At first I was disappointed because we really wanted to tour the castle itself, but found out just a few days before that it’s closed for the winter. Apparently the Duke of Northumberland and his family still live in this famous castle during part of the year. It happens to be the second largest inhabited castle in England, after Windsor. Who knew they wouldn’t want tourists traipsing through their living room while they watch TV and snack on foie gras?
As fun as it would be to actually visit on of the principal castles used for filming Harry Potter (both exterior and interior scenes), it wasn’t in the cards for today.
With only about an hour to run through the park before it closed for the night, we suited up and headed in. It was COLD, but beautiful.
The Poison Garden had to remain a mystery for us though. Even if we had had time, it was closed. Inside is a collection of over one hundred (you guessed it) poison plants. The gardens had to get special license from the UK home office to even grow many of them. The Duchess thought that educating kids about the medicinal properties of many plants would benefit everyone, but knew that children (myself included) are more interested in hearing about the gruesome death they might suffer from those plants instead.
The sign on the gates is no joke. Hemlock, foxglove, belladonna and quite a few others are lethal. This is not your kitchen garden!
Ironically, the poison garden has been poisoned. It’s closed for maintenance for the next few months because of a nasty case of blight.
So we had to skip the poison garden, but we still had plenty to see in the fading light. The main cascade, and the pavilion were glowing.
The terraces and pathways were shining with alternating colors.
The fountains were splashing.
And tunnels were begging us to walk through them.
At the top of the hill behind the cascade is the Ornamental Garden, which was also closed but still visible through the gates. The central fountain is surrounded by orderly hedges and garden beds full of plants that must be stunning in the spring and summer. There are also several art installations among the paths here.
As it got darker we stumbled into a hedge maze. Oh, I was wishing for a flashlight! I really wanted to walk through it and see how lost we would get, but it was pitch black within ten feet of entering. The hedges were not the type that are trimmed nice and neat. They were wild and tangled and only showed a narrow gap of sky above your head. All three of us were too creeped out and scared to go any further than that. What wimps we are.
Instead we made our way back to the pavilion, where the sidewalks sparkle and you can get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate to warm your frozen fingers after obsessively snapping photos for an hour in December.
We usually think of gardens as a place to visit in the growing season, but I’m so glad we got to see this one in the winter. It had such a winter wonderland feel to it, even without snow. We left happy, and with some great sparkly memories.