Rutland Water is home to the first ospreys to breed in England for 150 years, and the oldest birds are now 11 years old. They return from Africa in late March and migrate in Autumn. You can walk to hides on the nature reserve to watch ospreys on the nest. There are regular osprey watching cruises on Rutland Water (the largest lowland man-made lake in western Europe) during the summer, and also special events suitable for all ages. Activity in the nest is shown on a large screen in the Lyndon Visitor Centre. There are lots of other fantastic birds to watch from the 27 hides, and there are regular dawn chorus and midnight nightingale walks.
To combine birdwatching with exercise and a really enjoyable activity, hire a tandem or bike and do the 25 mile (40Km) circuit, stopping off at one or more of the birdwatching centres or nature reserves on the way.
The Mill Garden was created by the late Arthur Measures at his cottage in Mill Street, Warwick, under the walls of Warwick Castle. Today it offers a modest yet very beautiful haven away from the racket of the town's virtually continuous through traffic. The garden is bounded by the river Avon which curves away from the foot of the castle, under the ruined 14th century bridge, and within sight of the castle's mill wheel. There is a great variety of plants (some of which are for sale) and the lawns run down to the banks of the river.
The garden is open to visitors every day from April to October. A modest entry charge is requested, the proceeds of which are divided between maintaining the garden itself, the National Gardens Scheme and 35 other charities.
55 Mill Street, Warwick CV34 4HB
Google map: bit.ly/mnE8wB
We have just returned from an incredible week on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. We stayed in one of the Landmark Trust's properties that are available for rent. The island is only three miles long by half a mile wide, but we never did the same walk twice! We found we had to keep stopping every ten minutes to marvel at the wildlife or wild flowers anyway. Lundy has everything - there are no cars, TV's or newspapers and the only sounds you hear are the birds and the breeze. We had hoped to see puffins, but although six pairs were reported during our stay, we didn't see them - but it did not detract from our holiday one bit. We spent hours watching razorbills, gannets and guillemots and Lundy also has grey seals, sheep, pigs, goats, sheep, horses and deer and millions of rabbits! Lundy is also a marine conservation area and interesting talks are given on the island to highlight the species living in the local waters.
Even though Lundy is only 12 miles off the coast of North Devon, it feels very remote and on the days that the boat doesn't come, you feel as if you have the island to yourself.
There is one shop on the island, and one pub - which serves excellent food. Also, at the pub you can borrow books or games from a plentiful stock, so I got rather good at Boggle during the week!
One of the best holidays we've had! As keen birdwatchers, we were also thrilled to see a Trumpeter Finch during our stay which had been blown right off course! Wonderful! Can't wait to go back to soak up the silence.
I took my partner there last week for a wonderful meal. Even though it's in the futuristic Xscape building, the inside of the restaurant is as traditional Italian as you can get. The meal and wine were fantastic!
The front of York Minster is always busy with tourists and groups alike but behind this is the Minster Gardens and it’s hard to believe that these gardens are in the centre of a busy town. It’s quiet and peaceful and a perfect place to look at the cherry blossoms in spring, have a picnic (no ball games, or cycling allowed) or to just sit and admire the grandeur of the Minster. On Tuesday evenings the bell ringers practice in the Minster and sitting in the gardens listening to this is magic.
Howick Hall was the home of Earl Grey, former prime minister and tea supremo. Although the hall is closed, the gardens are open to the public and are perfect for a wander in late spring. They include wild flower meadows, the woodland garden, rockery, herbaceous borders and bog garden. After a pot of Earl Grey tea in the old Ballroom, we like to finish by taking 'The Long Walk' through the arboretum which leads down to the beautiful Northumberland shore.
This wonderful topiary garden near Kendal feels like a sculpture park or a 3-D Cubist art exhibition. The pieces on show however are large, 300-year-old yew trees, some sculpted and clipped over the centuries into rigid geometric shapes, while others display apparently overgrown and runaway curves and bulges. Bright flower beds neatly boxed-in relieve the dark back-drop. This garden delights and amazes - just be prepared for a slightly surreal experience!
Sheffield Park Garden is a National Trust owned garden in East Sussex. The garden was designed by Capability Brown and is laid out around a series of lakes.
I recommend the garden for its early summer colour and above all for its autumn tints. There is nothing better than the stunning Autumn colour reflected in the lakes.
Sheffield Park, East Sussex TN22 3QX
Google map: bit.ly/ldPZAy
The various colleges of Cambridge University employ award-winning gardeners. The layout and depth of the gardens are absolutely beautiful and are not inundated with too many tourists. Take pictures, smell the lovely scents and where possible have a picnic!
This slightly odd garden emerges from solid rock surrounded by dense native bush. It’s very much a work in progress, the vision of its owner. The limestone rock dominates with small soil filled hollows planted up and bursting with colourful plants. There is a fascinating mix of native and introduced species and little historical artefacts to be discovered. The owner and creator will probably show you around in between work on the garden or making local basket crafts. It’s quite hard to find and closed on Saturdays but well worth a stop on the way to Middle Caicos.
It is situated by the main road to Middle Caicos after Bottle Creek. For details you need to enquire locally.
Google map: bit.ly/lR2PI4
Trelissick Gardens are a fabulous haven located between the city of Truro and Falmouth Town. It is a beautiful day out with tropical and traditional English gardens. Take a picnic and if you arrive by bicycle or public transport receive a discounted entry fee.
Skomer is a nature reserve island utterly dedicated to the preservation of wildlife so every path, every building, every wall every pool- everything is there to assist visitors appreciate the natural environment. There is much to see at differnt times, but the highlights must be the accessible puffin colonies in early summer and the spectacular burrows of the Manx shearwaters. The whole Island can be covered and enjoyed in a day but be warned - you'll want to return.
Croome Court and its wonderful landscape were largely created by Capability Brown in the mid 18th century. On approach from the National Trust entrance the amazing landscape unfolds as you walk through the trees. The planting since the Trust started to restore the gardens is now maturing wonderfully and enthralls everyone and unsurprisingly visitors return time and again to see the glory in every season.
Croome, near High Green, Worcester, Worcestershire WR8 9DW
Google map: bit.ly/jK0a89
Nearest station - Worcester Foregate St
It's 20 acres of beautiful walks amongst a huge variety of Himalayan shrubs and trees (magnolias, azaleas,rhodedendrons etc) in a riot of colour, all nesting in a peaceful wooded valley in North Yorkshire. Dotted around the landscape are sculptures to admire and fascinate. A hidden gem, only open from mid-April to mid-June each year, the garden is a haven of peace and tranquility, with friendly knowledgeable staff and an impressive nursery for those who want to take a little bit of it home with them at the end of their visit.
We’ve got some lovely gardens in Snowdonia, such as Bodnant and Portmeirion, but for me the walled garden at Maes y Neuadd is the best – it’s good enough to eat!
The 149 items of fruit and veg only just fit onto a sheet of A4.
Each morning, the head gardener reports to the kitchen, with the complete list of produce indicating what’s at its best. Armed with this knowledge, the chef finalises the day’s menu and the harvest begins - eight tonnes a year.
The vegetable garden is not just a culinary feast, but an aesthetic inspiration. What better than an afternoon stroll spotting the gaps from where tonight’s supper was plucked? Maybe some helpful hints and tips from one of the gardeners?
You never know who you might bump into – Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Senator Edward Kennedy and Jackie Onassis have all stayed here.
A truly fabulous garden; crafted into the hillside overlooking Loch Tuath on Mull.
No admission is charged, although the owner gratefully accepts donations, and she will happily answer questions if you are able to corner her as she traverses the slopes, seemingly completing a multitude of tasks all at the same time!
The plant-life showcases the immense variety that can be grown in this temperate, Gulf-stream fed climate, and a plethora of odds and sods are to be found dotted among the plants: anchors, ploughs, cog wheels and other gently rusting adornments. The paths are lovingly crafted in mosaic patterns; bricks and pebbles set in beautiful patterns, and a few chickens peer back at you through the (hopefully) mink-proof wires.
Visit this lovely garden during early evening, and the setting sun dapples through the leaves; the blossom and flowers glowing gently. However, I am also certain that visiting on one of Mull’s more common ‘grey’ days, the garden will remain resplendent in glorious shades and textures.
(There is also holiday accommodation in the form of a B&B conveniently located in the garden)
As well as steam trains the Vale of Ffestiniog offers spectacular wildlife and nature. Sea trout and salmon on the Afon Dwyryd and if you’re lucky you might see an otter. On either side of the valley Atlantic oakwoods or Celtic rainforest, more scarce than tropical rainforests and every bit as special with magnificent lichens, liverworts and slime molds. Redstarts and pied flycatchers arrived a few weeks ago. Right now the woods are blooming with bluebells and wild goats stepping carefully so as not to squash them.
Abandoned slate mines make perfect roosts for many species of bat such as the ‘lesser horseshoes’. ICI's explosives factory, Gwaith Powdwr, in which 17 million grenades were made is now a nature reserve where later this month you can hear the nightjars. Llechwedd Slate Caverns has nesting choughs.
We might have pine martens but are struggling to prove it. Ospreys returned to the area in 2004 and this year’s chicks recently hatched. Up in the mountains ravens and buzzards patrol the skies with the occasional red kite. Moths galore, last summer a holiday maker recorded 180 different species during his weeklong stay. Along the coast you might see bottlenose dolphins, porpoise, grey seals or maybe even a leatherback turtle – some years ago a turtle the size of a mini was washed up on Harlech beach and now sits in the National Museum of Wales.
Forget Galapagos, come to Ffestiniog! This is home to Ivor the Engine and Idris the dragon. What's more we've got a live wolf!
Little Sparta is a garden created by the artist Ian Hamilton Finlay over four decades. It is unique and delightful. As you wander round you are continually surprised as you encounter his many art works.
A truely magical place!
Imaginative planting, sculptures, futuristic water features, poison garden, giant tree house with cafe serving delicious food.
If that isn't enough, you can combine your visit with a trip to "Hogwarts" castle next door.
Set in the Royal Burgh of Culross, an historic restored walled garden, sheltered behind a 16th century merchant's house, it incorporates many of the features that would have been there at that time. It's easy to while away an afternoon wandering the terraces of fruit, vegetables and herbs, pleasingly interspersed with aromatic plants and flowers. While the little orchard of apple, mulberry, quince and fig trees provide a home for the Scottish Dumpies (hens!) that root around there.
Find a sheltered seat under one of the arches or bowers, up by the espaliered vines and admire the tremendous views over the Firth of Forth to the Forth Bridge and beyond.
Don't forget to visit the little stall in a corner of the garden which sells its produce when in season, everything from marrows to apples.
While there take the time to explore the house itself and wander around the cobbled streets of Culross, one of the prettiest villages in Scotland. There's a tearoom and gallery -the Biscuit Cafe and an ancient and very good, pub with beamed ceiling and beer garden - the Red Lion should you be feeling like a "wee refreshment" during your visit.
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