Paddock farm is more than just a garden centre, it’s a place to explore, enjoy a nice meal at, get some ideas. It’s a lovely place in a lovely area, very near by are some noteworthy attractions in their own right which add to the reasons to pay a visit.
Most people approach via the A66 and for those who do so from the eastern side, the town of Darlington is easily accessible. Nearly all students of history will know Darlington is synonomous with the birth of the railways. The Stockton & Darlington Railroad was opened on 27th September, 1825. Large crowds saw George Stephenson at the controls of the Locomotion as it pulled 36 wagons. Among them twelve wagons of coal and flour, six of guests and fourteen wagons full of workmen. The initial journey of just under 9 miles took two hours. However, during the final descent into the Stockton terminus, speeds of 15 mph (24 kph) were reached. This increased speed surprised one man and he fell from one of the wagons and was badly injured.
It isn’t Stephenson’s Rocket that is immortalised in stone, well brick actually, on the outskirts of the town. It’s the record breaking Blue Mallard. A simply huge work of art that depicts this iconic train bursting from a tunnel at record breaking speeds. A total of 185,000 bricks were used in its construction along with 170 cubic meters of concrete. The train weighs 15,000 tonnes and covers an area of 600sq meters. It is of hollow construction and measures 23ft high by 130ft long. It took a team of 34 brick layers, labourers and apprentices 21 weeks to build. Some art can be pretentious and let’s be honest, completely baffling to us mere mortals. But this ticks all of the boxes for me, it has meaning, uniqueness, is impressive in scale and looks as if it will last forever.
Another record breaker lies just down the road. The golf course at Rockcliffe Hall. For many years this was the longest in Europe. Even today it’s described as one of the most demanding and difficult courses in Britain. In their own words: “Our A4 creeping bent grass greens have slickness to them which sadly offer no excuses for missed putts. Three lakes, eight reed beds and 25,000 new and mature trees have been added to a course which is already considered one of the UK’s great ‘risk and reward’ tracks.
Designed by Hawtree, the world-renowned course architects, Rockliffe Hall’s Golf Course is one of the most challenging in Europe. While its full 7,879 yards from the back tees will give even the best professional tour golfer a stern test, most will find the five individual tee boxes on each hole a welcome addition, offering players of all abilities the chance to experience the challenge of Rockliffe Hall”.
The accommodation at Rockcliffe Hall is among the finest on offer in the north of England. Again, in their own words, “food to dine for”, “suite dreams” and “rural escape” tell you all you need to know about this five star establishment. But if you want more of a recommendation, Premier League footballers stay here. I rest my case.
The River Tees meanders its way gently in this neck of the woods. Not too far from Rockcliffe is Hurworth which is a particularly nice spot for a picnic. You can get right down to the river on fairly benign banks which are grassy and well maintained. Oddly enough the Tees has nearly always seemed overly gentle at Hurworth, way too much shingle on display for my liking picturesque though the area is, yet I’m told the bridge that carries traffic across it is closed regularly because of dangerously high levels. Hurworth isn’t that far from Teesdale, the source of the river, so maybe I’ll get to see it in its full majesty in the not-too-distant future. A beautiful little oasis though and one we have NEVER driven by without stopping for at least a swift coffee and quick bite to eat.
Getting ever closer to Paddock Farm, but as polar opposite as you can get to golf and riverside picnics, Croft Autodrome beckons. Andrenaline junkies would love this place though it isn’t my idea of fun. I’ll hand you over to their sales team ……. “Drive your dream car at Croft race circuit. With over 20 years experience and the latest supercars and single seat racing cars, a driving experience at Croft is a unique and memorable present for any petrol head. Plus under 17’s can drive on track as part of our new starter experience.
Our fleet includes the new Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, Ferrari 430, Aston Martin Vantage, Lamborghini Huracan and much more”.
A little bit Jeremy Clarkson cum mega horsepower for me. But each to their own and certainly something a bit different to the surrounding tranquility. If you prefer just to watch all that energy in action, Croft is one of the pre-eminent circuits in this country for Rally Cross and Touring events. Just bring those ear plugs !
Paddock Farm is only a mile or so up the road from Croft. You could quite easily miss it if you didn’t concentrate, although fairly large it’s tucked down a little track and the car park also screens it. We tend to eat as soon as we arrive and do our shopping and exploring adterwards. The food is excellent, very reasonably priced, of high quality and served up in admirable portions. And if you can bag a seat next to the pond and feature fountain you have a real treat on a sunny day. The menu isn’t vast, they stick to the basics like roast chicken and scampi, but we’ve never been disappointed with the meals or the service.
Afterwards we always take a stroll around the nine show gardens that are a real feature of Paddock Farm. They range from the ultra modern using stainless steel and contemporary decking through to bamboo courtyards and Koi ponds. All of the gardens feature water as the focal point and there’s even a 75 foot stream that mirrors the path at the mid point of this area. You wont go short of ideas if the inclusion of a pond or waterfall is your next gardening project. And most of the component parts that make up the backbone of these features are available at the nursery. The owners have always been in attendance when we’ve visited and they are very friendly and approachable people who are ever willing to answer questions.
I’ve had both aquaria and ponds down the years and Paddock Farm has been able to service my needs on both. They stock a good range of fish and will try to source the more unusual ones that they don’t keep. Likewise they have a more than adequate selection of plants for both inside and out.
As far as conventional plants and shrubs go, Paddock Farm has tended to be my go-to nursery simply because they align quality with competitiveness. I’ve always felt that when you take in the whole experience, it’s worth going the extra few miles even with petrol the price it is. Most garden centres these days have got their acts together and can be a real pleasure to wander through. I just feel that this particular one offers so much more with the feature gardens, the al fresco dining and the unusual statues and ornaments they have for sale …………… like a four foot very vivid crocodile ! You could quite literally spend an entire afternoon here without feeling you are deliberately stretching things out. There’s even a resident stone mason who gives demonstrations and answers questions.
Like I say, a lovely area to combine three or four pursuits. A picnic, nice bit of walking, some outdoor retail therapy, maybe indulgence in a bit of history. As well as the Stockton to Darlington rail angle, Paddock Farm has its own air raid shelter adjacent to the duck pond. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in this neck of the woods.