Quite a few years ago now I made a fleeting visit to Howick Hall for a lovely Afternoon Tea in The Earl Grey Tea House. Little did I know then that Howick Hall Gardens and Aboretum was a place of such beauty and historical interest! The other week when I was staying at Doxford Hall, I realised how close I was to the ancestral home of the Earls Grey, and convinced my family to spend the afternoon there with the promise of tea and cake after a wander through the acres and acres of gardens.
Ever wondered who the guy on top of Grey’s Monument in Newcastle is? His name was Charles, 2nd Earl Grey and he was Prime Minister in the 1830s and a champion of parliamentary reform. As an alumna of Grey College at Durham University, I was thrilled to return to Earl Grey’s family home and discover more about his history and indeed the history of Earl Grey tea! Howick housed the Grey family from 1319 but Charles was the most distinguished and well-known member of the family. Charles had what we now know as Earl Grey tea blended for him by a Chinese bureaucrat, who created a type of tea to suit the very water in the well at Howick Hall. Having worked in a tearoom at university and having watched my Dad drink Earl Grey tea for years and years, how did I not realise that I lived so close to a place so full of intrigue?
After paying your entry fee I’d highly recommend selecting a walking route on your free map – believe me when I say that the grounds to Howick are extensive and the Aboretum is 65 acres alone! When I visited, Summer was slowly turning into Autumn and still the gardens were full of colour and beauty. My family and I are no horticulturalists, but we looked around in awe at trees that reminded us of the plains of Africa, giant rhubarb towering over all of us, a large, bubbling bog and dainty rows of brightly coloured flowers in Lady Grey’s Private Garden. The gardens at Howick are nothing if not varied, beautiful and peaceful. I can imagine their appeal will grow even more in Springtime, as Spring bulbs of snowdrops, daffodils and tulips come into their prime and erupt with colour.
What could be better after a long walk through the gardens than a sit down with a pot of loose leaf tea and a generous slice of cake? The Earl Grey Tea House is situated within the Hall itself and boasts pleasing wooden panelling, in-keeping with the history of the Hall, as well as a delicious selection of cakes and of course, Earl Grey tea! The coffee and walnut cake I had was gorgeous but the carrot cake my Dad ordered was probably one of the nicest carrot cakes I’ve ever eaten!
The volunteers in the Visitor Centre were an asset to the Hall. They were so helpful and clearly very enthusiastic about Howick and all it has to offer. I am not surprised that they feel so passionate – one afternoon spent at Howick Hall Gardens & Arboretum convinced me of its value as a place of beauty, history and a fantastic destination for a family trip out.
Overall rating: ****
Pro(s): Whether you’re a tea-drinker, history buff, gardener or just in need of a good walk, Howick Hall has got you covered!
Con(s): Because the grounds and woodlands are so extensive I could imagine that it would be a fabulous place for a dog to explore and run around. However, at present dogs are not permitted at Howick.