Autumnal colour at Sheffield Park Gardens

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autumn foliage

the change begins

Just as the autumn is upon us, the trees are starting to change colour and Sheffield Park Gardens – a National Trust property in East Sussex- is renowned for a beautiful display each year. I visited it mid-September and already the trees were turning. I can imagine that, in a week or two, the array of colours awaiting visitors, I am jealous I will not be able to see it.
For six weeks from October to the middle of November is the time to check out the autumnal colour. It should still be around for half term so a visit to this and the nearby Bluebill Railway would be an ideal day out for the kids. The main display comes from the Acers (maple trees) and our native species such as the oaks and beeches interspersed with evergreens and rhododendrons (which themselves produce a fantastic flower display around May). You can ring the gardens to get an up-to-date view on what the foliage is like before you visit.
The gardens – designed by Capability Brown – consist of 120 acres – with 20 acres taken up by 4 large ponds.
Jules and the giant redwood

a giant redwood

There are many paths around the lakes and throughout the gardens which takes you past some fantastic and huge trees, for example, the giant redwoods and the wide variety of confers with their many different shapes of cone. Also look out for the pollarded (trees where the branches have been cut back to the trunk) sweet chestnut trees.
Like last year, this year’s crop has not been heavy (as with the nuts of many trees) due to our weather patterns so they’re won’t be that many for the children to collect. Let them have a feel of the different textures of the trunks instead. Some are hard and gnarly such as the sweet chestnut and oak while others like the giant redwoods have spongy bark. Did you know that the redwoods have to be burnt before they can germinate?
The top two lakes are linked by a stunning waterfall cascade, which is only switched on Tuesday, and Friday between noon and 1pm. If you can manage your visit to those days it will be well worth it. The lakes are connected by smaller but nice waterfalls and by bridges and partially covered in white and red lilies which come out as the sun shines. A pond wouldn’t be right without ducks and they swim over to you if they think that you have food. Incidentally, special duck food is available for a donation at the entrance. If there is no food available it is because the ducks are on a diet so, yes, it happens to non-humans too!
Sheffield Park and Garden

the Top Pond


As we walked in the gardens we were accompanied by bird songs including the old faithful Robin and we were also fortunate to see a nuthatch very close by. There were a small number of butterflies out but it’s getting towards the end of their season before hibernating. Some areas of rough grassland still had some wild flower including scabious, tormentil and marsh thistle.
The trust provides motorised scooters and rough terrain buggies for those not able to walk far and thus allowing access to many more people. These do need to be booked in advance but donations are welcomed. There are many benches throughout the gardens and one of the useful and attractive features of them is that some even have their own information sheets about nearby features and plants. There is also a roving drinks van within the garden ground, for that much needed caffeine boast if you have walked your legs off!
The whole property consists of 265 acres of park land which includes the new Woodland Play Trail, guarded by the Green Man, which enables families to explore and play within the woodland. There are climbing poles to traverse, balance beams to wobble on, bouncy seats to, well, bounce on, wigwams to play in and all sorts of imaginative play to be had within this area (and I am not just talking about children here). I fell off the balance beams, the climbing poles (my excuses is that the foot holes were for children size feet, and I’m sticking with that story), bounced on the bouncy seat (a fallen tree branch) and sat in a wigwam. Fun times and I had no children with me!
cascade

the cascade


The Park is open from dawn to dusk, all year around and is free to access. It offers a number of way-marked walks or you can just a wander around. Dogs are welcome in the park but be aware of livestock and wildlife. We were lucky enough to see a fox in one of the thickets but there are also deer about so keep your eyes peeled. They also have a designated Wildlife Haven near the river Ouse which dogs are not allowed in.
If you missed the roving drinks van, there is the Coach House Tearooms which serves locally sourced produce and seasonal dishes made on the premises. They have a good selection and very tasty cakes (including gluten free ones!). Chatting over a cuppa, a couple -Val and Mel – said they regularly went to National Trust properties and Sheffield Park was one of the best landscape gardens. What appealed to them in particular were the different types of trees, the lakes and the cascade all of which provided them with an interesting walk and which changed on every visit.
Various events are put on throughout the year including a talk on Sports and Scandal at Sheffield Park on 16th November by a well-known cricket historian Roger Packman and friends. Booking is essential for this as it proves very popular. And in December there is a Christmas trail around the gardens.
But you don’t need to wait for a special event to make a visit. Every day is a special one here.
For further information check out their website at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sheffield-park-and-garden/

images © Jules Hill

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