When Lord Fairhaven set to work on the grounds of Anglesey Abbey in 1930, the flat, monotonous fenland surrounding the 17th-century manor house was his blank canvas. Over the next 36 years, height, vistas, colour and drama were added to his creation. He designed a number of formal gardens enclosed by 3½ miles of formal hedging and connected them with wooded walkways, grand avenues and grassy crescents. Through every archway, first you’ll be hit by a blast of fragrace, then you’ll witness spectacular displays of plants and classical statuary.
1 WILLOW AND CHERRY TREES
The National Trust continues Lord Fairhaven’s creation today. Head gardener, Richard Todd, says they have kept the spirit and feel of his garden, and respect that he wanted the estate to be “preserved and kept representative of an age and a way of life that is quickly passing”.
One of the most impressive new areas is the winter garden, at the start of this walk, which is reached by turning right out of the Visitor Centre. The path twists for 450 yards round bushes and ornamental trees with many textures and scents, including twisted willow, winter sweet and the conker-smooth bark of Tibetan cherry, making this a favourite area with blind visitors, says Richard. At the end of the gravel path is a shocking white stand of Himalayan silver birch.
2 CORN MILL
You’ll reach the pretty 18th-century mill through a Secret Garden-style wooden door. The mill was once used for grinding corn, and later limestone to make cement. It provides a suitably picturesque focal point at the end of the poplar-lined Quy Water. Where the path curves right, turn off into woodland and head to the Herbaceous Garden where lupins, delphiniums, salvias
and lilies bring a burst of colour
3 PILGRIMAGE THROUGH ROSES
The remains of an Augustinian priory dating to the 12th century were incorporated into the manor house, which was built in the early 1600s. To the west is the Rose Garden containing 1,000 bushes. “Lord Fairhaven wanted the best and he got it,” says Richard.
4 FLORAL SCENTS
In spring, the Formal Garden is planted with vibrant blue and white hyacinths (the strong aroma will lead the way), and in summer, with dahlias. The garden is immaculate and reflects Lord Fairhaven’s passion for the flawless lawns, precise planting and sharp hedging of classical gardens. Stray leaves should
5 NATURAL PLAYGROUND
As you emerge from the Temple Lawn, take in the sweeping view of Cross Avenue and rows of mature horse chestnuts, before turning right over a footbridge. Let the kids run free in the wooded Wildlife Discovery Area where you won’t find any straight lines or perfectly cropped bushes. “Every time I come here, it looks different because a child has built a new den,” says Richard. It is a fantastic natural playground with an enchanting story-telling area under a willow frame, sculptures and plenty of places to play hide and seek.
6 WILDFLOWER MEADOW
On your walk back to the Visitor Centre, enjoy the aromatic shrubs on Pilgrim’s Lawn. Vanilla, honeysuckle, and earthy scents come in waves as you pass each bedding area. The final stretch of this walk is across mature parkland where you gain a tremendous view of the house set behind a colourful wildflower meadow.
HOW TO GET THERE
Six miles north east of Cambridge on the B1102. Catch no 10 bus from Cambridge (alight at Lode Crossroads). Largely off-road cycle route from Cambridge.
FIND OUT MORE
Quy Road, Lode
There is limited access to the abbey and mill for wheelchair users. Mobility vehicles are available for grounds. Garden open daily 10.30am-4.30pm. Adult £10.50, child £5.25.
The Missing Sock
Newmarket Road, near Stow-cum-Quy CB25 9AQ
Quirky restaurant that love a good song and dance. Serves international and British dishes.
The Crown and Punchbowl
High Street, Horningsea, Cambridge CB25 9JG
Contemporary rooms in an old inn, just 10 minutes from Cambridge. Restaurant serves succulent roast meats.
Image: © Copyright Simon Palmer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence