We set off on our next voyage of discovery in gloriously warm and sunny weather. Well not so much a voyage of discovery as a short drive out of Morpeth with our destination being the English Heritage cared for Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens.
Even before reaching the Hall we encountered the Belsay influence when passing through the quant village of Belsay. Built by Sir Charles Monck, (he changed his name from Middleton in 1796), around 1831 – 1836 to house their servants and staff. The original Belsay Town was considered to be too close to the Hall and was later demolished, well one doesn’t want one’s servants too close does one?
Before arriving at the Hall, we passed a small pond and saw, in the middle of a field, a boathouse. Not the usual place to site a boathouse, but apparently it was built alongside a lough which was drained to alleviate the risk of flooding to the new Belsay Town.
Arriving at the Hall we were fortunate enough to be able to park under the shade of some trees, in an official parking place of course. The first item on our agenda was coffee and scones so we headed to the tea rooms which appear to have been the Hall’s kitchens at some time, complete with two old ranges and flagged floor. We salve our conscience of eating scones by not having breakfast before our days out, no doubt nutritionists would have something to say about our theory, but it works for us.
Having taken care of the inner man and woman we went through the shop and to the Hall itself. Guided tours of the Hall are provided but being of an impatient nature we could not wait to start exploring. Belsay Hall is a magnificent square mansion in the Greek Revival style and the Greek influenced columns and geometric layout was completed in 1817 when the family moved from what is now known as Belsay Castle on Christmas Day in that year. How cool is that, moving to your new mansion on Christmas Day? Walking around the Hall which is completely unfurnished, the structure itself can be fully appreciated. Parts of the ground floor have been stripped back to the stonework due to rot which resulted from leaking pipes, (Sir Charles had installed the guttering and pipework internally so as not to detract from the exterior appearance). However, the library is magnificent with its panelled walls and big fireplace. The cellars are intriguing and even on such a hot day were very cold.
There are many interesting features of the Hall including interconnecting doors in some bedrooms, fireplaces and a room designated as the telephone room. The main attraction of the Hall is undoubtably the entrance hallway and we make no pretence at being able to describe it and do it justice, you have to see it for yourself. Half close your eyes and pretend that you are arriving by horse drawn coach for a ball. The hallway is illuminated by many candles and there is a plethora of servants waiting to take your cloak.
Almost every room in the mansion has superb views of the gardens and grounds, and the large windows make this more than just a feature but seems to give the building its reason for being built. Certainly, that is what impressed us the most, even more than the ornate and magnificent building.
Moving on from the Hall there are the formal gardens which are beautifully tended and one assumes look different at different times of the year. Passing through the formal gardens and passed the croquet lawn we entered the Quarry Garden, which unsurprisingly enough is a former quarry planted as a garden. Over the years this has matured into a wonderful place, and to our minds at least, is even better than the formal gardens. The stone was quarried to build the Hall and even the new Belsay Town and the resulting quarry transformed into a garden. Walking through the Quarry Garden with the stone walls either side, is something else that must be seen for oneself. We have to say that the Quarry Garden held a special attraction for us because we lived for several years in a house that was built in a former quarry.
There is a third aspect to Belsay, so three attractions for one admission fee, result! This is Belsay Castle. The original castle is actually a late 14th Century Pele Tower, (the guide book says Peel Tower, but we’ve always called them Pele Towers so maybe we’re wrong). These towers were a feature of the Anglo-Scottish Border when times were violent. They had very limited or no windows and doors at ground level and were a source of refuge when raiders came. Attached to the tower are the ruins of a domestic house, or rather mansion, that was, according to the date stone, ‘builded in 1614’. We were intrigued to know when ‘builded’ became ‘built’, but the best we can discover is that it may have been sometime between 1861 and 1892, although this is something else that we may be wrong about. The ruins and tower are both open to look around, the tower being well preserved, and it is well worth the walk up the tower’s stone spiral staircase for the view from the top, as well as what is seen on the way up. Please take care on the worn stairs.
We really enjoyed our visit to Belsay and on the way out we bought an excellent English Heritage Guidebook. We know we should have bought it on the way in but it’s what we tend to do for some inexplicable reason. If visiting Belsay which we suggest you consider, the guidebook is very reasonably priced and has lots of lovely photos and information and it is worth every penny.