Gibside parkland walk
Walk the ‘grand design’ of an 18th-century coal baron and see the rise and fall of the remarkable Gibside estate.
Explore the stunning landscape garden and elegant buildings
Enjoy a wide panorama across the Derwent Valley from Gibside's Orangery, see the ruins of Gibside Hall and explore Gibside's Palladian chapel, designed by renowned architect James Paine.
Gibside car park, grid ref: NZ172583
Set off from visitor reception, making your way up to the portico of Gibsides Palladian chapel for a great view of the garden design. The Column of Liberty lies a mile (1.6km) ahead. Walk towards it along the oak-lined avenue. To your right lie fields that have been restored to hay meadows, interspersed with parkland trees. Keep an eye out for jays among the oak trees here.
Gibside's Palladian chapel was designed by renowned North East architect, James Paine, as a mausoleum to show off George Bowes' wealth and status. George actually died a year after building work started in 1760. Can you spot the great iron doors to the crypt at the rear of the building where his body remains?
Once you reach the end of the Avenue, with the ruins of Gibside Hall on your left, turn right uphill and onto a yew-lined track. Keep to the left at a fork in the road. You see the grand facade of Gibsides stable block on your right (pop in for play, history and wildlife rooms, plus refreshments).
Though George Bowes made his money from owning coal mines at the start of the Industrial Revolution, as a young man he had been a cavalry officer in the army. He retained a life-long love of horses and horse racing, shown in the prestigious stables he built at Gibside.
Follow this track as it skirts around the high bank of the Octagon Pond (worth a little detour!) and starts a gentle climb. Carry on into Snipes Dene, leaving the formal inner pleasure grounds and moving to more wooded outer pleasure grounds.
Continue on this wide stone track as it eventually bends left with the wide valley of Snipes Dene to your left and Gibside's boundary to your right. At the point where the Skyline Walk is sign-posted uphill you may notice the earth embankments of early wagonways used to transport coal from nearby hills down to the Tyne.
Snipes Dene is a good spot to understand the scale of woodland restoration at Gibside. We're replacing dense 20th-century conifer plantations with native trees such as oak, ash and rowan. In the 18th century this area was described as 'like a Scottish glen', it may take many more years for the broadleaf woodland and heather carpet to regenerate, but that's what this area will begin to return to...
After beginning to head downhill for ½ mile (800m), take the narrow track to your left and descend towards the stream in Snipes Dene. At a junction in this path, turn right. This is one of the most remote and tranquil areas of the estate, the steep-sided slopes are a common spot to catch a glimpse of roe deer.
Continue until you reach the river Derwent. You may see otters feeding or playing on the banks by the pools and wetlands. Follow the path as it turns left and opens out on to a wider forestry track again. Turn off right downhill towards the river again. As you emerge from the woodland, you'll find Lady Haugh field to your left (haugh is a local term for a floodplain).
Follow the riverside path and after about 330yd (300m) you'll come to the biggest oak tree at Gibside. Turn left here and walk up a couple of steps, crossing Lady Haugh field to the left-hand side of the now ruined Hall. Climb up the steps beside the Halls service wing, a great place for viewing Gibside's red kites circling at eye level.
Gibside Hall was built in the 17th century, before the Bowes family came to Gibside. George added a huge kitchen wing to cater for the family's extravagant parties. In the Victorian era however, the family lived here less and less until they moved out completely. The Home Guard used the Hall for target practice during WW2; in the 1950s, the roof and windows were removed to reduce tax bills. The National Trust has invested in stabilising the ruin we've inherited and we're raising money to ensure it gets no worse.
Emerge at the top of the Avenue and halfway back to the Chapel, take a path to your right towards the atmospheric ruins of the Orangery (now glassless but still spectacular). Carry on through the newly restored Victorian Shrubbery back to the Avenue and the exit.
George Bowes's only child Mary Eleanor was a remarkable character. On his death she became the most wealthy young heiress in Europe. The story of her bittersweet marriages, especially that to her brutal second husband 'Stony' Bowes, are told in a popular biography, Wedlock. She built Gibside's Orangery to house her passion for collecting plants from across the globe. Her other biggest legacy is being the great, great, great, great, great grandmother of our present Queen!
Gibside car park, grid ref: NZ172583
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