It is often said that first impressions are everything, and if that’s the case, then Crook Hall and Gardens will dazzle. The entrance alone boasts arches embellished with rambling roses, a miniature maze and a flourishing wildflower meadow which was part of a 40th birthday gift for owner Maggie from husband Keith. Combining Medieval, Jacobean and Georgian features, Crook Hall has been home to the Bell family for over 17 years. During this time, they have worked with gardeners John and Roger to sympathetically develop this beautiful spot, adding to the good work of previous owners the Hawgoods and Cassels. Though the Hall is magnificent, the series of six gardens, each more beautiful than the last, are the stars of the show. The formal Walled Garden, for example, dates from the 1700s and is filled with densely planted roses, tree lupins and various perennials such as the Stag’s-horn sumach trees which provide year round interest and add height to the garden. The borders bloom with owner Maggie’s favourite flower: ornamental poppies the size of tea cups in early summer, while September brings striking blue globes of echinops that crop up amongst the luscious green foliage.
Visitors are given a guide to the gardens upon arriving, but as Maggie explains, everyone is left to explore and enjoy them at their own leisure. You could easily spend a day here taking afternoon tea under the pergola, or admiring the view from behind the pages of a good book. Despite only having two part time gardeners, Crook Hall’s gardens are extremely well kept and no two are the same. It is difficult to choose a favourite, but the romance and story behind the Silver and White Garden is a worthy candidate. Designed by former owners Dr and Mrs Hawgood to mark their 25th wedding anniversary, hundreds of flowers such as snowdrops, white cyclamen, primula, roses and pansies complete the theme. The old-fashioned vegetable patch is certainly another favourite. The row of watering cans which hangs along the side of the old wooden shed and neat patches of courgettes, onions, strawberry spinach and celery parsley are delightfully reminiscent of Mr McGregor’s garden.
The longer you spend here, the more difficult it becomes to believe you’re in the city. The only clue to your whereabouts is the view from the Cathedral Garden, a recent addition which overlooks Durham. The gardens at Crook take on a fairytale atmosphere the deeper you delve. Hidden from view between flower-lined paths and underneath rich green canopies are tables for two, three and four, all laid out for cream tea. As if springing out of nowhere, more tables appear to be dotted across the gardens, yet they somehow feel as much a part of the landscape as the trees and flowers do. The kitchen makes excellent use of what is grown here: freshly-picked strawberries top homemade scones, while dainty sandwiches are filled with lettuce, tomato and cucumber grown on site. Accessed by a wrought iron gate via the Shakespeare Garden, the Orchard is another of Crook Hall’s surprises. Consisting of a narrow path that extends through an avenue of two hundred year -old apple trees, visitors are invite to come with their baskets and buckets at the end of the season and make use of the abundance of fresh fruit that has fallen from the trees here.
It’s little wonder the gardens are a popular wedding venue during the summer season, but they are equally beautiful in autumn, when the leaves turn a burnished gold and deep red, or during winter when the gardens’ giant Christmas tree twinkles above a blanket of snow and the glistening branches swap their colour for an armour of frost. Open until the 24th September for the summer season, and from the 1st October for winter, a visit to Crook Hall is highly recommended whatever time of year.