Day out: Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, Northumberland
As winter draws in, these mysterious gardens, grand hall and medieval castle are bewitched by light, sound and festive spirit
During the dark evenings of December, the ancient magic of Belsay Castle is enhanced when the hall, castle and gardens are transformed by light and sound into a place of entrancing adventures.
The medieval castle was built in 1370 by Scottish nobleman John Stirling on land granted to him by King Edward III. His daughter,
who had married Sir John Middleton, inherited the estate, which remained in the Middleton family for the next 600 years.
In 1817, Sir Charles Monck (formerly Middleton) built Belsay Hall in the Greek Revival style – the dominating indoor feature is the two-storey Pillar Hall – and redesigned the extensive parklands into the landscape that we see today. English Heritage acquired the estate in 1980 and now holds a spectacular festive display here as part of its Enchanted season, where visitors can roam the illuminated grounds.
Twinkling with lights, the two formal terrace gardens look toward a forest of conifers and rhododendrons. Leading from the terraces is the Yew Garden, from which a footpath passes along Magnolia Terrace and between the Winter Garden and a croquet lawn to the horticultural highlight, the Quarry Garden.
This huge sandstone quarry provided the stone for Belsay Hall. It is a maze of deep, narrow canyons, arches, towers and alcoves, its unique atmosphere enhanced by the exotic plants that hang from the walls and trail their bases.
Christmas explorers can enjoy fantastical encounters with talking trees and dancing fairies on their wanders.Beyond this dark wonderland, the trail opens out, in almost magical contrast, to reveal the ruin of Belsay Castle.
Anthony has published more than 500 magazine and online features about his visits to more than 20 countries.