I was at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. And it was raining. I stood beneath the shelter of the Temple of Piety, and enjoyed the gracious structured elegance of the Water Gardens. Centre stage was Neptune, Roman god of the waters, and of the Moon Ponds over which he presides.
And then I noticed that amid this ordered beauty, a coot family had built a ramshackle and highly unstructured nest. I think the gardens’ creators, John and William Aislabie would have enjoyed the water birds’ cheeky appropriation of this most peaceful of scenes.
See this tree? I look at it every day, from the study window. As trees go, it’s not so special to look at. But for two months in summer it gives satisfaction to three households, by providing them with mulberries, day after day after day.
Although they grow on trees, mulberries are a bit like loganberries, or a cross between raspberries and blackberries. They’re tart, yet sweet, and very moreish indeed. I can’t pass the tree without scavenging on the lawn for a handful to eat.
I collect a dishful every morning to put on my cereal. We add them to summer pudding, to yoghurt, to ice cream. We bake with them. We make syrups, cordials and mulberry gin with them. And the tree goes on and on, producing more and more fruits, every day from July to September.
The birds ignore them. We don’t. Such a satisfying job, collecting our daily ration of free fruit.
Here’s a recipe I tried out this week. It’s adapted from one of Nigel Slater’s reliably tasty offerings. No mulberries? Poor you. Use raspberries, tayberries, loganberries or blackberries instead. They’ll be good too.
Mulberry and apricot cake
175 g. butter
175 g. golden caster sugar
c. 200 g. apricots
170 g. mulberries
175 g. self-raising flour
100 g. ground nuts – I used a mixture of walnuts and almonds. Hazelnuts are good too.
Even better than the fact that Himalayan gardens exist here, and just eight miles from our house, is the fact that they’re next to the village of Grewelthorpe. And if that isn’t the best village name in England, I don’t know what is.
All the same, what are Himalayan Gardens, complete with a sculpture park doing in North Yorkshire?
Twenty years ago, Peter and Caroline Roberts bought a twenty acre woodland garden. It wasn’t up to much really. Coppiced hazel, an infestation of Japanese knotweed, dense dark Sitka spruce woods. Its redeeming feature was a drive of rhododendrons, and this gave Peter Roberts his idea. He looked at other rhododendron collections at Castle Howard, at Bodnant, at Muncaster Castle, and was inspired.
Alan Clark, rhododendron guru and Himalayan plant hunter, told him that both site and soil were ideal: ‘I was intrigued by the idea of creating a Himalayan garden from scratch and decided to give it a go!’
Clark helped him with early specimens, Roberts supported plant-hunting trips to the sino-himalayan area … and the gardens began.
You won’t just find rhododendrons and azaleas though. There are massed plants that you’ll find in many well-stocked British gardens. There are drifts of narcissus in the spring. There are carpets of bluebells. There are several lakes on site. Word has got round the bird and insect community that this is a fine place to live, and any birdwatcher or entomologist could have a busy time here. As could visitors who enjoy coming across an eclectic mix of sculptures during their walk.
My photos have disappointed me. They give little impression of the rich feast of colour provided by hillsides covered in an ever-changing pageant of different varieties of rhododendron and azalea.
Nor can you see that this is a work in progress. Peter and Caroline Roberts are constantly developing the site, planting and extending the collection. On Saturday, just after our visit, a new arboretum opened.
Go while you can. This special place is open for two months only every spring, and for a further couple of weeks in the autumn. It’s worth a detour (Susan Rushton, I’m looking at you).
I was out for a convalescent constitutional this afternoon: William had passed A Bug onto me last week, and I’ve been a little delicate. I hadn’t taken my camera with me, only my phone, so these images aren’t the finest. But I don’t care. They’re evidence that spring is on the way. I wish you could hear, as I could, the birds singing as they do only when they too know that short winter days have passed. Yes, spring is springing.
Now let’s see. Did we go to Burton Constable or Constable Burton the other day?
Oh, do keep up. Burton Constable is a stately home in Yorkshire, whereas Constable Burton is … a stately home in Yorkshire. And they have nothing whatever to do with one another.
Let’s start again. Constable Burton Hall is a fine country house not far from us in North Yorkshire. It’s not open to the public, though its wonderful gardens are.
Burton Constable Hall is a fine country house hidden away not far from the city of Hull in East Yorkshire. This is a town whose dismal reputation may be salvaged next year when it becomes the UK City of Culture.
‘From Hull Hell and Halifax may the good Lord deliver us’. In mediaeval times, this was the Yorkshire thieves’ litany. Nobody wanted hell; nor Halifax with its unique gibbet, a savage early guillotine; nor Hull, with its notorious gaol. People unfairly use the prayer to this day, even if they don’t expect to suffer or die there, though neither city deserves it. We’re bound to make a trip or two to Hull next year, so I’ll tell you all about it, then.
Meanwhile. Burton Constable. It has a long and complicated history dating far further back than the Elizabethan exterior which you first see suggests. The oldest part of the house dates back to the 12th century, when a pele tower was built to protect the inhabitants of the village of Constable Burton during the lawless reign of King Stephen. Remodelled in Elizabethan times, it had several further makeovers, and its interior has a lovely 16th and 17th century Long Gallery – for strolling through. Then in the 18th century the interior was largely brought up to date with the latest designs and plasterwork from the likes of top-flight names such as Robert Adam and Giuseppe Cortese. Capability Brown – who else? – landscaped the grounds.
It’s fallen on hard times though. Imagine the expense of keeping such a property in good order. The whole estate and grounds are now managed by a charitable trust while the family lives in an apartment in one of the wings. Repairs and restoration are slow and on-going.
I’ll just give you a taste of some of the charms of the place:
A Cabinet of Curiosities, with imperfectly stuffed creatures such armadillos; scientific instruments; fossils and other curios.
Spot the armadillo
A desk full,of curiosities.
The cabinet includes some of the collections of Ralph Thoresby. We know about Ralph Thoresby if we’ve lived in Leeds
A 19th century Chinese room, inspired by the Brighton Pavilion. Here be dragons.
Pure silk wall covering.
Elegant displays of Chinese porcelain.
There’s simpler, more rustic Chinese ware on display too.
The Long Gallery with its specially designed bookcases.
Just the place for a stroll – the Long Gallery.
The house joiner made these made-to-measure bookcases during the Jacobean period
And oddly, in the Great Barn, the skeleton of a whale washed up in nearby Holderness, which inspired Herman Melville to write ‘Moby Dick’.
With a succession of fine rooms – from the Blue Drawing Room to the Gold bedroom, and tantalising glimpses of life below stairs, this is a place to spend the entire day. The staff love an interested visitor, and repay your interest with history and gossip from the glory-days of the house.
Rules below stairs.
The back stairs don’t need to be elegant.
A working kitchen.
We’ll be back in the summer, to join one of the tours to explore the hidden secrets of this place.
If you’d found yourself in the Studley Royal estate in the early 1700s, just along from the ruined Fountains Abbey, you’d have had a rather wild and rugged country walk along the valley of the River Skell, surrounded by woodlands. You might have been able to glimpse the abbey in the distance.
This was John Aislabie‘s estate. He’d inherited it in 1693, but was at that point in his life busy realising his political ambitions – in 1718 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Only two years later he was mired in the financial scandal of the South Sea Bubble, which ruined so many and shook the national economy. He was disgraced and expelled from parliament.
He returned to Yorkshire, and devoted his considerable energy and wealth to creating the first water garden of its kind seen in England. It owed a lot to formal French gardens of the time, and balances formal design with wonderful vistas set in an apparently natural landscape.
If you visit these days you’ll see a proper 18th century garden: the formal lakes, the temples and other follies, the carefully orchestrated views. Work continues year by year to rein the garden back to the detail of what those eighteenth century visitors would have seen. After all, trees grow taller and spawn saplings which grow in their turn. The river silts up. Land slips. Shrubs spread in an ungainly fashion. Unwanted invading plants make the place their home
On Saturday, we went on a little tour to look at some recent work. The classical statues – wrestling gladiators and the like which have ornamented the gardens since the 18th century – are lead. Marble would have been nice, but lead’s cheaper, so when they were new, those statues would have been painted in marble-look-alike white.
Now they’re white again. It wasn’t a question of slapping on the Dulux though. No, conservators hunted for evidence of the actual paints used by grubbing about in hidden groins and armpits for contemporary paint fragments, and experimented on discarded lead till they got the right shade, the right paint.
The formal ponds were once surrounded by planters and benches as well as statuary – contemporary paintings tell us that. These will be replaced, as well as a couple of statues sold in the 19th century when the estate fell on hard times.
Ungainly shrubberies will be knocked into shape and brought down to size. An informal garden will be planted with sweetly scented plants – roses, lavender and so on. Just the place to sit and view the Temple of Piety and the Moon ponds.
Tent Hill will live up to its name once more. The dense copse which covers it will be thinned out to make room for a tent something like an 18th century military campaign tent. Not for military campaigns of course, but to house entertainments of various kinds, just as it would have done back in the eighteenth century.
So much to do. But every piece of work brings Studley Royal even nearer to the intentions of John Aislabie, who first created this special place more than two ands a half centuries ago.
No, it’s Not Vital to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on a perfect Autumn day, when the trees are at their burnished best, flaunting their chromatic colours just before the November squalls tug down their rusty leaves. It’s Not Vital at all. But it’s a brilliant way to spend a Sunday.
Once, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was a stately home – the 18th century Bretton Hall – belonging to the Wentworth family. Just after the war it became a teacher training college specialising in the arts, until it was taken over by the University of Leeds. During those final years, The Yorkshire Sculpture Park was founded in the college parkland by Bretton Hall lecturer Peter Murray. When the college closed, Yorkshire Sculpture Park took over the estate grounds and lakes.
Some exhibits – particularly by those two sculptors who grew up so near to Bretton Hall, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, are semi permanent. But most artists shown there exhibit for a season or so, and you’ll find their works placed all over the extensive parkland: on the lawns, overlooking the lakes, waiting to be discovered on a woodland walk. Art appreciation combines with views across the distant Pennines, and a good healthy work-out across shady woods, formal lawns, lakes, pastureland and country bridle paths.
And I’ve been teasing you. Not Vital is the name of one of those sculptors exhibiting at the moment. It’s his work ‘Pelvis’ that greeted us as we came into the park.
He was raised in a remote part of the Swiss Alps, and developed a strong affinity with nature. Much of his life has been nomadic, and he engages with the artisans he meets on his travels to create works from local materials, pushing known technologies to the limits.
Here’s The Moon, a highly polished stainless steel sphere which reflects the environment it’s placed in. Those craters are based on photos of the moon, and individually produced by Beijing craftsmen.
And here’s Hanging and Weighting, an unsettling plaster and steel construction that surely, surely is about to slide to the floor?
I wish I’d taken more photos of his arresting and thought-provoking works – such as his self-portrait as a North Korean peasant, which is blank and faceless.
A taster of more on offer yesterday. Here’sKAWS‘Small Lie, a dramatic and monumental wooden sculpture of Pinocchio.
Here’s Richard Long’sRed Slate Line, marching us inexorably forward – into the lake….
….. that’s if we haven’t tripped over Hemali Bhuta’sSpeed Breakers – bronze tree roots conceived to be stumbled upon as we explore the woods.
Come and have a virtual tour of the park. And if you get the chance, visit the real thing.
Julian Opie’s LED ‘Galloping Horse’.
David Nash’s ’71 Steps’.
A fungus-colonised tree near the lake.
A woodland path.
A view of Emley Moor transmitting tower from the woods.