The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening tours by J.C. Loudon 1831-1842
Chapter: Middlesex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Wilshire, Dorsetshire, Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent in the Summer of 1832

Highclere Estate

Previous - Next

Highclere, the Earl of Caernarvon. - Aug. 14. Whoever has noticed our remarks on the subject of situation, called forth by Bear Wood (IX. 679.), and by Caversham Park (X. 1.), will readily conceive that we were delighted with the natural features of Highclere. Perhaps, taking the latter altogether, we may venture to call it one of the finest places, as far as ground and wood are concerned, that we have ever beheld. "Highclere is situated just at the point where the chalk downs (extending northwards, from the village of Kingsworthy on the south of Winchester, to Highclere, a distance of above twenty miles) are suddenly interrupted; their northern escarpment forming two remarkably bold hills, which are the distinguishing features of the place, and conspicuous landmarks to the surrounding country. One of these, called Sidon Hill, is very beautifully wooded: it constitutes the southern extremity of the park at Highclere; and, commencing about half a mile to the south of the mansion, it rises about 400 ft. above the valley which lies below it, and 948 ft. above the level of the sea. The other, called Beacon Hill, is an outlier to the chalk, and is exactly 900 ft. above the level of the sea: it is entirely devoid of wood, and its remarkably square and obtuse outline, and abrupt termination, together with its smooth surface, form a striking contrast to the rich woods of Sidon Hill. These hills are separated, by a valley of moderate depth, from the plateau of chalk on which the mansion stands. The chalk terminates about a quarter of a mile from the house; and the remainder of the park, and the adjacent woods, extending between two and three miles to the north, are entirely upon diluvial clay, gravel, and sand, in endless interchange. There are two large pieces of water: one of these, called Milford, covers between twenty and thirty acres of ground; it is nearly surrounded with natural wood, in part of which, on a steep slope, are some very large beech trees. The other lake is called Dursmere, and, though not so much varied in its contour as Milford, is yet surrounded by beautiful scenery." In proceeding from Newbury to Highclere, the road passes through a richly cultivated country, having in some places a parklike character. In one part, the effect of the trees and turf, on both sides of the road, lead the traveller to believe that he is passing through a park. Advancing a little, we come to a mansion intended for Gothic; and we cannot help feeling regret that a builder of so little taste should have been at work in such a scene. The road continues in rather a grand style for a cross country road, passing a curious corner clump of larch trees, which, we were informed, constitute the remains of a nursery, and which are now 50 ft. high: these trees, small and naked in the stem, look like a gigantic crop of oats, rather than larches; and present a striking example of how much the character of a tree may be changed by the circumstances in which it is grown. Shortly beyond these larches, and apparently forming the termination of a straight line of the road, appears the archway, which is the main entrance into the park of Highclere. The general effect is exceedingly good; but the architectural details are objectionable, pilasters being used, not at the angles as supports, but in the middle of the wall as ornaments. After passing the arch, we find that the first part of the approach road leads through a thick wood of oaks, hollies, and beeches; as we advance, the eye penetrates to a deep and wild glen on the right; shortly after, the scenery opens to the day, and a sequestered glade, of three or four acres, surrounded by wood, appears to the left: advancing onwards, the wood thickens, and gradually approaches close to the road on the left, while the scenery opens to the right; and, the road making a gentle turn, the upper part of a circular temple, surrounded by a colonnade, and surmounted by a dome, appears on a knoll at a short distance across a woody vale. The road advancing among park scenery, in which exotic trees, such as hoary-leaved limes, cedars, &c, begin to be introduced, we see the same temple crowning the summit of a bold promontory, to which we gradually ascend. The effect of this temple is exceedingly good, not only from the approach, but from every other part of the grounds. Its architecture is faulty, inasmuch as its colonnade is interrupted, and the wall which supports its dome is not shown above the entablature; but these faults are lost in the feeling of gratification experienced on observing such an object placed in so fitting a situation. Pausing at this temple, and looking from it to the lower grounds, we observe a large sheet of water losing itself, in three directions, among well-tufted woods. The stranger may now be considered as initiated in the charms of the place, and he advances forwards, expecting the continuation of what he has hitherto experienced, new beauties at every step. Nor is he disappointed: for, on the one hand, Milford Water, and varied views of rich distant scenery, supply the most ennobling landscapes; while, on the other, the two striking hills which form the boundary of the park are leading features.