Spring is very late this year so it’s good to see a few signs of nature finally creeping quietly in as we shake off the grip of a long, cold winter.
A weekend trip to Wallington Hall in Northumberland showed that nature is still reticent as temperatures continue to hover only a few degrees about zero, but there were positive signs too.
Out in the gardens and surrounding countryside there were a few glimpses of spring peeking through including a feast of woodland birds and small mammals.
But still no host of golden daffodils, just a few snowdrops!
The Trevelyans who lived at Wallington Hall loved the great outdoors so the house is surrounded by an informal landscape of lawns, lakes, woodland, parkland and farmland.
As well as the fabulous ornamental gardens, the estate also takes in 13,500 acres of land, 15 farms and the nearby village of Cambo.
On this trip we decided to leave behind the formality of the house and explore the 18th and 19th Century pleasure grounds and woods.
The woodland walk takes visitors around the back of the formal gardens where there always seems to be an attractive vista or view looking back towards Wallington Hall on the horizon.
We took the gate down past the famous Dragons’ Heads outside the hall and marched through the small deciduous woodland and China Pond towards the hidden Walled Garden.
It’s always a thrill to spend time in this immaculate garden, a slice of horticultural paradise, but today our sights were set on something wilder.
We skirted the garden orchard and headed on towards the River Walk and surrounding woodland where the sound of a lone Greater-spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming away nearby.
Although we never saw the bird, its continuous drumming on the tree bark echoed around the countryside.
It was a sure sign that spring is here (even if the weather isn’t) and this bird was thinking about attracting a partner and rearing chicks.
Further along the walk, Tammy almost got her feet wet when she skipped – or should that be staggered – across the stepping stones into the further reaches of the country park.
As we headed along the riverside walk, I was struck by the number of small woodland birds hiding in the canopy.
There were also close up views of a Treecreeper racing up a tree whilst a lively Nuthatch was going about its business.
Large numbers of Blue, Coal and Great Tits zipped in the trees around above us, chirruping in the spring sunshine.
Down by the river there were small clumps of pretty snowdrops forming a carpet of white blooms. It’s another sign that the true spring is late in arriving this year.
Normally at this time of year there are much more impressive carpets of spring bulbs blossoming but the harsh winter has sent things out of kilter.
Later in the season the summer flowering lace cap hydrangeas will start to peep through before giving way to a great summer show of colour.
As we continued the walk, I could still hear the woodpecker but this bird was too busy with its drumming to make a grand entrance any time soon.
The East Woods are also home to red squirrels, otters, and bats but on a busy weekend with lots of visitors they were very elusive.
Next stop was the new wildlife hide which is proving to be a magnet for interesting birds and animals.
It’s located a short distance east of the house, not far from Middle Pond, and there’s also a shorter route from the hall if you’re not feeling too lively.
Inside the hide
Inside the new wildlife hide there was a great view across the woodland as well as wonderful close-ups of the bird action on the feeders.
The woodland was buzzing with nature including dozens of Chaffinch and Tits but the biggest surprise was the range of birds.
A group of brighty-coloured yellow Siskin battled for control of one of the feeders whilst a glorious Common Redpoll tried to get a look in.
The Redpoll is a bird that I’ve only ever seen from a distance before so a close-up view was a real treat. What a pretty bird and a rare sighting.
Strangely, the Common Redpoll is rarer than its near relative, the Lesser Redpoll, so I felt privileged to see its antics a foot away.
Here’s a video of the birds although I didn’t have my camcorder with me. Typical bad planning!
Pheasants were also out in force with one particularly gorgeous male bird posing on tree snags to impress the females with his stunning spring plumage.
In the woodland a Red Squirrel was chasing around up the trees before plucking up the courage to visit one of the nut box feeders where it sat chomping and guarding its cache.
I’ve been so lucky in recent weeks to see red squirrels within a few feet, twice in the Scottish Highlands and once here at Wallington.
Wallington’s estate is renowned for its red squirrels but I’ve never seen one here before in a dozen visits. This time I was in the right place at the right time.
We must have spent a good 45 minutes in the hide before Tony dragged me back to the camper van. But I’ll be back to see more wildlife action at Wallington soon.
It’s a top spot for birds and mammals. Next time I have my sights set on an otter but that will have to wait till a warm, sunny summer day!
Tammy’s top tips
Wallington makes for a great trip out – it combines the great outdoors with a superb historic house and pleasant spring and summer walks suitable for any age group.
Wallington Hall and Gardens is run by the National Trust and the gardens are open daily, although it’s worth checking the hall’s opening times (sometimes shut Tuesdays and winter weekdays).
Wallington is located near Cambo about 20 miles north west of Newcastle upon Tyne off the A696 airport/Ponteland road. Turn off onto the B6342 to Cambo.
The house, which was home to generations of the Trevelyan family, is also well worth a visit with its splendid Central Hall featuring a huge series of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
Don’t miss the eccentric Cabinet of Curiosities which betrays the Victorian obsession with collecting fossils and stuffed animals. There’s a porcupine fish, Egyptian figures, narwhal tusks and kangaroo paws, to mention just a few of the weird and wonderful curiosities.
One of the highlights of a trip to Wallington is the beautiful walled garden hidden in the woods with its intriguing Edwardian Conservatory, home to an array of colourful plants throughout the year.
Look out for the nearby Owl House, an impressive bothy or potting shed, decorated with the family emblem of an owl.
There’s plenty of car parking, as demonstrated by Tammy on a previous trip with her well connected friends who owned a fabulous, old, gold Rolls Royce!
It’s the only way to travel, honestly…
Explore Wallington’s grounds in the summer for a different view of the gardens and ponds including the Boathouse Pond with its Monet style water lilies in bloom.
Here’s one that I captured on a visit to Wallington last summer on a rare sunny day.