“ Address: Castle Ashby / Northampton / NN7 1LQ / United Kingdom / Tel: 01604 695 200 „
Castle Ashby is just off the A428 between Northampton & Bedford, quite close to Olney. Although the Castle isn't open to the public, it has some fantastic gardens which are.
The House is set in the middle of the estate and originally there were 4 avenues leading to it from north, south, east and west each planted with trees. (This was back in 1695). Capability Brown removed the north and west avenues in 1761, and changed the east avenue by planting clumps of trees so that now, the only avenue remaining is the one to the south which is three and a half miles long and stretches across the Bedford/Northampton road into the deer park. The mile long part leading from the main road has Oak trees and Walnut trees planted along it and it's pretty impressive when you enter the grounds to see the house as you approach.
The central gardens here are formal, but there is still quite a mixture of things to see including a cross shaped lawn at the front of the house (croquet lawn), walled tea garden, Victorian terrace gardens, Italian style gardens and arboretum, and the whole is surrounded by parkland. One of the things that we would have liked was a guide to the gardens to tell us more about what we were seeing as we accessed the different areas, some which I've detailed below were quite obvious, while other bits it was harder to pinpoint where we were unless we found a notice board with information on it. Actually these notice boards although pretty helpful could do with a bit of a freshen up with a new coat of paint. The information was useful and interesting and the boards were placed so that they generally didn't detract from what you were seeing.
The Italian Gardens
This is an orangery which has a large pond in the middle of it filled with fish, and the place smells wonderful. It's full of plants like Eucalyptus and camellias and when we visited it, the fuchsias were in full bloom and it was absolutely full of them. You sort of walk through paths that have big white pots and urns full of flowers and plants, to reach it, and it's a very peaceful still place with the water in the centre.
This was my favourite part of the whole visit. All the plants here have been picked out to attract butterflies and bees and as well as being the most alive part of the garden because of this, it had a lovely scent from the various flowers here too. Lavender and Buddleia were the two most predominant smells I think, and we saw masses of different butterflies. The Buddleia bushes here are huge too, and although we've a small one in the park behind us which gets lots of butterflies on it, this one seemed to just be full of them. Other scented flowers here were hebes, roses and jasmine, and the whole area is surrounded by box hedges that kind of divide it from the other gardens.
There is a long pathway that leads to the Aboretum, and although we were a little late for it when we visited (early June), I'm told that earlier in the year it's a mass of daffodils. The arboretum itself is really tranquil and peaceful. There is a weeping Beech tree here which is supposed to be the largest in the country, and I've got to say it is pretty impressive.
We spent quite a long time in this area looking out over the lakes and the rest of the land beyond. You can see deer in the park if you're lucky, and we saw a few though not particularly close.
The Walled Garden Tea Room
We did stop here part way round our walk because the gardens are quite large, and I find too much walking hard. I had been able to use my wheelchair for large parts of the garden, but not so easily for others (steps, terraces and things like that just aren't suited to wheelchairs sadly), so this was a welcome break for all of us.
The tea we drank here was to be honest a little poor, overly strong and a bit stewed, and we didn't eat anything as the prices seemed horribly high (almost £3 for a portion of chips). They did a selection of soft drinks in cans and cartons, but not much choice of sandwiches or snacks. I know these places often are, but we did feel that there was a bit of a lack of choice and for such a large place I'm sure they could make more of this feature as many people like us do like to stop for a snack and a rest I think.
There is a gift shop, but as we didn't go in, all I can really say about it, is that it looked quite busy and fairly small.
Overall we very much enjoyed our trip here, and I do hope to go back at a different time of year to see some of the areas that are best viewed in spring for example. The price had initially seemed a little steep at £5 per adult but I think that considering the size of the gardens and how much time we spent there, it was worth while paying this amount, and I can see they'd need all the money they can get to keep on top of such a huge amount of gardening too.