Alnwick Gardens and a trip to Hogwarts (Alnwick Castle)

Situated in the north-east of England, the Alnwick Garden is a wonderful place to spend a day, exploring and wandering around the 12-acre garden. It is next to the historic Alnwick Castle, which was used as a filming location for the first two Harry Potter movies. Formal gardens at Alnwick were first created in 1750 by the well-known Georgian landscape architect, Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Throughout the centuries, the gardens at Alnwick were developed by the Dukes of Northumberland, especially during the Victorian era when it was a time of great discoveries in the plant kingdom. Today the Alnwick Garden is owned by a community charity. After a period of development, the gardens opened to the public in 2002.

The Grand Cascade is the focal point of the garden.

Grand Cascade Alnwick

There are steps each side of the Cascade, allowing visitors to get up close and personal. Every thirty minutes, jets of water spray up from the Cascade in a dancing display of water which moves from the top of the water feature right down to the very last pool.

Fountains

Fountain 2

It reminds me of a similar water feature at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, although the Chatsworth cascade is 300 years old (you can see spectacular photos by clicking here). The Grand Cascade at Alnwick is a modern interpretation with a classical style.

Near the Cascade is a topiary serpent and between its coils, you find contemporary water features which delight children and adults alike with their mixture of visual effects and illusions.

After enjoying the water features hidden in the coils of the topiary serpent, we strolled through the bamboo labyrinth which was created by Adrian Fisher. If you have followed Cultural Life for a while, you might remember that I wrote about another of Adrian Fisher’s creations a few months ago: the ostensibly straightforward but fiendishly difficult five-pointed star maze at Scone Palace in Scotland. The bamboo labyrinth was a lot easier and it took less than five minutes to weave our way through it.

A clue inside the labyrinth

A clue inside the labyrinth

We had lunch in the Treehouse Restaurant, a truly unique dining experience. It is one of the largest tree houses in the world and it feels like something out of the Harry Potter books!

The Treehouse Restaurant

The Treehouse Restaurant

You reach the treehouse via aerial walkways, lined with twinkling lights.

I enjoyed a two course lunch of grilled red mullet and baby squid followed by halloumi salad with artichoke heart and chickpeas.

Inside the Treehouse Restaurant

Inside the Treehouse Restaurant

After lunch we walked to the Ornamental Garden, a pretty area just above the Grand Cascade.

The entrance to the Ornamental Garden

The entrance to the Ornamental Garden

A peaceful place to sit

A peaceful place to sit

Alnwick Castle, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, is a short stroll from the gardens. It was used as a filming location for the first two Harry Potter movies. Photography is not allowed inside the castle but I took a few photos of the exterior. You can view some photos inside the castle on their website here.

Part of Alnwick Castle

A view of part of Alnwick Castle

The castle is filled with history from different eras. But it is still very much a family home; the Percy family have lived in the castle for 700 years. As well as the beautiful furniture and historical artefacts, a lot of people visit the castle due to the Harry Potter connection. Harry’s first broomstick lesson took place within the grounds of Alnwick Castle (aka Hogwarts!) and when Ron crashed the flying Ford Anglia into the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the scene was filmed at Alnwick Castle.

Quidditch lessons were filmed on the lawns at Alnwick!

Quidditch lessons were filmed on the lawns at Alnwick!

The beautiful blue of the clock on the Alnwick tower stands out on a rainy day

The beautiful blue of the clock on the Alnwick tower stood out.

I plan to post all these photos plus a few more into a Cultural Life gallery in the next few days; I hope you enjoy browsing them.

Alnwick Castle and Gardens are wonderful places to visit. There is so much to see and do and a whole lot of history to soak up.

Do you enjoy visiting gardens and historic buildings? Let me know your recommendations from around the world!

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A visit to Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Scone Palace, near the city of Perth in Scotland, has an important place in Scottish history. The kings of Scotland, including Robert the Bruce, were crowned at Scone from the thirteenth through seventeenth centuries.

So, thanks to all at once and to each one,
Whom we invite to see us crown’d at Scone.

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene VIII

The house as we see it today was rebuilt in the early nineteenth century when the Gothic style was extremely popular. We saw a model of the house as it stood in medieval times before it was rebuilt in the Georgian period. It was interesting to see the comparison between the simple medieval architecture and the lavish Gothic-style palace.

Inside the house there are many wonderful paintings and portraits, including works by Joshua Reynolds and Van Dyck. We also saw many examples of beautiful furniture. I was especially interested in a little delicate writing desk which was a gift to the 2nd Earl of Scone from Marie Antoinette. It was fascinating to walk through the rooms, furnished with antique pieces, and imagine what it was like throughout history.

I found it interesting to learn that when portraits of the ladies and gentlemen of the house were painted, they used to sit while the artist painted the face. Then someone else, perhaps a maidservant or a footman, would sit wearing the same outfit for the rest of the body to be painted. This was so that the person whose portrait was being painted didn’t have to experience the tedium of sitting still in one pose for hours!

Photography is not permitted inside the palace but you can view photos on the official Scone Palace website – click here for photos. However, I took plenty of photos in the wonderful grounds. I was surprised by the lack of formal gardens but the natural wildness of the grounds created a relaxing atmosphere for a stroll.

The Butterfly Garden is full of different plants which encourage wildlife to visit the garden.

Butterfly Garden

Flowers

Butterfly Garden

The grounds were bursting with color from the spectacular rhododendrons and azaleas and as we walked to the Pinetum, we admired the lovely shades of purple, pink and crimson.

photo collage

The Pinetum is a beautiful wooded area with many different types of pine trees, including enormous sequoias (redwoods) and Douglas firs, named after the botanist and explorer David Douglas. Douglas was born in the village of Scone and worked as a gardener at Scone Palace before traveling to the United States on an expedition to discover plants. In 1826 he sent a Douglas fir seed home to Scone from the U.S. (the first Douglas fir to be introduced to Britain) and the tree which grew from the seed still stands in the grounds of Scone Palace.

Various pine trees in the Pinetum:

We enjoyed the walkway of laburnum trees and we weren’t the only ones: the trees were full of the sound of bees harvesting nectar from the blossom.

Laburnum

The avenue of cherry blossom is also very pretty:

And there is a beech hedge maze in the shape of a five-pointed star which represents the Murray family crest. It was designed by Adrian Fisher who has created mazes in more than thirty countries. His mazes include the Skyline Caverns Mirror Maze in Atlanta, the Chateau de Thoiry Hedge Maze near Paris and the Blenheim Palace Hedge Maze in Oxfordshire. It would be fun to travel around the world completing each one of his mazes.

Scone Palace maze

It took quite a while to navigate to the center of the maze at Scone! I was reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, during the Triwizard Tournament, when Harry and the other tournament competitors battle their way through a maze filled with dangerous creatures and hazardous spells. Fortunately, our journey through the Scone Palace maze was somewhat less eventful!

Maze at Scone

We finished our day at Scone by admiring the pretty Highland cows which were grazing contentedly in a field. This calf stood still and posed long enough for me to take a picture,

Highland calf

before ambling over to mama for an afternoon snack:

January, we had fun

January was a great month on the blog.

I made some delicious soup (Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup), took part in a photo challenge (highlights below) and published the post which was Freshly Pressed, to my delight, on February 1!

I kick-started January with the First Thirty-one Photo Challenge, welcoming in 2013 with a photo a day.

Browse highlights from my entries below:

Day 1: Resolution:

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Day 10: Gorgeous hand-knitted socks, knitted by a friend

socks

A wintry photo entry for day 14’s “Frost” theme

snowy tree

Day 19: Fur

fur

Day 31: snowdrops signal the end of winter

snowdrops

I also enjoyed challenging my writing skills with challenges from The Daily Post

My dream trip: a writing challenge about traveling set my imagination on fire.

Another writing challenge: Starting Over, a short story set in Mexico.

Cultural Life celebrated the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with this post:

January 28 1813.

And on January 31, I published this weekly writing challenge post, about saying an emotional goodbye to my mother at the doors of the operating suite. It was Freshly Pressed! I don’t often use the word “awesome” but being Freshly Pressed was the embodiment of that word. Thank you to everyone who commented, liked and shared my post. Welcome to my new followers and thank you for helping to create a great blogging month here at Cultural Life!

Photo challenge day 31: End

It’s day thirty-one of the First Thirty-one Photo Challenge from Fourtuitous, celebrating the first thirty-one days of the year with a photo a day, and that means it’s the end.

Snowdrop flowers signal that winter is coming to an end and spring will soon arrive.

 

Snowdrops signal the end of winter

Snowdrops signal the end of winter

Weekly writing challenge: Starting Over

This week’s writing challenge from The Daily Post is a piece of creative writing on the theme, “Starting Over”. For more info, visit The Daily Post writing challenge: Starting Over.

Monarch Butterfly by Art Planet

Monarch Butterfly by Art Planet

La mariposa volotea
y arde — con el sol — a veces

“The butterfly flutters
And burns – with the sun – sometimes”

(from “La mariposa de Otoño” – The Autumn Butterfly – by Pablo Neruda)

Starting Over

Every year they come to Michoacán, filling the wide, open space of the space between earth and above with blood-red color. Las mariposas. They arrive each October, thousands of them tinting the sky with their delicate wings, as fierce dry winds blow down from the mountains, the red dirt swirling up like demons in a frenzy.

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Photo challenge day 12: Flakes

First Thirty-one Photo Challenge day 12 (Fourtuitous)!

I have much better pics of snowflakes on my camera, like this one:

snowflakes falling

snowflakes falling

But that was taken in 2011, whereas the photo below was taken today. It’s an embarrassingly terrible photo though but it was all I could get!

snowflakes and ice on the car

snowflakes and ice on the car

Photo challenge day 6: Gray

It’s already day 6 of the First Thirty-one photo challenge! Head on over to Fourtuitous to find out more.

For today’s theme of gray, I have a photo with many different shades of gray, though perhaps not as many as 50. 😉 Sorry, that was a lame attempt at a joke and I haven’t even read 50 Shades of Gray (and I don’t particularly want to!)
Let’s just get on with the task in hand, shall we? See below for my photo entry:

Different shades of gray in a dramatic winter landscape

Different shades of gray in a dramatic winter landscape

Photo challenge day 2: Branches

It’s day 2 of the First Thirty-One Photo Challenge! One photo for each day of January 2013. Go to Fourtuitous to find out more!

Today was hectic and it was dark before I had time to take the second picture for the photo challenge: a tangled web of branches, stripped bare of their leaves by the winter chill. Apologies for the bland, unexciting photo but it was the best I could do today!

Branches

Branches