on August 16, 2009
I lived in Manchester for 11 years but I'd never visited Tatton Park. Considering that it's one of the area's most famous and well-loved attractions this was a serious omission on my part. I think I possibly had it confused with Lyme Park and for some reason I'd always assumed that it must cost an arm and a leg to visit and I'd never entirely worked out where it was. It took a visit to a totally different country to spur us into action to go and visit.In June I dragged my husband over to Bremen, Germany for the weekend. I go frequently for work but he'd never seen the city. Whilst sitting in Bremen's excellent Ubersee Museum, staring at a reconstructed Japanese Pagoda, my husband announced that he wanted to go to Tatton Park and see their Japanese Garden. He'd seen a documentary on the television and wanted to go and see it for himself. Since Tatton Park is not far from Manchester Airport and required only a small detour on our way home, we decided to grab a picnic lunch and head over to check it out.Tatton Park covers an area of more than a thousand acres and offers visitors access to most of the grounds so long at they don't upset the hundreds of deer who make it their home. There's a massive lake where we saw small yachts sailing, and more space to walk your dog than even the most energetic canines could ever require. For an additional fee, you can explore the gardens, visit the mansion house and see a working rare-breed farm.Access to the park costs £4.50 per car with additional fees to enter the gardens, the house and the farm. Each of these added attractions costs £4.50 or visitors can buy a 'Totally Tatton' ticket which gives a single entry to all three but allows them to be split over more than one visit to the park. Feeling fairly certain we'd want to see the house as well as the gardens, it made sense to pay for the Totally Tatton experience, even though we doubted we'd get through all three attractions. So an afternoon at Tatton for two set us back a not insubstantial £18.50. Say it quickly and it doesn't sound quite so frightening.To be fair, we realised once we'd parked up in the car park (basically a field) that you don't need to pay a lot to enjoy Tatton. The vast majority of visitors seemed to be there just to enjoy the park. Family groups were setting up picnics and badminton nets, getting out footballs and making goals from jumpers and bags and having a great time. Dogs were enthusiastically bouncing around pursued by their humans. A very large and impressive children's playground was covered in squealing and excited kids and we could imagine that a family of four or five could have a great and energetic day out for just the cost of entry to the park.But we were there with a mission and so we set off for the gardens and bought our Totally Tatton tickets. The gardens at Tatton have been under development for more than 200 years and cover 50 acres. So be prepared - it's quite a walk to get round. We checked the garden map and worked out a route to the Japanese Garden, recognising that it would be ridiculously easy to get lost if you just wandered. We passed through the immaculate kitchen gardens with their orderly rows of cabbages, through the Rose Garden and the Tower Garden and on towards the arboretum, coming to the edge of the gardens and the Choragic Monument (don't ask, I have no idea what Choragic means) and then zoned in on the Japanese Garden. Sadly this isn't a garden you can ramble through and the route around it is rather controlled. I guess they spent a lot on it and want to keep it pristine although the sense of being allowed only glimpses does somehow add to the mystery of the place. There are several small buildings, a bridge over the lake, cast iron birds, Japanese style lanterns and pebbled areas. Of course there's lots of moss but unlike my garden, Tatton's moss is controlled and is where it's supposed to be instead of growing through my grass. The garden is mostly green with highlights of purple/red acer trees.After 20 minutes or so admiring the Japanese garden we moved on towards to so-called Golden Brook where we watched families feeding the ducks with the last of their sandwiches. It started to rain so we took shelter under a large tree and laughed at how much we Brits seem to enjoy the rain whilst small children ran around splashing. The rain intensified and even the ducks headed for cover. We moved closer to the trunk of our tree where the foliage was thicker and stayed more-or-less dry for another fifteen minutes until eventually there was no way we could take any more and we dove into the middle of a rhododendron bush which was still a bit drier. After about 45 minutes of this, crouched in a bush that was starting to 'leak' we admitted defeat, accepted that it didn't look like the rain would ever stop and we should head back for proper cover. We passed the African Hut in which about 20 people were taking shelter, standing on a bench under the thatched roof. We plodded wet and desolate back towards the house until we found a small arbour with a proper roof where we sat out the rest of the storm. We'd probably only covered about a third of the garden but the greenhouses weren't open and there was no way we were going to tackle the maze in case we got stuck and got even wetter.With the garden seeming to be pretty much off limits due to the weather we made for the mansion. You enter this from the back and I hadn't actually realised that this was the main stately home building until I'd been through most of the house and got out front again. As stately homes go, this one didn’t really grab me all that much which might be as much my wet and cold fault as any deficiency in the house. It's rather a stuffy and grandiose place that doesn't imbue much of a sense of what it must have been like to live there. Many stately homes work hard to help visitors imagine what it must have been like to live or work there but Tatton is a bit too roped off and orderly and of course there's a camera ban which makes it hard to remember what you saw afterwards. It's a rather impersonal, despite the exhibitions in the cellars of the explorations and adventures the late Maurice Egerton, the last Lord Egerton who bequeathed Tatton to the National TrustAfter our unplanned rhododendron delay we were short of time and had to skip the rare-breeds farm and keep that for another day. We raised our spirits with some very nice ice-cream from one of the shops on site though perhaps a hot drink would have been more wise and decided to call it a day. Despite the weather and the rather dreary stately home I would definitely plan to go back to Tatton. If I had visitors who were looking for a good picnic spot it's perfect and I'd love to see the rest of the gardens which we had to abandon due to the rain. Tatton definitely exceeded my expectations and I'm wondering even more why it took me so long to get there.Note - the Tatton Park Flower Show is held each year in July and brings most of the roads around Tatton and for about a ten mile radius to a standstill. Unless you want to visit the flower show (and be warned - tickets are £22-24 for adults), Tatton is best avoided for a week before and during the show.
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