Showing gratitude for the area I live in doesn’t come easy. When we first moved into our house, the plan was to stay for a couple of years and then move on; unfortunately, 10 years later we’re still here. While I may struggle to show appreciation for the things on my doorstep, I find it quite easy to be thankful for the surrounding areas. With a collection of Stately Homes and an array of National Trust properties, I’m never short of a country garden or a lush green woodland to explore.
I’ve sped by the sign for Arley Hall & Gardens many times over the years, each time thinking I must make the effort to visit, and last year I finally did. Owned by Lord and Lady Ashbrook, Arley Hall is a delightful stately home in the Cheshire countryside; renowned for being a premier wedding venue and having some stunning gardens, Arley Hall has been in their family since the fifteenth century.
When we first moved into our house, one of my favourite past-times was gardening; I could spend hours digging away and planting, lost in the zone amidst a sea of green. But as the years passed by and the garden began to look complete, our visits to garden centres became less frequent. So when I turned up at Arley Hall to find a small nursery just off the car park, I was in my element; and even though some of the flowers were in the process of dying, I still found beauty in what was left. I didn’t buy anything; I just wandered up and down each aisle, watching the vibrant petals dance before me in the morning breeze and somehow, that was enough.
After my garden centre fix we made our way over to the main entrance, where, set up in the main courtyard, we stumbled across a film crew. I occasionally shoot stills for short films and theatre, so it’s difficult not to be intrigued in these situations; wondering what they’re filming and how long it will be until it’s released. As we handed over our entrance fee, we were informed they were shooting some kind of reality TV show, otherwise known as car crash TV; I never did figure out what it was, shows like that don’t interest me. I was more bothered about grabbing a sneaky look at the jib while the crew were on their lunch.
After a quick brew and some hot food in the restaurant, we headed back out into the cold, where I found myself drawn into the magic of the Fairy Glen. I’ve been fascinated by fairies ever since I was a child, from the very first moment my dad told me you could hear them whispering in the bluebells when the wind blew. He probably can’t even remember. But whenever we passed by bluebells, he would get me to crouch down low and listen hard in the summer breeze as the wind whistled through them. Convinced I could actually hear them; I would sit in wide-eyed wonder as I listened to the tiny creatures whispering to one another. Inside, though, I would secretly be filled with terror in case I actually saw one.
In the Fairy Glen, the smaller fairies were hidden out of sight, but the wicker fairies were out in full force for all to see. Greeted by an elegant fairy; arms outstretched, she was dancing in the morning drizzle, welcoming us in with open arms, welcoming us deep into the Fairy Glen.
Tiny ladders, miniature toadstools and small wooden furniture adorned the branches of the trees, with an occasional fairy sized door so they could come and go as they pleased. If I’d have seen this small fairy village when I was younger, I would have been in awe, yet petrified at the same time; the romanticised notion that fairies existed was something that filled my heart with wonder, but part of that wonder was the mystery – a bit like believing in Father Christmas.
From the Fairy Glen we meandered around in a haphazard fashion; passing by thick green foliage and exploring a multitude of earthy woodland paths, from wicker animals and small wooden carvings to wire sculptures and iron seating, there was a new discovery behind every tree. And although this treasure hunt was probably more appropriate for children rather than adults, I was certainly happy with the photo opportunities it provided.
Wandering along pathways, unsure of our destination, we always seemed to be met with a spectrum of floral eye candy shimmering in the cool September breeze; and with water features bountifully flowing and a gazebo amongst a wild flowery haven, it was easy to see why so many people want to say I do here.
And when the afternoon sky turned an ominous shade of grey, we retraced our footsteps through footpaths, foliage and wicker animals galore.
Back at the nursery, where the day had begun a few hours earlier, we did one last sweep before heading back to the car. Driving the 30 minutes back home, I realised I’d just found another gem in the surrounding area in which to while away a few hours, I just don’t know why it took me so long to visit.