York is a beautiful mid-sized city in the North-East of England. It’s not surprising that when the Vikings invaded York in 866AD, they decided to stay but they weren’t the first – the Romans had conquered the city in 71AD. Wander around the walled city with its medieval buildings (check out The Shambles and York Minister), lots of independent shops and places to eat but make sure you leave enough time to visit some of the special gardens that are within an hour’s car journey from the centre.
National Trust | YO24 1GG
If you like the Arts and Crafts period of architecture, then make sure you visit Goddards, one and a half miles from the city centre. It was built in the 1920s for Noel and Kathleen Terry who had made their money making chocolate – what could be better! It’s a beautiful place to visit and you can drink coffee on the terrace overlooking the garden.
HISTORY: In 1927, the Terrys commissioned Walter Brierley to design the house although sadly Brierley died before the building was finished. The four-acre garden was created by George Dillistone who had worked with Edwin Lutyens at Castle Drogo. The garden is divided into different areas and includes a terrace, herbaceous borders, lily pond, and rock garden. Goddards was bought by the National Trust in 1984 to use as their regional office.
Check the website for opening times as the garden is not open every day of the week. The grounds are only partly accessible by wheelchair users as there are some steep slopes, cobbles and uneven paths. Dogs are allowed.
National Trust | YO30 1DD
Twenty-two minutes north-west of York by car, lies Beningbrough Hall. The beautiful eighteenth century Baroque house was finished by 1716 and now houses a large collection of portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. The National Trust has recently appointed Andy Sturgeon, the award-winning garden designer, to redevelop the seven-acre garden.
HISTORY: After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Beningbrough was sold to John Banister who gave it to his nephew Ralph Bourchier in 1556. John Bourchier built the current house in 1716 and although the architect is unknow, the build was overseen by William Thornton. The house remained in the Bourchier family until 1827 when the estate was left to a distant relative Rev William Henry Dawnay, the future 6th Viscount Downe. Dawnay commissioned William Sawrey Gilpin to draw up some plans for the garden although few of his ideas were implemented. After Beningbrough was inherited by Dawnay’s second son, the property was neglected until it was rescued in 1916 by Lord and Lady Chesterfield who carried out an extensive restoration project. The estate was accepted in lieu of death duties by the National Trust after Lady Chesterfield’s death in 1957. The garden includes an Italianate garden, wilderness, herbaceous borders, pergola, formal gardens and the restored walled garden. Recent work includes the Pergola by the award-winning garden designer Andy Sturgeon which forms part of his long-term vision for the redevelopment of the seven-acre garden.
The gardens are open every day during the summer but opening times change at other times of the year. The gardens are largely accessible with flat, paved paths in the stable block courtyard with grass and hard gravel paths throughout the grounds. Dogs are allowed in parts of the garden.
Privately Owned | Historic Houses Association | YO60 7DA
Thirty minutes north of York is Castle Howard. I fell in love with the house when I first saw it in the wonderful adaptation by the BBC of Brideshead Revisited all those years ago. When I visited for the first time this year, I was not disappointed! There’s so much to see and so many beautiful statues and garden buildings dotted around the estate, you could easily spend a day here.
HISTORY: The estate was bought by the Howard family in 1571 and in 1698, Charles Howard commissioned William Talman (a notoriously difficult man) to design plans for a new house. Talman’s ideas were rejected and a year later, Howard appointed Sir John Vanbrugh. Vanbrugh worked at Castle Howard until his death in 1726 after which his pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor continued the project. In 1850 W A Nesfield updated the south parterre, created the cascade at the South Lake and installed the Atlas Fountain; in 1890s the parterre proved too expensive to maintain and was replaced by a grass terrace and yew hedges. The gardens include formal gardens, pleasure grounds, extensive woodland walks, statues, several garden buildings including the Temple of the Four Winds, follies and over a thousand acres of parkland.
The gardens are open daily throughout the year except over Christmas and when special events are taking place. The garden paths are a mixture of mown turf and gravel with ramps to certain areas – check at the Ticket Office for recommended route. Dogs are allowed.
#4 Newby Hall
Privately Owned | Historic Houses Association | HG4 5AE
Forty-four minutes north-west of York by car is Newby Hall, a stunning eighteenth century house surrounded by beautifully maintained gardens. It is not surprising that it has been crowned winner of Historic Houses Garden of the Year 2019. My favourite part of the garden is the double herbaceous border that leads from the Shell Pavilions by the River Ure to the front of the house.
HISTORY: Sir Edward Blackett bought the estate in 1689 and built the house c1695-1705 possibly to designs by Christopher Wren. Blackett also laid out the gardens. Wings were added on to the east side by John Carr and William Belwood c1780 while the interior was designed by Robert Adam. Alterations were made at the end of the nineteenth century and in 1920s Major Edward Compton updated the garden. Compton was influenced by Lawrence Johnston’s garden at Hidcote and the garden has continued to be maintained and developed within the existing framework by his son, Robin Compton. The gardens include Tropical Garden, Sylvia’s Garden, Autumn Garden, Rhododendron Walk, Statue Walk, the Orchard Garden, Rock Garden and Rose Garden.
Check the website for opening times as the garden is not open every day of the week and is closed completely for the winter months. Pick up a route map for scooter and wheelchair users at the Entrance Pavilion or download one from their website. The paths are surfaced with pea shingle. Dogs are not allowed.
English Heritage | DN5 7XJ
Fifty-one minutes by car south of York is Brodsworth Hall, a magnificent example of a Victorian house and garden created in 1860s. English Heritage has decided to conserve rather than restore the house to allow visitors to experience how a once opulent house gradually falls into decline. The garden which was also neglected has however been beautifully restored and although this style of gardening is not popular today, it is fascinating to see a Victorian garden as it would have been in its hey-day.
HISTORY: George Henry Hay, 8th Earl of Kinnoull bought the estate at Brodsworth from Sir John Wentworth in 1713. Kinnoull rebuilt the house but after losing his money in the South Sea Bubble, the estate passed to his second son, later Archbishop of York. After Robert’s death, the house was left empty and was finally sold in 1790 to Peter Thellusson, from the Swiss Banking family. On Thellusson’s death, it was discovered that he had written a complex Will whereby his money was put in Trust and was not to be touched for three generations. A long legal battle ensued which was finally won by his great-grandson, Charles Sabine Augustus Thelluson; it is thought that this legal wrangle was the inspiration for the case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. Charles Thelluson demolished the Georgian house and began work on a new house which was designed by Chevalier Casentini and executed by the architect Philip Wilkinson. The house and gardens were completed by 1870. By 1990, funds had dwindled and after the death of Sylvia Grant-Dalton who had fought a losing battle for fifty-seven years against leaking roofs and spiralling costs, her daughter decided to give Brodsworth to English Heritage. After remaining in the same family for over a hundred years, Mrs Williams gave the house and gardens to English Heritage. Unfortunately, by 1990 the garden had been neglected for a number of years although the unexpected bonus was that little had changed since the garden had been originally laid out. Features include the Italian or Flower Garden which is always planted with a wonderful display of bedding plants, a grotto, rose garden, the Shrubbery, Fern Garden, tunnels, bridges, the Grove, Doric Temple, Target House and the kitchen garden.
The gardens are open for most of the year but closed during the winter months. Wheelchair access is good as the pathways are all flat and mainly tarmac or gravel. Dogs are not allowed.
National Trust | HG4 3DY
Fifty-four minutes north-west of York are the magnificent ruins of Fountains Abbey and the eighteenth century Studley Royal Water Garden. Explore the Abbey first (it’s one of the largest and best-preserved Cistercian monasteries in England) and then walk along the valley floor to the stunning water-gardens with the Moon ponds, Temple of Piety and canals. It was made a UNESCO site in 1986.
HISTORY: The Mallory family had lived at Studley for over two hundred years when Mary Mallory married George Aislabie in 1667. Their son John inherited the estate in 1693 but after becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1718, Aislabie was expelled from Parliament after his involvement in the financial scandal of the South Sea Bubble. He returned to Yorkshire and began creating the water garden. His son William took over the project in 1742, rebuilt the house, added the Chinese garden and in 1767 bought the ruin of Fountains Abbey. The water gardens have changed little since William’s death in 1781 with the Temple of Piety, canals, cascades and statues. And don’t miss out on the Serpentine Tunnel which leads uphill to the path that leads from the Octagon Tower, past the Temple of Fame to ‘The Surprise View’ or ‘Ann Boleyn’s Seat’ with the spectacular view over the River Skell with the Abbey ruins in the distance. Instead of retracing your steps, it’s possible to go back to the Abbey on the other side of the valley, along De Grey’s Walk.
Check out the website before visiting as the site is sometimes closed on a Friday and over the Christmas period. Wheelchair users are advised to pick up a map of the accessible route as the site is only partly accessible with steep slopes and some cobbles. The main areas are on level ground but the upper footpaths are restricted which prevents a full circular tour. There is parking at both sites but I would recommend the fifteen minute walk from the Abbey to the Water Garden. There is also a shuttle bus available from several places on the estate. There are two cafes, one at the Ticket Office and the other at the Sudley Royal entrance and car park. Dogs are allowed.
National Trust | YO62 5LJ
Fifty-four minutes by car north of York is Rievaulx Terrace, an eighteenth century picturesque landscape with two beautiful garden buildings and stunning views over Rievaulx Abbey. A wildflower meadow lies on the slope that leads down to the Abbey and on my visit in July, it was covered with butterflies.
HISTORY: After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Abbey was given to Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland. Katherine Manners married George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham and the land passed to their son, the 2nd Duke. On the death of the 2nd Duke in 1687, the estates were sold to Sir Charles Duncombe who left them in his will to his nephew Thomas Duncombe. His son, also called Thomas, was the son-in-law of the 4th Earl of Carlisle (owner of Castle Howard) and after returning from his Grand Tour in 1747, Duncombe laid out the grassed Terrace with the classical buildings at either end. It is thought that the Ionic Temple at the north end and the Tuscan Temple at the south, were designed by Thomas Robinson. The slope below the terrace is covered in wildflowers in the Spring and has thirteen vistas cut through the woodland allowing visitors to see the changing views of the River Rye and the Abbey ruins. The estate remained in the Duncombe family until it was given to the National Trust in 1963. The Abbey is owned by English Heritage.
The Terrace is open every day but closes over the winter period. The grounds are only partly accessible by wheelchair with grass and loose gravel paths; there are also some steps. Dogs are allowed. There is no café on site.