Now, to say that I was not looking forward to this visit would be something of an understatement. I had been to the fabled Garden once before, a year or two after it opened, at the behest of a visiting ex-girlfriend, expecting great things given everything that I had read about it in the cheer-leading local media, the huge sums invested in the project and the fact that Alnwick had been brought to a standstill for the best part of a year while a new water main to supply it was laid smack down the middle of the main road into the town from the A1.
To say that it took my breath away would be an overstatement, since I distinctly remember that I was still capable of uttering “Is that it?” as I surveyed this remarkably small (all things considered) walled garden, dominated by a large cascade encased in painfully raw ersatz stone (very short of real stone, obviously, Northumberland; I expect it all got used up building the castles, houses, walls and so forth). The cascade did clever stuff shooting jets of water into the air from time to time, but I could not begin to understand how even a duchess could have spent so many millions constructing it, and ended up with something considerably less impressive than the rival ducal cascade at Chatsworth. Our hosts today, who may have known what they were talking about, said that the cost of the project had been vastly inflated by the inevitable Elfin Safety experts insisting on the installation of expensive filtration equipment to prevent the risk of the cascade harbouring and spreading Legionnaires’ Disease.
Has there been a single recorded instance of anyone catching Legionnaires’ Disease from a garden water feature? No? Then that just goes to show how effective all the Elfin Safety precautions have been, doesn’t it? Like that classic exchange with the lunatic on the train to Alnmouth who was pointing a gun out of the window.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?”
“But there aren’t any elephants in Northumberland.”
“I know. Effective, aren’t I?”
Today we kicked off with a visit to the Treehouse and its surrounding rope walkways, which had not been there when I last visited and are huge fun to push a buggy across in the company of a nervous wife. I wonder if they still bring one of those tame Victorian “cake walk” rides to the Hoppings on the Town Moor? If so, I must be sure to take Mrs H for a little treat.