Sizergh, near Kendal, Cumbria, LA8 8AE (Sat Nav: LA8 8DZ)
I know that Cumbria along with Northumberland are the two most northerly counties of England but when you get to Sizergh Castle you feel you are in Scotland. The different height roof line has a touch of the Scottish Baronial about it and the stone looks solid and dour. It is in fact medieval in date. That said it is relatively easy to get to being just south of the Lake District and not a million miles away from Levens Hall. You could do both in one day but I would suggest that you don’t as Levens really does deserve a day to itself.
Sizergh is very popular with the hordes of tourists that flock to the Lakes and there is now a new entrance centre, shop and restaurant next to the car park which is well worth looking around. The castle itself sits on a bit of a ridge and it is a ten minute walk along a well made path to the entrance courtyard. The tour inside is well worth it and takes you on a route through several rooms and corridors and upstairs until you finally find yourself back where you started from. You cannot visit all of the castle as it is still lived in by the Strickland family but it is very atmospheric and you feel transported back to the Victorian age.
The gardens are being constantly worked on by the National Trust and there are several distinct sections such as the, lake, the national collection of hardy ferns and the limestone rock garden. A Victorian style stumpery is being developed in an overgrown area with help from a team of volunteers. Of interest to us however is the topiary yew garden which is accessed around the back of the castle and to one side and separated from the main grounds by a pair of splendid iron gates.
The gardens are about the size of a traditional orchard and have rows of yew pyramids lined up like soldiers on parade. Their sizes are uniform to and represent great skill from the gardeners. The section itself is a lovely walled garden and you expect the mad hatter or Alice to appear at any time. I went on a cold damp day but the specimens look fantastic in the snow as shown on the Trust’s website.
At the far end is a yew specimen arranged around a stone seat which looks for all the world like an altar or stage and I can imagine a philosopher sitting there working out the ways of the world.
The walk back towards the house via the gate is probably the best bit as the views of the castle from here are superb and the gardeners knew a thing or two when they were laying out the plan. In the next section there is a grassy area which has large box balls in and plenty of space where you would expect a croquet match (with or without pink flamingos) to be played.
Around the edge of the ridge overlooking the lake and the rest of the estate is a very old box hedge which has become overgrown and organic in form. It’s edges are all wavy and it has done well to survive the climate this far north. All in all Sizergh is a great place to go to see yew used in a regimented form and which could be translated into a more modest scale in a domestic garden.
All photographs by Anthony Blagg