Tucked away in the Northumberland countryside is a magical place: Belsay Hall, gardens and castle.
Luckily for us I picked an especially lovely spring day to explore Belsay with the children. I really had no clue of what we were in for when I decided to add it to our agenda. It came highly recommended, so I went with the recommendation and boy am I glad I did!
The estate is managed by the English Heritage. You enter through the old stables turned into a shop.
In the shop the lovely staff told us about what we find where and the children were given a Alice in Wonderland trail to follow- 6 clues, 6 figures to find and 6 stamps to collect. This helped move the children along, but also got them going through some places without really taking in the beauty. (This seems to be my gripe about certain trails recently.)
There are some info boards in one wing of the stables about the over seven centuries of history of the Belsay. (Angelina and I made a vague attempt at reading these before we dashed after the boys.)
Then on the path leads on to Belsay Hall.
Belsay Hall with its empty rooms lets the imagination run wild: how was it furnished? How did the people live here?
Children can run around, make noise. They can pretend to be anything among the walls.
…wild seems to be something that is linked to Belsay, as we found out from the Wildman exhibition.
Once out of the house we went through the formal gardens, leading to a door.
This was a bit like a secret door into a magical kingdom. Mystery lay beyond!
Out the door, across the road and we indeed stepped into the most magical garden: an old quarry planted with beautiful and spooky plants. Even in early spring the garden provided interest. The high walls give protection to plants and some more timid species can survive here. Colour was already evident.
The garden is one where the imagination can run wild.
Is it where trolls live?
Maybe some fairies are hiding behind the beautiful flowers?
The mosses on the walls and the trees growing out from small cracks in the walls give this garden an eerie twist.
While Max and I lagged behind- Max was seeking out any muddy puddle to test whether his wellies were really waterproof-, Angelina and Hugo raced ahead looking for Alice figures. Luckily there was another mum ahead of me with her daughter Francesca, she indulged my two older ones’ questions while I caught up with them.
After a wonderful stroll through the quarry we turned a corner and glimpsed another exciting sight: a castle!
Belsay Castle is slightly in ruin, but still leaves lots to explore.
Unfortunately for my older two, I just couldn’t carry Max up the stone spiral staircase (as I hadn’t brought the baby carrier with me) and I wasn’t comfortable letting them go up on their own.
You see some floors, walls and ceilings were missing. (And this was the limit to my free-range parenting style.)
So we resigned to just exploring the ground floor of the castle, running around there.
We looked up at the sky, where the roof used to be;
Explored the views from the windows,
Before making our way back along another part of the quarry gardens.
Oh wait! Is there a giant camouflaged and lying motionless?
Belsay is one of those places that has left me stunned at its beauty and wanting to go back to see it in other seasons too.
It’s a bit like the northern sister of the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
- Belsay Hall, Gardens and Castle are in the North East of England in Northumberland.
- English Heritage do a magnificent job of looking after the place. Entrance fees apply for non-members.
- There are very good parking facilities, which are free.
- Getting there is not the simplest. The direction I came from had no signs till we actually got into the village. Make sure you check your route on a map too. My sat nav wanted to desperately navigate me in the wrong way.
- Belsay is a perfect place to bring a picnic and some lawn games.
- It would be great to bring some dressing up clothes too and play swords and let the role play begin!
- The garden lends itself to reading a book about fairies, the castle about knights and princesses.