Ormesby Hall – a tranquil oasis at the heart of Teesside

PUBLISHED: 08:33 13 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:49 20 February 2013

Flame Creeper in the yew hedge

Flame Creeper in the yew hedge

The garden at Ormesby Hall near Middlesbrough is a bit of a surprise - a lush rural idyll on the edge of the industrial heartland

As the crow flies, Middlesbrough is only four miles away. But standing on the gravelled driveway in front of Ormesby Hall overlooking the lush parkland grazed by sheep and horses, youd never know that just beyond the leaf laden trees lies the industrial heartland of Teesside.
The National Trust, which took over the care of Ormesby Hall nearly half a century ago, justifiably likes to describe the 250-acre estate with its formal garden, parkland, woods and tenant farm, as a tranquil oasis in the heart of urban Teesside.
The sounds of urban life miraculously melt away as you make your way into the estate, the hum of nose-to-tail traffic being instead replaced by the more palatable sound of bird song.
Its not until you walk between the two stately Lombardy poplars that guard the Black Gate at the official entrance to the gardens from the parkland and make your way through a small curving glade of mixed oak, ash and beech trees, that the petite Georgian house finally comes into view.
Gardener Adam Cracknell believes it was a deliberate statement. The Pennyman family that lived on the Ormesby estate for nearly 400 years, were neither fabulously wealthy nor ostentatious.
Viewed from the front, the hall with its three storeys, five bays and unassuming portico, looks like a dolls house. You almost feel you could reach out, swing open the front and peek in.
Its very simplistic, Adam says. But it was deliberately designed so there wouldnt be anything that would distract from that first vision of the hall. The curved sweep of the drive deliberately draws your eye to the building.
Its like a door opening up on a secret world. One minute you think theres nothing there and the next, theres the house. Its a wonderful surprise.
The next revelation is the formal garden. If the mansion is like a dolls house, the garden is like something out of a childrens book. And the adventure starts at the arched gateway on the west side of the house.
A small buff coloured door held in place by two gate piers topped with sundial ball finials, opens onto a magical world; a picture perfect garden of close cropped lawns, rosebeds, tall hedges, artfully planted trees, hidden seats and shady paths.
As National Trust gardens go, Ormesby is relatively small, only around six acres in size with around half given over to the formal part.
To the right of the upper rosebeds is a large sunken lawn where from the 1870s onwards the Pennymans played tennis. Overlooking the old tennis court is a secret summerhouse hidden by large clipped holly and yew hedges and a magnificent mauve-white clematis.
A green painted bench offers a welcome resting place away from prying eyes - and a wonderful view of a glorious and grand copper beech growing in the West Garden behind the tennis lawn. The splendid beech with its purply leaves is thought to be at least 200-years-old.
With huge boughs trailing almost to the ground, it forms a beautiful canopy through which the summer sun falls in dappled pools.
There are myriad other trees planted in this area: walnut, flowering Japanese cherry, large leafed lime, silver birch, Scots pine and cedar. Along the edge of the West Garden wilderness areas have been left, and are a magnet for insects and bumble bees.
On a warm summers day the Holly Walk - which blurs the borders between the formal garden and parkland - offers some much needed shade. In the spring the woodland floor is carpeted with snowdrops, periwinkles, aconites and blue bells. In August its the lush evergreen shrubs, holly, birds, squirrels and other wild creatures - mostly heard but very rarely seen - that attract the eye and ear.
The walk emerges into the sunlight again by the croquet lawn - Adams pride and joy. It is the one I always make sure I do the regular cutting for, he explains. Originally from South Shields, the 25-year-old has been at Ormesby for four years.
He lives in a house on the estate, and admits he thinks of the garden as his own. It is the Trusts, but the amount of work I have put in I feel as if it is mine. I think anybody who does a job like this wants to take pride in it.
He is the first to acknowledge the spectacle wouldnt be anywhere near as pleasing on the eye if it wasnt for the many volunteers who regularly turn out to help him, whatever the weather or time of year.
From the croquet lawn its a short stroll to the lower rosebeds in front of the main house. Planted with vivid magenta standard rose LD Braithwaite in a popular formal Victorian style, this area mirrors the square symmetry architecture of the house.
The roses have an old fashioned, musky scent with the blooms becoming more fragrant the older they get.
The garden then leads on to the terrace, once the site of two conservatories constructed in 1858 and 1884, which together covered the whole of the west wall of the Old Wing. The last of these was demolished in 1965, and now the area has been converted into a tea terrace with tables and chairs where on lazy summer afternoons you can indulge in scones and cream, Victoria sponge cake and ice creams.
The terrace is a sun trap humming with bees and other insects and shrouded in the heady scent of lavender flowers. Here you can sit and admire the lower end of the garden and the honeysuckle, clematis and wisteria that cloaks the south wall of the hall.
Ormesby Halls garden is modest but manageable. It is also an intensely personal place. And unlike many country house gardens, it is not rigid in its design or planting.
Adam and his team of volunteers have researched and restored the garden to reflect the taste of the Pennymans, the last owners of Ormesby Hall in the
20th century.
This is not a showy place. It is very relaxing. You dont have to go around it in a certain way and its a garden you can explore and immerse yourself in with remarkable ease.
I feel very privileged to be able to put my own stamp on it by managing the garden organically.
Through the arched gate, the swallows are swooping low over the field the other side of the ha-ha.
The sheep are still grazing quietly and the horses - which all belong to the Cleveland Mounted Police which has its headquarters in the stable block near the main house - are lazily flicking away flies with their tails.
It could be a scene from 200 years ago, when modern day Teesside had yet to make its mark on the landscape and the wider world.
And for a few brief hours it is still possible to turn the clock back and catch a glimpse of what life in this area on the southern fringes of the North East, was once like.


Ormesby Hall, Church Lane, Ormesby, near Middlesbrough, TS7 9AS, (01642) 324 188, www.nationaltrust.org.uk.
Open Saturday-Sunday 1.30pm-5pm until October 31. Also open bank Holiday Mondays. Parts of the hall and grounds may occasionally be closed for private functions.

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