Category Archives: Gardens

Christmas at Burton Agnes

One of my favourite stately homes to visit at any time of year is Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire. This lovely Elizabethan manor house has been described as ‘the perfect English house’ and as one of England’s twenty finest houses alongside Chatsworth House, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. Despite these illustrious comparisons, to me Burton Agnes Hall always feels like a real lived-in family home with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.


And at Christmas time, it looks stunning with hundreds of original and creative decorations – both traditional and contemporary in style. Many of them are natural, using flowers, foliage and branches from the hall’s extensive gardens as well as handmade pieces crafted in a massive joint effort by the Cunliffe-Lister family and their staff.


This year, my mum and I tied in a visit with taking my youngest son to see Father Christmas. After being met by Mrs Claus in the Great Hall, we went on a tour of the house to meet Jingles the Magic Elf for some festive fun. We found Jingles in a room off the Long Gallery which looked wonderful with young walnut trees festooned with tissue paper pom poms made by the guides and pearlised card decorations, and of course, a letter box for those important letters to Santa…

After some magic tricks, stories and songs it was time to meet the man in red. Watching the look on the children’s faces always reminds me what a special and magical time of year this is for little ones.


The really nice thing about Burton Agnes is that you never feel rushed by staff or crowded out as you wander from room to room. There was plenty of time to enjoy all the creativity that has gone into making the decorations which are all personal to the house rather than mass-produced and shipped in for the season.

In the Chinese Room there was a colourful tribute to this year’s 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK – a willow branch with rainbow coloured origami butterflies and sprayed hydrangea heads.


In the White Drawing Room the pale colour-scheme is echoed with a papercut village and huge pearlised paper flowers on the floor. I loved the book balls and paper snowflakes and the paperback book Christmas trees. All these decorations are so inspiring and the sort of thing you could try out at home – although I think I would still be folding paper on Christmas Day for some of the origami projects as they must have been such a labour of love.

Other rooms, like the King’s Bedroom are decorated in a more opulent style with an oak tree adorned with crowns, birds and baubles and golden gourds from the Walled Garden.


No Christmas would be complete without the nativity, or in this case, the knitivity scene with charming hand-knitted characters.


One of the activities my son really enjoyed was the spot the snowman trail throughout the house where children have to find all the snowmen (made from merino wool by one of the young daughters and wearing hats and scarves made from the family’s recycled jumpers) hiding in each room. I admit it took some searching by the adults to spot some of them!

I hope you enjoy your visit if you get time to go along. It really is a favourite place of mine and will definitely get you into the festive spirit – Oh, and don’t forget to keep a look out for those elusive little snowmen!


Helmsley Walled Garden

A walled garden must be every gardener’s dream – sheltered from the elements that often take their toll on our own patches – especially after a heavy downfall – whose delphiniums aren’t looking a little sorry for themselves after the recent soaking?

A couple of weeks ago a good friend of mine, who happens to be a professional gardener, suggested a trip to Helmsley Walled Garden. We often meet up and do a walk together but it was looking like quite a hot day so a lovely garden with some shade – and nice café beckoned.

This idyllic five-acre site sits beneath the ruins of Helmsley Castle and is just a stone’s throw away from the pretty market town of Helmsley.


The garden originally provided fruit and vegetables for the Feversham household at Duncombe Park until just after World War One when it got leased out as a market garden. Sadly, it fell derelict over the years and it wasn’t until 1994 that its restoration started thanks to the vision and sheer hard work of a local lady, Alison Ticehurst. Alison wanted the garden not only to be a beautiful site once again but also to be a place for horticultural therapy. Today supported volunteers learn horticultural skills here whilst at the same time benefiting from new skills and gaining confidence.


The garden now contains a spectacular long double herbaceous border planted with vibrant reds, yellow and oranges; a white garden; a clematis garden and orchards. Wherever you are the castle is always a looming presence – whether behind formal layouts….


…or as a backdrop to pretty wildflower meadows. Doesn’t this look quintessentially English with its daisies and bright red poppies peering out from the long grass?


Even the cow parsley looks gorgeous rather than unruly especially when it’s set off with a mowed path down the centre with an orchard either side.


The bright yellow laburnum arch and purple alliums dancing at either side look stunning at this time of year…it was an irresistible photograph to take.


Did you ever read The Secret Garden as a child? Well, this door really reminded me of this book. Wouldn’t you have loved to find a hidden garden like Mary Lennox did in the story? I wonder what is behind this lovely old door.


As well as the gardens, the glasshouses have all been restored and house a fantastic array of plants including succulents and this impressive display of gourds.



Alongside the floral attractions and not forgetting some rather cute looking resident hens, there is also a wonderful cafe here. The Vine House Café is in a restored Victorian vinery where you can eat beneath the vines or in the courtyard.


The café serves mouth-watering cakes and gorgeous lunches including delicious salads. Mine contained strawberries and blueberries which I wouldn’t have thought of adding. I did try this at home afterwards, serving up a mixed salad with grapes and blueberries – it took a bit of convincing my brood that the fruit hadn’t got in there by accident – I have now moved over to the ‘anything goes’ mindset when putting together a salad thanks to my fruity salad encounter.


If you get a chance to visit, the garden is looking stunning at the moment with a blaze of colour in the borders; lovely wildflower meadows sprawling out beneath orchards of apple and pear trees as well as a plant centre offering plenty of inspiration to take home with you.






A trip to Cycle Heaven

Isn’t it great when the journey is as much fun as getting where you want to be? With helpful signs pointing us in the right direction, we didn’t have much trouble finding our destination – the new café at Cycle Heaven.


Cycle Heaven is one of York’s best-known bike shops which started out in Bishopthorpe Road (blog post here in case you don’t know this gem of a street) where it still has a shop for repairs and accessories, as well as one at York Station for repairs and cycle hire.

It recently expanded by opening a third shop with a café in bigger premises in Hospital Fields Road.

You can get there from York centre via Rowntree Park in Terry Avenue.


Park up in the car park here and walk, cycle or scoot which is what the boys did.



It’s great cycling and scooting territory, especially for kids – the paths are actually part of the York Orbital Cycle Route which circles the city and begins and ends at the Millennium Bridge.


Rowntree Park itself is a lovely green space with a play area, skatepark and its own café, The Rowntree Park Reading Room & Café which is well worth a visit.


You cross The Millennium Bridge.


Check out the padlocks adorning the metal grids. If you’ve been to Paris you’ll know that the Pont de L’Archeveche is, or rather was covered in these love locks.

Last year the love tokens were removed from the bridge by Parisian officials because they they were causing damage to the bridge. This doesn’t seem to be an issue at the moment in York unless more people decide to declare their love here.


I wonder if Dave and Vicky are still an item? Tradition is that you throw away the key so I hope it all worked out.


The new Cycle Heaven building is on the site of an old military hospital. The café is run by the people at Café 68 (they already have a café in Gillygate and run the café at the Castle Museum). It’s a great space – with room for families, buggies, prams, dogs, bikes, scooters, you name it – you’ll all squeeze in.


The menu has a good range of salads, soups, sandwiches and cakes. The staff were very accommodating with the boys whose cosmopolitan taste in food is still under construction so it was sausage sandwiches all round for them.


The café is at one end of the bike showroom so I found myself eyeing up some lovely bicycles over my lunch…..


with some eye-catching floral accessories….


Just not sure they would get me to the finish line of the Tour de Yorkshire 2016 – what do you reckon?