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Westonbury Mill Water Gardens

Town/City : Pembridge
County : Herefordshire
Country : England
Post code : HR6 9HZ
Phone : 01544 388650
Web Site :  www.westonburymillwatergardens.com

"The garden is transported into quite a different league by the series of dotty and delightful follies that the owner has built" RHS Garden Finder



Purchase: In 1969 I was working on an agricultural project in a remote part of the Libyan desert. It was exciting and beautiful but hot and dry, and on a whim I asked a friend to find me a water meadow with a stream and some sort of building. He did just that, buying 17 acres and a bramble-covered, tumble-down old mill for an absurdly small price. Behind the mill was an almost impenetrable jungle of scrub and nettles, now the garden. After a little work on the house and the excavation of a pond to surround an island where an alder hosted the children's tree house, I kept the place as our holiday cottage while I continued to work overseas as a hydrogeologist.
Early days: I moved here on my own in 1997. After living for two years with the beautiful views from the mill and its tangle of streams I had decided to make a garden. It would be for my pleasure but I would also open it as a much needed business. In comfortable ignorance of the whole subject of gardening I set out to follow my impulses and hired a digger and a dump truck which I soon learned to use. The large pond was extended and, having time left from my week's hire, I rather randomly sculpted the channels of what is now the Boulder Garden and the high banks around it.

The new gardener's garden: Getting to know moisture lovers was achieved by planting one of everything in a bog plant nursery's catalogue. Most survived and within a couple of years they combined with the native red campions, meadowsweet and comfrey in cheerful wildness. Another week with the digger resulted in a small water lily pond, the realignment of a rill and the soil mounded to form a good-sized bank which I planted with unfashionable small conifers. They were usually viewed in tight-lipped silence.

Follies followed: With memories of life on the Red Sea coast of the Yemen, I constructed the African Summer House mixing timber of elm re-growth and ethnic-looking thatching using bull rushes from the pond. Because the rushes rot far too quickly, frequent reworking is required but it does look the part. A little later I found the old iron water wheel which had been used to pump water to the neighbouring farm after milling ceased about 1900. Although the buckets had rusted away the frame was lovely and obviously had to be used. The only place it could be visible and use the flow of water from above the house was just below the weir so there it went. A bit of 3 a.m. musing and a few evening stone carving classes led to the Stone Tower as it stands, useless but quite charming, I hope. One folly led to another, and having the new Cuckoo Clock Tower looking at home in my mini-'Black Forest' perhaps brings the right context for those conifers which only I had ever loved.

Further development: In 2005 I was lucky to be able to buy from my neighbour the triangular meadow which has become the Wild Flower Meadow. This extended the garden from the previous boundary line of huge alders to the weir which diverts water from the Curl Brook to the leat which, in turn, feeds down through the middle of the garden to the mill. This gave us a whole new setting for shrubs and trees and the opportunity to excavate the Canal and make the Spiral Mound.
Just over a year later I married Sally, whose knowledge and enthusiasm has been a huge help and support. A birthday gift from her one year was the parade of populus tremula - 'Quaking Aspen', an American variety of poplar now growing along the leat in the meadow.

The future: There will be no more follies – all the focal points are filled. I now want to concentrate on gently nudging things in a direction of further variety in the planting while maintaining a loose and naturalistic style. And maybe hang a hammock. I might imagine finding a young couple with the enthusiasm to take over and carry on.

by Richard Pim

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Featured Attraction

Head for The Heights this year

Head for The Heights of Abraham, the award winning Hilltop Park situated in the spectacular Derwent Valley, just 9 miles from Chatsworth on the western edge of the Peak District National Park.

This "must see" Derbyshire jewel of an attraction is accessed by state of the art enclosed cable cars located on the banks of the River Derwent next to Matlock Bath railways station and the town's public car parks. Simply purchase your cable car ticket, and then sit back to enjoy Instagram-ready views of the geologically stunning valley as you climb to the summit.
TIP: You can save money by purchasing your tickets online in advance of your visit. Go to www.heightsofabraham.com for ticket prices and availability
Once you've purchased your cable car ticket, access to all the summit attractions is free, offering a great value-day-out whatever the weather. Head off to explore 60 acres of landscaped grounds, undercover interactive exhibitions, photography gallery, multi-media show caverns, adventure playgrounds, woodland walks and trails.

You can choose to dine in the Vista restaurant with its stunning views down the valley, or enjoy a snack in the café or out on the terrace with similar breath-taking views. Picnic areas can be found throughout the grounds, and during the school holidays you'll discover extra entertainment like the traditional Punch and Judy show (with a satisfying Heights of Abraham twist) for all the family to enjoy.
TIP: Dining times can be reserved in advance. This is recommended especially during the busiest times of the year. Phone 01629 582365 to make a reservation or pre-order the popular afternoon tea package.
Most visitors are surprised to learn that the Heights is in fact the Derbyshire's oldest tourist attraction. The cable car system has carried millions of visitors to the summit over the last thirty five years, yet it remains one of the latest chapters in the fascinating story of the Heights of Abraham. The Heights first opened as a Pleasure Ground in 1780 when visitors would make the climb from the valley floor on foot to witness some of the finest views across the surrounding area. Almost two and a half centuries later you are still able to wander around the estate with its zigzag paths and pleasant woodland trails. It is easy to understand why the area proved inspirational to the Romantic movement of the period.

As long ago as Roman times, Lead deposits may have been found in the area but it took another 1000 years before Lead mining was officially recorded on site. These impressive mines were active for over 400 years and left behind a legacy of passageways and awe-inspiring caverns. Today, thanks to all that hard work you can follow in the miners' footsteps down the passageways they created, going deep underground into the Heights' famous Show Caverns. From the glow of a single miner's candle to the whole cavern being awash with colour-changing lights, the Great Masson Cavern tour is one of the talking points of a visit to this Hilltop Park. Here, where the Equator was once situated millions of years ago, you can learn all about the rocks, minerals and underground formation of the Peak District. Equally, a visit to the Great Rutland Cavern is well worthwhile. First opened to the public over 200 years ago in 1810, you can experience a day in the life of the very miners who made your trip possible.

Those of an inquisitive mind should make sure they visit The Long View exhibition to see and hear the 230 year story about why the estate has been a favourite place to visit for many generations. On the upper floor the Fossil Factory brings to life fun and interesting facts about rocks, fossils and the formation of the Peak District. Tinker's Shaft SSSI is a spectacular location with a new viewing platform, high above the Derwent Valley and near the exit from the Great Masson Cavern. Interpretative panels provide information on the importance of the site, the natural history, the geology and the labyrinth of lead mines below Tinker's Shaft... directly beneath your feet!

The Heath and Heaven Gallery is a delightful pictorial journey through the Peak District from north to south and shot from the air on a single summer's day. Next to this you will find Through the Lens, a 12 minute film of the Great Masson guided tour, ideal for those who cannot, or do not wish to go underground during their visit.

If you're heading into Derbyshire or the Peak District, don't miss the opportunity to head for the Heights this year and tick this one off your bucket list. The cable car is just the start of a fascinating, relaxing and fun day out for everyone. Keep up to date with the news by visiting the official website for opening times, special offers and details of forthcoming events: www.heightsofabraham.com

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