I’d wanted to visit the Alnwick Garden for quite a long time – I’d seen a TV programme about it, and work had already started there when we made our previous visit to Alnwick in 2003, although the children were too small and we were too tired to look around back then.
So this summer, on our way back from the Scottish holiday, we stopped off in Northumberland and I finally got to see the finished garden.
Well, how to describe it? My first thoughts when we arrived were a tad negative. Having pre-paid for our ticket, we weren’t best pleased to be charged to use the official car park. It seems a bit sleazy, don’t you think? Surely it should be covered in the price – how many people walk there, or clog up the town car parks?
Anyway, that gripe out of the way, the garden itself isn’t at all what I had expected.
My first impression inside the garden, was of a rather English version of a theme park, without the rides. It was a hot afternoon, and lots of happy children were trucking around at the bottom of the cascade in little plastic tractors. We have an open farm near here, were we used to take our children to play with the same ride on tractors – they all love it, but it wasn’t what I expected in a formal garden.
But that’s not to say that it wasn’t good. In a way, I rather warmed to the lack of pomposity that the garden seemed to evoke. It was very busy, people lying on the grass, enjoying the sun, while children played around the cascade – all enchanting, if unusual in those type of settings. I started to wonder if this is what it is like to live in London and use the big parks there in the same way.
The cascade plays with you.
After a short time, getting our bearings, the cascade started to play. Our youngest was thrilled and spent most of the rest of the afternoon trying to get herself soaked.
The rest of us, decided to do a bit of exploring.
My main reason for going, was to see the poisons garden. There was a short queue, but we were soon inside.
The guide was a lovely chap, who gave us lots of information, mainly about who had used what to kill various people, but it was fascinating. I thought my husband went a bit pale when he realised just how many of the plants they have there, are actually growing in our garden. I’ve noticed him being particularly nice to me since we got back!
Later, we discovered the various water features to the right of the main cascade. These were delightful, as you tend to come upon them as you wander around. And especially good fun on a hot summer day.
I think they were our daughters’ favourite part of the whole garden.
We left the girls playing there for a while and went to the cafe for a cup of tea and a sit down.
Now I am probably showing my age, but I thoroughly enjoyed the cafe. It’s very civilised. I had lemon and ginger tea, exactly what you need to pep you up. The cafe is a nice touch, and, despite our grumps about the car park, we were quite surprised to find that the cafe wasn’t too expensive. It’s the perfect place to take your paperback and sit and read, while enjoying the ambience. In fact, I thought it had a vaguely Parisian feel to it.
Fortified by the tea, we walked up to the top of the cascade to find the formal gardens at the top of the incline. I liked this spot very much, and if we lived closer, I expect I’d spend more time in that area, but it was the most traditional part of the garden, and so I think on balance, I prefer my gardens to be traditional/formal.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy or appreciate what has been done at Alnwick – I’m sure that if we lived in the region, I’d be there often – it’s just that somehow, for me, it was an attraction rather than a place of peace and relaxation, which is what I want from a garden.
I’m glad we went. I’m not sure that I’d rush to go again, but if you’re in the area and haven’t been, I’d give it a go.
Now, I shouldn’t admit it, but after our afternoon at the garden, we didn’t go straight back to the campsite. Instead we went to Barter Books – it’s in Alnwick, in what used to be the railway station. It’s one of the biggest second-hand bookshops in the country. If I’m totally honest, I could have happily spent the whole day in there, it is entirely my sort of place.