Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Alnwick Garden

Rob and I visited Alnwick Garden on Monday 25 October. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we stopped to walk Henry next to Hadrian's Wall at Birdoswald in Northumbria.

The car park for the gardens and Alnwick Castle is quite a walk from the attractions, and costs £2. We had forgotten that it was half-term school holidays in England, but we were soon reminded when we had to queue for over half an hour to get tickets for entry to the garden! Adult tickets cost £9.50 each, and you can pay an extra £1 towards The Alnwick Garden Trust, which carries out charitable projects and programmes.

You pass this huge tree house on the way to the main entrance...

Inside the Garden, we went straight to the terrace cafe for lunch. We ate quiche and salad followed by a nut/fruit cake (rather like a Florentine without the chocolate), with tea and a mineral water. The cost was £15.15. The food was tasteless: cold, claggy quiche and undressed lettuce, tomato and cucumber with coleslaw. The cakes tasted mainly of sweet, chopped fruit peel and didn't go down too well, either.
The cafe was in a scenic position, overlooking "The Grand Cascade" (a section of which is shown in the photo below). There is a clear roof over the terrace which lets the sun shine in, and lots of bamboo plants in pots give some privacy, but it was busy and noisy, being bi-sected by the main walk way to the Garden.

The Garden was a lot smaller than we had imagined. It was divided into areas, such as The Serpent Garden - a sort of maze with water features; The Rose Garden; The Ornamental Garden (bordered throughout with huge, trained crab apple trees, which looked very impressive with masses of red fruits at this time of year.) Training trees over structures seems to be the Head Gardener's speciality. Here is an example of a covered walkway below.

You can visit the market town of Alnwick easily, with a ten minute walk. We did that, stopping off at the 'Roots and Shoots Garden', which is situated separately from the main area. It is a small vegetable garden, still with an impressive quantity of herbs and vegetables for this time of year. In the centre is a pyramidal structure planted with rows of herbs going up the sides. There were flat beds and raised beds - still with chard, sorrel, beetroots, kale, Brussel spouts etc, all looking very healthy and tempting. Local schools have beds of seedlings, each with the sort of scarecrow that you would not like to come across alone at night.

After a look round the town, we made our way back to the Alnwick Garden gift shop and plant centre. There were lots of plants on offer at the end of the season, and 90 rose varieties available.

The tree house is the grand finale. Again it was very busy, and the cafe and restaurant situated inside the main building would probably need to be booked in advance to be sure of a seat. There is a short tree top walk including two wood and rope bridges. The children were having a high old time jumping up and down and getting the whole structure to sway like a giant swing, so we staggered around the walk like drunken sailors.

I think Alnwick garden would certainly appeal to families with young children (who may also like to visit nearby Alnwick Castle - where part of the Harry Potter films was shot). I enjoyed seeing the vegetable garden and the tree house, but would have liked to see a greater variety of plants, and styles of planting. My main tips would be to avoid busy times of year and to take a packed lunch!
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