The Princess and the Rockstars
Ashridge gardens are a magical place of growing stones, honey and an acorn from a princes.
A landscape of contrasts
Every time I visit Ashridge, I am inspired by the many stories that are there for the taking: religious relics, sunken lanes, ghostly monks, decaying masonry and animal trails through the wild and the managed terrain. Too many stories from within the glorious 5,000 acres of Chilterns woodland to tell here, so will confine myself to three: rockstars, growing stones and Majesty.
Now a management school, Ashridge House and Gardens are a popular film location and wedding venue. There is also a new hub of heritage dining, cocktails, coffee and cake. Despite this ongoing reinvention, this former medieval monastery and royal residence cast a long shadow as you walk around the grounds.
The gardens are from a time when bulldozing an entire landscape to create a dream garden was absolutely fine! They extend over an impressive 190 acres in amongst an undulating, typical Chilterns landscape.
This work was made possible by the rockstars of their day, two of the most famous 18th century landscape designers and architects: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown designed the northern and eastern part of the gardens including the beautiful Golden Valley, whilst the gardens to the south were originally designed by Humphry Repton. Their work can still be experienced in many of the great estates across England.
The county line between Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire runs right through the garden, and is now marked by an enigmatic puddingstone.
This symbol of Hertfordshire lies tumbled about the entrance to the grotto and souterrein tunnel that have been constructed using this very hard conglomerate. The estate has the largest collection of puddingstone’s, possibility the largest supply in the world! How and when they are formed is a mystery, but Hertfordshire folk have never been in doubt ̶ it grows, and then gives birth to new stones. This is because stones appear out of the ground, known as ‘Growing Stone’ and ‘Breeding Stone’.
The highlight though has to be the magnificent oak, dominating the lawn, its massive trunk and spreading limbs making a royal statement. I was immediately drawn to it as it reminded me of an oak tree in my garden when I was a child. I walked around it. I stood and stared. Prevalent in the local forest, this oak is not here by accident. Nothing is in this garden is. It was planted in 1823 by a young Princess Victoria to commemorate her visit to Ashridge. How will it be commemorated in it’s 200th year?
Ashridge is a compelling story, made up of the majestic and the mundane. I just know I am going to go on following those threads and tales to see what else they reveal.
I took an acorn home for my son.
Links you will need
Read my longer blog about the beautiful Ashridge Gardens in the autumn when I had a tour with the head gardener. Ashridge house and gardens tours can be found here.
The new Acres restaurant has a menu full of Ashridge-inspired seasonal food, including venison, honey, fruit and vegetables. I will be dropping into the Bakehouse for coffee and cake on my regular walks in the forest.
Holy relics were once big business and I am astonished at how many found their way into the Chilterns that resulted in prestigious buildings, churches, woodland and more humble structures being built. Ashridge is the most prestigious amongst them.
Enjoy another favourite walk of mine and visit the nearby Amaravati Buddhist monastery. To sit quietly in the gardens or even visit the temple for peaceful reflection.
Two local food & drink rockstars that are worth your time: Book a table for lunch at the popular Alford Arms in nearby tiny hamlet of Frithsden. And visit the first gin distillery in Hertfordshire, named after the iconic stone, can be found five minutes from Tring. Puddingstone Distillery tours and tastings.
Thank you for reading Micro Travels with Mary. Subscribe for weekly inspiration and news.