Horringer, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP29 5QE
Travelling down the A14 from the midlands or off the A1 from the north or south can be a nightmare especially around the Cambridge area. The road is being widened but there is a lot of heavy traffic heading towards the ports such as Felixstowe. Do NOT be put off as it quietens down considerably after Cambridge and when you turn off the main road towards Ickworth you go through glorious rolling countryside which John Constable would have been proud to have owned. I have to confess that this was the only english county that I had not visited but that box has now been ticked and Bury St Edmunds is also a beautiful town but its the topiary at Ickworth you have come to see.
Make sure you follow the National Trust signs as part of the building is now a hotel and has a separate entrance. From the car park there is a walk towards the gardens though a plant sales area. This was one of the best National Trust ones we have seen and yes we bought some items as it was good quality and very keen on price. The building itself is neo-classical and this fact shouts at you from every angle as the rotunda in the centre which housed the library can be seen from almost every angle. It was built between 1795 and 1829 for Frederick Hervey the fourth Earl of Bristol. There are no prizes for guessing that he asked an Italian architect to do the designs although you may never have heard of his name, Antonio Asprucci. It is also the way of these things that the good earl never saw the building completed as he died in 1803 and that task was left to his heirs. So it is no surprise that an italianate villa has an italian themed garden. One of the main features at Ickworth are the giant box mounds dotted around (too big to call them box balls). These are contrasted by the slender and tall cypress style trees which give the garden height and breadth.
In the gardens contrasts abound. There are lovely gravel paths for formal or wet days but you can also meander across the well kept lawns or along the back paths though the less formal parts. It is a garden that looks elegant and symmetrical at first sight but also has lots of hidden wonders to explore. If you are a fan of looking toward distant vistas then Ickworth is for you. There is a large ha-ha at the end which looks out over the landscape and livestock park and is a delightful walk to stretch your legs if you are lucky enough to have sunshine.
Besides formal yew hedges which form a back drop Ickworth is unusual in having mature native trees dotted around which makes it look like a cross between a formal garden and a “landscape” garden and the effect is actually quite magical. Many people have ben critical of the huge size of the buildings suggesting that the are one gigantic folly dropped from another planet. Whether you agree or not it is nice to see actual follies in the grounds with seating so that you can admire the views. There are several other benches around and I would hope other gardens would take note as there is great pleasure to be had just by sitting in as garden especially after a long walk.
Parts of the gardens are still being developed. The stumpery was grown by National Trust gardeners to give an idea of what the garden may have looked like in Victorian times. There is also Lady Geraldine’s Walk named after the third Marquess’s wife which is a woodland walk full of spring flowers and then there is a walled garden further on where vegetables are grown.
There is a large cafe at Ickworth in a pleasing part of the building where you can pretend to be part of the family. This is a welcome addition as the location is far from other facilities in the county. Next to the cafe is an excellent shop, much better than many Trust owned ones so full marks for the team at Ickworth for giving a splendid half day out.
All photographs by Anthony Blagg