Ten Gothic Gardens
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Belsay Castle Quarry Garden
Belsay is an oddity among our Gothic Gardens. The usual strategy of Gothic Gardeners was to spot a landscape with potential, scatter it with follies and ruins if no genuine ones were available, and lend the hand of nature a discreet touch of support to bring out the melancholy implications of the topography. Belsay has no follies - unless you count Belsay Old Castle on the edge of the estate - and only acquired its Gothic landscape by accident.

Belsay had been home to the Middleton family since the 13th century. Sir William Middleton employed Capability Brown to do a spot of landscaping and had added a Gothick eyecatcher to the hilltop in the later 1700s, but that didn't amount to Gothic re-engineering of the house's surroundings. Then Sir William's third son Sir Charles inherited the estate (he took the surname Monck to secure another legacy) and while on his honeymoon in Greece acquired an infatuation with all things Classical. He built in severe Athenian style perhaps the ugliest stately I have ever seen, and on Christmas Day 1817 moved his family out of the old Castle and into the new Hall. The photo to the right is quite good, because it shows very little of it.


The Hall had been constructed from stone excavated from the hillside immediately to the west, leaving a quarry scarring its way through the earth. It seems that Sir Charles, for all his Classical enthusiasms, had had the idea in mind all along - the quarry is no mere hole in the ground, but a tall-sided, narrow canyon with alcoves,winding paths, and dramatic overhangs. The cliffs were planted with pines and yews to make them seem even higher and more gloomy.
Belsay New Hall
Belsay 1
Belsay 2The gardens closer to the house eventually contained a remarkable
variety of exotic plants, while the quarry itself was planted with native
ferns and mosses. Sir Charles's successor and grandson, Sir Arthur,
extended the quarry to the west, which is if anything even darker and
more grim.
Belsay archway
Belsay archwayBelsay Grotto
A great hewn arch leads to the
Quarry Garden ...
... and a smaller stone one to
the west quarry
'The Grotto', in the upper
quarry, the nastiest, dankest
spot in the whole garden.
Belsay Rhododendrons
Belsay Old Hall 1Belsay Old Hall 2
You didn't think rhododendrons could be
sinister? Think again.
The Old Castle is not really part of the arrangement at Belsay - you simply emerge from the
Quarry Garden and discover it, so it doesn't count as a proper folly. However, there's
something surreally eerie about the aeronautic fireplaces you find there.
Belsay New Hall room
However, the horrible Hall has a
Gothic experience of its own in store.
Part of the deal in its being passed to
the care of English Heritage was that
there should be no reconstructed
room-sets made up from furniture
and fittings brought in from
elsewhere, the Middletons' own gear
long having been dispersed. So the
building remains an eerie, empty shell.
The restored parts occasionally house
art exhibitions; the rest doesn't even
have plaster on the walls. Oddly, this
means its history weighs even more
heavily in the echoing rooms.
More details, though not many,  of Belsay here.



 
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