Westbury and Beyond

We travelled from the Brecons through the mystical Forest of Dean to the banks of the UK's longest river and then into Herefordshire.

Hawford Dovecote

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by MichaelJM on October 1, 2006

If you are in the area, I would commend that you call in to Hawford just to cast your eyes over this National Trust property. It was acquired by the Trust in 1973 and has only recently being restored to its current state. Admission is only £1, although when we visited, there was no one to pay your money to (not that it mattered, because we have free admission to all Trust properties), so that might give you an impression of what Hawford Dovecote has to offer. It’s certainly not a place to travel miles to see, but its historical value has clearly been recognised by the National Trust.

Hawford is 3 miles to the north of Worcester and is has an insignificant sign pointing off the busy main road. The road to the dovecote is a typical country road, and parking at the site is not easy. The road is so narrow that we had to pull off onto the narrow grass verge and hope that two cars didn’t come from opposite directions. Access to the dovecote is on foot only down a private road, past a couple of houses.

Hawford is fairly unique as a dovecote, as it is a square building and made of wood and stone. A classic black-and-white building that is all that remains of a monastic grange. The dovecote has four gables in the roof, each one with a small window for additional light, and unusually, the nesting, boxes, rather than being built directly into the stone wall, are made of wood and attached to the walls extending in places into the gable ends. I have to say that as we entered through the large “barn doors,” I wondered why we had bothered, but if you have a bit of pre-knowledge about dovecotes, it puts the whole thing into historical context.

Dovecotes were simply homes for pigeons, and in its heyday, England had over 26,000 of them throughout the land. Like Hawford, many were built in the grounds of monasteries and manor houses, as they were a great source of revenue, providing a much in-demand food source. However, the laws did restrict the ownership of such building, and the general population was forbidden from keeping pigeons. Pigeons had become part of the gentry’s staple diet, as they were rich in protein and were available through the winter months as fresh meat, far better than the salted and preserved meats that had previously been available.

Hawford would have held around 500 pairs of pigeons, and I can only imagine the state of the barn when these birds “did their worst”. They’d fly out for a quick forage for food and spend the rest of their time breeding or “expelling their waste products.” It must have been a right pleasure for the labourer who had the dubious pleasure of cleaning the cote but not enjoying the cooked bird later. Perhaps he could pick the bones after the meal!
Hawford Dovecote

Hawford, United Kingdom
+44 01743 708100

The Weir

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MichaelJM on October 1, 2006

About 20 miles east of Hay-on-Wye and 5 miles west of Hereford is the National Trust property of The Weir. These gardens have been in the ownership of the National Trust since 1959, despite the fact that they were only created in the 1920’s. Roger Parr, a Manchester banker, gave the 430-acre estate to the National Trust, having spent many years ensuring that the river defences were firmly in place and able to withstand the ravages of the River Wye. We were somewhat thrown when we concluded our walk around the gardens, as we’d expected to see the weir. There’s no sign of a weir, and apparently it is over a century since one existed, almost half-mile downstream from the gardens.

I don’t believe that we were visiting at the best time of year, as springtime is said to be particularly beautiful. It is from February onwards when the bulbs form a carpet throughout the garden. However, this informal garden still provided some interesting walks along the riverbank with some great views in an amazingly tranquil setting. There was certainly no doubt in our minds that this garden is well placed in this designated area of “high landscape value”.

Starting at the log cabin entrance, at the foot of the small car park, there is a range of walks around the garden. There is a gentle walk that is fairly straightforward (although none of the paths are suitable for wheelchairs), but it still comes with a “slippery when wet” warning, and in the damp weather, the advice given is to wear “sturdy shoes”. But we’d had a very dry few weeks and were well able to manoeuvre our way round in sandals. You do need to be fairly nimble to access all the paths, and to appreciate the full glory of the garden, it’s preferable that you make it, on more difficult terrain, to the lower level along the banks of the beautiful River Wye.

Taking the lower route, we passed the well that was rumoured to be “holy” and of Roman origin. In reality, this octagonal feature, although made up of some Roman masonry, has been contrived, not necessarily to deceive, but to provide a focus in the midst of the natural wild flowers and plants that abound here. Farther down the path is the 1920s boathouse (still in use) and a Romanesque-styled summerhouse. Continuing along the bottom route, we were attracted to the Rockery garden. Apparently this is built with stone from the cheddar Gorge, and there are some terrific contrasting colours in this section.

For the best views of the river and the surrounding countryside, you’ll need to be at the top of the gardens near to the mid-18th-century country house. This place is not open to the public, as it is on a long-term lease as a private nursing home. The elderly folk here must certainly appreciate the views from the bottom of their garden!
The Weir Garden
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01981 590 509

Westbury Court Gardens

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MichaelJM on October 1, 2006

There’s a long drive down to the gardens, and we’d almost missed the turn-off, as it shares what seems to be a private drive with a Private Home for the Elderly. Admission costs are £4 (2006 prices), although as Trust members, we get in free and the kiosk is strategically placed at the edge of a small car park.

Originally the gardens were part of the extensive grounds attached to a Tudor Manor – this has long been gone, as has the 19th-century house that replaced it - and what remains is the remarkable restoration of the formal gardens. You can, however, see a copy of an engraving by Johannes Kip, dated 1707, showing what Maynard Colchester’s manor looked like in 1707. Immediately on the right, as you enter the grounds, is the “tall pavilion”. Buildings like this were integral parts of formal gardens from the early 16th century and were constructed to give superb views from comfortable surroundings. The pavilion at Westbury has been “seriously” reconstructed following substantial damage in the late 1800s and the Trust actually decided to deconstruct and rebuild using some fairly detailed plans and some fine drawings of the oak panelling (this was finally installed in 2001 using Tulipwood from North America). It is from the top of this building that it’s easiest to appreciate the geometric layouts of the gardens.

This formal Dutch Westbury Court Water Garden was laid out between 1696 and 1705 under the direction of Maynard Colchester and almost certainly influenced by his Dutch neighbour, Catherine Boevey of Flaxley Abbey. His nephew, confusingly called Maynard Colchester, undertook further developments later on. Both Maynard's were meticulous in their record keeping, and so it has been possible from the listing of plants to ensure that only plants from these lists have been re-introduced into these magnificent gardens.

Looking down from the Tall Pavilion, the long canal stretches the length of the west wall, with old varieties of fruit tree meticulously trained to grow against the wall. The T-canal has pride of place in the centre of the garden flanked by a vegetable garden (restored to be an exact replication of the original 1708 garden and nestling between the two water canals) to the west and to the east the formal parterre and the formally informal Quincunx. The formal parterre with its low-clipped box hedges enclosing well-spaced spring bulbs and summer annuals ensuring that plants can be tended and appreciated individually.

The Quincunx, a complicated arrangement of plants complying with the simple rule that groups of five objects are arranged in a recurring theme that four are at the corners, with the fifth at the centre. This was first used by Sir Thomas Browne, in his Garden in 1658, and it was then seen as a learned progression using horticultural techniques first used in Persia (although it is argued the hanging gardens of Babylon were the innovators) and having a direct synergy with the planets.
Westbury Court Gardens
Westbury-on-Severn, United Kingdom, GL14 1PD
+44 (1452) 760461

Forest of Dean

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MichaelJM on October 1, 2006

We had seen the details of Westbury Court gardens in the national Trust handbook and had no idea what to expect. A Dutch Water Garden! What on earth was so special about one of these? It must have some star qualities, we decided, for the National Trust to have adopted it. Indeed Westbury Court Gardens have been in the care of the National Trust since 1967 and, the handbook stated, the are the only fully restored Dutch Water gardens in the country. In fact when work started in 1971 it was the first time that the Trust had undertaken major restorative work on a garden and the Trust now describe it as a "rare and beautiful survival.

Westbury Court is in Gloucestershire at the side of the River Severn in the small-unspoilt village of Westbury-on-Severn. It was only a 30-mile journey from Abergavenny and we passed through some exquisite countryside on route, crossing picturesque canals with pleasure boats idling their way down stream and having great overviews of the Wye valley before encountering the mighty Severn, which at 220 miles is the longest river in the UK. It starts its journey high in the hills of mid-Wales before arriving at the Bristol Channel and as we started our descent to Westbury-on-Severn we were able to appreciate its indisputable majesty.

The Forest of Dean places an important role in the local’s eyes and is full of history having ancient megalithic sites (Clearwell Caves) through to the industrial revolution and the coal mining of the 20th Century. Further enquiries certainly suggest that this is a place to return to and investigate more fully. Today we just enjoyed a leisurely drive through this royal forest that was the first forest to be designated, in 1938, as a National Forest Park. It was known as "the queen of all forests" and is said to have been inspirational for JRR Tolkien in writing the Hobbit, Dennis Potter and more recently JK Rowling in the magical adventures of Harry Potter. Certainly there is no denying the mystical qualities of the forest although I have to join in the scepticism of a recent disclosure that Robin Hood was based here rather than in Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood.

Westbury-on-Severn is itself a pretty little village and claims to be one of the best villages in which to view the "Severn Bore" (The Severn is a tidal river and "the Bore" is the wave) and it’s apparently not unusual for surfer or canoeists to ride the "bore" as it progresses up the river. I’d love to have seen that! On low tide (as long as you’ve got Wellington boots) you’ can check out the foot of the Garden Cliff, with its distinctive red and grey bands, for prehistoric memorabilia – notably fossilised plesiosaur bones and sharks teeth copralites (fossilised dinosaur dung), fool's gold, and "devil's toenails" (fossilised oyster shells).

We were on a mission Westbury Court Gardens – here we come!

Forest of Dean

+44 1594 812388

Westbury Court Garden

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MichaelJM on October 1, 2006

We had a great day for our visit to Westbury Court but reckon this would be dire if the weather was inclement. We’d taken a picnic and settled down on the lawn next to the parterre. There is a separate enclosed picnic area with tables and benches over the Westbury Brook, but we preferred to enjoy the view from the garden itself. We did have a short debate as to whether or not we’d be allowed to park ourselves here, but the garden was not over-run with visitors and no one seemed to mind. So out came the hamper, the picnic rugs and our selection of locally bought bread, welsh cheese, pickles and a pleasant fruity white wine. We "looked the business" and soon settled into our meal just enjoying our surroundings.

Across the well-manicured parterre the detached steeple of Westbury's 14th Century parish church towers above as we enjoy the garden views, the sound of the gently flowing Westbury Brook and the overall tranquillity of this National Trust property.

A gentle walk around the whole garden would only take about 10 minutes, but we spent a couple of hours here without any difficulty. Next to the walled garden is the recreated rabbit warren with a detailed, but somewhat weather worn, information sheet. It seems that these imported animals (although they are now so common place that it's hard not to think of them as indigenous) were cared for by a warrener and were a great source of food for the gentry. Of course the by-product (their fur) was not wasted either and because they were prone to predators they were carefully protected within the warren (this recreation is only a seventh of the original) by walls and a moat.

The walled garden (dating from 1725) was introduced by Maynard Colchester’s nephew and is believed to be an exact replication with only plants (over 100 species in total) detailed in Maynard’s stock audit. It wasn’t spectacular when we visited with many plants having gone a "bit leggy".

A gentle walk along the northern wall - now separating this tranquil garden from the main road - and we have a perfect view of "Neptune astride a dolphin" (one of only a few statues in the garden). Water fowl frolic at the water's edge and tease us with their heavily signalled intention to dive into the canal - they either had second thoughts or slid ungraciously into the water.

We meander down the side of the long canal with its border of yew hedges, taking a detour through the vegetable garden to the enclosure at the base of the "T" where 5 large trees have been nurtured over the years. Taking pride of place is the "Holm Oak, which is one of the oldest green Oaks in England having been planted around the year 1600. Alongside this is the similarly aged and equally magnificent Tulip Tree.

What a great place to chill out and take in a bit of history!

Westbury Court Gardens
Westbury-on-Severn, United Kingdom, GL14 1PD
+44 (1452) 760461


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