Spetchley Park is located in the small village of Spetchley, about three miles to the east of the City of Worcester and the River Severn. The wonderful gardens there date back only to the early nineteenth century, when the present Palladian mansion was built, but there was a moated Tudor manor house on the site when it was purchased in 1605 by Rowland Berkeley, a direct ancestor of the current owner, in whose family it has remained for over 400 years. The present owner, John Berkeley, also owns Berkeley Castle, which you can read about on this site. Unfortunately, the Tudor house was destroyed in 1651, when it was deliberately burnt down to prevent it being used as Oliver Cromwell’s headquarters before the Battle of Worcester. Nothing remains of the Tudor and Stuart gardens, but the original deer park remains, still populated with herds of red and fallow deer. Still standing in the park, too, are several very old Cedars of Lebanon, which are thought to have been grown from seeds collected by the writer and antiquarian John Evelyn, a family friend, when he visited Lebanon in the latter part of the seventeenth century. If so, then these must have been amongst the earliest specimens of this magnificent tree grown in England.
This rugged border fortress stands impressively at the top of a hill with commanding views over the Ceiriog Valley and surrounding countryside, near Wrexham in North Wales. Chirk Castle was built over seven hundred years ago and its external appearance has changed little since then, apart from replacement of the medieval arrow slits in the walls with mullioned windows. Held by a series of prominent noblemen for over three hundred years, including the Earls of Arundel and Queen Elizabeth’s favourite the Earl of Leicester, Chirk has been owned by the same family, the Myddeltons, since it was bought for £5,000 in 1595.The massive stone walls provide a backdrop to the magnificent gardens which are laid out on the gentle slopes below the castle.
Here in the Welsh Marches, the ancient battleground of the English and Welsh, Powis Castle was built as a fortress. Its thirteenth century battlemented outline of mellow red stone is a statement of its position as a military stronghold, and it was home to a dynasty of Welsh princes. The Castle crowns a rocky ridge, with far-reaching views across the Severn Valley towards England, as it has done for eight hundred years. Climbing up here today, the views from the seventeenth century terraces across the gardens to Long Mountain and the Breidden Hills are spectacular, and hold memories of the castle’s long past.
Colesbourne has been described by Country Life as ‘England’s greatest snowdrop garden’ and February is the time to visit. Here, these early harbingers of Spring spread in luxurious drifts through the mature woodland, carpeting the ground, highlighted by the sunlight through the trees. Spreading across the delightful Churn valley in the Cotswolds, this magnificent snowdrop collection was begun by Henry Elwes more than century ago. When he discovered Galanthus Elwesii and brought the first snowdrops back from western Turkey in 1874, it was the beginning of a passion which continues at Colesbourne today.
Sudeley Castle stands in a wide Cotswold valley, near the town of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, and the mellow golden castle is surrounded by green parkland, with richly wooded hills rising beyond. The situation is breathtaking, and the ancient castle and its gardens are a feast for any garden lover. It is in parts a living castle, in parts a romantic ruin, succeeding in bringing together both its history and its present. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn came in 1535, and Queen Elizabeth I visited several times. When the Queen arrived on 9 September 1592, she was greeted by ‘an olde Shepheard’ who gave her a lock of white wool representing her as the Virgin Queen, and symbolising the wool trade which was the principal strength of the Cotswold economy for centuries. Today the gardens re-present their Tudor heritage, combining the old and the new in a sympathetic style reflective of a truly grand past age.