It’s been a little while since I took you on a tour of a National Trust property, so I am back to show you another one. This one is quite special. This one represents home.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a small village in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. The view from my childhood bedroom window was one of fields, trees and mountains – things you never appreciate as a child. As a teenager, my main concern would be when the next hourly bus would arrive to take me away from the tiny village to the ‘bright lights’ and shops of the (fairly small) town a few miles away.
Anyway, back to that bedroom window view. Across the valley and nestled among the trees on a hillside was a beautiful Georgian mansion house called Bodnant House, which sits in 80 acres of some of the most spectacular gardens in the United Kingdom – Bodnant Garden. Founded in 1874 by Henry Davis Pochin, the gardens were created and developed by various generations of the McLaren family (Laura McLaren being the daughter of Henry) and gifted to the National Trust in 1949.
Of course, as a child I had no interest in visiting this beautiful property a couple of miles away. In fact, it probably wasn’t until my thirties, being a home and garden owner that I decided I was grown up enough to get myself an annual National Trust membership and on that basis decided to call in when I was nearby. I probably visit a couple of times a year now, as it’s quite nice to see the gardens across the different seasons!
For this post I’ll take you on a photographic journey of my favourite spots on a route from the garden entrance to the far end of the property (which is conveniently called the Far End).
On first entering the gardens you will arrive at the East Garden (3 on the map) and the Front Lawn (4) of Bodnant House, offering some great views of the Georgian mansion and the Carneddau mountain range in the background.
Taking a pathway around to the side of the house, it’s lovely to wander through the Rose Garden (5) and down the steps to the Terraces (7).
The Terraces lead you to one of Bodnant’s most iconic and photographed buildings, The Pin Mill (8), which was designated a Grade II listed building in 1952. Interestingly it was originally built as a garden house circa 1730 in Gloucestershire before being purchased, dismantled and re-built at Bodnant Garden in 1939 – the things you learn when you do a bit of research, eh!
It’s a great building to photograph – not only is it a thing of architectural beauty but the reflections on the lily pond are just fantastic, wouldn’t you agree?
Heading around the back of The Pin Mill, the gardens take more of a wild and natural turn compared to the formal layouts nearer the house. This section heads down a fairly steep hillside full of small brooks and streams and all of the lush greenery that comes along with it.
One thing I love about photographing plants is the contrasts in texture and vibrancy of the colours. It’s always worth doing a few close up shots.
Down this steep hillside and to the bottom of the valley, crossing a small stone bridge, we arrive at the next stunning building – The Old Mill (10). Another Grade II listed building which was built circa 1832, it certainly looks weathered with it’s lush green mossy roof, which gives it character and charm.
This is a great spot to take a break (as there is a cafe and toilet facilities) and look back up the rocky hillside from where you have come.
Ready to carry on? Well, this area of Bodnant Gardens is probably my favourite. Charmingly known as The Dell, this gorgeous wooded valley which follows the route of the Hireathlyn River features meandering pathways around shrubbery and a collection of large redwoods, including the tallest Sequoia Sempervirens in the UK. I have loved these trees since seeing them in the Californian National Parks, so to see such a grand specimen at about 49m high on home ground is amazing.
Carrying on along the riverside pathways, it’s nice to see new signs of life sprouting, before arriving at the Waterfall Bridge (20), another iconic feature of the gardens. The bridge was built in the early 1900’s when a dam was created on the river to add more scenery in the area.
Passing the Waterfall Bridge, it’s onto the final stretch to arrive at the Far End, an area which opened to the public in 2015 after five years of renovation work. The area includes a lake known as The Skating Pond (22) and a gorgeous little Boat House (23).
There is another refreshments kiosk and some picnic tables at the far end of the Skating Pond, which is a good opportunity to recharge the batteries before heading back up the slopes towards the front of the gardens.
There are alternative routes which are worth taking on the way back. Crossing the river from the Boat House, you can wander through the Arboretum (21) area and some shaded woodland before arriving back near the Waterfall Bridge. At this point take a detour up the hill to see The Poem (19), a mausoleum building built by Henry Davis Pochin as a last resting place for his family.
From here, it’s a fairly nice (and not too difficult) stroll back up towards the East Garden, where, if you are lucky to be visiting in late May / early June, you will be able to see one of Bodnant Garden’s most popular attractions, The Laburnum Arch (14). A 55m long, curved pergola walkway where the golden laburnum flowers bloom in the spring creating a great spectacle. Good luck with photographing this scene without hordes of people in the way though!
And here ends today’s tour. Outside of the entrance gates, there is a lovely tea room run by the National Trust, where you can grab some lunch, or coffee and cake before you head off to sample some more of North Wales’ great attractions. We’ll come back to that another day.
Address: Bodnant Rd, Tal-y-cafn, Colwyn Bay LL28 5RE