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Beautiful Bolesworth Castle, near Tattenhall, and its grounds are spectacular at any time of year. Chris Thompson was given a guided tour by the lady of the house, Diana Barbour

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Standing in Bolesworth Castle's picturesque garden surrounded by beautiful rhododendron flowers and sorbus trees, it is hard to imagine that just up the road are the busy conurbations of Chester and Liverpool.

Both are visible on a clear day from The Rock Walk above the house, but the hustle of bustle of city life could not be further away from the tranquil setting of the castle's grounds.

As I make my way up the driveway I feel as though I am in a Jane Austen novel. A lake shimmers to my left as horses gallop through lush green fields. The castle sits against a sandstone backdrop, overseeing its majestic surroundings.

A Georgian Gothic house has stood on the site, near Tattenhall, since at least the mid-18th century and was rebuilt in its current form in 1826. It is home to Diana Barbour, wife of the late Anthony Barbour who lived at Bolesworth until his death in 2007.

In the 1920s the then owner Major Robert Barbour turned to prolific country-house architect Clough Williams-Ellis, famous for Portmeirion in North Wales, to modify the house and its grounds.

He built stables, kennels, garages, a drainage system, a terrace along the west front and a racquet court. He also altered the orientation of the house's entrance from west to south, adding a Claridge's style canopy. In the gardens he built stone seats and an awe-inspiring temple containing a sculpture of Diana, the Huntress.

As Diana and I take a stroll through the grounds with her two labradors, Milo and Lettice, it immediately becomes evident just how passionate and knowledgeable the lady of the house is about her garden.


All the trees and plants are labelled with both their English and Latin names but Diana is able to name all but a few without referring to the labels.

Flowers, in particular lavender, have been used to soften the otherwise stark sandstone exterior so to match the bright opulent interiors.

'Working in the gardens has been a huge voyage of discovery for me,' she says. 'Gardens should not be allowed to stand still, they are a constant work in progress. It is a lot of hard work but also tremendous fun.'

Aside from the vivid colours the garden provides, the other thing that hits me as I wander around is the smell.
'That will be the lime tree', Diana explains. 'One of my absolute favourite times of the year is when I step outside for the first time and I get wafts of that wonderful scent.'

The Rock Walk is one of the most richly diverse areas of the grounds, containing rhododendrons, azaleas, camelias, magnolias and flowering cherries.

There are also 60 different sorbus making up the 350 different varieties of trees which Anthony planted at Bolesworth.

Trails and paths weave their way through the trees revealing a plethora of hidden secrets. Tucked away on one particular path is a cave, home to a detailed Lion and the Lamb, delightfully carved into the sandstone.

Anthony Barbour was also very passionate about the gardens and much of what can be seen today is down to him. His most important contribution was his 25-year long planting scheme including magnolias, maples and prunus.

'The year that he died the autumn colour in the garden was the most glorious it had ever been and it must have given him great satisfaction to see his planting ideas come to fruition in his own lifetime. He has left behind him a beautiful and well-planted garden,' said Diana.

The garden has been open annually for the National Gardens Scheme for 25 years, but from 2010 Diana, along with gardener Simon Taylor, will open the gardens to groups in May and October by appointment.

Generation upon generation of work has gone into developing and maintaining the Bolesworth castle and grounds and its magnificent scale and splendour is testament to everyone who has been involved, past and present.


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