The Queen Mother's Playground; Gibside Hall, Tyne & Wear

North East
Gibson Chapel ©shutterstock

Explore the gardens where Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, played as a child

Author: 
Anthony Toole

Sir William Blakiston built Gibside Hall in 1620. It was acquired, through marriage, by George Bowes, who became very wealthy when coal was mined on the estate. His daughter, Mary Eleanor, married John Lyon, ninth Earl of Strathmore, and the subsequent Bowes-Lyon family became ancestors of the present Royal Family. Though she lived mainly in Scotland, the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, visited Gibside as a child, and dined on its lawns. As Duchess of York, she revisited in 1936, and returned a number of times throughout the 1960s.

On entering the estate, your attention will be immediately drawn to the impressive Gibside Chapel. Commenced by George Bowes in 1759 and completed in 1816 by his grandson, John Lyon, this was designed by James Paine in the Palladian style, inspired by the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome. Reopened by the Queen Mother at a special service in 1966, when she handed over the keys to the National Trust, the chapel is regularly used for services, weddings and concerts.

Standing tall
The chapel looks on to the tree-lined Long Walk, a half-mile-long avenue, at the far end of which a stone column rises above the woods and is visible for several miles around the estate. It stands taller than Nelson’s Column in London and is crowned by a statue of Liberty, which predates its New York namesake by a century. 

Alongside the avenue, the ruin of the Orangery, built by Mary Eleanor Bowes-Lyon in 1774, commands a superb view over a loop of the River Derwent. A little further is the more extensive ruin of Gibside Hall itself. The fully restored stable block houses a café, exhibitions and a display, illustrating the history of Gibside. Beyond this is the Octagon Pond, which lies at the foot of a further slope, leading to the Banqueting House.

Throughout the estate are play areas for children, and numerous footpaths which lead around the boundary, along the riverbank and through the woods. Visitors can enjoy spreading out a picnic blanket anywhere in the grounds. You can just picture the young, cherub-faced future mother of our current Queen, tucking into a choc-ice among the shrubberies. 

Parts of the estate make up a Site of Special Scientific Interest, containing flowers and semi-natural woodland, consisting of oaks, yew, holly and tall redwoods. In the ponds are great-crested newts, while elsewhere there are grass snakes, squirrels, badgers, foxes and roe deer. The recent, and very successful, reintroduction of red kites into the Derwent Valley means that these magnificent birds of prey are also frequently seen circling over Gibside. 
 

Useful information: 

HOW TO GET THERE
By car, take the A694 into Rowlands Gill, then B6314 to the estate entrance. By bus, take the Go Northeast 45, 46 and 46A from Eldon Square, Newcastle, to Rowlands Gill. Walk down the B6314 for ⅓ mile to the entrance.

FIND OUT MORE
Gibside Hall Estate
Near Rowlands Gill, Burnopfield NE16 6BG
01207 541820
nationaltrust.org.uk/gibside
There is a mobility tramper, as well as wheelchairs, available for hire.

EAT
Try the Potting Shed Café alongside the ticket office or try Renwick’s Coffee and Book Shop in the Stable Block.

STAY
West Wood Yurts, Cut Thorn Farm, Burnopfield
07823334910
westwoodyurts.co.uk
Mongolian-style yurts on the southern edge of the estate.

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