As autumn unfolds and winter prepares to settle upon us, we await the arrival of our visitors from Australia. The days get shorter but because of the rain and cloudy skies it remains grey and some mornings the mist does not leave us. We are taking it easy as when they arrive we have a full itinerary – London for a day then Scotland as far as Inverness then down Loch Ness and visit the distilleries of Islay before coming home (Long Eaton) for a few days before having Xmas in France and New Year in Paris.
Still, taking it easy doesn’t mean sitting still. So on a not so overcast day, we took out the National Trust guide book and decided we would visit Biddulph Grange National Trust Garden in Staffordshire and Little Moreton Hall Tudor house in Cheshire.
We arrived at the Garden shortly before the Garden opened, just enough time for a cup of coffee. So out came the flask and the home cooked oat biscuits and we sat in the mist enjoying the morning. We watched various cars arrive indicating the Garden had opened so we strolled over to the gate produced our passes and when asked where we came from the receptionist was surprised to hear we were from Nottingham. It’s a trick I love to play as the Notts/midland accent is just so different to a Queenslander. This always starts a conversation. As these sites are manned by volunteers it is often interesting to hear what secrets they can tell you about each place.
These gardens were billed as amazing and imaginative. This description undersells the Garden. They are truly innovative for the time of their creation. James Bateman designed the garden 150 years ago. The garden is a framework of hedges rocks, banks tunnels and discrete areas with their own distinct style and planting. There is feeling of exploration and surprise as you walk through various gardens some of which are designed to portray particular places in particular China, the Pyramids and the Glen.
The garden starts with the house. Unlike other great gardens, the house is just an entrance, tea room and gift shop. The remainder of the grand house has been converted into 9 private apartments. After walking from the house we were met by one of the volunteers and he gave us a few tips to make our exploration more enjoyable and showed us how to read the map of the garden.
We walked down a series of stairs to the Araucaria Parterre, a type of patio overlooking a lake full of fish and then circle around the Pinetum where we encountered our first tunnel. We walked through into an area of pine trees of every kind. The path was leading us to a cottage. As we approached the cottage a young couple with their children caught up to us and we walked together chatting. On reaching the cottage we see it is named Cheshire Cottage. We open the door and it is dark. Once your eyes adjust, you realise that there are no rooms but four further entrances. The fourth entrance houses a squatted figure whilst the other entrances remain a mystery. We choose to follow the young family and enter a tunnel with a point of light at the end.
We come out into the pale sunlight onto Wellingtonia Avenue; an avenue of pine trees running up a low hill. Walking up the hill we notice a bush walk off to the left so we take that path and wind through what appears natural bush land then we encounter that young family again as this walk returns onto Wellingtonia Avenue.
From the top of the avenue we get a grand view of the house, its valley and hills behind. We return along the avenue taking in the jigsaw of colours – greens, yellows reds and browns. At the end of the avenue we have a choice: the Cherry Orchard or re-enter Cheshire Cottage. There is not much happening in the orchard as the trees have dropped their leaves and await spring so we select the cottage and a different tunnel. We pop out in Egypt. Back into the tunnel and we pop out in the Watch Tower over looking Dahlia Walk (no dahlias til spring) and viewing the apartments.
Back to the tunnel and we arrive at the Stumpery, an area where old tree stumps have been used to create an eerie landscape of moss covered stump walls leading to China and the Temple. We travel through China and surprise another tunnel leading us to the Glen. It is autumn so the Rhododendrons are not in bloom. The glen leads us back to our first tunnel and the lake. The tour has finished but a most relaxing and surprising hour and a half. We must do this in spring. The garden will have change entirely with new growth, birds, animals, and insects.
So we leave the garden reinvigorated and feeling at peace.