7 National Trust gardens and parks to explore for free

Updated on 20 March 2020 | 0 Comments

Fed up at home? If you’re fit and well (with no symptoms such as a fever and a cough) and in need of some fresh air then here’s some good news: the National Trust is throwing its parks and gardens open for free. Here's our selection of favourite spots where you can find some cheer this spring.

Hat's off to the National Trust who is ensuring everyone has access to green spaces in these turbulent times. Although houses and cafés will be closed, the parks and gardens of country properties will be accessible for free – while also being mindful of Government advice about social distancing. Obviously, the advice might change at any moment, so please check the National Trust’s website for the latest opening times.

Open-access coast and countryside places will be open as usual, with any car park charges suspended too.

1. South East: Petworth Park, West Sussex

World-renowned landscape gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown remodelled the grounds at Petworth (main picture above) in the mid-18th century and the bucolic parkland survives more or less as he designed it.

With over 700 acres to explore, it’s easy to keep your distance from others, as you stroll around the vast ponds watching the reflections of the clouds scudding across the surface, or while you enjoy the sweeping views of the South Downs. These very views once inspired Romantic painter Turner – perhaps inspiration will strike you too.

2. Wales: Chirk Castle, Wrexham

The imposing medieval fortress of Chirk Castle stands sentry over 5.5 acres of rolling gardens.

Chirk Castle (Image: Gail Johnson/Shutterstock)Gail Johnson/Shutterstock

Planted to ensure there would be colour year-round, the gardens are beautiful in every season and the Pleasure Ground Wood has wonderful woodland walks. The bluebells are set to flower here any day now and there are daffodils just about everywhere – especially in the lime avenue and long border. Later in the spring the rhododendrons will burst into bloom in the Shrub Garden – the smell they release is like a fine perfume.

READ MORE: 7 reasons to get out and enjoy the UK's national parks

3. South West: Trengwainton Garden, Cornwall

England’s balmy southwestern corner is first to see the spring and the magnolias are already in bloom at Trengwainton Garden. It’s a brief flowering season for these pink, white and magenta beauties so now’s the time to enjoy their bright colours along the drive and in the walled garden.

Trengwainton Garden, Cornwall (Image: Martin Stone/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)Martin Stone/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Thanks to the mild climate, plenty of exotic flower species thrive throughout the 25 acres of sheltered gardens including Australian banksia and South African protea. There’s a glorious half-mile walk up to the Terrace for views across Mount’s Bay to the Lizard peninsula too.

4. Northern Ireland: Castle Ward, County Down

You could spend the whole day at Castle Ward, walking or cycling along the lough shore and strolling through the recently restored Victorian sunken gardens. Spring is a wonderful time to visit, with bluebells carpeting the woodland, primroses growing along Lime Tree Avenue and crocuses popping up across the lawns. This is also the best time of year to spot the Irish Hare – often seen zooming out of view as you drive in.

Castle Ward, County Down (Image: Stanislavskyi/Shutterstock)Stanislavskyi/Shutterstock

Take a walk out to the old farmyard and you’ll see the Tower House, seen on screen in Game of Thrones.

READ MORE: Stunning images of Europe's national parks

5. Midlands: Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire

Make like a Duke and roam the ducal park at Clumber, surveying the magnificent lake, peaceful woodlands and walled kitchen garden as you go – there are 3,800 acres to explore. Walk along Cedar Avenue to see the bulbs springing into life, check out which of the varieties are ready for harvest in the National Rhubarb Collection and find out how the restoration of the 250-year-old Ornamental Bridge is coming along.

Clumber Park (Image: Kingswell Pix/Shutterstock)Kingswell Pix/Shutterstock

There are over 20 miles of cycle tracks through the grounds here too, with four recommended routes to follow and numbered marker posts for those who’d rather plot their own.

6. North East: Cragside, Northumberland

This Victorian house was the first in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity – a hint at just how ingenious owner Lord Armstrong was, and how incredible the gardens he laid out remain.


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You’ll find one of Europe’s largest rock gardens here, sloping down the valley from the house to Debdon Burn and home to heathers and shrubs, as well as a magnificent three-acre formal garden packed with brightly coloured tulips. Don’t miss the towering ancient pines of the Pinetum, which include the UK’s tallest Scots pine. At 131-feet (40m), it's the equivalent of 10 double-decker buses stacked on top of each other.

7. North West: Sizergh, Cumbria

Standing at the gateway to the Lake District, the 1,600-acre Sizergh estate has a variety of gardens to explore, from the limestone rock garden, with its ferns awakening from their winter slumber, to the stumpery, currently bright with daffodils.

Sizergh Cumbria (Image:  D Harvey/Shutterstock)D Harvey/Shutterstock

Families can blow off steam on the wild play trail while birdwatchers will want to take the 2.8-mile walk out to Park End Moss for views across the wetland and the chance to see more than 100 species of birds including water rails and marsh harriers.

Sizergh is also one of the best places in the country to spot hawfinches, an elusive bird best seen in winter and spring, most often in the car park.

For more information on which National Trust sites are currently open visit nationaltrust.org.uk.


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