For our visit to “Alnwick Garden”:http://www.alnwickgarden.com this spring, we used the two for one gardens pass out of Gardeners World magazine. Note: the pass is applied to adult tickets (£12.10) so you do not get the seniors concession as well. We parked in the overflow parking lot for £3 for the day. There is a pond to your left as you walk up to the gardens. It is a serene spot with the trees reflected in the water, and yes, you do hear music. The gardens have a fairy tale theme and it starts in the pond; there is an owl and a pussy cat in a row boat. As you approach the admissions building there are storybooks open outlining the itinerary of events for the season.
After purchasing our entrance tickets, we back- tracked to start our visit at the Treehouse – a lovely café, terrace and restaurant with two swing bridges that are all camouflaged in the trees. Note: you do not need pay to enter the gardens in order to eat at the Treehouse as it is situated outside the gardens. They built the treehouse so that branches protrude through the buildings and all the furniture is made of wood. The brochure advises that reservations are required to eat in the restaurant. For more casual eating in the tree house the Potting Shed serves light lunches or you can picnic at the tables on the terrace. Even if you do not eat here (we did not) it is still interesting to walk through and we had fun on the swing bridges. After walking across them we had to get our land legs back. As we headed to the Woodland Walk we saw and smelled the wild garlic – it was everywhere along with the last of the daffodils.
The Woodland Walk was a nice way to stretch our legs after driving to Alnwick. It is cool under the trees and there is a lot of interesting artwork on display along the paths. There was everything from totem poles, to paintings, to sculptures to quilts. Some of it was free-standing and some of it was strung between the trees. The walk takes you to the river and views of the castle and fields of cattle and sheep. There are benches if you want to take a breather and take in the scenery.
When we returned from the walk we went into the Pavilion Café for some refreshments. It was quite warm under the glass as it was a very sunny day. Fortified we explored all the gardens. The roses were not in bloom yet but there were tulips of every colour and shape and apple blossom hedges in the ornamental garden. The water features, especially the Grand Cascade, are stunning and help you to feel cooler. There are many benches to sit and rest your feet and revel in the peace and beauty surrounding you. One neat bench in the Ornamental Gardens is a courting bench. A couple sits next to each other but facing in the opposite direction and hold hands and they can hear bells ringing. The elaborate wrought iron gate (seemingly depicting the vines that grew around the castle in Sleeping Beauty) adds to the fairy tale theme as did the frog sporting a crown I spied on one rock. When you get your entrance tickets you can pick up a trail guide to help you find all the hidden fairytale characters in the gardens. For the young (not those young of heart) there are front end loaders to play with at the base of the Grand Cascade.
We got tickets for the 2:30 pm tour of the Poison Garden. This part of the property is fenced off and locked with a dangerous looking gate. The tickets are free but you still need to get one in the Pavilion Café in order to go on the tour. Our guide had plenty of funny and gruesome stories to tell about people misusing poisonous plants and some who were unaware of the plants’ deadly qualities.
If you go to Alnwick Garden you could easily spend the day there and bring a picnic. It is a good place for little ones to run off some energy as there are grassy spaces for them to run and play and a large cherry orchard for them to explore and a bamboo labyrinth to get lost in. On weekends and school holidays there are also activities for children in the Crafty Cottage and the Fairy Tale Attic.
A visit to the Gift Shop is worth it just to check out the toilets; the glass sinks light up and change colour.
I can’t imagine seeing the castle (think Harry Potter) and the gardens in the same day and doing either of them justice. We focused on the gardens this time and were not sorry. The castle will have to wait for another visit.
The gardens, a charitable trust, are a fairly recent addition in Alnwick. The Duchess of Northumberland commissioned Wirtz International in 1997 to create the gardens which opened to the public in 2001. By 2005 the Treehouse, Poison Garden, Bamboo Labyrinth and Serpent garden opened. There is still more to come as the work is not finished.
The gardens are open all year and are fully wheelchair accessible. In fact, free wheelchair and mobility scooters are available for hire on site though prior booking is advised.