Friday, 3 June 2011

Kirkharle - Birthplace of British Landscape Architecture?

You already know of Lancelot Capability Brown.  If his name is unfamiliar to you (although how many people call their children Lancelot Capability?) his style of gardening will not be.  Perhaps you have enjoyed strolling through the rolling acres around  Blenheim Palace, Longleat or Chatsworth.  Although the land around these and other great houses appears to be as nature intended for true English countryside, the harmony between open space, trees and water is as a result of Capability Brown's vision and perhaps his formative years in the North East of England.

We love scenery like this.  Mam had been before to Kirkharle, Capability Brown's birthplace, and was happy to go again, so one beautiful morning in April we strapped ourselves in the little yellow car and drove from Hexham, towards Morpeth on the B6342.  The scenery along the route is as you would expect for this part of Northumberland, breathtaking.  You travel up hill and down dell, alongside green fields edged with dry stone walls.  The open spaces are broken by mixed woodland and dramatic everygreen forests. At this time of year cherry trees are in blossom, majestic chestnuts and copper beech are in bright leaf and lime green willows reach towards fast flowing streams.

We pulled into the car park and wanting to stretch our legs, headed first towards the lake.  This has been developed from what is thought to be one of Capability Brown's first designs, drawn when he was 23 but never used until now.  The plan was rediscovered in 1980 by the current landowners.  The design has been adapted to take account of modern needs, including the A696 which obviously did not exist in the late 1730s when Brown drew the plan.  Sympathetic planting of trees will in time mask the road and give shape to Capability's ideas. 

Unfortunately the house where Capability was born in 1716 is no more.  It is thought to have been situated somewhere in the area where the car park is now.  His father was a tennant and employee of the then landowners - the Loraines.  Capability lived and worked at Kirkharle until he was 23.  Within 2 years of leaving he was Head Gardener for Lord Cobham of Stowe.  Although you are unable to physically see his first home, you can walk in his footsteps and see some of what he saw that shaped his ideas and our appreciation of English landscaped gardens.

The courtyard area is home to artists and craftspeople although unfortunately when we were there a number of the units were closed.  However we admired the paintings, antiques, bespoke furniture and other works of art in a couple of galleries. There were some dramatic sculptures in and around one unit, but no one was around to ask about them. 

When Mam had done enough walking we went to the very nice coffee shop in one of the buildings for a homecooked lunch.  There was a good choice from dishes of the day, salads, paninis, sandwiches, cakes and scones.  It was fairly busy with business people as well as those just enjoying a day out. 

I forgot to take my camera that day, but click on for photos and more information about Kirkharle Lake and Courtyard.

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