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  • Julie Muller


Updated: Jan 28, 2022

(Nearest post code - HR6 0DW)

Visited by Shep and Pumpkin

It was a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon when we all went for a walk at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, a property owned by the National Trust.

Two sheep dogs chill in grounds of Berrington Hall, near Leominister, in Herefordshire
Shep and Pumpkin rest in front of Berrington Hall, Herefordshire

Today there weren’t too many people about. We walked along a hard surfaced path between lines of short neatly manicured yew bushes towards the house. Family groups of parents, children and dogs dived around them, keen to maintain their social distance. A tall tamarisk tree festooned in delicate pink blossom glowed in the warm afternoon sunshine. Our destination was not Berrington Hall itself but instead , its magnificent grounds which were designed and planted by a famous landscape architect called Launcelot Brown otherwise known Capability Brown. Apparently, he was always talking about the ‘capabilities ‘of a landscape – hence his nickname!!

During his career, Capability Brown worked on over 250 projects across the country. He was even employed as a gardener by George III who paid him the princely annual salary of two thousand pounds to look after the gardens at Hampton Court and at St James Palace.

The 250-acre estate at Berrington was his last landscape project and was actually planted several years before the manor house itself was constructed.

We walked beyond the house, past the excited shrieks and squeals of children enjoying the natural play area and we strode out into the open parkland. The fields were dotted with sheep and, as Capability Brown built ditches called ha-has instead of fences to stop the sheep from straying, the views were far reaching and uninterrupted.

Whilst our humans marvelled at the magnificent views towards Wales, Pumpkin and I were more interested in the numerous fluffy white ewes and their lambs grazing around us. It was a hot afternoon, so we made a beeline for a water trough stood in the corner of the field. The water was cool and inviting and, in his efforts to get a drink, Pumpkin half clambered half fell into the icy water. He climbed out a lot faster than he fell in despite his dodgy hip!

Leaving the sheep behind us, we soon found ourselves walking in a delightfully shady woodland where Julie and the rest of the humans stopped for a picnic lunch. In the treetops above our heads the birds were in full song and bright yellow brimstone butterflies, amongst many others, fluttered past.

A red Welsh sheep dog rests in the woodland shade in the grounds of Berrington Hall, a National Trust property in Herefordshire
Pumpkin enjoys the shade of the woods in the grounds of Berrington Hall, Herefordshire

After lunch we continued along a muddy path through the woods. Our humans were careful not to walk on the vegetation closest to the paths because this is where you find the greatest variety of plants and the invertebrates that live in, or on, them.

A long , wrought iron fence was visible running along the wood’s edge. In some places the ground was so damp that a board walk had been built over it. The vegetation was lush and green, and our paws made a drumming sound as we trotted over the wooden boards. As we approached Keeper’s Cottage, we could hear children laughing and playing in the garden.

Shep, the Border Collie, sits by Berrington Pool, a SSSI notified for its heronry and part of a National Trust estate.
Shep sits in front of Berrington Lake, Herefordshire

Around the corner we chanced upon a wooden boat house close to a large lake. We peered inside to see several boats lined up alongside each other. Later in the year, the National Trust hires these boats out so that humans can explore the wildlife of the lake and, in particular the bird that makes this expanse of water a site of Special Scientific interest. The lake was engineered by Capability Brown who was a man of many talents.

The tranquil waters were vegetated with large stands of reedmace, rush, reed and bright yellow pond lilies, already in bloom. A beautiful white swan swam amongst the vegetation whilst another led its fluffy grey cygnet across the surface of the water creating only the slightest of ripples.

The reason why Berrington Pool is a SSSI is not because of its swans.

On the island in the middle of the lake is one of the largest heronries in the West Midlands. These tall grey birds build untidy stick nests in the tops of the trees on the island. Here, they raise between three to five youngsters.

It takes between three and four weeks for the eggs to hatch and both parents will then take turns to look after the chicks . Eight weeks later, the young birds will try out their wings for the first time, but it will be another four weeks before they finally say goodbye to their parents. During this time the bridge across to the island is closed off to everyone.

Herons eat lots of different things including fish, young birds, small mammals, snakes and lizards but , they catch them all in exactly the same way. They stand absolutely stock still, often for long periods of time, whilst they wait for their prey to come to them and then, they lurch forward and stab it with their long thin beaks. They rarely miss!!

Berrington Pool was one of many features that Capability Brown built in this Herefordshire countryside. He was obsessed with creating magnificent views in all directions, using woodland to obscure any less attractive building. He created distant features to draw the eye to the horizon or he erected intimate curiosities in the parkland itself.

As we strode away from the lake back towards the house, the fields were once more littered with sheep. The mothers were dozing under the shade of the trees, whilst crèches of youngsters gambolled together.

An enormous tree lay on its side, expertly hewn ,with many boughs and branches piled up alongside it.

These huge trees were planted on the estate to break up the rolling grassland and many of those remaining are aged between 300 and 1,000 years and are home to huge numbers of invertebrates.

There were far fewer people around as we got back to the car park. We were all tired and anxious to get home.

A lonely pair of trainers lay abandoned in the space where a car had once stood.

Someone else was keen to get home too!!

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