Parcevall Hall – Review
Parcevall Hall – Review
Unwrapping a Hidden Treasure
by Barney Bardsley
It is official. This year has been a wash-out. Allotment crops have failed – massacred by armies of rapacious slugs, roots rotted in the endless rain. Garden flower beds are stagnant with mud. Even the ever-thirsty trees are bowing their disbelieving heads under the constant deluge. It is hard to stay hopeful when the skies are weighed down with lead and the earth is wet and sullen underfoot.
But despair not, you lovers of the green. There is a place you must go to in the Yorkshire Dales to re-ignite your damp imagination. It is a hidden treasure, not too far from Bolton Abbey, rising discreetly from the valleys above Appletreewick. This is Parcevall Hall – guarded in the south by a massive stony outcrop called Simon’s Seat, and in the north by the spooky sharp ravine of Troller’s Gill. Here you will find 24 acres of woodland and garden, originally conceived by the visionary and eccentric Sir William Milner in the 1920s and now a part of the Walsingham Estate. It is a garden to wrap yourself in and wonder – even when it’s raining.
When the estate was first bought in 1927, there was nothing to see – except an old, broken down farmhouse and bare hills. With a combination of architectural and horticultural zeal, and following in the footsteps of those mighty Victorian gardening pioneers Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, Sir William created a place of grandeur and tranquillity, which crowns but never dominates the Yorkshire countryside in which it makes its home.
When he died in 1960, the garden fell into disrepair. But for the past twenty years it has been lovingly restored by a small team, led by head gardener Phillip Nelson. Subtlety and gentleness are the hallmarks of his approach – and as someone who once worked as a mechanic in the South Nottingham coal mines, he never takes for granted the freedom and beauty of his surroundings. He says, “We try to produce a garden that fits into its landscape, that settles here and blends down into its surroundings.” This is the garden’s unique appeal.
As soon as you pass over the little footbridge at the entrance, something peaceful steals inside you. The Yorkshire Dales are magnificent, but the landscape on the tops can be harsh. Here, trees and foliage immediately soften and entice.
“Grace is everywhere”
First, there is the wild woodland of Tarn Ghyll. Bluebells and daffodils in spring. Lush green leaves in autumn. Then a steep, wooded climb to the formal terraces and borders in front of the hall, planted with reds and purples – intense, but never garish. To the side, sits a little orchard, planted with 80 sturdy, late flowering apple trees. And below the orchard, a tiny Chapel Garden with a fernery and a pretty coral bark maple tree. Sir William was a devout catholic, and the Hall is still used as a spiritual, as well as secular retreat. The religious influence is never overt – but grace is everywhere.
The highest point of Parcevall is 800-feet above sea level, with a vertiginous cliff walk and a lonely seat overlooking the steep ravine below. On the day I visited the heavens opened and the rain came teeming down. Still, magic prevailed. I came across a figure sitting under his huge umbrella, staring out at the surrounding landscape. “Isn’t it wonderful?” he said, soaking wet and happy. I had to agree.
“A really special place”
Parcevall Hall is like a Russian doll. One garden hidden inside another, layer upon layer, waiting to be unwrapped by its wandering visitors. For Phil Nelson, the finest treasure is the Rock Garden behind the Hall itself. It is made of natural limestone and boasts subtle plant specimens – like the clear, startling blue eye of the Willow Gentian – and pools of quiet water, dripping their excess gently downwards.
“It is a really special place,” he says, “which struck me when I first arrived all those years ago. Mostly, it’s the way the light changes – the white of the rock catching the green of the foliage. It might be just a moment – a break in the cloud – a bit of sun coming through.” Discreet, dreamy. A million miles away from the show gardens of Chelsea: Parcevall is food for the soul, as well as a spectacle for the eye. And if none of this convinces you – the Mediterranean Melt on offer in the café is truly delicious! Good coffee too.
Parcevall Hall gardens are open until October 31st and then again in the spring. Adults, £5.50/£2.50 children. The Hall is open throughout the year for conferences and retreats. Look on the website, or phone for full details and directions: parcevallhallgardens.co.uk 01756 720311
“A Handful of Earth” by Barney Bardsley is published by John Murray