So I was off to Tatton Park for the day. I only knew, somewhat vaguely, that it was somewhere in Cheshire – ie – south of Manchester, in the posh bit of the North, and that it comprises a large stately home with a famous set of gardens. I’d deliberately not done my homework, wanting to be surprised. This was the third coach day trip that I’d been on with ‘The Heptonstall Village Team,’ a well organised organisation with whom I’d travelled to Liverpool and Harlow Carr during the previous couple of months.

All aboard
All aboard

The coaches are comfortable, have a toilet on board, and at various times throughout the journey we are fed crisps and toffees and are invited to buy raffle tickets for an onboard raffle, the prizes of which are usually bottles of wine or large boxes of Quality Street toffees, a local delicacy. More than 90% of the people on board were women, as is the case in nearly every event I attend. Perhaps I’ll have to invade Andy’s Man Club in order to find some men to talk to. A few weeks ago going to a poetry reading with a friend we gave a lift to the event to a couple. As I sat next to the man in the car he remarked “Will need a good beer if I’m to sit through listening to someone spout poetry all night.” “Oh,” I jumped onto his train of thought, ” Are you interested in local beers?” And with that the conversation took off and lasted all the way to the venue – best local brewery, where to buy Northern Monk locally, the attractions of Vocation. Once firmly installed in the Dusty Miller our conversation took a turn to football, him being a Liverpool supporter, but I won’t hold that against him – riiiight! How refreshing it was to chat about something other than the cost of parking or the inconvenience of the latest local roadworks.

But back to the coach trip. Speeding through the industrial warehouses and superstores of Stockport we were soon in rural Cheshire. the landscape reminded me of the time when I lived in Cambridgeshire – flat, flat, and more flat. There was no point going for walks around there because you could see everything before you set off. Just before we entered through the impressive park gates we drive along a narrow tree lined avenue edged with mansions, each in their own style, some with porticos, some with huge glass conservatories, others with immaculately tended gardens far too big to be maintained by two pairs of hands. This was the Cheshire that you read about – posh Cheshire. Entering the park land we stopped at the ticket office and disembarked. “We’ll be leaving from here at 4 o’clock. Don’t be late” we were told. It was only 10.30. Good grief. I had 5 and 1/2 hours to kill! A docent from the park boarded our bus. “So yer from ‘eptinstall? In’t that near ‘ebden Bridge? Anybody ‘eard of’t Stubbin Wharf pub? Eee it were grand.” Less than three hours ago I’d booked a table for my daughter, son-in-law and myself at the Stubbins Wharf pub to watch one of the Euro games when they come to visit for their honeymoon in a couple of week’s time. She’d texted me the previous evening about the pub showing the Euro games there now that the pub’s recent refit has big screen TVs throughout. It’s a place that’s been special to me, usually taking my visitors to have dinner or at least a drink there and last time my three daughters and I were all together in England we had dinner there – and that was all before I discovered that one of my ancestors ran the pub in the early 1900s!

The Japanese garden came into view with its lily pond, though they were not yet flowering. Various bridges spanned the pond, and a replica of Mt Fuji stod on the perimeter. I was transported back in time to my trip to Japan in 2006.

The Japanese Garden

Just the previous day I’d attended a lecture about Japanese gardens at the Halifax Arts Society, given by Marie Konte-Helm, OBE, no less. Many of her photos were of gardens in Kyoto and when I told my daughter about the talk she told me that she’d been to many of them, including a fascinating moss garden. Perhaps I’ll incorporate some of the ideas into my garden which I’m in the process of designing at the moment. Having been to the lecture I was able to identify and understand the significance of several of the features before me, including the bridges, the water and Mt Fuji. Some of the maples still had their red hue and the bonsai treatment of the shrubs was well maintained. I chatted to one of the gardeners who were out in force.

She told me that there are about 80 volunteer gardeners looking after the estate. An enormous conservatory was next to attract my attention, built to Lewis Wyatt’s design in 1818 and restored in 2010. Nearby a fernery houses many Australian and New Zealand tree ferns from the Egertons’ travels and a robotic arm was watering them – almost as surreal as the robotic lawnmower in action on one of the lawns.

From New Zealand I made my way Kenya – only a ten minute walk. With the heat of the African sun beating down upon me I took took shelter in the African hut built to console Maurice when he became too ill to visit his beloved Kenya, where he had a private estate that still exists.

The African hut

I made my way to the stables housing the cafe, not to mention some very early motor cars that the Egertons used. It had warmed up and I sat on the forecourt to have a pot of tea – so very English – and imagined the mayhem that must once have played out on these cobbles as the horses were taken in and out of the stables.

It was time to go into the mansion. But as I made my way there I suddenly came face to face with Shaun the Sheep! Now a couple of weeks ago I’d visited the Wensleydale Creamery, home of Wallace and Gromit, where an encounter with Shaun was to be expected, much anticipated in actual fact. But here? Amongst the hoi poloi of British society? In fact there were no less than ten Shauns scattered throughout Tatton gardens and parkland, and if I hadn’t reached the grand old age of 11+ I could have picked up a card and crossed each statue off and got a prize if I’d seen them all.

There was even one in the Japanese garden. It was named Sakura and was complete with cherry blossom and Mt Fuji.


Entrance to the mansion is by a back door, fitting considering my lowly status, and so the splendour of the imposing building can’t be seem from this side. But as soon as I got in I thought to myself how like Sledmere House this is – another stately home that I’d visited with the Halifax Antiquarian Society two years ago.

Can you see me?

The feel of the building itself, the views of the extensive grounds and the room upon room of oil paintings of every size imaginable were so Sledmerean. Minutes later I read ‘Elizabeth Sykes of Sledmere married her cousin Wilbraham Egerton in 1806. Shortly after Wilbraham inherited Tatton. Elizabeth was an accomplished musician and keyboard player and the bookcase houses her large and varied collection of musical masterpieces.’ So naturally I headed off in search of the music room passing the amazing dining room.

Harpsichord in the music room undergoing flood management

In one corner was a harpsichord which had been a wedding present to Elizabeth from her brother Mark Masterman Sykes on her wedding. The room had been badly damaged during a storm about 4 weeks ago. Water had got into the roof and run down the walls destroying much of the silk fabric lining the walls. Major restoration work was being carried out since mould had started to grow, and most of the books had had to be removed.

In another part of the music area a square piano stood. I asked the guide if he knew who the manufacturer was.”Could it be a Broadwood?” I asked. “Ha!” he responded. “I’m part of the Broadwood piano making family.” I told him about ‘Mr Langshaw’s Square Piano’, a book that I’d reviewed for a magazine – a true story about a woman in England discovering that a Broadwood piano had been turned into a chicken coop. He wrote down the name of the book to read it sometime. He tried to take of photo of the writing above the keyboard to see who the manufacturer was. He tried three times but we couldn’t decipher it. I asked if I could be allowed to play it but no, I couldn’t. It would set the alarm off. Well, I’d been fortunate enough to play the piano at Sledmere so I guess that will have to suffice for now. I have been fortunate to play John Ruskin and Elizabeth Gaskell’s pianos when I’ve asked, so there’s no harm in asking. Another piano in the hall had been played by Sir Charles Halle and Gustave Holst had played his trombone there too!

The piano that Sir Charles Halle played

The huge library was next. I always wonder when I see such collection how many of the books their owner have actually read. I suppose many of the books were bought to preserve them. This library was amassed over three centuries with each generation adding their own layer of interest. I read that the ‘earliest book is a treatise in Latin on architecture by Vitruvius dated 1513.’ Last month’s arts society lecture had been on architecture and told of Vetruvius’s book! Wouldn’t you know it? I was beginning to feel quite at home. Then I discovered another connection that was quite unexpected. Tatton Park has some first editions of Edward Lear’s work.Lear has always held a special place in my family ever since I was required to learn many of his poems by heart for my elocution lessons as a child. I passed on my love of his poetry and drawings to my children and I even have some of his work on my bedroom wall, a gift from my daughter. I even adapted one of his poems to be my ‘speech’ at my daughter’s wedding.

I wanted to know more about the family so I headed to the servants’ quarters to an exhibition about Lord Maurice Egerton that commemorates the 150th anniversary of his birth. For 30 years he explored parts of Africa. He kept a detailed journal of his travels, was a keen photographer and brought back many souvenirs.

Photos from Maurice’s travels

His safari camping equipment was on display with its parasol, camp bed, deck chair and rucksack along with his fascinating photos of the people he met on his travels.

I found myself standing beneath dozens of stuffed animal heads.


He must have kept the taxidermist busy. He also visited the Klondike and Yukon territories, another connection with my daughters reminding me of our trip to Alaska together.

It was time for lunch and now it had warmed up to the extent that I could take my winter coat off and sit at the outside tables and have a sandwich. My companion for the next half hour was none other than Bill Bryson, travelling through this small country. When I first read this book it didn’t make much of an impact on me – well, not much did with two 8 year olds and a 6 year old to care for but now that I’m rereading it I find his observations as an American on English life very funny but also very true. Perhaps it was reading this in the stable yard that inspired me to write this little travel blog after a long hiatus.

After lunch I took a look at the little gift shop, book swap and farm stand before heading back into the gardens to try and find the entrance to the Italian garden which opens onto the mansion, by way of a terrace. Designed by Joseph Paxton in 1847 the garden shows off the front facade of the mansion and overlooks the extensive parkland.

View of the Italian Garden

The lower walls of the mansion have been discoloured by the weather and they look like impressionist landscapes – at least to me.

Having seen the imposing mansion in all its glory now in the afternoon sun it was time to board the coach back to Hebden Bridge. The 90 minutes it took to drive to Tatton in the morning was doubled in the rush hour traffic but I amused myself listening to my ‘newly discovered on my phone app’ Jez Lowe, Pink Floyd, The Doors and ELP.