WHERE: Tatton Park, Knutsford
WHEN: End of January, 2018
It’s still low season, so I can’t explore the Mansion. The weather is miserable, but I came anyway, and drove through the most glorious of high streets tucked away in the heart of Knutsford. With twinkle lights in the windows of quirky bistros and old stone buildings that always give me a feeling of warmth because they’re just so quintessentially British, I think I’ll definitely be paying it a visit. The town itself seems to warrant a day of exploration of its own.
The drive down to the Mansion and the Gardens is wonderfully long. Not that having such an impressive driveway is in any way a hindrance, but I almost believe I’ve missed the turn-off and gotten lost on the estate. It’s much more expansive than I expected, and the stable yard is a pretty good set up with its many restaurants, cafes. As you round the corner into the stable yard, you could quite easily walk past the Gardener’s Cottage, but if you heed the sign  and take a peep beyond the wall, the Cottage is a charming little building tucked away in its own little haven . There are trellises and patio furniture and I can almost smell the flowers that will no doubt blossom in the summer. It reminds me a little of Miss Honey’s cottage in Matilda, the way it’s cocooned in nature and time seems to stop the moment you step beyond the wall.
Fortunately for me, on a day like this, with the cold and the rain, no one will disturb me here in the garden . I’m sitting in a small outbuilding in the Kitchen Garden , in a small round building that overlooks somewhat desolate-looking flowerbeds and skeletal non-flowering trellises on one side , and a manicured and extremely wet garden on the other . I imagine the view is much prettier in the Spring and Summer months, but there’s still something peaceful about the desolation. Even as a plane roars overhead. I’m sitting on the second of two benches in the round outbuilding, a bench donated by a Pat and Peter. There’s a church bell ringing in the distance, or perhaps it’s some sort of bell from the farmyard. Two people are just now entering the garden a little ways off. I’d wager I could sit here and write all day long; the cold isn’t quite as bitter here, even with my breath coming out in clouds of white. But the couple are getting nearer, so I move on from my view of the dark, manicured topiaries and wander over to the Tower Garden.
The tower itself is a romantic little structure with plants growing up its exterior , even if its history isn’t quite as pleasant . The garden is a small, quiet space . I stop to read the board which explains more about the tower and its several uses back in its day, and snap a few photos.
I wander further, into another part of the garden  and stumble across an engraving in the stone beneath my boots . This path takes me to a garden I haven’t seen the sign for yet, but will later discover is Charlotte’s Garden. It covers quite a bit of ground and is simple yet beautiful with a gazebo structure placed in the centre of a smooth, manicured lawn . I’m sitting in one of those half-moon shaped garden seats that are made of latticework so that you can grow plants up them to feel like you’re sitting in a little piece of heaven. This one is unadorned and tucked away on the path’s edge, with a lovely view, but then I don’t imagine there’s anywhere that doesn’t yield lovely views in any of the estate’s gardens. It’s quiet. Even though the rain is falling steadily, I can only hear the soft droplets pattering on the leaves behind me over the scratch of my pen. Everything’s so peaceful here; thoughtful; restorative.
A little ways down the Broadwalk , as I believe it’s known, (aptly named given that it’s a very wide gravel path which seems to connect the selection of gardens on offer) and I’m sitting in the African Hut . There’s something majestic yet crude about it, and I sit there for a few minutes before I catch sight of a squirrel prancing across the gravel path. It disappears almost instantly into the underbrush.
The rain lets up slightly and, temporarily abandoning the Broadwalk, I follow the sign toward the Japanese Garden. Across the bridge  which straddles a large, still expanse of water , I see what almost looks like drowning men trying to claw their way out of an expanse of weeds and moss and mud . Upon closer inspection, a small plaque reveals that they are, in fact, ‘Giant Rhubarb’ .
I decide to follow the path further and it soon becomes clear that the gardeners have been preparing the ground for seeding and re-planting. There are bluebells in the Spring, I hear, which I can only imagine are quite the sight scattered along the forest floor. I make a mental note to attend the Bluebell walk this year.
The Japanese Garden is by far my favourite, of all of them. To my left, there’s an island I can’t access, with a Japanese-style structure that looks like a temple, peacefully floating on the water . On my right, I follow the path further, admiring the way the colour of the algae on the still surface of the water seems to enhance the green of the plants around it . It almost looks like an untouched miniature village with a little well and fake cranes to complete the ensemble. As I retrace my steps and re-join the Broadwalk, ending up on the other side of the Japanese temple’s self-contained island, I get a closer look at the second bridge which connects it to land . The bridge is a work of art in itself.
The Broadwalk itself leads to a stone structure and more impressive views of the estate , so on my way back to the exit, I almost forget that I haven’t even seen the Mansion yet. On impulse, I follow a narrow path behind the garden seat in Charlotte’s Garden and emerge in front of the house. It takes a moment for my brain to digest the size of the place. The pillars and carvings and the view – it’s magnificent . A majestic giant amid so much beautiful nature. I go down the front steps, past the symmetry of the flowerbeds, past the water feature , all the way to the wall where you can stand and look out over the estate, can see the cars coming down the driveway , can turn back and really take in the beauty of the Mansion [27. It’s particularly grey on a day like this, given that the building it made from a dark stone, but it’s still impressive. The rain has let up, and it’s nice to just breathe in a different kind of air. So much so that I almost don’t want to leave.
On the drive back through the estate, I consider turning off to get a look at the Old Mansion House, but that too is closed for low season, so I promise myself it will keep; something new to explore the next time I’m here.