Saturday, May 06, 2006

A day out and the bloody hand

Yesterdya was a glorious spring day, the sort of spring day that you glad to be in England and alive. As my dh had the day off, we headed off to West Cumbria and Muncaster Castle to see the Sino-Himalyan flowers in bloom.
Now the Good gardens Guide which is usually reliable utterly fails in this instance. This garden with its superb collection of Rhodedendron, magnolia etc as wel its unbelieveable location should be classed as a two star top garden. It does not even rate one star. Why? This garden is clearly in a class by itself and deserves to be ranked along side the other great gardens of Britain. It has much to offer.

In the words of John Ruskin, it is the gateway to Paradise. With nary a cloud in the sky, I could well believe the description. With a limited amount of time, we could only explore for about two hours and barely scratched the surface of this garden. In walking in the Sino-Himilayan garden, we chanced upon a Bluebell Haven. This was more than a wood, it was bluebells as far as the eye could see in glorious vivid blue, with the fragance filling my nostrils and mouth. We must have walked for ten minutes before we were through the wood and caught a glimpse of the Irish sea.

The newly opened plant centre is a treasure trove of plants and we were able to discover several magnolia that have been on our wish list for ages. Namely -- Magnolia Grandiflora 'Exmouth' and Magnolia x loebnerri 'Merill 'which has the most fantastic scent. Now we shall have to wait several years for the flowers to appear. But we have the plants and the prices were reasonable. For once it was a plant centre that accurately reflected the plants in the garden, rather than having plants that you could pick up at any garden centre. We had to limit ourselves to four magnolias. Both my dh and I have become magnolia enthusiasts. Their blooms are fantastic and they are not difficult to grow If you have a long time period in mind.

On the gate that leads into The Terrace, the crest of arms sports a Bloody Hand. Now there are various folktales on why a bloody hand appears -- generally to do with bad behaviour of some lord -- whipping a child to death. Some say the hand shrinks each generation until the debt is fully repaid. However, the truth is that it is a sign of a Baronet and goes back to when James I was trying to raise money for the Ulster Plantation. The Red Hand of Ulster comes from the O'Niells -- an O'Niell cut off his hand and threw it ashore to ensure he won and was able to claim Ulster, instead of a boat that was looking to land before his.

We did not have time to look in the castle, but shall go back again. There is a green glass bowl that I want to see -- The Luck of Muncaster Castle which has all sorts of legends attached to it (the book my dh gave me for Christmas about the Lore and Legends of England has an entry) as well as lots of other interesting features. It is supposed to be haunted.

However all this will probably have to wait until the bluebells are in bloom again as it is a long haul from Northumberland. BUT if anyoneh appens to be in the Lake District, it is well worth a visit.


Anne McAllister said...

Thanks, Michelle, for the mini-tour of the wonderful gardens. The bluebells as far as the eye could see is a wonderful image to behold. And I have a deep appreciation for English garden centres which cannot be properly explained to Americans. You have to experience them to believe them. We have nothing like them, as you know. It's unfortunate.

I love garden centres. Not least because last time I was there I came away, not with a magnolia, but with a pair of fantastic pink wellies with a yellow duck head on each boot for the five year old granddaughter who is the belle of Texas every time it rains now!

Anonymous said...

Michelle, is that the Westwood and Simpson book? I treated myself to that last month. Is very good.

We went to Muncaster some years back. There's a fabulous owl sanctuary there, too (or there was when we went). The inside of the castle is fascinating, from what I can remember.

Anne - I bet your granddaughter loves those wellies. My daughter (same age) would adore something like that. If they sparkle as well... :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a gorgeous trip! :)