Situated in the rolling hills of North Devon is Castle Hill, the estate of the Earl and Countess of Arran. At the heart of the estate, nestling in a broad horseshoe of low hills, is an elegant Palladian house originally built in 1730 for the 1st Earl of Fortescue, a direct ancestor of the current Earl and Countess.

Sweeping away from the house, a stunning eighteenth century Grade I Listed landscape garden and park has changed little since its creation. A series of grass terraces, statuary and close-clipped columnar Irish yews Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' flow down to a tributary of the River Mole, along which are several carefully positioned lakes and cascades. From here the eye is drawn to a triumphal arch which stands majestically at the furthest point of a tree-lined vista and balances perfectly the view back to the house and a sham castle, complete with cannon, which dominates the skyline directly above. The climb to the castle is steep but it is worth it, for on a clear day the views to Exmoor, Dartmoor and Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel are breathtaking.

It is from the castle that one also gets the best overview of the woodland garden, which winds sinuously away from the house through a sheltered valley protected by belts of mature beech, larch and some fine old spruce. Covering 50 acres (20 hectares), much of the shrub and tree planting within the woodland garden has taken place since the Burn's Day storm of January 1990 which destroyed up to 50% of the original plants.

Castle Hill, Devon
Castle Hill, Devon

From March onwards the valley sides are beautifully shrouded in white, pink and red-flowering camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias; beneath which carpets of snowdrops, narcissi and bluebells perform in succession. The climax to the spring season comes when drifts of Ghent and Kurume hybrid azaleas fill the valley with sweet fragrance.

Recognising that summer is an important time in any garden, the current Earl and Countess have created a Millennium summer garden to the east of the house. Designed by Chelsea Gold Medallist Xa Tollemache, and comprising a delightful water sculpture by Giles Rayner, it features large borders edged with box and lavender and filled with white and pastel-shaded herbaceous plants and bulbs. To give height and structure to the garden a number of topiary-domed evergreen oaks Quercus ilex have been included, each one skirted by scrolls of clipped Viburnum tinus.

Tony Russell

August 2019