"In my opinion Howick is a paradise on earth"- a quote on the wall at the new visitor centre read, quoted by Lady Georgiana Grey who was the unmarried daughter of 2nd Earl Grey.

And even in the light summer drizzle, the term ‘paradise’ really did resonate as we enjoyed afternoon tea of Earl Grey (of course), an array of freshly prepared sandwiches and wedges of rich cake in the vintage-style tearoom and watched a native red squirrel playing in the flower bed by the window.

This was the home of Earl Grey and therefore is the place to come for genuine Earl Grey tea, which was blended in order to compliment the water at Howick.

The local guides and volunteer gardeners are full of local knowledge and anecdotes about the family and their predecessors who inhabited the hall and are more than happy to deliver the stories to you in an ever-entertaining fashion. An example of one such anecdotes is the tale of the 2nd Earl Grey and his unusual parenting techniques!

The 2nd Earl Grey had 15 children, all of whom survived into adulthood, which was almost unheard of at that time. Earl Grey attributed the longevity of his offspring to the fact that he never sent any of them away to school and thus they all got plenty of clean, Howick air. The Earl suffered a terrible fear of the dark and in a bid to ease his 15 children of the phobia he sent each one, on the night of the first full moon after their 10th birthday, on a long walk to the coast to collect a small, white flower of the grass of Parnassus and bring it back for their father. It is hoped that not many of them suffered long-term trauma!

Howick Hall Gardens and Arboretum are truly an impressive sight- from the colourful bog gardens to the beautiful herbaceous borders and the private gardens of Lady Howick (which are open to the public at the expense of a requested £1 donation.)

Howick's arboretum is of world-wide importance, consisting of plants collected from all over the world. The evergreen oak dedicated to Queen Victoria following a stay at Howick (to avoid the typhoid fever in Newcastle while on a royal visit) is from Algeria. There is also a maple tree from Szechuan, China as well as specimens found on mountain ranges as these often prove hardier in the British winters (brr!)

After a guided tour of some of the gardens, we popped into the recently opened visitor centre to find out more. It is only from looking at the map of the grounds which dominates the centre of the room that you can comprehend how enormous the grounds are, dwarfing neighboring farms by comparison!

Howick Hall is a fantastic place to visit, not least because of the friendly, helpful and passionate staff that fill the house and grounds with as much love and joy as their predecessors. You can see and feel history in every inch- from the carvings on the church windows, to the unique architecture of the hall itself. You can see how much pleasure Howick still gives to locals and tourists alike, not to mention those who spend their time tending to the gardens and house and who feel they get so much in return.

Image by Photographer Andy Craig