancestors, from Benjamin Dulany, a Revolutionary War officer and fox-hunting companion of George Washington, to Colonel Richard Dulany of the famed Confederate "Laurel Brigade" cavalry.

Should you want larger quarters for a family, beyond the boxwood hedges stands the Billiard House. The living room with its handsome proportions was once the billiard room and two bedrooms adjoin. All are furnished with country pieces. There's also the Carriage House, with its two-story living room. For some, however, the small Old Dwelling, built in 1752 and the oldest house on the plantation, remains a favorite. Walk into its living room and into the colonial past: There's an old fireplace, log walls and a loft. WELBOURNE --

The four cottages: the Greenhouse, the Billiard House, the Old Dwelling and the Carriage House have kitchens and provide breakfast supplies or a country breakfast at the mansion, $93-$103. Five double rooms in the mansion ($82) including country breakfast. Take U.S. 50 west 3 1/2 miles past Middleburg. Turn right on Route 611 at the Purcellville sign. After 1 1/2 miles, turn left on Route 743 at the Interhouse sign and drive 1.2 miles to Welbourne. 703/687-3201.MAYHURST

Mayhurst, an Italian Victorian mansion near Orange, Virginia, offers on its grounds a cottage that was the schoolhouse for the plantation, as well as Magnolia Cottage, which was the farm manager's house.

But before you seek out the cottages, succumb to a first impulse on catching sight of the mansion: to peer closely at the balconies and verandahs and the belvedere atop the house. Where are the romantic figures that should frequent this mid-19th-century mansion: the languishing heroine on the balcony, the couple pacing the verandah, the mournful poet in the belvedere? Gone, alas. But Mayhurst nonetheless provides a fine mise en sce`ne for today's incurable romantics.

This 26-room mansion high on a hill south of Orange and 25 miles from Charlottesville, was built in 1856 by Colonel John Willis, the son of James Madison's favorite niece. A highly educated gentleman farmer, Willis had a passionate interest in architecture; his first house was built on Madison land. He purchased 700 acres of Montpelier from the widowed Dolly Madison, who was forced to sell to pay the debts of her beloved wastrel son. Acquiring more property, Willis then built Mayhurst. The house is listed as an historic Virginia landmark, and it is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places..

Approaching the entrance hall you find the colonel's tour de force: a sweeping staircase rising four floors to the belvedere. Next to this large reception hall with its fireplace is the library where afternoon tea is offered to guests. The very large dining room, in which breakfast is served, has floor-to-ceiling windows.

The furnishings of Mayhurst, dating mostly from the 19th century, include early Victorian, Empire and later Victorian pieces, together with late Federal furnishings.

Once a plantation, Mayhurst now is surrounded by 36 quiet acres. In the spacious garden you find massive, 200-year-old trees, Virginia's ever-present boxwood and fragrant shrubbery.

Accommodations for guests include the Old Schoolhouse and Magnolia Cottage. The Schoolhouse, sheltered by old boxwood and with a lovely view of the grounds, is furnished with country primitive furniture, including a high-poster cannonball bed, and Early American blanket chests. Magnolia Cottage is also furnished with early 19th-century American antiques and its two rooms are large enough for a family. Guests may have their own breakfast in the cottage or eat at the mansion. In the mansion, there are seven guest rooms.

A hearty country breakfast is served in the dining room and includes such pleasures as homemade pumpkin muffins or croissants, ham or sausage, baked apples and various egg dishes. With reservations, guests may also arrange for dinner on weekends.

All this and other attentions are provided by Shirley and Stephen Ramsey. Guests may learn much about house restoration and antiques from the Ramseys. Stephen Ramsey restores and sells antiques, and the Mayhurst barn is filled with them.

Mayhurst has often been host to a long train of visitors. Among those with less than amiable purposes was Stonewall Jackson, who spent the night there before the battle of Cedar Mountain. From the high vantage point of the belvedere he could see his own troops and the enemy's.

After the Civil War, Mayhurst, like many other plantations, came upon hard times. Colonel Willis was forced to sell his mansion and eventually all his lands to satisfy creditors. He died a ruined man. Ironically, his death came in a log cabin owned by a friend.

MAYHURST --

Guest cottages $95 per night, with country breakfast supplies or breakfast at the mansion. Also seven double rooms in the main house, $78-$95 per night, with country breakfast. Open all year. Arrangements for riding can be made. Inquire concerning children under 12 and pets. Take I-66 west, turn south on U.S. 29 toCulpeper and turn south on U.S. 15 (Orange exit). Continue past Orange one mile to Mayhurst. 703/672-5597. CALEDONIA

Not too long ago the only inhabitants of the estate cottage at Caledonia, near Flint Hill, Virginia, were pigs and chickens. The derelict manor house had been declared uninhabitable, and its doors stood open to the wind.

Since 1963, a metamorphosis has taken place. The Federal manor house and its cottage (vintage 1812) have been painstakingly restored. Lord Fairfax, who gave the original land grant, would have been pleased. So would Captain John Dearing, who commissioned the house and cottage. Now the farm has been returned to its earlier beauty.

The estate cottage, once a summer kitchen, has benefited from the restoration as well as the manor house. The cottage has a kitchen area. Upstairs, where once the servants slept, there is a charming guest room. Both cottage rooms are furnished in country pieces.

The "big house" and its hosts will supply a Virginia welcome, tea or other refreshments on your arrival, as well as a bountiful breakfast. Choose among a traditional southern breakfast, with grits, of course, smoked salmon, an omelet or Eggs Benedict, the specialty. A six-course dinner also can be arranged in the dining room.

The farm's surroundings have their diversions: There are horses down the road and there's canoeing in the South Fork of the Shenandoah. Or ski at Bryce Mountain (an hour away). Why not tour a vineyard? Oasis Vineyard is five miles away. Antiques are everywhere. And the nearby Inn at Little Washington offers a memorable dinner -- with reservations made a month in advance.

On Fourth of July weekends musketfire fills the air when militia in Little Washington reenact a battle of the Revolutionary War. The fall Harvest Festival is another attraction, and Christmas starts early in the first week of December with a Colonial Christmas in Little Washington. Neighboring Caledonia has a light in every window and elaborate decorations. CALEDONIA --

Cottage, $100 per night, with kitchen and country breakfast. Two double guest rooms in main house, $70 per night, country breakfast included. Directions supplied when reservations are made through Blue Ridge Bed and Breakfast, 703/955-1246. BARLEY SHEAF FARM

Barley Sheaf Farm, with its estate cottage that was once an icehouse, and its manor house that once belonged to the playwright George S. Kaufman, has had a number of incarnations.

Once the domain of the Delaware Lenape Indians, Barley Sheaf, with its beautiful grounds, is tucked away in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near Holicong.

The first American settler at the farm was an English Quaker physician who received a grant of 500 acres from William Penn. Quietude reigned until the Revolution, when the farm's spring reportedly became the favorite meeting place of the notorious English Loyalist Doane Gang. This band of Loyalists preyed upon local patriots, attacking from its hideout in a large cave south of the farm.

After a series of owners, many of them absentee landlords or speculators, the farm fell into the capable hands of Juliana Force, director of the Whitney Museum. In the early 1900s she enlarged the house and turned the icehouse into a guest cottage. Barley Sheaf became a center for artists and art patrons. Mrs. Force's attention to the details of restoration is evidenced by the story that she tore off the old kitchen wall and had it rebuilt five times until it met her satisfaction. She also began landscaping the grounds and built the Olympic-sized pool.

In 1936 Force sold Barley Sheaf to its most famous owner, George S. Kaufman, one of many authors and artists then acquiring property in Bucks County. Kaufman's friend and collaborator, Moss Hart, bought the farm across the road, and together they wrote "Of Thee I Sing" and "You Can't Take It With You," both Pulitzer Prize-winners for drama. The two maintained a friendly rivalry over who could landscape his estate more lavishly. Barley Sheaf's beautiful lawns and gardens remain a testament to Kaufman's success.

Visitors should arrive before dusk to enjoy the farm's beautiful grounds. Beyond the long, tree-lined avenue, lawns stretch as far as the eye can see, shaded, like the nearby pool, by enormous trees. Both the large terrace, sheltered by boxwood, and the pool have tables and chairs for enjoying the country ambience and listening to the Canadian geese in the farm pond. Cottage guests are always welcome in the manor house's handsome reception rooms.

The cottage, with its own dooryard, includes three guest rooms sharing a common room with a fireplace. One guest room, The Strawberry Room, has French doors leading out to its own patio. Kaufman's own luxurious quarters, or the room of once-constant visitor Harpo Marx, can also be reserved. BARLEY SHEAF FARM --

Cottage with three rooms, $94 each per night. In main house, suite with fireplace $125 per night, five double rooms $94-$105 per night. Country breakfast included for all accommodations. Take I-95 north to Route 332 (Newtown exit north). In Newtown, turn right on Route 532, then left on Route 413 and right on Route 202. Drive 1.7 miles to Barley Sheaf Farm. 215/794-5104. LOCUST HILL

The large stone marker on the road beside Locust Hill near Charlottesville reads simply, "Birthplace in 1774 of Meriwether Lewis, soldier, explorer, scholar, gentleman."

The visitor is thus prepared for the history of the establishment, originally the home of one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Advance up the walk, with the colonial outbuildings beside it, to the cottage, originally an 18th-century dairy house. Downstairs is a small living room, furnished with country antiques, together with a kitchen. Upstairs are two small bedrooms also filled with country pieces. The main house can be rented for families or groups for weekends.

Though not imposing at first glance, the main house reveals its charms slowly. First walk around the house to the front garden with its lovely old trees. There's history in the architecture of the house and in its interior design as well. And look for the hostess. For though the Lewises are long gone, the hostess, with her own family history and heirlooms, is not one to be upstaged by the memory of Squire Lewis.

Enter through the back-door carriage entrance, as in Jefferson's day. The hostess calls a greeting while she cooks in the country kitchen and proceeds to offer a drink and a grand tour. "Yes," she begins, "of course, Meriwether Lewis was born and raised here. Jefferson kept horses down the road, and persuaded him to lead the Lewis and Clark expedition."

An interior designer, the hostess has arranged her numerous possessions from past great houses in the family with artfulness. The living room, for example, has an abundance of antiques: a Georgian tambour desk here, a walnut English secretary there, together with the old cradle in which the hostess and earlier generations of her family were rocked. LOCUST HILL --

Cottage $100 per night, with country breakfast supplies. Open all year. The house, with two double guest rooms and extra sleeping space, is available on weekends all year, at $500, with country breakfast supplies. Inquire concerning children under 12 and pets. Directions provided at the time the reservations are made through Guesthouses, 804/979-7264.COLEMAN COTTAGE

Among the estate cottages and other outbuildings on the great country places not far from Washington, Coleman Cottage stands almost unrivaled.

As if the nearby great oak tree, boxwood garden rooms and a charming pergola were not enough, there's a surprising array of other outbuildings on this splendid country estate near Charlottesville. The great house, where the owners live, is a Greek Revival mansion, vintage 1840 or earlier. Hard by is a remarkable log cabin, once Black's Tavern and now the farm museum.

Long before the main house was built, Black's Tavern constituted a local institution. It began as a tavern in 1769. Once the French and Indian War ended the threat of Indians, travel increased along the Staunton Turnpike nearby.

Furnished with authenticity and affection, the tavern conjures up frontier days with its 18th-century pieces, numerous implements and utensils. So does the tavern's architecture. Downstairs, one room served as the tavern-keeper's family quarters; the other room was the kitchen. In the middle of the tavern, the fireplace is used both for heat and cooking.

Of all the attractions surrounding Coleman Cottage, the majestic gardens are the most compelling. Begin with a walk through the greensward in front of the mansion. All but one of the seven oaks were lost in a hurricane, but they have been replaced with towering boxwoods that allow a splendid view of the mountains on the horizon. Proceed on to the pergola and then through several large garden "rooms." Beyond, a monumental lilac hedge forms the boundary for a back garden large enough for a cricket field.

A sortie through the gardens reveals other charms of the estate: its unusually large number of dependencies, some of them quite improbable. This working plantation, unlike many country places whose outbuildings have tumbled down, still possesses an icehouse (whose hexagonal shape makes every visitor pause), a smokehouse, and a fine eight-stall stable.

All this is not to neglect the farm's varied houses. The main house, a Greek Revival mansion, extraordinarily lovely amidst its grounds, has been home to the host family for four generations. The large and handsome drawing room is furnished with many antiques, objets d'art and portraits. Beyond is the equally gracious dining room, with an enormous country kitchen behind it. On the other side of the house a beautiful high- ceilinged library holds an abundance of leather books and furniture; behind it is the study.

Guests lodge at Coleman Cottage, a turn-of-the-century farmhouse, a cottage only in contrast to the mansion. While somewhat severe in aspect outside, Coleman Cottage is pervaded with color inside. The furniture -- oak and other woods -- is painted in cheerful colors. The dining room opens onto two porches, and the cottage is surrounded by some lovely walkable gardens.

COLEMAN COTTAGE --

Near Greenwood, Virginia. Cottage from $100 to $210 per night, according to number of occupants. Country breakfast supplies provided. Inquire about children and pets. Directions supplied at the time reservations are made through Guesthouses, 804/979-7264.

Caroline Lancaster is a Washington writer whose favorite estate outbuilding is a stable.