I had the pleasure of visiting the Abbeywood Estate Gardens in Cheshire twice in 2017. Both occasions were markedly different in terms of the weather and flora. The first was a warm day in early August with interesting clouds flitting overhead and a great deal […]
My 30 by 30 posts are done and dusted. They took up almost all of my November posts, so it’s time for me to reflect on a noteworthy November. It certainly brought a lot of notable events.
I already published a look at the Bonfire Night weekend, which you can read here, so I’ll start after that Sunday…
Heading south for secrets and surprises
The most significant change of November was my career. First of all, my last working day at the Northern General Hospital was Thursday 2nd. I didn’t have anything concrete to move onto at that point, but had a few ideas and one main hope. After saying my goodbyes to colleagues, it was time for a month or so to kick back and relax.
I spent much of the month at Matt’s across in Lymm. He’d advised me, in a clandestine card, to keep Tuesday 7th November free of any plans. There was a clue, but I’m hopeless at them so figured none of it out. I didn’t even know which direction we were heading in, until the morning when we set off in a southerly direction.
Matt drove us into the car park of the Trentham Estate whose gardens I first heard of earlier in the year. I’ll go into more detail about this in another post, because the grounds need more in-depth discussion. Suffice to say we had a pleasant if chilly wander round. The rejuvenated gardens are sublime, and I can’t wait to see them again in summer.
It wasn’t too long before Matt had us bundled in the car, and we were hitting the road again. He’d told me to dress pretty smartly for the evening. My mind was whirring with possibilities. The SatNav was needed nearer to the end of the journey, but Matt didn’t let me near it.
We went into Coventry – not my favourite place – and passed out the other side. Even more confusing! Finally we arrived at the Warwick University campus. Finding a car parking space was its own side quest. We headed off for something to eat and drink, and then made our way to the venue: Butterworth Hall. The event: Monty Don talking about his latest book Down To Earth and his lifelong gardening exploits.
I was over the moon. Monty is a role model of mine. I think he’s a bit Marmite – you either love him or hate him. For me he’s the epitome of enjoying investing yourself in the earth and cultivating your small patch of this world. He has no professional education in horticulture, yet has learnt so much over the years. His voice is captivating yet soothing at the same time.
Monty’s talk didn’t disappoint. It was inspirational and eye-opening, just seeing what can be achieved. The way he discusses his partnership and compromise with his wife Sarah is an additional lesson for all (you can read more about this in their book The Jewel Garden). There was insight into behind-the-scenes of Gardeners’ World filming, plus elements the BBC would never bother catching on camera. As for those like Matt, with less or no passion for hands-on gardening, Monty’s humour bewitches. He enjoyed the evening almost as much as I.
Wandering around the building after the talk, Matt and I managed to ambush a slightly befuddled Monty as he escaped for home… I even achieved a photo with the great man!
Heading further afield
It wasn’t long before Matt and I ventured even further than the midlands. New York beckoned!
I can’t recall if I mentioned my first ever trip to New York on this site or not. It was June of this year, when I accompanied Matt over there. I’d never had any urge to visit, as large, bustling cities aren’t my cup of tea. It was going to be a flying visit – 36 hours roughly, almost all spent awake!
Managing not to be too subjective about the trip, we fitted in a walk along the High Line, a night bus tour, a meal close to Times Square, Roosevelt Island and the 9/11 memorial site. I never felt truly comfortable; nevertheless, I’m glad to be able to say I went.
Matt convinced me to go again with him in November. He wooed me with how much more appealing it is in winter, wrapped up in warm clothing. I won’t lie: his promise of spending much more time around Central Park also won me over.
This time we had two nights’ stay. Apart from feeling trapped in Central Park at one point – claustrophobia colliding with agoraphobia, bizarrely – we had a lovely time. We spent hours exploring Central Park. The autumnal colours were spectacular. My favourite spot had to be the Bethesda Terrace – stunning architecture – although the Belvedere Castle was fantastic and unexpected. The latter is predominantly a tourist destination with a gift shop and great views, but it’s also the site of the local weather station. I have to say the scale of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir was also breathtaking. It was a brilliant foreground to the surrounding skylines, with the sun shining above us.
Matt and I managed to get into the extremely educational Museum of the City of New York for free. It normally costs, but we landed lucky. It was free all week. I would urge anyone visiting NYC to call in. We spent a couple of hours perusing the information boards. You could easily pass hours inside, with its different levels and regularly changed exhibitions.
We also made it along the High Line again and, this time, walked over most of the Brooklyn Bridge and back. Yet more wonderful views and astounding architectural feats opened up to us.
On my first visit we never made it up a skyscraper. Second time round and we took the lift to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building. I’m not usually scared of heights. This was something totally different! I was terrified. As breathtaking as the illuminated city all around was, I couldn’t venture close to the edge. Matt had a good look around though; I’m glad I didn’t hold him back, even though he’s been up before.
All in all I’d say everyone should aim to experience NYC at least once in their life. Hand on heart, I can also say I doubt I’ll go back again soon. We’re back to the subject of Marmite again – you love it or hate it.
We were only back in Blighty for a few days before Matt whisked me off to Barbados. Now this time I confess I loved the destination.
I hadn’t been sure what to expect. I’d never really known anyone who’s experienced the Caribbean. I wondered if we’d end up kidnapped for ransom by drug cartels. My mind had obviously wandered down to the South American rainforests.
First and foremost, the Barbadian people are so friendly and relaxed. Even their driving is a dream. No high speeds, no road rage. However, no road signs either really. When your car hire company fails to provide SatNav, this can be a problem. Armed with a map of the island, we succeeded.
On the first day, we got up extra early to walk down to the beach. Matt had promised me horses. There they were, prime racing horses, taking a dip in the sea before the tourists awoke. Matt and I popped in for an hour or so too, before grabbing the hire car and setting off inland.
Our initial stop was Hunte’s Gardens. I’m sorry folks, but this’ll have to be another separate post. It has to be my favourite foreign garden visited to date. It’s up there with my top gardens full-stop. Anthony Hunte was there – a marvellous host – who’d designed and formed the sunken paradise himself over previous years. It was otherworldly in its perfection. Anyhow, I must stop myself before I say too much here. Stay tuned…
From there we moved on to the Andromeda botanical gardens. These were on the opposite end of the spectrum. More of a showcase, as botanical gardens often are, whereas Hunte’s Gardens was showy and jawdropping. What I enjoyed about the botanical gardens was the information guide you used to navigate the place – especially useful when the specimens before you are so unlike those in Britain. That said, the odd familiar name or shape popped out to say “hello”. We encountered yet more friendly folk here: two UK expats at the welcome desk who chatted with us for ages before we realised we should head back to the hotel. A troop of monkeys also stalked us for a while – a little different to the squirrels experienced in Sheffield Botanical Gardens!
Our second night in Barbados ended with a delicious meal at the simply named Tapas restaurant, and our second morning saw us hitting the beach for sunbathing and swimming. It’s bliss because, as long as you settle away from the hotel fronts, you get the sea and sand to yourself. Just remember to take plenty of drinking water and plenty of suncream! Matt and I laughed so much just messing about in the water like kids. Passers by must have thought we were mad as we launched ourselves into huge waves and tried “washing machines” and forward rolls on the surface.
One word of warning to anyone travelling to Barbados: it’s pretty expensive. Oh, and you’ll struggle to find postcards. Two warnings for you.
As mentioned briefly at the start of this post, I left my job in hospital admin at the start of November. At the end, I began in a new position with Bestall & Co, award-winning garden design firm based at Renishaw Hall.
I’d been doing one day a week’s work experience with founder Lee and his team since summer. I’m over the moon that they felt I’m worthy of being taken on as a paid colleague. My new role is “graduate trainee”, and I’m excited to be undergoing in-house training that has evidently served previous new employees very well. It’s only a small firm, but that’s even more of a bonus. It’s friendly, personal and chances to pitch in are even more readily available.
Another aspect of the job I’m overjoyed about is the variety I’m experiencing. I won’t just be in the office doing administration. I’m spending at least half of my time outdoors, performing practical horticulture. For instance, we just planted over 1000 bulbs in a couple of days in a few gardens. I’ll get to see a range of designed gardens first-hand. When I am in the office, it’s unleashing more creativity than ever before. I’m researching and writing articles, webpages and presentations. Very happy!
It goes to show, life is full of unexpected but utterly amazing twists and turns. You’ve just got to seize the opportunities presented!
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 massive understatement.
The story of Hardwick all really begins with Bess of Hardwick, more formally entitled Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury upon her death in 1608. She was ahead of her time, standing almost on a par with Queen Elizabeth I, and a good friend of the monarch. She was in charge of her own affairs and built up strong enterprises. She was also the source of another magnificent piece of British history: Chatsworth.
Bess rose from being the daughter of a local landowner to go through four marriages. The most notable were the second and fourth. In the second, she married William Cavendish, who moved to Bess’ native Derbyshire. They purchased and expanded the Chatsworth estate, and bought the title of Earl of Devonshire (now Dukes).
The third marriage lasted just 6 years, and left Bess fantastically wealthy. She was just 30 years old. Her fourth and final marriage brought the astute young woman a great title – Countess of Shrewsbury – and even greater status. The marriage collapsed, probably due to 15 years hosting Mary, Queen of Scots, and potentially due to a stroke or nervous breakdown in the Earl.
I’d say history has left us four chief points to Hardwick, three of which I can readily recommend as worth taking your time over. These include Hardwick Old Hall, Hardwick New Hall, the gardens of the New Hall and the parkland. We never made it around the parkland unfortunately – there’s just so much to take in!
Hardwick Old Hall
After eating (a delicious apricot scone with jam and cream in my case), Matt and I made our way towards the New Hall. In doing so, we reached the remnants of the Old Hall. This is run by English Heritage, but access is free to National Trust members too. I was intrigued to find out more about this shell of a structure.
After Bess fled her fourth marriage, she returned to her childhood home at Hardwick and set about aggrandising it. The Old Hall was constructed between 1584 and 1596. It incorporated the latest architectural elements, chiefly Italianate. The building still gives glimpses into its past wonder, with a lofty lookout at the top of the accessible staircase, gradually eroding plaster friezes above old fireplaces, and a vast elevated great hall for entertaining.
Interestingly, no fire or storm reduced the structure to its current form. It was in fact the movement of the Cavendish family to Chatsworth as their primary seat. They simply pilfered building materials from the Old Hall, leaving it bare and exposed.
The latest quandary is: should the Old Hall be re-roofed and protected? Should its preservation be as an insight into the unscrupulous treatment by old masters, or as a demonstration of once awe-inspiring grandeur?
The Old Hall became overshadowed from 1590 when Bess had work commenced on the New Hall. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Old Hall a ruin, abandoned by the up-and-coming family. Not so; it was a complement to the newer home.
Hardwick New Hall
Nevertheless, it’s Hardwick New Hall which now gets all the press. No trip is complete without a look inside; I know, because I’ve only been twice, and the first time did not involve entry to the property. It’s a brilliant counterpoise to the ruinous Old Hall.
It’s a testament to the lavishness of Tudor style. If you had it, you flaunted it. Matt and I were treated to an enthusiastic introductory talk, lasting about 10-15 minutes, by a genuinely passionate volunteer named Judy. Bess’ life history and the story of the hall were wonderfully narrated. The mind was perfectly attuned for entering the property.
The entrance hall alone was impressive. This was the domain of the servants, yet it is covered in dark wooden panels and hung with tapestries. Game trophies and armoury bedeck the walls. An ancient elk skull with vast antlers oversees the bustle below. Apparently it’s 13,000 or 30,000 years old – I can’t quite recall!
It’s a hall that retains much of its Tudor heritage. It has been very little altered by the Cavendish family over the centuries. When replaced by Chatsworth, it became more of an opulent museum. One duke loaded it with more and more early modern furnishings. A Queen of Scots room was even established, although she would never have stayed in the hall.
The tapestries are very fine, many being created by Bess of Hardwick herself. Some have been lovingly restored, including by the last Cavendish resident, Lady Evelyn Cavendish. There was an insightful walkthrough of her life and times on the first floor, which made the hall and the family much more approachable. You also get to visit one of the more modernised rooms in the New Hall during that, with its Edwardian style (armchairs, mahogany furniture, photographs). Very comfy!
The top level of the house hits you the hardest with its blatant display of wealth and taste. There are flamboyantly large windows – the sports cars of the day. Cue the old rhyme: Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall. They illuminate the High Great Chamber with its columns, classical scenes and giant fireplaces. This was a space for feasting, dancing and entertaining. Upon a raised dais at the far end of the chamber rest two thrones. You’d definitely be overawed and subdued approaching those.
The Long Gallery runs alongside the chamber, and it houses fine examples of portraits which warrant a good amount of inspection. It’s hard to believe how old some of them are, given the quality after all these years. You also get lofty views of the grounds around from up here, and it is to those we descended via the Lady Evelyn displays and the copper-filled kitchens…
Hardwick is undoubtedly best visited for its two halls – not that I’ve had the pleasure of the parkland yet – but its garden, butting onto the New Hall, holds some pleasant surprises.
There are several compartments to the gardens. The first you’ll encounter is the charming West Court which is packed full of plants. At the time of our visit it was gently fading into autumn solemnity. Three Cotinus coggygria demarcated quarters of one border. Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass) added a charming height to arrangement – a happy change to its use in isolation on domestic plots. Vitis coignetiae’s ember glow cloaked a section of the old wall. All around was the faltering foliage of plants past their flowering season, although some whites and oranges were clinging on. It was a warm welcome to the New Hall.
The South Border is next, composed of white daisies and pink cosmos. After that we find rows of cutting flowers and vegetable crops, although apart from the brassicas it was all well beyond its best. We walked on into the Herb Garden. I struggle here, as I love the concept of the box knots and ancient herbs, and Matt quite appreciated the area. However, it was shabby for me, time of year aside. There was something disappointing about it. I’ll have to make a point of revisiting in the future to see any changes. It felt chilly and impersonal.
But next, my breath was taken away by the unexpected loveliness of a long border of dahlias. It simply blew poor Biddulph Grange’s acclaimed display out of the water (see here for more on their Dahlia Walk disaster in 2017)… I especially adored the decorative variety ‘Arabian Night’. Fullsome and darkly attractive, against its verdant leaves. Imagine it in a hot border at home. Bliss!
Another element we loved was standing at the edge of the East Court rose garden, in front of the ha-ha. For those who don’t know what this is – it’s an artificial ditch into the ground at a boundary. One side is gently sloping to allow livestock to make it down uninjured. The side nearest the garden/house is a vertical face, so creatures can’t climb up and eat your prize plants.
Beyond this particular ha-ha however was the thoughtfully planned and executed goblet of lime trees (Tilia x europaea). The stem stretches away in front of you, the sides of the bowl section reach towards you, and the New Hall is the vintage champagne filling the glass.
Hardwick is an awe-inspiring place to visit. It’s the crowning glory of the Mother of the Cavendish family, often overshadowed by Chatsworth. In my mind it feels much more ancient than that, although equally grand. Its situation might not be as stunning as the rolling hills beside the river Derwent, but the estate’s history, architecture and artefacts will have people of all ages hooked.
What was your favourite aspect of Hardwick, if you’ve ever visited?
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 […]
How often do you find yourself retracing steps from an earlier part of your life, sometimes without even realising it?
Last weekend I met Matt out in Tideswell where we’d had our very first date. This Saturday I ended up taking Troy for a walk along the same route I’d taken just around the same time as Matt and I had that first date. I clearly recall sending him photos of me and the spaniel walking along the blizzard-blitzed roads and over the snow-blanketed fields, which this time were soaked in sunlight and cloaked in corn.
Saturday – walking from Worrall
This is one of my favourite wanderings to take from home, and much of it is uncongested by other walkers or cyclists.
Beginning in the heart of Worrall, head downhill and round the Butcher’s Corner S-bend as if going to the top end of Oughtibridge. Behind the farm on the bend you have a left hand lane – go up it and it soon becomes a mud/stony path – Boggard Lane. It’s home to one of my favourite tree-vaulted archways. After this you also glimpse Onesacre on the opposite side of the valley (my dad’s grandmother was one of the last to attend its small schoolhouse).
From the far end of Boggard, head up the steep incline of Burnt Hill and carry on until the right hand turn onto Onesmoor Bottom, a windy and gradually increasing rise which offers views back towards Oughtibridge, Worrall and Sheffield city from its heights. You can also look across to the north-east and see one of my other local walks through Greno Woods (more about that in future).
Take a footpath over the fields to your left at the top of the hill (there is an opposite path which descends to Oughtibridge). Crossing through these fields – this summer filled with ripening golden wheat and rustling bronze rape stalks – you’ll pass around the right of the convent and its grounds. Yet another example of beautiful stone walling, albeit more imposing than the usual field dividers!
Passing alongside the convent, you’ll reach a metal gate out onto Kirk Edge Road. Turning right there would lead you on into Bradfield and beyond, but I turned left (lots of lefts, like not ending up lost in a labyrinth). Descend down the straight road over Worrall Moor until reaching the village itself. Troy and I finished off by walking along Top Road and down Towngate towards the post office and Blue Ball, and returning home from there for a well-earned coffee and glass of water. So much for the poor weather!
Sunday – Renishaw Hall specialist plant fair
Such a shame the sunny weather didn’t completely continue through into Sunday; a lot more heavy clouds floating around, and the constant threat of rain – which fortunately never came.
I spent the morning drawing up some plans for my sister’s partial garden re-design, before then dividing some offsets (or “pups”) from the Aloe Vera which Matt bought me earlier in the year. Easy peasy – I now have nine Aloe Vera’s. I don’t expect them all to survive, that said, due to insufficient root systems on the smaller ones as well as a little rot on a couple. Nevertheless, more than one is progress from just the one! I simply tipped the plant from the pot, teased the pups away from the centre (sometimes using my disinfected cuttings knife to slice if necessary), and potted on into gritty compost-filled containers. Simple!
Lunchtime arrived and drove across to Renishaw Hall via my friend Fiona’s house to collect her for an afternoon in the fabulous gardens and mooching round the specialist plant fair. We even went thrifty, taking our own lunches and drinks. More money free for the plants on sale in my case!
I find the gardens at Renishaw utterly beautiful, even if it isn’t the most expansive estate. The major downside from my point-of-view is the woodland walk. It’s not its size, so much as its lack of excitement. There’s very little going on between the trunks or along the ground. Perhaps I just need to make sure I visit in spring; maybe there are bulbs of which I’m unaware.
There’s also a neoclassical statue of a lady attempting to coyly cover her modesty, glancing anxiously to her left. This is the only statue I’ve ever felt sorry and sad for. The reason? She doesn’t have a decent view to gaze at for her eternity in stone. Fiona and I pondered on how her outlook may have appeared when first realised. A clear hillside overlooking rolling hills and scattered thickets?
Renishaw Hall is paradise for its own yew enclaves of immaculate lawns, abundantly planted herbaceous borders and rows of roses, lilies and, in spring, tulips. It even boasts a laburnum arch for earlier in the year.
The plant fair was a little disappointing – I saw very little that took my fancy. Then again, there’s no accounting for taste, and what skips my notice might well stoke someone else’s passion. Do be warned however, that there is a charge of £3 just for adults to enter the separated fair area, or an additional 50p on your £6 adult entry to the gardens if you combine the two activities as we did. We actually got away without paying – I think the ticket people had tootled off home by that time in the afternoon (close to its closing at 16:30; it began at 10:30).
I was beginning to feel that sadness at the prospect of leaving empty handed – like I need more plants! – and then I spotted four Echinacea “White Swan”, and purchased three. Now, where to squeeze them in… I was also pleased to arrive back at my mum and dad’s to see one of the Gladiolus murielae buds has opened up.
And so Sunday night has arrived, I’m typing this up, and just noticing the rain has finally arrived through the window. Good timing.
Have a great week ahead, and don’t forget, you can follow me on social media and subscribe below!