Powys Castle Gardens, Welshpool, Powys
Review by John Lea - June 2011
Searching through their web sites prior to this visit made me realise how people with disabilities need much more information on garden accessibility. The web site tells us to contact them for information on accessibility prior to a visit but they fail to say how or give a telephone number either on that page or the next one. For this garden more than any I have visited, you need to be prior warned. Some areas are either not accessible and others accessible with difficulty and an element of danger.
We arrived before the gates were open at 11 am to learn that t here is no direct wheelchair accessibility between the bottom formal garden and the main terraced garden. A courtesy car was available that day to carry people on the long and steep journey too and from the bottom formal garden, and also up to the Castle and the entry into the terraced gardens. When I asked was a courtesy car available every day the answer was ‘No!’ It is dependent on volunteers and they are short of volunteers.
Although the car was equipped to carry wheelchairs, the volunteer operating it said that my wheelchair was too large. He did produce a map of the Gardens for wheelchair and scooter users and in my opinion it was the most inadequate map; particularly considering these are potentially dangerous gardens. It was made a little more adequate when the volunteer took great care to explain its meanings - but surely, the National Trust can produce a better map.
From the map, I deduced that there are paths with slopes of 1 in 7, at least two places with gradients of 1 in 5 and a 10-metre length of 1 in 4. From experience 1 in 5 on hard packed, fine gravel, with a bit of loose gravel on the top, can be lethal for electric wheelchairs. The driving wheels are the steering wheels and when they lock and skid there is no way to steer, but then scooters are not much better. With many paths running alongside unfenced steep drops both wheelchair and scooter users need to study that map and plan their route very carefully. It certainly isn't the place to let granddad loose to practise on a new scooter.
When we reached the Castle a volunteer greeted us with the news that although we could not go through the Castle with a wheelchair we could have a virtual tour on a computer. It was by then about 11.20 and she went on to explain that she was leaving at 1.00. There was someone just starting the virtual tour, which takes about 20 minutes, therefore it seemed to us to be sensible to see the Gardens while the sun shone.
We separated and Celia, my wife, understandably wanted to see the whole garden. She found that you had to be fit to do even that, in one place going down about 60 steps with a hedge on either side but no handrail. I settled on seeing just the top three terraces, the slope between them was not too steep, and they were fantastic. It is a beautiful building in a beautiful setting and the standard of gardening is excellent. The gardeners at Powis score 10 out of 10. Both general tidiness and mixtures of herbaceous and shrubs giving wonderful colours to a glorious setting. And what a view, both looking down at the lower Gardens or across the valley to the wonderful countryside.
Of course, when we got back to the Castle it was too late to see the virtual tour, but we did have a lovely lunch sitting outside the Castle tea room in pleasant surroundings.
Anyway I learn from other disappointed people that had I got to the bottom garden I too would have been disappointed to find those tearooms, although advertised as open, were in fact closed.
So with so limited access open to me was my visit worthwhile? Yes definitely! The Gardens that I did see were well worth a visit; and the views, both from and of the Castle, were spectacular.
If you will accept that on the day, maybe, not everything will be accessible and just enjoy what is within your reach then Powis is well worth a visit.
Willoughbridge, Market Drayton, Shropshire, TF 4EU
Telephone: 01630 647237
Review by John Lea - June 2011
Visited many times before. This garden has a Shropshire postal address but lies just on the Cheshire and Staffordshire borders.
Colonel Harry Clive started to created this magical 12 acre garden in 1939 around a disused Victorian Quarry for his wife Dorothy. This spring the Daily Telegraph described it has one of the most attractive spring gardens in the country. I would go further than that; for me it is one of the most attractive gardens all season through.
It lies on a slope so imagine a wedge of cheese lying on its side, entry and the main car park are at the bottom. There you pay £6 (seniors £5), so explain your disabilities and if you are in a wheelchair or scooter ask for a map. The disabled car park, (halfway up the wedge of cheese) is on a level with the tea rooms, disabled toilets and the base of the Quarry. There are no electric scooters just manual wheelchairs available. There is also a super recently created children's play area. With a soft artificial floor and unclimbable gates that fasten out of reach and the outside of adventurous 5-year-olds or under. Opening out from the back of the tea rooms you can watch your toddlers whilst enjoying a cup of tea.
From the tea room it is relatively flat into and through the Quarry, (which you can imagine as being cut out of the top half of the wedge of cheese), and in it you can do a circular tour and come out where you went in. There is a waterfall in the quarry and plenty of mature trees but mainly spring flowering shrubs. There is a path all round the lip of the Quarry. With an electric wheelchair or scooter I normally go up the right-hand side but it is a steepish walk for a manual wheelchair or more disabled walkers. That side is more woodland than garden and so I suggest for those with problems just to go up the left side where there are more all season gardens and plenty of seats. I have seen many manual wheelchairs but the carers, pushing up bank, make use of those seats.
If this garden was 30 miles nearer to Manchester it would be crawling with people. On weekdays there is no madding crowd, you can just sit, take in the beauty, and watch the birds, bees, and butterflies. And if by chance other visitors do walk by, they usually exchange greetings with you; it is that sort of a garden.
Before you tackle the lower half of the garden below the tea shop just stop there. They are my favourite tearooms with pleasant staff and super food. On this visit there were just two other couples beside us sitting outside on the lawn. On our last visit, when there were more people, a robin hopped on and off our table, while through the corner of my eye I could see a squirrel paying equal attention to the table behind. Then when the couple on the table in front left, a little mouse dashed out. Correction! A very fat little mouse wobbled out from the shrubs to clean up the crumbs under that table.
The bottom half of the gardens are different in character. Seemingly haphazardly laid out with a mixture of herbaceous and shrubs that produce a season long colour. There are steps in some places but it is easy to bypass them on the lawns. You can return up on the tarmac path, although it is not too steep it can be a bit of a push so decide how far you want to go down.
It was only when I was sitting in my chair near the bottom that I realise just how clever Colonel Harry Clive had been; there is nothing haphazard about it. He accepted the natural landscape, with Quarry and waste tip, and with inspirational skill wove around it a beautiful garden.