APRIL 2003

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From 12th to 19th April 2003 I led an "Acorn" working holiday on the Gibside estate, just west of Gateshead. As Gibside doesn't have its own basecamp, we stayed in the basecamp at Wallington, about 45 minutes' drive away. This was billed as a gardening holiday; for most of the week we were doing horticultural work for Sandra Ellis, the Community and Landscape Officer for Gibside. She and her husband John, who works at Wallington, looked after us very well. Our final working day was Good Friday and Gibside was running a variety of family activities over Easter weekend, so we helped out with those for a day. Unusually, we had an all-female group for this holiday, though we weren't completely deprived of male company (as Anne in particular will confirm!) as we did work with other staff and volunteers at Gibside.

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At the basecamp
The basecamp we stayed in was the former granary at Wallington. A very comfortable basecamp, with a spacious living area and a good big kitchen. Unfortunately the heating - normally very efficient - broke down on the first night, but it was fixed within a couple of days (just as the weather got dramatically warmer) and we were able to borrow electric heaters so that we didn't freeze in the meantime. The rear windows overlooked a large courtyard and Wallington Hall, which unfortunately was closed for refurbishment.

The basecamp The Granary basecamp.
The courtyard at Wallington The courtyard at Wallington. The rear of the basecamp is in the corner, along from the clock tower.
Wallington Hall Wallington Hall, under renovation.
Dinner Dinner in the basecamp.
Whole group The whole group, together with Sandra, John and Harry. L-R: John, Katja, Anne, Ruth, Harry, Lorna (lying down), Sandra, Lynne (at back), Rebecca, Anna, Francesca, Janet.

Exploring Gibside
Gibside is a landscape garden created in the mid-18th Century by George Bowes, who made his fortune through the coal industry, and is also the former home of the Bowes-Lyon family, although the Queen Mother herself never lived there. It was only recently taken over by the National Trust - in the 1980s, I think.

The estate consists mainly of woodland walks and vistas rather than formally laid out flower gardens. At one end of the central avenue, known as the Long Walk, is the chapel, which is still used, and at the other end is the Column of Liberty. Gibside Hall is a ruin, having fallen into disrepair after being vacated in the 1940s. The orangery is also a ruin, and the stable block is derelict. The National Trust is planning to restore the stable block - to house horses, NT staff and a new volunteer basecamp - and the orangery, and to make the hall ruins safe for visitors to walk round. There is also a large walled garden, but this is currently used mainly as a car park, with nursery beds for plants at one end. There are plans to re-create a kitchen garden there but the increasing number of visitors means that alternative parking arrangements will first have to be made. Visitors to the estate come in at the western end, by the chapel and orangery; in the 18th Century they would have entered at the eastern end but unfortunately this is not possible nowadays as a golf course prevents road access at that end of the estate.

On our first day we split into small groups and had a walk around the estate before starting work. Later in the week, Harry, the NT's regional archaeologist and prime expert on Gibside, took us on a guided tour which allowed us (with obligatory hard hats) inside the stable block, hall and orangery.
Gibside Hall The ruins of Gibside Hall.
Hall entrance The entrance to the hall.
Gibside Hall Inside the ruins of the hall.
Orangery View from the hall.
Orangery The orangery.
View from orangery The view across the valley from the orangery.
Stable block The stable block. The proposed new basecamp is going to occupy the upstairs front section, with staff accommodation in a flat next door.
Inside stable block Inside the stable block. Lottery grant permitting, the NT hopes to start work on the restoration later this year.
Carriage bays Carriage bays inside the stable block.
The remains of the original 18th Century stalls in the stables - a very rare sight.
The Long Walk Looking along the Long Walk towards the Column of Liberty from the chapel.
At the chapel Katja and Francesca in the plastic overshoes we had to wear to go into the chapel.
Banqueting house Looking across the octagon pond (no plans for restoration as it's a wildlife habitat) and up to the banqueting house.

Working at Gibside
Our tasks for the week included an assortment of gardening jobs in the walled garden and the neighbouring "family garden"; scrub-bashing and planting alongside the entrance road leading to the car park; transplanting young lime trees from the nursery in the walled garden to near the octagon pond; and cutting down suckers (surplus stems) on mature lime trees in the same area. (Pictures from the events on Good Friday can be found further down the page.)
In the walled garden Francesca and Ruth taking up spring bulbs (I think) in the walled garden.
Planting Lorna planting perennials by the entrance to the car park.
Preparing the ground Rebecca, Katja and Anna preparing the ground for a cut flower bed.
Scrub bashing Clearing scrub alongside the entrance road leading to the car park. (This had to be done on the Monday, when the property was closed to the public.)
Digging up trees Digging up trees from the nursery, ready for transplanting.
Weeding beds Weeding the beds around the family garden.
Fence for removal A fence earmarked for removal, by the car park entrance and family garden.
Fence gone No more fence!
Cutting down suckers Cutting down suckers.
Breaktime Taking a break by the octagon pond.
Tiff & Tara Tiff and Tara, Property Manager Tony's dogs (featured on NT tea-towels), doing their best to get a share of our lunch.
Sunbathing at lunchtime.

Time off
Our original plan for our day off (Tuesday) was to set off early and fit in visits to Holy Island (aka Lindisfarne; visiting times dictated by the tide), Alnwick Castle (a magnificent water garden recently featured on TV, and the castle was one of the settings used for the Harry Potter films), and Cragside, our nearest NT property to the north. We managed Holy Island as planned, but ended up substituting Berwick-upon-Tweed for Alnwick because Anne had been suffering all morning with something akin to appendicitis, and we agreed that a visit to the nearest A&E was a good idea. Fortunately the eventual diagnosis was that no emergency surgery was required, and we made it to Cragside just in time to get into the house. Afterwards we met up with the working holiday that was in progress at Cragside, went for a drive around the estate, and had a very good meal at a pub in Rothbury called the Newcastle Hotel.

One evening after work, Sandra's husband John took us on a tour of the East Wood and walled garden at Wallington. On another evening a few of us walked over to the wildlife hide in the East Wood, where red squirrel sightings are virtually guaranteed.

We also went into Newcastle one evening; part of the group went straight from the worksite to visit the Baltic art gallery, and the rest of us met up with them later for a drink.
Lindisfarne Priory Lindisfarne Priory, with the castle in the distance.
Lindisfarne Castle Lindisfarne Castle.
Berwick Looking down from the town walls in Berwick-upon-Tweed, towards the minibus and the hospital (with the pyramid-shaped roof).
Cragside The main house at Cragside.
Red squirrel Red squirrel, viewed from the wildlife hide at Wallington.
Woodpecker Great spotted woodpecker, viewed from the wildlife hide.
At China Pond The group (minus Francesca & myself) with John at the China Pond. L-R: Rebecca, Katja, Anna, Lorna, John, Anne, Ruth, Janet.
Walled garden Part of the walled garden at Wallington.
Newcastle On the waterfront in Newcastle: Rebecca, Lorna, Francesca and me.
Newcastle The "wishbone" bridge in Newcastle, with the Baltic art gallery behind.

Good Friday events
As previously mentioned, on Good Friday we spent the day helping out with the special events that were on at Gibside. The main events were an Easter trail, Easter bonnet making and colouring competitions, and a mouse-house building competition. The idea of the mouse-house building was to collect twigs, moss, pine cones, etc., and use them to build a house for an imaginary mouse to live in. The weather was very good and the total number of visitors turned out to be 2009, which was more than Gibside had ever had in a single day before. The enthusiasm for mouse houses (particularly popular among dads) led to dozens of them spilling out onto the grass outside the designated marquee and along the sides of the walled garden.
Initial briefing Lydia briefing us on our jobs for the day.
Example mouse-house An example of a mouse-house.
Modelling bonnets Janet and Anne showing off their Easter bonnets.
Face painting Anne getting her face painted.
Making bonnets Decorating Easter bonnets.
Completed bonnets About half of the bonnets made during the day.
Mouse-houses Mouse-houses in the marquee.
Mouse-house This mouse-house was built by three generations of a family!.
Mouse-house This mouse-house features a pond and a hammock in the garden.
Stripping hats Stripping the decorations off the Easter bonnets so that they could be re-used the next day.
Winner One of the winners of the bonnet competition.
Winner One of the winners of the colouring competition.

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© Lynne Donaldson
This page last edited 23rd April 2003