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Hardwick

Hardwick

Hardwick Hall was one of those places I’d heard others talk about often, but had never properly visited. It’s relatively close to where I grew up – just under an hour’s drive – and to call its leading lady of history “interesting” would be a […]

A Simple Check-in

A Simple Check-in

It’s been a while since I wrote up a simple check-in post. For you wonderful people wondering what we’ve been up to of late, let me recap for you. Some of it you’ve had an insight into already, some will be new. It all begins […]

Biddulph Grange gardens

Biddulph Grange gardens

Which other gardens can you visit and find yourself walking leisurely from one country to another? Biddulph Grange is that garden.

Of course, all gardens in modern times are a journey across continents. Even our most pedestrian suburban plots probably have several international guests. Rudbeckia comes from North America; Crocosmia hails from South Africa; Eucalyptus is Australian. So what makes Biddulph Grange different? Areas of the garden are landscaped to look like foreign regions. They house features that echo exotic design. You can’t miss where you are meant to be in the world.

Biddulph Grange house dahlia walk

Insight

The quirkiness of Biddulph Grange is explained a little by taking a look in the Geological Gallery. This was once the original entrance to the garden for Victorian visitors. It was commissioned by then-owner of the property, James Bateman, and first opened in 1862.

It is a part of the grounds seemingly disconnected from the gardens, but in fact underpins them entirely.

Bateman made his fortune through industrial and banking means, and spent the money on Biddulph. He was keenly interested in botany and collected plants from around the world.

Additionally, he was a religious man. Experts believe his faith was deeply inspired by the Scottish evangelist Hugh Miller. Theology was confronted by science and evolution in the Victorian era, and thrown into disarray. Miller and subsequently Bateman were both scientists and religious men, and they hit on a way to combine the two aspects.

It was hypothesised that the Bible was correct to talk of the world being made in six days. These were not days as we would immediately think. A day represented a vast number of years, and in each of these epochs God created different species which eventually went extinct. In this way, geology and fossil evidence are valid, and prove the existence of a Creator rather than overturning it.

The Geological Gallery walked the curious through days 1 to 6, showcasing wonders dug from the earth and now embedded in the walls. These wonders are being cared for and the gallery renovated at the present time.

Kevin Biddulph Grange Italy steps

Upon leaving this indoor walkway and entering the garden, the visitor arrives at the seventh day: the day of rest. The visitor reaches the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve awoke. Here are all the world’s plants, thriving in one perfect place. Here chaos is kept at bay.

Interestingly, chaos did creep in. The house is not Bateman’s. The main part of the original property burnt down, as did several outbuildings, such as the orangery. Reconstruction was grander and took place in 1897.

In the 1920s the house was sold again and became a hospital. It remained such until 1991, and significant changes occurred. Modern hospital wings were added and the garden fell into ruin. The Geological Gallery was used as storage and even partially removed for development.

Following the hospital closure, a private developer eventually breathed new life into the house, as private apartments. The gardens underwent careful excavation and terraces and plantings were recreated. Wilderness was tamed to return the different areas to their Victorian glory.

Biddulph Grange hedges parterres

Garden tour

The garden’s boundaries conceal Biddulph’s verdant Victorian treasures. They also belie the number of regions you can explore in one small bit of Britain.

You may recall in my post about Villa Marlia that I encouraged sticking to a planned route. Well, forget that here. If you must start somewhere, see the Geological Gallery first and imagine yourself taken back in time, welcomed as the original visitors would have been. Perhaps then take a trip up Wellingtonia Avenue and back down the Woodland Walk. I found this charming on a sunny spring day, yet commonplace. Many gardens around the country have such elements.

Biddulph Grange Italy spring

From the way in, via the gift shop, you descend through Italy. The balustrades and staircase are magnificent. It’s hard to visualise how a previous house, pre-1800s blaze, could have matched their grandeur. They aren’t large; they’re strong. They make a statement. As does the planting softening the edges of the Italianate section. In April, on my first trip, it was blocks and lines of blush pink tulips accompanied by blue and white Lobularia maritima. By September, Salvia, Senecio cineraria and blousey begonias lined Italy’s steps. Small cypress cones give year-round continuity.

Tulips Lobularia Biddulph Grange gardensItaly Biddulph Grange steps planting

Around 70% of the earth is covered in water. Biddulph isn’t quite as earth-like in this respect as in others, but it does utilise water frequently. From Italy, you can turn left to enjoy the lake. You’ll see ducks and the odd koi. Above all, walking to its far bank, you’ll look back and see the gloriously elevated house with its terrace. In spring and early summer, irises crowd stretches of the banking, introducing colour plus a difference in foliage. Please note that children should be accompanied here: it’s possible to descend some steps from below the house right to the water’s edge.

Biddulph Grange lake autumn Biddulph Grange lake autumn house

The parterres can be found below the sun terrace of the house, although I found little thrill in these sadly. They really aren’t the best part of the garden and feel too claustrophobic to work in my opinion.

From the parterres and the lakeside you can make your way up the world-famous Dahlia Walk. I love dahlias for their variety of shapes and massive range of colours. The reason Matt and I returned to Biddulph in September was to make the most of this path. Unfortunately 2017 has not been the year for dahlias here. The gardeners feel it could be a gradual build-up of pests and diseases in the soil as well as a reduction in goodness which contributed to this failure.

Biddulph Grange dahlia walk Biddulph Grange Dahlia walk noticeboard

Some of the dahlias were flowering wonderfully. A full display would have been a sight to behold. Nonetheless, I’m not a fan of monoculture. Worked into a mixed border I find dahlias add extra interest, extra zing. The Dahlia Walk was more of a country fair tent. That doesn’t stop it being worth the trip though, for ideas on varieties if nothing else.

Biddulph Grange dahlias

The far end of the Dahlia Walk passes into the Stumpery – reminiscent of dinosaur fossils arching up over the slopes. You wonder if this was planned by James Bateman decades before, the keen geologist-theologian that he was. From this gloomy area you can climb up to look from the tower over the Dahlia Walk…

Biddulph Grange stumpery Biddulph Grange stumperyBiddulph Grange dahlia walk viewed from tower

…go on into Egypt with its pair of sphinxes and creepy tomb-like tunnel…

…or head right to reach China. You’ll find a vivid red and green bridge. It’s the perfect spot to take in the little pond, adorned with acers, and the Chinese temple ahead of you. Victorian confusion over oriental elements rears its head in this dell, when you notice the gilded cow looking out from the cliffside. Cows are sacred in Hinduism rather than Chinese faiths. As for the sun disc on its head – that’s an Ancient Egyptian thing! Perhaps I’m being cynical, and Bateman was simply blending the cosmopolitan side of his gardens into a single feature.

Biddulph Grange China bridge pagoda temple Biddulph Grange China pond Biddulph Grange China temple Biddulph Grange China pool bridge bellBiddulph Grange China golden cow

Ring the bells on the Chinese pagoda, then pass through the dark caverns, keeping an eye out for the ice pit. You’ll return to the light in the Himalayan Glen. Curiously, this is only noted as “the Glen” on the map. This will do little to dispel the myth that it’s a Scottish scene rather than Asian. Planting here is not British. Rhododendrons alone would have brought a sense of the Himalayas to the garden. Nowadays I for one take these plants for granted. The stream running through the Glen really brings that extra “something” to this little nook.

Kevin entering Himalayan Glen Biddulph Grange Biddulph Grange Himalayan Glen Kevin Himalayan Glen Biddulph Grange

The Pinetum runs parallel to China and the Glen. You can reach it via the tunnel from Egypt which most bizarrely deposits you at a traditional Cheshire Cottage. The Pinetum path is serene. The light is gorgeous as it filters through on a sunny day, just as in April for us.

Biddulph Grange Cheshire Cottage Biddulph Grange top of Pinetum trees

Apologies if this tour of the garden has felt back-and-forth. As stated earlier, this is intentional. There is no guidance on how to traverse the grounds, nor should there be.

 

Highlights

Go wild. Get lost. Wander. A couple of volunteers have told us the aim at Biddulph Grange was to meander and backtrack, and that even they lose their way after years of experience. This is part of the pleasure of the place. Without the backtracking, you’d miss alternative angles of looking. With these different perspectives, you spot points of interest previously overlooked.

I didn’t mention the numerous seats in the previous section, nor did I describe every architectural point. There is an almost Provençal tower close to China. There is a small pagoda summerhouse on top of a slope. Beyond the lake, behind The Americas, you’ll find a tennis lawn clearing.

Biddulph Grange small pagodaBiddulph Grange view from tower Biddulph Grange Matt tower

Part of the joy of Biddulph Grange is how many hours you can spend just weaving in and out on a voyage of discovery. The high hedges and tall trees contribute to this adventure. So too do the stone walls and tunnels. These barriers are your oceans to cross, dividing territories.

Biddulph Grange house lake

The lake amplifies the exquisiteness of the grounds. The house is reflected beautifully on the placid water beneath. In spring, the pinks and reds of the rhododendrons and azaleas are doubled in splendour through this feature. In autumn it’s the turn of the fiery hues to be magnified. In some places I feel a lake is just there because that’s what was expected. I could enjoy many gardens without water features. In Biddulph the body of water is situated perfectly. The various encounters with water in diverse forms around the grounds enhances the lake’s presence.

 

Inspiration

No garden is complete without focus points. Biddulph contains many. These can be whatever we like, as long as they draw the eye. Think statue, imposing plant, large decorative planter. Think fountain or elaborate mounted mirror. It could even be a bespoke table and chairs in a designated space. If we have the room, we can go for more than one. In this instance, be sure they’re separated enough (in distance or seclusion) so as not to confuse rather than direct the viewer.

Biddulph Grange golden cow feature

An air of mystery and motion is quintessential at Biddulph Grange. What’s through this tunnel? What if I turn right rather than left? What will I see from the top of this tower? We can’t all have follies. We can encourage friends and family to turn corners, peer round bushes or focus through ethereal specimens.

Biddulph Grange stone passageBiddulph Grange gateway China

Many of us gardeners know the importance of crop rotation in veg growing. This practice is just as vital for other flora. Dahlias have been grown in the same beds at Biddulph for many years, and iconic as the Dahlia Walk is, now could be the time to let it rest for a while. Remember this at home. Trees and shrubs have their home for life usually. We want perennials to stay put for an indefinite timeframe. However, we should move bulbs and annuals around. Dig up and divide perennials every so often and move them on. Let’s reinvigorate our garden’s look periodically. It brings interest as well as garden health.

Biddulph Grange diseased dahlias

What plant inspiration did I glean from Biddulph? Most unexpectedly, while wandering the half-empty Dahlia Walk, I picked up on a large leaved perennial with speckled pink-purple flowers. It’s called Tricyrtis formosana and it grows in sun or dappled shade with moist soil for its rhizomatous roots. It flowers through early autumn. Its coloration reminded me of martagon lilies which I have long loved.

Tricyrtis formosana Biddulph Grange dahlia walk

 

If you’ve ever visited Biddulph Grange gardens, which was your favourite aspect?

Villa Reale di Marlia

Villa Reale di Marlia

If you’ve read my post Olives and vines you’ll recall the point before the wedding where four of us visited La Villa Reale di Marlia. It was fortuitous – the villa stands mere minutes from the vineyard and olive groves where we were staying. I […]

Olives and vines

Olives and vines

Last time I wrote about dropping in on London and a trip over to Matt’s parents’ holiday home in Tuscany. From there we drove over the mountains for a couple of hours to the area around Lucca. It was a nostalgic trip for several reasons. […]

La dolce vita

La dolce vita

I know, I know, la dolce vita is a clichéd title, but it’s pretty appropriate.

I’ve been slightly absent from the blogosphere for a number of weeks. The reason: Matt and I had a non-stop few days involving London, northern Tuscany and the area around Lucca.

Saturday 9th September found us up and about early, laden with luggage. Matt’s close friends Matthew and Emma kindly picked us up and drove us to Stockport train station. From there we headed in luxurious First-Class seats to London – thanks to Matt’s Virgin staff perks!

I had the pleasure of accompanying Matt to his friend Sam’s hen do, and was kindly welcomed into the events.

Kings Cross

First stop: The Crystal Maze Experience near Angel. I didn’t get to be a part of the actual experience as there was a maximum group number of eight. Everyone had an amazing time in the tasks, and the Maze Masters were all mad as hatters! Trust me – I saw a few from my comfy seat in the bar, beer in hand. If you go along as a non-participant, simply ask if you can wait in the bar. You get a perfect view of the crystal dome, the last stop in the groups’ experience.

 

It was perfect for snapping shots of Matt and the ladies grabbing at those golden tickets. I’d seen a wide range of techniques in the grasping, including the fantastically faulty stick-them-down-your-top-and-tip-them-out-at-the-end method. I’m pleased to point out that our team won out of their cohort – well done gang!

Crystal Dome Crystal Maze Experience

From there we went on to a booked salon, where the gang was treated to hair styling and make-up. Matt and I opted out of the makeover, I’m sorry to say… Oh, although Matthew did put me forward for a hair wash and styling. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea when finished… A little on the big-and-blow-dried side I must say, though not its most out-of-control.

Copious quantities of prosecco later, we popped off to The Alchemist bar and restaurant, where sadly Sam’s Italianesque balloons were confiscated. We were clearly not to be trusted with them. I wonder where they ended up? Potentially on one of this year’s episodes of The Apprentice – we were close to the Gherkin after all.

 

The food was delicious in The Alchemist, as were the cocktails. I stuck to my usual fare – a pornstar martini – and Kelsey and I debated what exactly one should do with the shot of prosecco. The jury’s out. Mix it into the cocktail, or knock it back separately? What do you do with yours?

Pornstar martini

Matt Kevin

The girls went on elsewhere for their night, but Matt and I got our sensible heads on and returned to St Pancras station for our locked-up luggage. We had a room booked in the Luton airport Ibis hotel, ahead of our flight over to Pisa on Sunday morning…

Comincia la dolce vita

It sounds like Iberia came off pretty well in the weather stakes last week. Matt’s parents enjoyed sunshine and soaring temperatures in Portugal. Matt and I arrived in Pisa airport to grey skies collapsing into torrential downpours once we headed out to the car hire centre. I’m just glad I thought to pack my waterproof jacket!

Wet arrival in Pisa

The drive up to the small Tuscan village where we spent the first three nights was an experience. Forget the Crystal Maze! We faced mist on the motorways, giant puddles in the Lidl car park in Aulla, and incessant sheets of rain heading up into the mountains. The dark of night descended early, and the edges of the roads were difficult to spot.

Mountain cloud Tuscany

Tuscan living room stove

It was a huge relief to arrive at our destination and reach the front door of Matt’s parents’ Italian house. We were ready for that wine purchased in Aulla en route… I was not ready for the little black scorpions however. I’d been forewarned, but still – eight-legged critters don’t sit well with me. They may be harmless, but they’re aggressive-looking blighters. All pincers poised and stinger stuck up. Bleuh. Thankfully Matt was fearless and got rid of any he encountered. Usually before I got a chance to see them.

I managed to muster the courage to cook us a casserole incorporating fennel bulb, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms and some orzo pasta. The vegetables in Italy might not be as perfectly shaped as here, but they are impeccable in terms of taste.

Tuscan kitchen

Italian vegetables

We had a mix of weathers during our Italian sojourn. We went from the soaking of Sunday night to sunny spells on Monday, which allowed us to have a midday walk a few kilometres over the hills to L’agriturismo Al Vecchio Tino. We were witness to some spectacular scenery…

Matt Kevin

Village

Tuscan Apuani

…and arrived to find shrines, donkeys and, unfortunately, that they were closed.

Al Vecchio Tino

Shrine Virgin Mary

Saint Shrine

Donkeys

But no matter, as the lady was kind and despite this, gave us a carafe of white wine, a bottle of water and nibbles. Followed by a second carafe of white wine and more nibbles. This simply wouldn’t have happened in Britain I don’t think. Closed is closed is closed. Goodbye. But in Italy, we were spared the arrivederLa. And all for 10 euros. Ka-ching.

Matt wine Al Vecchio Tino

 

Sunset Tuscany

 

Changeable Tuesday

We remained more housebound on the Tuesday as the weather remained variable. We slept in late, got up and remained indoors. We ventured out onto the balcony for drinks and food at lunchtime, with an episode of Gardeners’ World playing on my iPad. We went so far as to break out the sun loungers – and swiftly changed our minds as the wind picked up and clouds rolled overhead.

Rain Apuani

Prosecco balcony

Tuesday evening stayed lighter and drier, and we drove down into nearby Gragnola to try out the recommended pizzeria Il Mulin da Mattia. Superb. It was the epitome of the fact that in Italy, you’re hard-pressed to find poor cuisine, even in the simplest of establishments. We managed to have wine, a giant pizza and a flavoured panna cotta for just €18 each. Whenever in Italy, keep your eyes peeled for the places off the beaten track, yet which seem the busiest with Italians. You’ll be charged less, and fed better. When we turned up, the pizzeria was hosting a family of three, a couple and a young labourer. Before we left, at least 15 teenagers turned up. Testament to its brilliance.

Kevin Matt

River Tuscan house with sunflowers Chocolate panna cotta Fountain Gragnola

And that brings us to Wednesday. We packed up the car, closed up the house, and set out on our winding roads over to the town of Marlia. There we met Sam and Fabio, the bride and groom, and their families. It was their upcoming Italian marriage that brought us over; more about that in my next post…

Tuscan village house Tuscan view Apuani Alps

 

Italy in September:

  1. La Dolce Vita – part 1 of a week in Italy
  2. Olives and vines – part 2 of a week in Italy
  3. Villa Reale di Marlia – Italian garden tour
Otters, owls and opportunities

Otters, owls and opportunities

What are your views on Fate? I’m quite a strong believer in the idea that opportunities are laid at your feet, though it’s up to us as individuals to step out on each path or not.     Why do I say this? Well, the […]

Roots

Roots

How do you feel about your “roots”? Do they go deep in the place you live, or are you more uprooted? I’ve got quite extensive family roots, but they can be as much a burden as a blessing. I always used to say I’d never […]

Off the grid, on the map

Off the grid, on the map

Sometimes it’s easy to get swept away in the hustle and bustle, and the excitement of constant activity too. Sometimes it’s soothing just to relax, no plans, no deadlines. How many of us are guilty of forgetting that?

 

 

From Friday evening to Sunday night, the only plan Matt and I had were “getting off the grid”. Letting go of being live wires. A weekend in North Yorkshire was on the cards (as were other board games, although I think we only managed a few rounds of Connect Four). Ok, so Friday evening didn’t begin completely chilled. The SatNav took us directly through Leeds and out via Otley. Not the most straightforward route, though thankfully the Leeds roads were quiet.

 

 

In a way it added an extra layer of pleasure when we reached our destination finally, as we couldn’t wait just to relax. I cooked up a simple bruschetta with some tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, garlic and basil, plus slices of heated halloumi and dollops of balsamic glaze. We may have washed it down with a couple of bottles of prosecco…

 


 

Saturday was where it was at! We’ve had some brilliant days out visiting open gardens and National Trust estates over more recent months, and I would never tire of that. However, both of us love country walks, and that’s certainly what we got. Nothing revives the soul quite like a stroll over hill and dale, admiring the spectacular scenery.

 

Our walk took us out from Pateley Bridge, up the hill along a stretch of the Nidderdale Way and through small settlements such as Blazefield, Low Laithe and Glasshouses, before we returned to Pateley for a couple of pints at The Royal Oak pub.

 

 

Our halfway point, as such, was Brimham Rocks, a National Trust location. It’s all about the landscape. Amongst the trees, heather and wildflowers stand remarkable rock formations, ancient and sometimes mind-boggling in their anti-gravity feats. Check out Idol Rock, for example!

 

 

There’s a lovely little gift shop with a gallery space up above, and a small coffee bar in a separate outbuilding.

 

 

By the time we returned to our lodgings (for yet more prosecco), we’d walked around 10 miles. I have to say, it felt further, but I put that down to the constancy of our climbs. Unlike our usual walking weather, the sky was good to us, with just the occasional short shower and plenty of warm sunlight.

 

This clambering clematis, struggling for freedom from its overgrown garden confines, caught my eye…

 


 

 

…as did the spontaneity of being able to hire a llama companion in Nidderdale…

 


 

…and how plainly pretty is this row of terrace houses?

 


 

After a long day and a late night of, whoops, more boozing, Sunday morning was a welcome lazy lie-in. We followed this up with a steady jaunt across to Grassington for lunch in a quaint little tearoom/bistro called The Retreat. Its staff were absolutely some of the friendliest and most positive ever encountered, and we had the added bonus of chatting briefly in the courtyard with an Australian lady touring Europe and the U.K. with her partner. The food was delicious. I’d ordered a goats cheese and tomato panini with chips and salad, while Matt had a vegetarian lasagne which looked and smelt fantastic. Apparently it tasted just as great! Highly recommended to anybody visiting Grassington.

 


 

We followed up our lunch with a quick stop to glance in the unassuming entrance to Stump Cross Caverns, describing itself as a 30-40 minute walk through primordial caverns bedecked with fossilised remains. We had never heard of the place and were tempted to go in, but time was ticking on and we had to get back to Pateley Bridge… for scones! I’m adding the caverns to my wish list for a future adventure.

 


 

Where did we eat scones? At The Old Granary, a tearoom which gave you the impression it hadn’t altered in years and years and years. Nor would one want it to. The scones were exquisite too. I loved the fact they had a Gluten Free options – something I’m much more aware of these days as a colleague and her daughter are coeliac and are often on the lookout for suitable eateries.

 

 

Sunday evening was, for me, as brilliant a part of the weekend away as the long walk on Saturday afternoon. Why? Because Matt and I had a leisurely drive out towards the moors past Gouthwaite Reservoir, in time to watch the sky meld from pale blue through pink and purple to dusky deep hues. We came across a gorgeous little village called Ramsgill with its stately hotel…

 


 

…could see out towards Middlesbrough from one hilltop and gaze on a sea of lavender heathers up there…

 

…and stopped for a nippy nighttime walk around the lofty village of Middlesmoor.

 

 

Such a brilliant weekend, I didn’t want to head to bed on Sunday night, but work beckoned the next day and thus an early early start…

 

I hope you all had a lovely, relaxed weekend with some “off the grid” time. Now you’re back on it, feel free to subscribe to my blog or follow my social media =D

Not enough hours in the day

Not enough hours in the day

How can we add more hours to the day? A question I keep posing to myself regularly at the moment – the answer, of course, impossible. The reason for this pondering: I’ve found a new lease on life and there’s just so much out there […]