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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Friday, 13 November 2015

The gardens of Holker

Holker Hall, Victorian, West Wing, Elliptical Garden

Holker Hall (say ‘hook-ur’) is one of those places you could easily miss if you didn’t already know about it – which now you do.  In fact, Holker is a renowned grand estate, house and home, but it is stuck on the fringe of south Cumbria in north-west England, well away from passing trade along the busy M6.  It is handy if you are in the Lake District, though, or if you are heading to Barrow-in-Furness and, inexplicably, want to delay your arrival.  Follow the brown signs and there is Holker, on an attractive peninsula jutting out into Morecambe Bay, a couple of miles south of the charming village of Cartmel.  Which, as everyone knows, is where sticky toffee pudding comes from – but that’s another story. 

Beech arch, Holker, Summer Garden

Actually, Holker’s lands were once owned by the Priory at Cartmel.  A house has stood on the same spot since the 16th century, with additions and refurbishments made by each succeeding generation, resulting in the exuberant pile you see today.  A serious fire in 1871 destroyed the west wing, which, sadly, caused the loss of several notable pieces of art, including works by Canaletto, Holbein, Kneller and Rubens.  It was rebuilt by leading local architects Paley and Austin in what has been called ‘Elizabethan Gothic’ style, but which us normal peasants would probably classify as ‘over the top Victorian’.

Elliptical Garden, Holker, gardeners

Interestingly, Holker Hall has been owned by just three families since being wrested from the church, passing by inheritance from the Prestons to the Lowthers and then, in 1756, to the Cavendishes.  It remains the home of the Cavendish family and they still manage the estate.  Holker was first opened to the public in 1950 and visitors continue to be welcomed into the West Wing, and parts of the gardens and grounds, today.  I am uncomfortable with the cliché of real-life Lord and Lady Crawleys, desperately trying to hang on to a vanished world and battling unfriendly socialist governments.  From what I can make out, the current Lord and Lady Cavendish, Hugh and Grania, inherited massive debts and have preserved Holker Hall by embracing change, through a lot of hard work, inspired vision – and listening.  It is a business, but it is only thanks to them that Holker has survived as a recognisable stately home - and for public enjoyment.

Red Admiral, Tortoiseshell, butterflies, Holker

Holker Hall boasts 25 acres of delightful gardens – some formal, some informal – inside a 200 acre park, framed by Lakeland fells and the grandeur of Morecambe Bay.  Caught on one of those rare dry days in this part of England, I’m pretty sure the gardens are impressive at any time of year.  I had the good fortune to visit when summer was morphing into autumn, a day of ridiculously blue skies, and to tag along with a bunch of people who knew their plants.  I’m sure they knew quite a bit about other people’s plants too.  Plus, there was the promise of coffee and a bun at half-time.  What more could you ask?

Fountain, Neptune Cascade, Holker

The formal, Elliptical (because that’s its shape) Garden catches the sun outside the West wing.  There’s a bush in it that is a magnet for butterflies.  I stood for ages, waving my camera around, vainly trying to capture the beauty of these fragile creatures; but I can’t remember the name of the bush.  Beyond the Elliptical Gardens, formality continues with the Summer Garden, built on former tennis courts and with a wonderful laurel arch which just draws you in.  It’s a place for peaceful, idle, wandering.

Fountain, Neptune Cascade, Holker

The Neptune Cascade, framed by rhododendrons, was allegedly inspired by visits to Rajasthan.  Sunlight created a rainbow over the fountain as water flowed over local slate.  At the top, a 17th century marble statue of Neptune, made by Italian craftsmen.  A short distance away, there’s an 18th century statue of the revered 16th century architect Inigo Jones, originally in Chiswick House in West London.

Statues, Holker, Neptune, Inigo Jones

Through woodland with picture-postcard open parkland beyond, you’ll find the Great Holker Lime.  Photographs do not do justice to this handsome and astonishing tree.  Planted in the early 17th century, it has a girth of 7.9 metres (almost 26 feet), but the trunk is far from regular in shape; its growth has formed child-size crevices – folds, almost – which hint at ancient secrets.  It is (apparently) one of Britain’s 50 great trees; I hadn’t realised before that there was an official category, had you?

Great Holker Lime Tree, Holker Hall

Adjacent to the Great Lime is the Pagan Grove, an amphitheatre scooped out of the ground which would be a good place for small theatrical productions and a picnic.  Also nearby is the labyrinth, built in 2002, which is more like a charming, but slightly pretentious, work of art than something to get lost in.  Beyond that, the curious, but oh-so impressive, sundial, five feet in diameter, carved in blue-grey Kirkby slate by craftsmen employed by the Holker Estate.  Good grief - is that the time?

Labyrinth, Holker Estate


Sundial, Holker

There is more formality in the Sunken Garden, with its lion-head water feature.  As one who can barely distinguish a weed from a weigela, the intricacies of gardening are mostly lost on me, though I relished the semi-organised beauty and tranquillity of Holker’s formal gardens.  Yet I think my greatest pleasure was wandering through the managed woodland, where even I could spot strange, or unusual, trees, and where clever planting suddenly revealed views that triggered spontaneous smiles of contentment.

Holker Hall, Summer Garden

And then it was time for tea.  And a bun.


Holker, restaurant, stables, clock tower

You need to check Holker Hall’s website for details of opening times, and for more information.  This will also tell you about the various events held there, including the very popular annual garden festival.

30 comments:

  1. That is beautiful! And I especially enjoyed your paragraph about the hard work and business acumen that it takes to keep a place like that afloat. Amazing what one can find in one's neighborhood.

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  2. What a wonderful day you had for wandering around those grounds, Mike!

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  3. What a beautiful, tremendously appealing place to visit!

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  4. Gorgeous! I just saw a recipe for sticky toffee pudding yesterday....sounds delicious...

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  5. A lovely garden indeed. I think you are being overly modest, just the virtue of being able to spell weigela will get you a long way.

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  6. It's gorgeous. I've been past it, but never dropped in. Clearly I've missed something good.

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  7. Thanks for the tour. It does look a special place to visit. You picked the perfect day for wandering around a stately home.

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  8. I'm so glad you left a comment on my blog so I could visit here. What a beautiful place and your photography is wonderful too. I feel as though I have been on vacation! I'm going to keep reading!

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  9. This is a beautiful estate and grounds! I think I would enjoy a stay there away from the business of the M6. The lime tree is fascinating to see.

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  10. That is a very lovely estate with all its garden rooms.

    I'm just now reading a book about Belvoir Castle. I'll have to search your posts to see if you've written about that one. The book is The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey about the 9th Duke of Rutland who died in 1940.

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  11. That arbor is terrific! The rainbow ain't bad either. :-)

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  12. How lovely, Mike! There are so many reasons to return to your beautiful country! The gardens are just stunning with the lovely fountains. Oh to be in England.... ♥

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  13. Lovely place. I must say me and my folk lean toward pizza and beer at halftime. Just saying. Oh. Is that the time?

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  14. Mike - with the wind and rain that is now battering that part of the UK, it was so nice to read your post and look at all of your photo's on such a wonderfully sunny day.

    That old tree is very special, and what tales it could tell.
    The gardens are just glorious - thank you for bringing some sunshine to my Friday evening.

    Wishing you a good weekend.

    All the best Jan

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  15. Another wonderful English garden! Love that huge Lime tree! We've visited a lot of English gardens and enjoyed them all. And the tea and scones at the end is the best part.

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  16. A place I certainly wouldn't mind spending a day at!
    I didn't know that there is a list of 50 great trees in Britain, either, but I can't say I'm much surprised. Some people just love lists and rankings, as a look at Germany's TV guides shows... There is always some ranking show or other on, about things you'd never think to rank at all! ("The 10 craziest weddings" is just one example...)
    Lovely pictures, all of them. My favourite is # 6.

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  17. Hi Mike - what amazing photos. I'd come across this place some years ago and thought I must visit one day - when is another matter ... but I sure would have like to have been there on the type of day you had. It looks absolutely stunningly beautiful .. and it's interesting that the Cavendish's have put hard work into maintaining their home, and upping the changes around it. Good for them is all I can say.

    The Woodland Trust has recently announced their "Four Trees of the Year" ... one from each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ... the post is here: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/tree-of-the-year/

    I came across the Scottish one via another blogger ... so was happy to join in. Interesting selection of trees and I love their names.

    Cheers Hilary

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  18. Wow what a garden and what a place oh how lucky someone would be to be able to wonder around and enjoy it

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  19. The gardens are wonderful and the promise of a stop in that beautiful café would have convinced me to walk through the gardens eve if they were ugly!

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  20. I had never heard of this place Mike, so thank you for putting this on the radar. The rainbow by the fountain really drew me in and the size of that tree is mind boggling. Really enjoyed this visit. Take care.

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  21. Beautiful house and gardens. I'm always happy to wander round magnificent places like that so I'll keep that house in mind. Viewed at a good time of year before the flowers vanish.

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  22. So colourful and happy. I think that next time I travel to the UK I will consult your blog thoroughly for good places to visit.

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    Replies
    1. Drop me an email and I'll do my best to help!

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    2. Drop me an email and I'll do my best to help!

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  23. Beautiful post, I would love to visit there.
    25 acres of gardens inside a 200 acre park, sounds heavenly.

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  24. Lovely images to accompany the text. It never ceases to amaze me how many places there are to visit in South Cumbria / North Lancashire.
    I was a late starter to this area as all my younger years were spent on the fells to the north despite encouragement from my Mother to visit places like this from her coach trip experiences.

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  25. You find the most fabulous places to show. This is a lovely house and garden. The tea and bun sounds good too.

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  26. gorgeous images! wonderful commentary! makes me want to go there right now!

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.