An online tour for all those who are unable to see the work behind the scenes, or who have been unable to make it along to a hard hat tour. Enjoy!
Paxton’s Middleton Hall
Beginning at the footprint we are able to explore Paxton’s Middleton Hall, with all the key features of its day, a domed glass roofed spiral stair case, grand Ionian columns, piano nobile and even flushable toilets.
Its sweeping views of serpentine lakes encompassed rolling parkland leading down to the Towy valley and across to Llanelli. All carefully planned and designed in the latest picturesque style by Capability Browns protégée, Samuel Lapidge.
Carriage ways and paths formed curving circuits throughout the landscape.The history of the estate goes back to the Welsh Middleton family, signatories of the East India Company, sailors, explorers and notable spice merchants.
The History of Paxton, and his predecessors is worth reading up on, containing a healthy dose of rags to riches, plants, piracy, political skulduggery, innovation and family intrigue, with a good deal of comedy and serendipity thrown in for good measure. The later Abadams family were also involved in a fair amount of trouble making, but were altogether less interested in Gardens.
Leaving the Formal Grounds
From here we walk left through fairy woods with the haha bank to the right. This winters works will result in the mud kitchen moving off to the left with new seating and some tlc, allowing a new curving pathway to be laid below the haha. Removal of dangerous trees will reopen glimpses over the parkland as you descend down to the small bridge.
Volunteering opportunities for fairy translocation to be announced.
The Cross Road
After passing over the bridge, you will find new routes to explore.
To the right a mown path will lead across the field below The Great Glass House, offering a short walk and views up and down Llyn Mawr, this will emerge at Llyn Canol beside the bath house ruins.
Heading left leads out to the wild flower meadow, parkland trees offer shade and stepping stones across the landscape, framing views up to Paxton’s Tower. These trees are an important component of Historic parkland and wood pasture, one of the UKs most threatened habitats.
Following the sweeping curve ahead will lead you down through the dappled shade where deer, dormice and badgers are known to move between the trees. On the right a few parkland railings are all that remains of the original walk, a gurgling stream low to your left runs through a mossy gully leading to a marginal shelf in Llyn Mawr, which will offer a sheltered site for watching wildlife.
Here the path ahead leads to the horn of Llyn Mawr where a viewing mound obscures the lake whilst framing the view back up to the Hall.
Slipping off to the left, the path continues under huge beech trees, where seating will provide sweeping views across the lake and bridges. A boat house once provided for those wishing to enjoy a day messing about on water. Woodland management is improving dormouse habitat in the area, whilst opening up views and allowing the densely shaded bluebells to expand their range. The removal of fences brings the landscape reduces the sense of separation from the landscape .
The Horn Bridge and Spillway
This is the first good view of the construction of Llyn Mawr. The dam itself has been fully reconstructed using clay won on site. Archaeologists have been hard at work mapping all of the original remains with the possibility of older water management structures dating back to the 1600’s. The wooden sluice gate was felled around 1790 – within a year of Paxton purchasing the estate.
The secondary spillway on the horn is constructed using grass create, allowing it to blend into the landscape. It is designed to deal with a one in five year flood event with boulders on the banks to prevent scouring, these will be naturalised using willow truncheons cut on site.
The horn bridge is a double arched laser cut steel design painted in Parma grey, with curved handrails and hard wearing ekti timber boards. It sits atop lovingly crafted bridge abutments made using local stone. They are all wide enough to fit a small vehicle, allowing the grass to be maintained on the dam face to reservoir standards and easy wheelchair or buggy access.
Hidden below the bridge is the bottom outlet, which maintains a constant flow of water for the wooded stream below. This can be operated to drain the lake for maintenance, or to mitigate flood events in emergency situations.
From here you may travel along the dam where an expanse of dark water reflects the arching trees. A small clump of trees offer shade and a convenient picnic location, whilst the gentle breeze which is drawn down the valley provides ideal conditions for sailing, or the dabbling swans.
This route leads to the cascade and Grier Bridge, which we shall get to shortly.
The Quarry and Ornamental Spring.
Ignoring the bridge and continuing ahead leads you to another fork amongst the bluebell woods, cathedral like beech and gnarled oaks tower overhead. Glimpses of the lake below can be caught between the trees.
Both upper and lower routes lead to Llyn Felin Gat, however the lower trackway doubles back to the right, below a quarry, partially refilled with silt. A small mossy waterfall running down the quarry face now feeds the ornamental spring, complete with gargoyle which sits a little further on.
Llyn Felin Gat Approach
Approaching Llyn Felin Gat, the lake clearance and thinning has opened up the canopy of the bluebell woods, creating dappled shade in which the next generation of young trees can begin to develop. Within the lake, an island has been revealed, whilst to the rear, a historic shelf for ornamental marginal plants is visible beneath the alder.
The dense woodland to the rear of the lake has been maintained for the protected lichen Sticta sylvatica, whilst a slightly reduced water level will provide additional marginal habitat for some of our 17 dragonfly species.
Translocations in both lakes have ensured that kingcups and bladder sedge will be quick to recolonize the bank, making this the most wild of the gardens lakes.
Llyn Felin Gat
The original architectural features are being retained, the restoration works to the walls and culverts use lime mortar and carefully matched stone. The restored culverts will also act as summer bat roosts.
The main weir is constructed in stages, with 30 tonnes of reinforced concrete forming the pad and walls. This is then finished using stone to provide a curving cascade which is accessible to eels and other wildlife.
The weir itself is topped with a rustic wooden bridge, allowing visitors to stand over the flowing water – an important feature within our landscapes original design.
The chalybeate spring has been restored and recent earth works have revealed its source. The images below show an orange layer within the soil, this is caused by iron and other minerals present in the ground water, which form a seal or soil pan. It appears that the well has been sunk through this soil pan, allowing this mineral rich water to flood the base.
Moving up the far side of the lake, the path leads past what would have been the minnow bridge which gave access to a series of woodland glades; however this is not to be restored within the project. A little further on is an amphitheatre, designed to direct the noise of the cascade back up the valley for dramatic effect.
The Cascade and dam
The restored cascade has been repointed and backfilled with 3 tonnes of lime grout in order to prevent leaks, whilst the ramped concrete steps up to the dam have been removed.
From the top of the cascade it is possible to sit and view the full length of the dam, and fairy woods rising up in the distance, best viewed in its autumn colours. The long stretch of slow water is also perfect for dragonflies which can often be seen hawking along its length. This end of the dam is slightly lower and acts as a third spillway, for use in a 1 in 10,000 year flood event.
Griers bridge leads around the far side of the lake via serpentine paths. Views of the lake, Nelsons tower and the Great Glass House are perfectly timed through gaps in the trees and hills.
A old lime tree which buzzes with life during the summer months provides shade whilst new plantings help shape the gently rising path to Waun las and its parkland trees.
Rather than crossing the cascade, it will be possible to continue up either side of the narrow valley which once housed myrtle and plane trees. The restored paths make exploring far more accessible for all. Removal of ash trees and laurel will open up the valley bottom providing light and glimpses of the waterfall.
The waterfall has been repointed, backfilled with clay and mortar and pinned, stopping a number of potentially catastrophic leaks. The low walls along the top have been rebuilt with parkland railing balustrades. A small bridge across the waterfalls drop will allow the brave to explore the far side of the valley.
The waterfall pool above has been de-silted and restored, offering a reflection of Paxton’s bridge and the changing leaves. The bridge itself has been repointed and topped, with its missing middle sections restored.
Rising up from Paxton’s bridge and entering the east park reveals the Great Glass house off to the right using a design feature developed by Capability Brown known as ‘The Burst’. The new carriageways provide vehicle access for buggies or land trains, and relink the landscape to the Garden. New signage at junctions will guide visitors out into the landscape, with engraved oak seating set out for taking in the views and resting after uphill sections.
Fences within the Parkland are being realigned to give a sense of openness and a more natural flow. Tree belts are being planted as dormouse mitigation, and to frame the landscape, whilst parkland trees will be replaced in their original locations, restoring the ‘punctuation’ of the historic landscape whilst providing shade at key points.
Other Project Developments
The Middleton app – available here:
It provides a new way of exploring the Garden with events and activities listed and locatable via an interactive map.
It also holds a friendly guide to the Gardens heritage, ecology and project engineering, complete with images, puzzles and awards.
The app is still undergoing testing, but as it develops it will be possible to introduce other Garden data, such as projects, Birds of Prey or Garden explorer.
Surveys, Plans and Mapping
As a result of the project we now have an extensive set of ecological and archaeological survey data, along with a rich heritage archive. Much of this is held within standard GIS and the Middleton landscape record, and is available to the public on request.
The conservation management plan contains detailed information to inform landscape management, whilst the dormouse management plan will allow the Garden to manage the estate in a planned and licensed way.
These documents inform management on site, ensuring both heritage and ecological assets are maintained. It also allows cross referencing of ecological outcomes in order to measure long term changes within the landscape, or to identify problems where they arise.
Developing a Heritage Destination
Alongside the restoration of the historic landscape, the project is also tasked with raising the profile of heritage at the Garden, and contributing to its development as a heritage destination.
As one of the world’s youngest Botanic Gardens it is important to recognise and capture the long history which bought it to life on this estate.
Heritage is one of the UK’s most popular choices for breaks and activities, harnessing this and becoming an active player in promoting local heritage will build funds for its protection on site, our botanical collections, education and research.
New activates and interpretation are helping to broaden our customer base, with events like the Antiques Road show bringing national publicity.
The work of the Garden is only possible with the support of volunteers, and heritage is no different. To this end a network of volunteers has been built up, together with systems to manage and support them. Many of these groups are keen to continue their work with the Garden post project.
Volunteers have been able to develop skills from history to ecology and dress making to countryside management. Some volunteers have completed masters based on their work at with the Project and others have received accredited training.
To find out about volunteering with the project please email: Angharad Phillips
With so much going on its hard to keep up to date, follow us on Facebook or Twitter @RegencyRarity for regular news and events.