Does anyone else do that thing of driving past places every few days, and saying ‘we really must go there’ – but you never actually do? Well, we’ve had a few of those on our list, and yesterday we decided to cross one off.
The good weather had got to Cumbria at last. It was warm, it was sunny, it could almost have been summer – the perfect time to go and explore a new garden. This one is called Stagshaw Gardens, and it’s a National Trust property hidden away just off the main road south of Ambleside. We’ve hurtled past it on the A591 any number of times, but never taken the time to stop before. This time we parked at Waterhead, had a quick coffee (with a wonderful scenic view), then trudged back along the main road to the lane that leads to the garden gates.
Getting there involves dashing across the main road (no easy task when traffic is screaming past on the way to the rest of the Lakes) but we made it in one piece, and almost immediately entered another world. The garden is set back up the lane, past fields of sheep and lambs, and a pretty babbling beck. The beck (with the wonderful name of Stencher Beck) provides much of the drama of the garden itself, which was constructed around its steep banks and cascades in the 1950s by Cubby Acland, a leading light in the National Trust, whose home this was.
And he made a brilliant job of it, because it’s hard to see where nature ends and the planting begins. There are flowers, but they’re often small, quiet, woodland plants that wouldn’t be out of place here anyway, or shrubs like rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias that look completely at home amongst the trees. And it’s all set on a precipitous slope, with sudden views out across Windermere and the fells, and the waters of that stream and its smaller tributaries falling everywhere.
It’s not huge. We walked round most of it in about fifteen minutes flat, and I was going slow. Partly that’s because there was so much to look at and photograph; partly because I don’t ‘do’ steep and slippery, and this was steep and slippery in spades. But it’s a lovely hidden gem just a short walk from the main tourist rush, and well worth stepping aside to see. And even better, it’s free, for National Trust members and ordinary visitors alike, although there is an honesty box for donations if you’re that way inclined.
Because of the late spring here we were too early for the main burst of colour with the rhododendrons and azaleas, and even the daffodils are still not fully out. But there were small pockets of blossom – some lilies here, a couple of camellias there – and in another month it’ll probably look quite spectacular.
Here’s a taster, anyway, plus that view from the coffee shop, which is worth a few bob on its own.