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Trentham's Capable Gardens

Enjoying the lasting legacy of England's greatest landscape gardener.

Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 226ft (69m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Wide gravel trail and dirt track

Landscape Lakeshore and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 258 Stoke-on-Trent

Start/finish SJ 865408

Dog friendliness Must be kept on lead at all times

Parking Ample parking in car park

Public toilets At Trentham Gardens reception

1 From the south west corner of the Italianate garden, head right around the track and carry on along the western side of the lake, following the most obvious path. At the end of the lake pass to the left of a derelict building and then go right up a hill until you get to some more derelict buildings on the left.

2 Walk past the front of these buildings and then carry on up the path behind them. After around 150yds (137m) go left up a track, following it all the way to the monument.

3 From the monument go back to the south end of the lake and follow the path round to the east end of the Italianate garden.

Trentham's long history dates back to Saxon times when Werburgh, daughter of pagan King Wulfere (ad 657-676), established a nunnery here , and both Saxon and Danish foundations have been found at the site of St Mary's Church. Successive houses were built here and, in 1834, Trentham Hall was remodelled by Sir Charles Barry who went on to design the Houses of Parliament with renowned architect Augustus Pugin. The hall was demolished in 1911 and little remains of the elegant buidings. Today the estate is famous for its gardens.

The shape and extent of the park had largely been established by the 16th century, extending as far as the present-day M6, with long, straight, rides criss-crossing King's Wood. This was, after all, the time of the Renaissance, when artists and builders we re-learning the lessons of the Greeks and Romans and using them to their own ends. In France, great palace gardens, like those at Versailles, were constructed based on simple geometric shapes and straight lines. Characteristic of this style were arrow-straight drives radiating out from the main stately pile, and it wasn't long before such ideas became all the rage in England, albeit in a slightly less rigid way. But before long, a backlash was brewing.

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (the nickname came from his habit of telling clients that their gardens had 'great capabilities') was the leading protagonist of what would later become known as the serpentine style. Instead of accepting the idea that garden design should reflect the laws and science of nature, he suggested that it should reflect nature itself - where, Brown asked, were straight lines to be found in the wild? For Brown, a simple curve was the epitome of all things good and noble in a landscape, designed in such a way as to make them appear natural. In this respect, he and his contemporaries were also heavily influenced by the landscapes of late Renaissance painters, with their classical buildings and carefully contrived vistas based on Greek and Roman poetry.

The result was a quest for the 'ideal' landscape, and Brown's own ideal soon proved to be phenomenally popular. In all he was involved in well over 150 gardens, among them those at Trentham. Here, he softened the formal planning of the existing estate with more serpentine rides, and dammed the Trent to create a lake that looks natural. Originally, the area in front of the hall would have been filled with graceful, sweeping lawns, merging almost imperceptibly with the 'untamed' wilderness beyond.

The logical conclusion of all this 'back to nature' thinking, of course, was the Gothic revival, in which rough and ready landscapes (but no less contrived for all that) were dotted with mock ruined castles to make them look overrun by nature. In this way, mathematics and science gradually gave way to nature and romanticism.

But once again there was a backlash, and with the engineering revolution came a new insistence on following the rules of maths and geometry. The precisely planned formal gardens that you can see at Trentham today, laid out by Sir Charles Barry in 1839, are a product of this ideal. After years of neglect, the garden and its buildings are undergoing an extensive, long-term renovation program to restore them to their former glory. Work is due to be completed in 2007, but in the meantime visitors are being encouraged to enjoy the grounds and witness the changes that are taking place.

While you're there

Tittensor Chase, a few miles to the south of Trentham Gardens, is another great place for walking. It's also the site of Bury Bank Fort, a pre-Roman, Iron-Age earthwork thought to have been built there because of its commanding views over the Trent Valley. The raised mound at the south end is believed to be the grave of King Wulfere of Mercia (ad 657-676), PWalk 31.

Where to eat and drink

The Poacher's Cottage, on the A34 near by, serves a wide range of hot and cold food, all day every day. It's a chain pub with a cosy interior and welcoming staff.

What to look for

The monument on Tittensor Hill was erected in 1834 in memory of George Granville, 1st Duke of Sutherland. The second statue worth noting is the impressively graphic bronze of Perseus and Medusa in 1847. Together, these statues defined the main axis of the estate, but at the time of writing trees had all but obscured the view; the renovations intend to re-establish this important vista.


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