A WEEKEND AT WALCOT HALL, Shropshire – historic home of Lord Clive of India

 It was one of those family weekends that could have gone either way, with 16 of us staying in a relatively unknown (to us, at any rate) stately home in Shropshire.  

It was, therefore, my delight to discover that this was a house of some historical and horticultural significance being the former home of Lord Clive of India, the current home of an extremely hospitable family, the Woodbine Parishes, and possessing a garden of some considerable interest.

Dating from Tudor times, but redesigned in 1763, the hall is approached from the north via a long oak and lime avenue in a beautiful park landscape on the edge of the hills of Clun Forest. It commands stunning views over the valley and would comfortably form the backdrop to a Jane Austen novel – you could easily imagine Darcy himself walking down the lawn to greet you.

The garden as we know it today was developed when the estate passed to Lord Clive’s son, Edward, in 1774. One of the greatest authorities on gardening and arboriculture of his day Edward was responsible for the man made, mile-long fishing lakes (dug, reputedly, by prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars) in front of the house and the 30 acre arboretum which extends high up on the hillside above the house.  

The arboretum consists of mixed conifers and deciduous specimen trees and boasts the largest Douglas fir in the United Kingdom. The picture below does little justice to this champion tree planted in 1742 from a seed collected in Canada by David Douglas, the famous Scottish botanist and plant collector.

The particular attraction of the arboretum is its setting on rising ground which affords regular spectacular glimpses back over the house, the two lakes and the Clun valley, itself a mixture of arable, grazing, forest and heath land, which at the time of our visit provided a stunning array of autumnal colours. It would also be a delight to return in the spring to enjoy the extensive underplantings of rhododendrons and azaleas which give continuous colour from February to July.

 

As if this were not enough, a family walk through the arboretum is enhanced by touches of fantasy provided by the Russian dacha, more Roald Dahl than Jane Austen…

… and an extraordinary green corrugated iron chapel complete with bright red door. This had been transported flat -packed from somewhere in Scandinavia by the current owners and provides further interesting holiday accommodation.

 This voyage of discovery continues past a North American tepee, a shepherd’s caravan and a burgeoning stumpery complete with wooden bear sculpture, each adding a pleasing quirkiness to the tour.

 

The estate at one time ran to an incredible 80,000 acres, but a reduction over the years  to more manageable dimensions has given it a more informal and intimate atmosphere… and allows the house, Stableyard, cottages, walled paddock and extensive farm buildings to form a comfortable community within well-proportioned grounds. This is not a sanitised property in the vein of some heavily visited historic houses, but a living and working family residence.

 

The private garden has a particular charm of its own – clearly enjoyed by a young family it is not over-precious, and there are signs that a keen gardener has been at work: recent plantings of grasses and some unusual shrubs on a steeply sloping bank, fine specimens of Tetrapanax  and Paulonia offered protection by a south facing red brick wall and an attractive rose arch which leads up to the arboretum.

From there your eye is inevitably drawn across the lawn and mixed borders to a multi-tiered fountain and grotto.  The size and style suggest late Renaissance, but it has been designed and constructed by the current owners and provides another element of fantasy to the Walcot experience.

 

The family weekend was indeed a success and owed much to a venue of considerable character and historical significance, a stunning location and the spirit of a  family home. I would highly recommend visiting the arboretum which is open under the National Gardens Scheme from April to October –  and there’s even the offer of tea and cakes in the Ballroom afterwards.

Lesley

Do take a moment to visit www.walcothall.co.uk

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