We hadn’t thought to stop at Tatton but the need to buy petrol had taken us off the M6 and into Knutsford. The first sight reminded us it had been the setting for the BBC adaptation of “Cranford”, but in keeping with that work no sign of a petrol station.
Having replenished the tank in Northwich we decided on lunch at Tatton Park rather than a motorway service station in the rain. Almost immediately after entering the park we saw deer, not merely seeing them but having to give way as they sauntered across the road. No sign of the house after several more minutes driving at the requisite stately pace. A lake appeared, then another, and at last we saw a signpost to the car park. It was full but the overflow space was relatively unoccupied.
Eating was becoming urgent so we set off for the stable yard, where the gardener’s cottage was open for light meals but with only tables outside. A few steps further and we found the restaurant with plenty of room. Not only room but very good food, freshly prepared from estate produce. One of us had venison pie, the other chose quiche. Both came with crisp vegetables. We were delighted later to see where these had been grown, as also we had already seen the deer.
There was a fairground roundabout doing good business with young children as we headed for the gardens after lunch. It was good to have plenty of walking from orchard to Japanese garden and back for orchids and palms in greenhouses. The way sweet peas had been trained between fruit trees in the orchard was delightful, as was the variety of apples and pears being grown.
A rose garden was not at its best in late August rain but its structure was clear, as was the Japanese garden although the main paths in had been closed for safety reasons. Nothing spoiled the pleasure of it though, with ponds, rocks, summer houses and green planting that included plenty of moss by design.
In the orchid house we spoke briefly to a volunteer who was still a-quiver after speaking to Monty Don when “Gardeners’ World” had been filming at Tatton. No celebrity in the palm house though it was grand.
It seems a pity (though understandable) that visits to the house have to be made from the rear: the facade and its terraced garden are magnificent. The plebs’ way in is soon forgotten in the splendour of the dining room, prepared as for a Victorian celebration. In the library is an eighteenth century copy of a Purcell manuscript. In another room are two small portraits by Hans Memling: beautiful they are too.
One should not leave the house without visiting the kitchens. “No hobnail boots to be worn in the kitchen” said the notice. Not a problem for me, although the route through the various service rooms was a bit tortuous. A comprehensive wine cellar and many a loaf of bread to complete the Omar Khayyam image would have been available at the time Fitzgerald was writing his “Rubaiyat” translation.
Next time it will not be an afterthought that takes us to Tatton Park: we will make it a firm destination.