Having been closed since March, the National Trust are reopening a handful of their gardens and parklands on 3 June. In accordance with government guidelines, visitor numbers will be limited and entrance needs to be booked online in advance (even if for members).
The full list of properties opening is available on their site, but we’ve chosen a few of our favourites to discover based on their fantastic gardens and outdoor spaces.
Attingham Park, Shropshire
Attingham’s parkland covers around 4,000 acres and, although that’s only half the area it claimed in the early 1800s, you can still spend entire afternoons getting joyfully lost, exploring the woodland, deer park, walled garden and – for children and their parents – the expansive Field of Play (sometimes called the Shoulder of Mutton due to its shape), with tunnels, dens and logs.
Look for the Parkland Walks leaflet as you enter the estate, detailing the gentle Mile Walk (on even ground, suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs), as well as the Woodland, Deer Park (with more than 250 fallow deer – keep an eye out for feeding times) and World War II Walks.
Although the house remains closed for the time being, the gardens offer plenty of delights for the visitor. The parterre boasts carpets of spring bulbs, while other highlights include the Long Garden, the orientally inspired Water Garden – the pagoda was once red, but is now a slightly disappointing green – and the Rose Garden.
Restless children can walk or run for miles through woodland or along riverbank paths, or lose themselves in the yew tree maze, a replica of one originally created in 1894. It covers an area of about a third of an acre, with 550 yards of paths; over 1,000 trees have been used to make the six-foot-high hedges; and it apparently takes an average of 20 minutes to find the way out.
Corfe Castle, Dorset
Corfe Castle is everything you want a ruined castle to be: built of moody grey stone, towering high on a conical mound and reached across a stone bridge. So it is unsurprising that its image adorns countless calendars, postcards and book covers.
It was also reputed to be the inspiration for Kirrin Castle, which featured in Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series of children’s books, although this claim has been challenged by numerous other castles. The building oozes history and drama and a wander around the ruins cannot help but stimulate the imagination. Just thinking of the characters who have lived and died here, and the momentous events that have taken place here, can induce the odd shiver.
Dunham Massey, Greater Manchester
Come here with kids in tow and there’s no question what you do first – you go in search of the fallow deer. There’s a 150-strong herd living in the park and on a good day you don’t have to go far to find them. Sometimes clusters of them appear on the lawns right up close to the house. If you’re here in autumn, during the rutting season, you may get to hear the bucks bellowing at each other. In spring, when they shed their antlers, there’s always the chance that you might find a cast-off lying on the ground – and if you do, you’re allowed to keep it.
One of the other big highlights at Dunham is its winter garden, which comes into its own, inspirational best just as everyone else’s garden is looking at its bleak and battered worst. On a crisp February day, the winter sun shows off the glossy coppery bark of the Tibetan cherries and the brilliant white trunks of the Himalayan birches, washed clean of moss by obliging volunteers. The Siberian dogwoods add extraordinarily vivid pops of red, while close to the ground there are snowdrops and golden aconites and carpets of blue and purple dwarf iris.
Killerton Estate was given to the National Trust by Sir Richard Acland, a committed Socialist. Although the house is Georgian, the interior was redesigned in 1900 and a new entrance added in 1926 following a fire, so it now represents the way of life of an aristocratic family between the wars.
The best part of Killerton is undoubtedly the garden, all 20 acres of it, with huge lawns sloping down from a multicoloured copse that, in the spring, is ablaze with rhododendrons and magnolias. There are numerous large and rare trees dotted around, including a magnificent Lucombe oak, a hybrid Spanish oak created by William Lucombe at his Exeter nursery in 1762 and brought here three years later.
Kingston Lacy, Dorset
One of Dorset’s grandest houses, Kingston Lacy was the home of the Bankes family from 1665 until 1981, when Ralph Bankes bequeathed the magnificent 8,500-acre estate to the National Trust.
The house is surrounded by formal gardens and 250 acres of landscaped parkland, grazed by Red Devon cattle. The garden features an Edwardian Japanese area and a Victorian fernery, which contains over 20 varieties of ferns. Paths lead from the formal gardens through the park and woodland, awash with daffodils and bluebells in spring. Longer walks, bridleways and cycleways lead around the estate, and are mapped in a leaflet available at Kingston Lacy.
Sheffield Park, East Sussex
A short walk up the main road (which has a footway) from Sheffield Park station, at the southern end of the Bluebell Railway, leads to this, one of the greatest of all English gardens. Like many others in the Weald, this 120-acre garden and arboretum is renowned for its dazzling show of azaleas, kalmias, cherries, rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs in May and June, but the interest is year-round, with carpets of bluebells and daffodils in spring.
The four linked, broodingly silent lakes reflect the abundant and diverse foliage and shrubberies, providing exquisite vistas at every turn. High above stands the Gothic 18th-century mansion designed by James Watt for the Earl of Sheffield; it is now converted into very desirable flats.
The garden’s master plan – including two of the lakes – was begun by Capability Brown in the 18th century, with further modifications in the 19th century. James Pulham, whose company specialised in water features and was responsible for some of the rock constructions in Brighton Aquarium, added cascades. In 1910 Arthur Soames acquired the property and added the magnificent collection of trees and shrubs, making the most of the sloping nature of the site.
Wallington Hall, Northumberland
Four grinning dragon heads greet you on the approach to Wallington
– one of the great country houses of Northumberland. You could easily spend most of a day at this National Trust property, although the house remains out of bounds for the time being.
Wallington’s walled garden is reached at the end of a short walk through woodland and past an ornamental pond. A thin stream trickles through the green oasis landscaped with terraces of plants and shrubs. A longer walk is enjoyed by descending through woodland to the River Wansbeck (native white-clawed crayfish live in the water and red squirrels in the trees). The river eventually flows under Northumberland’s most elegant bridge – a Palladian crossing on the southern edge of the estate. Wait until you see it bathed in evening light.