Seventeen years ago, the Duchess of Northumberland set up a trust to transform an area of derelict wasteland into a spectacular contemporary garden. The result is The Alnwick Garden, one of the most visited garden attractions in England.
This is no typical country estate – in fact, with its colourful Cherry Orchard, meandering Bamboo Labyrinth and watery Serpent Garden, it feels more like a fantasy land. Water and light are used to theatrical effect at Alnwick: the huge central Grand Cascade is unlike any run-of-the-mill water features you may have seen elsewhere – its fountains and jets erupt on a spectacularly complex cycle, while visitors try to dodge them. Elsewhere there are places to paddle and a mysterious bubbling pool – be sure to bring a change of clothing for children. The plants grown in the infamous Poison Garden require a special licence from the Home Office, and can only be viewed on guided tours. But perhaps the most enchanting feature at Alnwick is the (remarkably accessible) Tree House – in this huge cedar, pine and redwood building, trees grow through the floor and wooden walkways lead outdoors into the surrounding treetops, while a roaring log fire keeps everyone cosy.
It seems that considerations for disabled visitors were at the forefront of the design plans. Disabled parking is close to all the main buildings and garden features, so you don’t have to trek for miles to get to the best bits and back again. The garden has smooth, solid surfaces, although it is large, with some slight gradients. Powered scooters and wheelchairs are available for three-hour slots, free of charge (advance booking advised) – check out the scooter-use map available at reception and on the website. At the time of writing, the charitable trust was raising funds to construct an all-ability adventure playground as well as a Garden for the Senses where visitors would be encouraged to experience the sounds and smells of the raised beds and watercourses while blindfolded.
Food & drink: The Tree House restaurant is a fairly pricey but magical place to eat. If you’d prefer something cheaper, try The Pavilion Café, which overlooks the Grand Cascade, or The Potting Shed, beside the Tree House restaurant, which serves light lunches including bacon sandwiches and delicious sweet potato chips. All these venues are accessible.