Belton Pleasure Grounds Walk
Pleasure grounds were very popular in the mid- to late 18th century as ‘naturalised’ extensions to more formal gardens. They brought walkers closer to nature, at one with their senses. Natural sounds, movement and light were all features of the woodland paths as they meandered past unusual trees, water features and buildings.
Beyond the splendour of its formal gardens and avenues, Belton’s pleasure grounds feature more relaxed informal woodland planting, with a network of paths offering glimpses of Bellmount Tower, the deer park, Fishing Lodge, a cascade, two ornamental ponds and a wealth of wildlife.
Belton House, Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG32 2LS
Make your way from the visitor reception building to the front of the mansion. Follow signs to the garden entrance, taking the path down the side of the mansion into the gardens.
The former home of the Brownlow family until 1984, Belton House is often cited as being the perfect example of an English country-house estate. The 17th century Carolean treasure house contains fine collections of porcelain, silver, paintings and books.
At the wooden shelter turn right along the gravelled statue walk. Follow the path, with the maze on your left, until you reach an over-sized garden seat at the end. If you step to the right of the seat onto the lawn, you'll get a wonderful view of the mansion in one direction and Bellmount Tower in the other.
Parkland and Bellmount Tower
It might look natural, but the park is in fact a designed landscape. Between 1742 and 1751 Viscount Tyrconnel commissioned William Emes to redesign the parkland. He incorporated the existing ancient woodland and areas of pasture into his design, adding new planting, vistas and ponds. The stature of the tower, built between 1749 and 1751, is enhanced by its elevated position on top of the ridge which also exaggerates the apparent length and scale of the East Avenue when viewed from the house. Originally constructed with two additional lower arches, it was reduced in size by the 1st Earl Brownlow. The tower was a popular destination for walks and elevated views of the park and surrounding countryside.
Move on from the seat further into the garden following the signs directing you to the lakes. This section changes seasonally with autumn leaf colour and spring bulbs particular highlights. As you pass through the railings, take the right hand path that runs parallel to the railings. When you get to a fork in the path head left.
Continue along the path, over a dry ditch and through the yew, larch, beech and cherry trees. Cross the small stream and follow the slope up to the water’s edge. A bench seat provides a welcome opportunity to rest and enjoy the view.
Boathouse Pond and the magnificent 19th century Fishing Lodge were used by the Brownlow family for private picnics and fishing parties. The bankside vegetation includes water mint, yellow flag iris, and mature multi-stemmed alder. A diverse range of waterfowl can be seen on the water at different times of the year, including mute swan, Canada and greylag geese, great crested grebe, shoveller, coot and mallard duck. The island would originally have been less overgrown and included ornamental shrubs. It’s likely that boats would have landed there for picnics and bird watching.
The route will return to the fishing lodge for a closer look later. Moving on, with the pond on your left, you’ll quickly reach a wooden footbridge. Down to the right there's a cascade and rockery garden, sheltered by mature lime and oak which formed the original approach to the pond.
Archaeological investigations in 2009, which included a geophysical survey, revealed a series of terraces beneath the cascade dating back to the 1820s. This information together with old photographs and the wider setting of the Fishing Lodge, suggest that its original design was reminiscent of an alpine ravine. The cascade only runs for a limited time in the spring when water levels in the pond are sufficient.
Cross the wooden bridge and follow the path through the iron kissing gate. To the right you’ll catch views of Bellmount Tower in the distance. You might also get a glimpse of Belton’s fallow deer grazing in the parkland.
Belton’s herd of around 450 fallow deer are direct descendants of the wild herd first enclosed by Sir John Brownlow in 1690. They have large, flat antlers and four colour variations, menil (pale), melanistic or black, common (tan or fawn with white spots) and white. The herd is still wild, as it receives no additional feed and relies on a rich, natural diet of grass, acorns, chestnuts and beech masts.
Beyond the gate the path heads away from the parkland, through a mixed woodland of holly, horse chestnut, yew and oak. You’ll catch glimpses of Boathouse Pond and its island. There's a bench seat to your right overlooking the pond. Follow the path that heads left.
This plantation, between the two ponds, includes mature conifers, yew, holly and shrubs dominated by rhododendron. It's home to numerous woodland birds including nuthatch and woodcock. The contrast between the dark shade of the yew grove and the bright reflections glancing off the ponds would have been a feature of this area. It was fashionable in the mid-19th century to seek solace and time for reflection and meditation in the outdoors. The 1st Earl Brownlow would have been keen to create this opportunity and a sense of melancholy in his own pleasure grounds.
Continue through the trees until you reach a more defined path over a small stream. Head right through the yew grove and rhododendron which flower in May, up a slight incline to the dam of the second pond, Tar Lane Pond. Continue across the dam and around the pond in an anti-clockwise direction.
Tar Lane Pond
Originally more precise in size and shape, the pond was re-worked and ‘naturalised’ by Emes in the mid-18th century. It is fed with water from higher ground on the estate, which in turn feeds Boathouse Pond. A sluice gate controls the flow of water beyond this point, which from time to time would have topped up the mirror pond in the formal gardens. Tar Lane Pond has more aquatic plants than Boathouse Pond, including large rafts of stunning water lily in summer, brooklime and bulrushes. Tadpoles are in abundance in the spring and can easily be seen from the water’s edge. Quieter than the other pond, it attracts a more diverse range of waterfowl including egret, tufted duck, kingfisher and little grebe. Records from the military hospital in Belton Park during World War I show that patients had access to the pond as part of their rehabilitation. They would have appreciated the contrast from busy camp life and the opportunity to be in close contact with the sounds and smells of the woodland, its dappled light, birdsong and wild flowers.
You'll eventually return to the dam. Keep right and follow the woodland edge and rhododendron back towards Boathouse Pond, catching glimpses of the island and Fishing Lodge. The path would have originally been framed with neatly clipped box hedging. The fields to your right are let to local farmers who graze them with native breeds of sheep – Lincoln Longwool and Poll Dorset. Go through the iron kissing gate and you're back in the idyllic setting of Salvin’s Fishing Lodge.
Designed by Anthony Salvin in 1821 in the Swiss chalet style, this was the centrepiece of the pleasure grounds. Restoration works, for which an appeal was launched, were completed in 2008. Note the unusual fish scale shaped tiles on the roof, the leaded windows and the basket weave ‘pargetting’ or plasterwork on its walls. Used by the Brownlow family for private picnics and fishing parties, there is a hearth for an open fire. A boathouse was also built on the dam next to the Fishing Lodge. It was a simple design with timber sides and a pitched roof for launching and landing boats for fishing, bird watching or carrying people across to the island. Its stone steps can still be seen just in front of the bench.
Returning to the path, follow it to the right of the wooden fence and along the woodland edge. Go back through the railings taking the right hand path until you reach an ornamental gate overlooking fields. Follow the path down towards the centre of the garden until you reach a central crossing point of paths. You can choose the direction in which you wish to proceed, to the Italian and Dutch gardens and orangery or back the way you came originally towards the cafe, shop and car park.
Belton House, Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG32 2LS
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