Wednesday, 4 November 2009


I've just spent a few days in Northumberland, showing my (grown-up) children the place where I grew up. It was very November-ish, basically rather cold and grey and they couldn't quite get why I loved it so much. We visited the farm where I grew up, now changed radically, and sadly where there was once a wonderful garden created by my mother there was now worse than nothing, all the trees and hedges removed, it was basically as bleak as you get... However, I love the landscape and recognise the shape of every covert so for me it was still beautiful. We went to visit Alnwick Castle gardens, the latest "great garden" in the North but somewhere I have very mixed feelings about. I have visited before, but as a journalist for a couple of publications so I had to be polite. Now I know November is not a good time to visit a northern garden, however it was still open so I reckoned we'd go and have a good trawl around. We got there at 3 o'clock on a perfectly reasonable afternoon and went to buy tickets. "You'll have to be at the exist in 45 minutes" we were told, as we're closing by 4. OK, so we'd still like to look around, how much will it cost. "The tickets are the same price whatever the time of day". I decided not to look round, I would not pay £9.00 each for less than three quarters of an hour looking round a garden that I found marginal at the best of times. It may have some wonderful features (personally I found the much vaunted Witz cascades out of scale and out of place and nothing else particularly garden-memorable though it's probably a great theme park garden if that's what you're looking for). Not impressed with the attitude. Yes I'm probably bigoted because I grew up round there and knew plenty of the Duke's tenants who were mightily unimpressed with the garden development happening at the time they were suffering from foot and mouth and getting no rent reduction, I know the garden and the tenancies were unconnected but there was an amount of not-good feeling about it all, I know it probably brings tourists which the area needs, and I know that farming is fairly unviable in lots of parts of the county now.... so I'm probably a lousy judge. But Alnwick Castle garden is definitely not for me.

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