During the brief adventure time, we had last year, I decided to take a day trip to Alton Towers. Not for the rides but for the gardens!
The inspiration hit me while I was enjoying my weekly fix of Gardeners’ World. They visited Alton Towers to see the gardens there. I remember doing the rounds myself when I was younger as my Mum was studying Horticulture at college, so we enjoyed many a garden walk while she learned her plant species and design aspects.
Just the gardens
During the first part of the lockdown, Alton Towers had opened just the gardens for visitors. When it came to our trip, the whole park was open, which meant that we would have to pay the full price for only a small piece of interest. After some twitter discussions, some kind tweeters recommended getting some Carex hand soap for the two for one discount. It would make it a more worthwhile trip and we could pop on a ride or two if we fancied.
I honestly can’t recall ever noticing the Alton Towers building when I visited as a child. I suspect the excitement of the rides and a distinct lack of interest in history had something to do with it. This visit, however, it was the first thing I saw. Passing by the brightly coloured and fanciful buildings on my way down to the lake, it hit me. Why was there such a grand old building in the middle of a theme park.
Now, I will also admit that I never questioned the name of the theme park. I just took it for granted that it was just the name. Like Camelot (if you remember it) or Gulliver’s World.
A quick google, while we drank tea at the foot of the building, revealed that the ground was originally the home of Alton Castle, but in 1801, in a state of disrepair, Charles Talbot, the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury started work on his stately home. The Towers we see now. After many years of alterations, including a Gothic tower to the rear, it ended up being sold with the land to local businessmen in 1924. The men formed Alton Towers Ltd, which was the early beginnings of what we know and love today.
It was sad to read that the decay of the building came from the Bagshaw family (major shareholders in the estate) sold off the wood and plaster interiors as well as the lead roof, which inevitably led to the remaining insides falling to the grasps of rot. This is why it stands as a shelf of its former grandeur. That’s not to say it wasn’t still a stunning building though.
After becoming incredibly lost in the mazes of rides, queues and paths, we managed to weave our way towards the gardens. It is amazing how the screams and pumping music seem to fade as you head into the plants and down into the valley. A fascinating juxtaposition of environments in a place built for thrills.
The gardens were first opened to the public in 1860 and were designed by garden architects Thomas Allason (1790-1852) and Robert Abrahams (1774-1850). The combination of their design styles is what makes the gardens so interesting today. With Dutch-inspired terraces, water features and long winding woodland paths.
I reme ber the gardens quite vividly from my visits as a child. My Mum studying horticulture meant that we spent a lot of time exploring the plants and forms of gardens. The Alton Towers gardens, being one of them. Couple that with my parents carrying and manoevering my sister’s wheelchair up and down all the steps, it left a rather indelible mark on my memory.
Up to the top of one of the hills, we found a beautiful glass house offering some steps for us to perch on for lunch.
I read that Alton Towers had received extensive funding over the past few years to renovate the glass-houses, which explained why they were in such fantastic condition. The shadows of the domed roof was lovely to see.
I really enjoyed that the design of the garden lent itself to wandering. Following each path as it took you in and following the sight of water features and buildings in the distance.
Considering how expansive it looked, it was smaller than you would think. The up and down paths help to keep you interested and moving, making it seem much bigger than it is. A very well designed garden in that sense.
Although there were some beautiful parts of the garden, there were areas that seemed forgotten and unkempt. Rough footpaths leading into unweeded beds and overgrown plants. Of course, this could have been down to staffing issues in the pandemic, but it seemed odd having been featured on Gardeners’ World. (I didn’t photograph these parts of the garden, so you can simply enjoy more of the beautiful bits)
It certainly seemed that summer was a good time to visit the Alton Towers garden as the sun through the trees and shrubs was lovely. And I really appreciated the warmth as we wandered. Saying that I believe that the gardens are open now (Spring 2021), so it would be worth a visit if you’re local, for the bulbs!
Cable Car Ride
Having wandered in the sunshine, taken a ride on the ghost train and the barrels (formerly the tea cups, if you remember them!) we opted for a gentle ride on the cable cars to see the gardens from above.
It’s funny how you remember things so differently from childhood. I thought the cable car went for miles (I also thought that Alton Towers was huge!) but the whole trip took less than ten minutes. It was a pleasant interlude and meant we could add three rides to our trip story!
As the sun started to go down, we took one last walk through the garden before making out way out for the journey home.
It really was a fun day out visting Alton Towers for the gardens. It has been so long since either of had been there that it had become new again. Especially with a switch of interest from adrenaline fuelled rides to quiet stolls through the gardens.
I am not sure that we will be rushing back to visit again any time soon, but I would recommend you take a trip if you fancy something different to do. It is interesting to know that there is more to Alton Towers than rollercoasters and water rides.