12 September 2014

England: Tatton Park, Cheshire

During my three weeks in Cheshire I visited the National Trust property Tatton Park twice – if I lived close by, I’d be there every day. 

The first time we arrived at lunchtime so we tucked in to delicious jacket potatoes, salad and tea before heading out to explore the large, multi-faceted garden. Its features include a Japanese garden, huge trees, long walks, a large pond full of waterlilies (sadly, not flowering) and the biggest gunnera I’ve ever seen.

There’s a tower, once useful, now a folly. From the signboard: ‘Maurice Egerton, the last Lord Egerton, chose the Tower Garden to impress his guests.… the tower featured on the Ordnance Survey map of 1750. Its original purpose was to watch for sheep stealing on the park. In later years it was not unusual for this tower to house a hermit whose role was to ‘frighten’ house guests as they enjoyed the garden in the evening.’

There’s a gorgeous rose garden, a large well-stocked walled kitchen garden, and benches galore (I’m a big fan of garden benches!). The maze was great fun. From the signboard: ‘According to records Tatton’s maze was already well established by 1795. Planted with a mixture of deciduous Hornbeam and Beech obviously means it’s only possible to get totally lost in summer! It … has exactly the same plan as the maze at Hampton Court Palace in London.’

Laid out on the slopes below the mansion is a symmetrical Italian garden, probably the result of one of the family members absorbing Italian influences during their ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. From the signboard: the garden was ‘Commissioned and completed in 1890 and designed by Joseph Paxton, the statue of Neptune acts as a centrepiece and was brought from Venice in 1920'.

The house itself was closed that day (Monday) but we saw it during our second visit. That day we spent several hours enjoying a long walk around Tatton’s huge expanse of parkland before touring round the Neo-Classical mansion of the Egerton family.

We saw red and fallow deer, surprising some red fawns hiding in the long grass; various butterflies, damsel and dragonflies that we chased through the long grass for photos; a pond with yellow and white waterlilies, the former native, the latter probably not; and beautiful long avenues of trees.

We’d worked up an appetite so lunched in the restaurant again – this time, being Sunday, the place was full of people – families, with kids having rides on the carousel and indulging in icecreams, as we did later – and all the shops were open (produce from the park’s farms, including rabbit and venison – oh poor Bambi!), the garden shop (so gardeners could take home a living souvenir of their visit), the gift shop (all the National Trust properties stock lovely gifts).

The mansion was better than I expected, as it’s not particularly imposing from the front, but it had some gorgeously appointed rooms – the library and music room were my personal favourites. I particularly love how people in past times weren’t afraid of colour, with yellow, pink and green walls in different rooms (not bland cream everywhere), and the rooms contained possessions with character and meaning (not that season's offerings from the Ikea catalogue). 

There were gorgeous ceilings in the downstairs rooms; a grand sweeping staircase to the upstairs where only a couple of rooms were open; an interesting cellar level, where we found the kitchen, bakery, dairy, linen and china closet, and an ingenious miniature rail system designed to bring in the huge amount of coal needed to heat such a large house in wintertime. 

If you’re in the vicinity of Tatton Park, I’d definitely recommend a visit – it’s tremendous!

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