Stately homes & gardens
With its state rooms, art treasures, fun activities and entertainment, it is easy to see why Alnwick Castle, the family home of the Duke of Northumberland, set in a stunning landscape designed by ‘Capability’ Brown, appeals to visitors of all ages and nationalities.
Within its grounds are museums and towers telling the story of the Northumberland Fusiliers from 1674, local archaeology, the Percy Tenantry Volunteers and an exhibition on siege craft.
It is hard to believe that just 10 years or so ago, the site that is now The Alnwick Garden stood empty and derelict. Now, through the vision of the Duchess of Northumberland, it has been transformed into a world class attraction enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors.
The Alnwick Garden has been described as one of the world’s most exciting contemporary gardens; a garden for gardeners with a design that looks to the future. But, it is also a place for families, with plenty to do and see.
There are acres of fascinating flowers and shrubs, the Poison Garden with its dangerous plants, and the water displays of the garden’s centrepiece – the Grand Cascade.
The pergola-covered Rose Garden paths have shrubs, climbing roses, clematis and honeysuckle while the Ornamental Garden has some of the best garden design and planting in Europe.
There is also the Bamboo Labyrinth and one of the world’s largest tree houses complete with its walkways in the sky.
Cragside House, Gardens and Estate near Rothbury was the family home of the Victorian inventor and industrialist, Lord Armstrong.
Cragside was the first building in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and a walk around the house reveals a number of gadgets such as fire alarm buttons, telephones, a passenger lift and a Turkish bath suite.
The grounds, too, have much to offer with 30 miles of footpaths and lakeside walks – Armstrong, a landscape genius on top of all his other achievements, planted more than seven million trees and shrubs and built five lakes.
Outside Cragside, sloping down to the Debdon Burn which is crossed by one of the oldest iron bridges in the United Kingdom, is one of Europe’s biggest rock gardens.
The estate, home to the red squirrel, can be explored on foot or by car.
With so much to see and do, a trip to Belsay is probably one of the best value days out in North East England. Visitors are able to explore the castle before moving on to Belsay Hall, whose ‘Pillar Hall’ was inspired by a Greek honeymoon.
There are also huge grounds packed with shrubs and flowers that provide a stunning array of blooms and colour all year round.
The Middleton family created this whole property over seven centuries and there are many stories to be told, including those of the pioneering plantsman who introduced exotic species to the Quarry Garden. Level paths and short grass make the gardens suitable for wheelchairs, and there are plenty of seats. The Victorian kitchen tearoom provides a perfect setting for a break.
With the lawns, formal gardens and woodland walks open to the public, visitors walking to the lake can see, according to the season, drifts of snowdrops, daffodils, bluebells and rhododendrons.
“The Alnwick Garden has been described as one of the world’s most exciting contemporary gardens.”
Chillingham is also an Elizabethan topiary garden with intricately clipped hedges of box and yew.
Howick was the Grey family seat and was home to Charles, Second Earl Grey, who introduced the Great Reform Bill of 1832, although he is perhaps better known today for Earl Grey Tea.
The gardens at Howick Hall offer a wide variety of plants all year long, starting with Snowdrop Walks every February before the gardens are carpeted in daffodils between March and May with late spring also seeing the woodland garden flourishing.
The borders and terraces are at their best in June and the bog garden comes into its own in July, August and September. The gardens are also worth a visit in the autumn when the fading leaves produce a stunning display of colours. There is also an arboretum, opened in 2006, covering 65 acres of woodland walks and containing 1,800 species of trees and shrubs – most of them labelled.
Capheaton Hall is, perhaps, one of the most fascinating houses in Northumberland. Designed by Robert Trollope in 1668 for the Swinburne family, it has a working kitchen garden with soft fruit glasshouses, conservatory and landscaped park.
West of Morpeth, Meldon Park is a traditional rural estate with working kitchen garden, surrounding wild garden and a cafe and shop that sell home grown produce.
Dating from 1688, Wallington was home to many generations of the Blackett and Trevelyan families, resulting in an impressive house with a magnificent interior and a fine collection.
The Central Hall, decorated to look like an Italian courtyard, features a series of paintings of Northumbrian history by William Bell Scott.
The house’s formality is offset by the surrounding lawns, lakes, parkland and woodland. The walled garden, with its varied plant collection and conservatory, is a must-see for visitors to Wallington.
This property has a varied programme of year-round activities including open-air theatre, guided walks, tours, talks, music and wildlife events.
Set beside the lake inspired by “Capability” Brown’s original plan, Kirkharle Lake and Courtyard provides visitors with the chance to explore the inspirational landscape and 18th century courtyard at the birthplace of the most famous of British landscape gardeners.