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Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
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Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
@philhopkinsuk
7:00 AM 26th August 2021
travel

For A Trim Sir? – Britain’s Oldest Topiary Garden

If 2021 takes on the undisputed mantle of ‘British Staycation Year’, then no self-respecting home bird can can afford to miss out on a visit to Levens Hall & Gardens, home to not only the world’s oldest topiary garden but proud custodian of artefacts that once belonged to both the Duke of Wellington and Napolean.

Located in the Kent valley, near the village of Levens, five miles south of Kendal in Cumbria, Levens Hall is a manor house that grew from a stark, imposing Pele Tower built in the thirteenth century, into a warm, welcoming family home now central to a thriving 9,500 acre agricultural estate.
Should you need 12 great reasons to visit in 2021, here they are:

1. See the World’s Oldest Topiary Garden
Founded in 1694 and featuring over 100 clipped trees, in all shapes, sizes and designs, the Topiary Garden, designed by Guillaume Beaumont for Colonel James Grahme, is one of Britain’s most impressive heritage gems and a must-see in 2021. A visit will introduce you to Queen Elizabeth I, the Top Hat, a Great Umbrella tree, a Toppling Wedding Cake and much more.
2. Mindfulness
The Topiary Garden is increasingly a garden zone for mindfulness, as visitors focus on unique and varied shapes and the rhythm and symmetry of the topiary trees, enjoying contemplation and stress-free moments in time. Visit and spend time learning about the power of focus and the uplifting benefits of biophilia.
3. Tours
Levens Hall tours are 45-minute, inspiring experiences, offering wonderful insight into all inside the historic family home of the Bagot family and Grade I-listed property. At the time of writing (July 2021), tours run every 20 minutes and provide insight into incredible craftsmanship, furniture and furnishings, a wonderful collection of clocks, and harpsichords built by Robin Bagot, grandfather of current owner, Richard.
4. Foodie Pleasure
Levens Kitchen offers delightful taste bud experiences and extravaganzas, whether you pop by for a morning coffee and snack, or opt for a lighter or fuller meal. There’s a reason Levens Kitchen was ‘Best Newcomer’ in Cumbria Life’s Food and Drink Awards 2020, not to mention a ‘Great Place to Eat’ in the UK Heritage Awards last year.
5. Herbaceous Borders
Levens Hall’s Gardens are not just about topiary. In summer, there is the show-stopping sight of the 30,000 bedding plants, grown on-site to create glorious herbaceous borders for the Gardens. The herbaceous borders here are said to be some of the most spectacular in England.
6. Duke of Wellington & Napoleon Links
One of the most notable aspects to Levens Hall is its association with the English military hero, the Duke of Wellington. The Hall is home to many different items which belonged to the Duke, as well as his adversary, Napoleon, as a result of the Duke’s niece marrying into the Bagot family.
7. Earliest English Patchwork
Levens Hall is home to the oldest English patchwork in existence, which dates back to 1708 and was crafted by the wife of the Hall’s 17th century owner, Colonel James Grahme, and his daughters. Anyone interested in this form of crafting should definitely discover its story.
8. Ravishing Roses
The Rose Garden, overlooked by the cottage of Guillaume Beaumont, the 17th century designer of Colonel Grahme’s Topiary Garden, is a glorious sight in summer and full of fragrance to uplift the spirits.
9. Labyrinth
Levens Hall’s Gardens are home to a Willow labyrinth, which forms a maze in summer and which is totally irresistible for children seeking a fun challenge and other activities.
10. Early English Ha-ha
The Levens Hall Gardens are not just a place to visit for the fun of topiary, but for a good ha-ha – one of the country’s earliest examples of one, as well. Historic England dates this from the time of the original garden design by Beaumont, around 1692-4. A ha-ha is a sunken wall, which prevented animals from straying into formal gardens, whilst retaining an uninterrupted view of the landscape.
11. Ghostly Goings-on
Levens Hall’s history of hauntings is always fascinating for those who relish their ghost stories. Sightings of the ‘Grey Lady’ have been reported over many years, both by visitors and members of the family and both inside the Hall and in the grounds. Find out more about the curse uttered by this figure in Levens Hall’s past and the strange situations that followed. The ‘Most Haunted’ TV programme also focused on other phenomena at Levens, notably the Pink Lady and the little black dog. Lots to ponder.
12. Levens Deer Park and its Bagot Goats
The medieval Levens Deer Park was described in 1790 as “the sweetest spot that fancy can imagine” and a 3.5-hour circular walk would certainly stretch the legs. Alternatively, just walk along the banks of the River Kent, appreciate the natural beauty of Force Falls, enjoy wildlife encounters and try to spot the herd of 90 Norwegian black fallow deer, or the rare-breed Bagot goats gifted to the Bagot family of Levens, by Lady Nancy Bagot of Blithfield Hall in Staffordshire.

With so many more things to see at Levens Hall and Gardens, it is a perfect place to visit in 2021 before summer totally disappears.

Adult entrance costs £14.50 for Gardens and tour of the Hall. A child’s ticket is priced at £5 and a family ticket at £36. Gardens-only tickets are priced at £10.50, £4 and £26, respectively.

Hall and Gardens tickets currently have to be bought on the day, but Gardens-only tickets can be purchased online at www.levenshall.co.uk