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This NGT coach trip to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire from 9th to 11th July was our first with the Trust and the itinerary was enticing.

Day 1 and our first stop was Doddington Hall, just outside Lincoln. Built in 1600 for Thomas Tailor, who made his wealth through the Elizabethan property boom; the house has been in the same family ever since. The current owners are Claire and James Birch and their family.

We were expertly guided round the Hall which was full of collections of antique ceramics – many of them Chinese – paintings and textiles plus other fascinating objects which have been gathered over the last 500 years, as nothing has ever been cleared out or sold.

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Sat 19th Oct, 2pm

The Rise of the Head Gardener, Talk
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One of the bedrooms had walls lined with Flemish tapestries, some of them cut to fit. This helped to keep the rooms warmer. Another room was lined with a stunning applique Egyptian tent. Apparently the tent was recently ‘found’ in the house and now restored it gives an enchanted feel to this room. Another favourite room was the Long Gallery at the top of the house, used as an indoor promenade years ago and now for weddings and concerts. This yellow painted room gives a summery feel as the light pours in through the huge windows facing due west overlooking the fabulous gardens. On the east side there is a small room from which one can see the spire of Lincoln Cathedral.

A visit to Doddington Hall offers a unique insight into family life through the ages and the challenges of looking after such an estate in the 21st century. To support the estate there are various shops, including a bike shop, a restaurant and the coffee shop where we were served a delicious lunch. After this we were free to explore the garden. The five acres of gardens consist of many different areas, both wild and formal. The east and west gardens are enclosed by the gentle colour of the Elizabethan brick walls. Inside these the borders were full of colour.

We particularly liked the formal parterre and topiary. Volunteers were busy dividing the irises there and were only too happy to answer questions. Sadly we were too late to see these in bloom. Outside the formal area the gardens are extensive with many interesting trees and shrubs, ancient contorted sweet chestnuts overlook the croquet lawn. The huge walled kitchen garden is extensively planted with many vegetables and the produce used both in the cafe, restaurant and also sold in the excellent farm shop. One wall of the kitchen garden houses the Bryan Dodsworth National collection of Tall Bearded Irises. This was largely transferred here in the years after Bryan’s death in 2009.

Leaving Doddington and after a two and a half hours drive we arrived in Helmsley at the Feathers Hotel. The hotel is set in the Market Place and was extremely comfortable and an excellent choice.

Day 2 of the trip was dedicated to a full day visit to Newby Hall and Gardens. Newby is a rare example of a Sir Christopher Wren grand house, but subsequently altered by John Carr and Robert Adam and is now a splendid example of a great Adam country seat. We were welcomed by the Commercial Director, Stuart Gill who gave a brief history of the hall and who passed on a personal message from the current owners, Richard & Lucinda Compton. Lucinda is very much a hands-on gardener and was keen to meet fellow gardeners but was unable to do so as she had been called upon to present the cup for ‘the best sheep’ at the Yorkshire Show. After coffee, served in the beautifully proportioned entrance hall with its Robert Adam decoration and Chippendale furniture, we were divided into two groups and knowledgeably guided around the house. Describing each room would take too much space, but suffice to say that each room was beautifully decorated from floor to ceiling. The Chippendale furniture and collections of tapestries, ceramics, portraits and amusingly potties filled every conceivable space. The finale of the tour was the revelation of the Statue Gallery, comprising three Adam rooms housing the Grand Tour collection of William Weddell. This was an astonishing display which could never fail to impress visitors old and new.

Leaving the Statue Gallery directly onto the terrace and armed with a map of the garden, the scale of which was immediately revealed, one could look down the sumptuously planted long double borders. With 19 named ‘rooms’ to visit it was a dilemma where to start. The national collection of Cornus was as good a starting point as any and were at their best, being shaded by mature trees, they lit up this section of the garden. Sylvia’s garden, a homage to the current owner’s Grandmother, is another mature and striking ‘room’ designed to give colour in all seasons; it was a hit for us and no doubt for the rest of the group as well.
We lunched in the garden restaurant before going back out to try to visit the remaining parts of the garden. The Autumn Garden was full of every known variety of salvia and was looking good, the rose garden with flagstone paths, a central urn fountain and surrounding hedge of copper beech was magnificent and a sensory delight. Sadly our time was soon up and after a flurry of activity in the Plant Centre we re-joined the coach for our second ascent of Sutton Bank which climbs to nearly 1000 feet above sea level. The gardens at Newby would certainly merit another visit, possibly at an earlier phase in the year, as recommended by one of their gardeners.

Arriving back at Helmsley and as a bonus, many of the party visited Helmsley Walled Garden, a social enterprise charity, the profits of which help to fund their horticultural therapy service. Thankfully, the tea room was still open and a very pleasant hour was spent in the garden before returning to the Feathers Hotel for dinner.

On Day 3 we were homeward bound but not before seeing two more promised gems. The first was Scampston Hall near Malton which is a fine example of a Regency country house. We were welcomed by the owner, Christopher Legard, and then handed over to a very knowledgeable guide who knew the family, the house and its history so well. This house is another beautifully decorated one and apparently fully restored from 1990; it contains many paintings by well-known artists and several Gainsboroughs amongst them. From one of the bedrooms we were able to view the Capability Brown gardens with his trademark style of lake, trees and folly.

However, what we were really looking forward to was the walled garden, designed by Piet Oudolf, and one of his largest designs for a private garden. It did not disappoint. The garden is divided into 12 ‘rooms’, each with very different plantings. First the walk around the perimeter under the limes with the border next to the walls full of shrubs, trees and shady plants; then the entrance into the gardens through the dramatic drifts of Molinia grass – a calm and impressive sight. This ‘room’ led to narrow ‘rooms’ planted with cubes of box and bordered with summer flowers. The ‘room’ numbered 7 on the map was Piet’s classic perennial meadow. The final ‘room’, number 12, is called The Mount and is surrounded by a wildflower meadow; here climbing up the steps of the grassy mound you could view his entire design. We managed to grab a quick coffee in the Conservatory before reboarding the coach for our last garden.

Our final stop was Easton Walled Gardens. There was no house to see this time as it was demolished in 1951. However, the garden has been fully restored by its owner, Ursula Cholmeley since 2001. Here we walked round wonderful herbaceous borders, very clever wildflower strip planting on the terraces, many roses and fruit trees and above all her astounding collection of sweet peas. Here they trial new varieties for the RHS. Some of us took photos of their method of growing these delightful plants from seed and we shall be trying this out next year. The delightful tea room set in the heart of the garden and surrounded by plants was a welcome sight and we enjoyed a cuppa amongst the blooms before heading back to Norfolk.

We thoroughly enjoyed this superb historic garden tour organised by the very capable Karen Moore. The itinerary worked like clockwork and we were impressed by her accurate timings too. We should mention our wonderful coach driver, Brian who drove us most comfortably and safely to all our destinations, often having to negotiate narrow and inhospitable roads.
– Jackie & David Moss

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