Calke Abbey is pretty close to Donnington Park race track which is why we ended up there just after noon on a bright early August day last year. We had been to an exhibition at Donningiton Park in the morning and recognising that it wouldn’t take us long to see what we wanted to see we looked for a National Trust place nearby at which we could spend a couple of hours Out there before heading home again. Calke Abbey seemed like a good choice. As it turned out it was a great place but needs a lot more than a couple of hours to do it justice.
The long driveway up into the site leads to a car park where there is ample parking available for disabled vehicles and the surface is a Titania-friendly tarmac.
Leaving the car park we headed to the buildings which house, cafe, shop and ticket office where we discovered that we were too late to go for the tour around the house. This is quite a common occurrence for us, this time at least it is not because we set off too late but because of our previous commitments. As the house hadn’t been on the plan for the day anyway we happily headed off towards the buildings which house the stables and from there to the gardens and grounds Out there.
Here at Calke Abbey there are potentially some distances to walk, and there are some long ups and downs to negotiate. However, there is a vehicle a bit like an overgrown golf buggy which can transport groups of people from the restaurant / reception area down to the main house and/or back up again. Feeling the need for some exercise we didn’t avail ourselves of this service although it did look as though Titania would have been able to get on board. There is no doubt that Calke Abbey deserves a return trip and we’ll try it out next time to see how easy it is.
From the ticket office and through the stables area the terrain is lightly gravelled and flat causing no real problems for Titania. There are various olde worlde things to be seen in the buildings around the stables (no horses if that’s what you were looking for) and the day we were there some olde worlde activities for children to try out. Being kid-less that day we didn’t tarry long there and made the decision to head up the hill on the paths towards the gardens, rather than down the hill towards the house. The paths from here are tarmac and therefore a delight for Titania despite the gradient. As you go up the path you get a wonderful view of the House from above (and any kids that you have with you will enjoy running back down the grassy bank).
As the path goes into the woods the tarmac disappears and becomes a lightly gravelled (usually) path. Titania needed to be a bit more careful but there were few problems for her. The woodland path forked and we decided to take the route to the little church which is part of the estate. Towards the end of this route we discovered a flight of four steps which blocked the way. Titania turned her nose up at that, so we turned around and took the other fork to the gardens.
We first went into the walled flower garden. There signs referred to an “Auricula Theatre”, built in 1830, the oldest surviving such structure. We had no idea what an Auricula Theatre was. It turned out that it was a shelved stage area set in the corner of the walled garden designed to display plants, specifically auriculas. The photo we took, below, shows it in full glory, filled with pelargonium plants. It was the wrong time of year for auriculas. It was impressive, the plants were beautiful and a theatre audience of insects including bees and butterflies were buzzing around them.
The audience at the Auricula theatre also included a dozy dragonfly which kindly sat on a plant allowing all and sundry (including us) to take “that” photo you always just miss normally. The camera did get a bit of exercise in this part of the garden.
From this walled garden we found our way to the orangery which is adjacent to a large walled meadow. Any kids (which as previously said we didn’t have with us) would have had great fun here, with all sorts of activities including a large wigwam tent, scarecrows, drums and just loads of space to run around. Great fun.
Next, off to the physic garden, which was beautifully maintained with all sorts of vegetables and herbs grown in neat plots bordered by box hedges. The paths around the gardens are wide enough and Titania crunched happily along the light gravel.
Having explored these gardens our trail looped round downhill through the “pleasure grounds”, with a short stop at the grotto which is a little delight hidden away in the grounds and well worth a visit.
Then we ventured up the gradual gradient on a short mown grassy path back towards the house. Here we were down at the level of house which we had been looking down on earlier on in the afternoon. Then, having just missed the overgrown golf buggy we headed up the tarmac path back to the stables and then the restaurant area.
The gift shop is here and is laid out well so Titania could get me around to look at what was on show without knocking things over! You can buy plants that you have seen in the gardens from the gift shop, and there were plants there which I don’t recall seeing in normal garden centres. We did resist the temptation to buy too many of them. However, we made no effort to resist the temptation of a cream tea and from the cafe as we thought we deserved it having probably trundled a mile or two round the grounds with plenty of ups and downs for Titania to contend with. Actually that makes it sound like harder work than it was, but we wanted to justify that scone and cream!
This last video clip shows you a bit around the gift shop, and the cafe tables inside and out, and even ventures towards to disabled loo! It does give you an idea of ease of access, but is it what you want to see?
So we had spent a good three hours or so at Calke Abbey. We really enjoyed it. There was much to see in the stables area and around the gardens and in the gardeners buildings. We had a long chat with a very friendly and informative member of staff. There were several around the grounds who were happy to help point you in the right direction or answer your questions. And there was so much more to see and do. We didn’t go in the house at all, and didn’t get round all the gardens, nor the intriguing tunnel that the gardeners had to walk through to avoid spoiling the view for them up at the big house! It would be easy to spend a full day at this National Trust location. I have no doubt we will return to see more, and do some of things we didn’t do last time, including seeing how we could have actually got to that church without the steps... there’s always a way .....When we return we’ll write the sequel!
Finally, we hope that you find these ramblings fun and perhaps even useful. The aim is that you get the urge to get Out there to get a better look at what we have been talking about. Why don’t you get in touch with us to let us know whether you find these helpful or interesting? We are happy to hear any thoughts you have to improve our writings, or perhaps to tell us what you like about them. Or is there somewhere you particularly enjoy Out there which you would like us to visit and write about? Please feel free to contact us either by using the Contact us page or just drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Richard & Di