Howick Estate Office, Alnwick, Northumberland, NE66 3LB
So many of you will have heard of Earl Grey and think of it as a tea often taken with a slice of lemon. Those with a knowledge of history will suspect it relates to a specific Earl i.e. Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, (1764–1845), who was also known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834 and indeed if you have ever been to Newcastle you will have seen a statue of him on a colossal plinth in the main shopping area of the city centre. He was a member of the Whig Party and was probably most famous for the Great Reform Act of 1832. He was resident in the hall at this period.
As befits the size and status of the hall itself the grounds are extensive and were created by plantsmen and appeal to those of that bent. “Gardener’s World” TV show voted it in the top five coastal gardens in the country. You can’t actually see the sea from the woodland gardens but you can easily walk to it if you are so inclined. There are various sections of the garden to explore including a sensory garden to provide a stimulating and safe space for children and adults with autism. I am not a fan of hydrangea’s myself as they are commonly seen in one variety as a single shrub in many suburban front gardens but the hydrangea garden at Howick in the woodland area (where they traditionally grow in East Asia) is fantastic and there are many varieties I have never seen before and probably never will again.
The grounds are worth meandering through slowly. You can take advantage of the clearly signposted walks or you can just go wherever the fancy takes you. I doubt, due to its size and location, it ever gets crowded and you can have much of it to yourself. There will be surprises in store everywhere you go not least the church situated in the middle of the grounds.
The church is a fully functioning Church of England parish church built in 1849 in the romanesque style. It has a lovely peaceful churchyard surrounding it which you approach via a gate. There have been other churches on the site not least a Norman one and there was a priest there in 1158 called Asket. Sadly two fires destroyed previous churches including an Ionic temple in the 18th Century. The tomb of Prime Minister Earl Grey is inside the church on the south wall.
As you wander around you will come to a secluded garden again approached via a gate which has a modern sculpture at its heart which is surrounded by a rose archway of magnificent proportions. Howick Hall gardens are still living and being developed as all good gardens are. So where’s the topiary I hear you ask. There must be something or it wouldn’t be included in this site. Well head towards the formal gardens next to the house at the rear. These are not too far from the church.
The formal gardens are surrounded by stately yew hedging which works very well considering the garden is actually terraced and it forms a boundary between that area and the rolling countryside beyond. Here there is traditional border planting and of note is the circular ornamental pond which has seating around which encourages you to sit awhile. This area is worth the entrance fee alone but my advice is not to miss all the rest.
Talking of resting after a hard couple of hours walking I can’t recommend the Earl Grey Tea house highly enough. It is not your standard National Trust tea room (bland but functional) as it is not a Trust property and most of the hall is still in private hands. The food is excellent and you can wash it down with, you’ve guessed it, Earl Trey tea. Other beverages are available! The room has the feel of a stately home and there are old paintings on the wall and the staff are very attentive. It’s as if you have been personally invited to tea by the family. There is also a museum of the garden next to the tea room which is also well worth visiting.
All photographs by Anthony Blagg