Trundling along the quiet country roads in a leisurely fashion, we soon passed a sign welcoming us to Wales. We could easily have missed it, were it not for the road markings, in which the Welsh word "ARAF" suddenly appeared next to the English "SLOW", and the bilingual road signs. But such is the erratic nature of the border here that in a matter of minutes we were welcomed back to Shropshire! Talk about confusing. Our destination was well and truly in Wales, though!
Perched on a narrow ridge above its world-famous terraced gardens, and offering spectacular views across the Severn Valley towards England, Powis Castle was originally built as a medieval fortress in about 1200 by Welsh princes.
The drizzle which, interspersed with some sunny spells, had accompanied us on our journey, increased to a steady downpour once we'd parked and were making our way to the castle's entrance.
Before visiting the castle itself, we had our first glimpse of the garden, a breath-taking panorama, with its backdrop of hills and fields all but obscured by fog.
Powis Castle was adapted and embellished by generations of Herberts and Clives who, over four centuries, transformed the castle into a grand family home, furnishing the castle with fine furniture and paintings. In fact, the present Earl of Powis still keeps an apartment here.
There is also an extensive collection of Indian artefacts, which are displayed in the Clive Museum. These were brought home by Robert Clive, better known as Clive of India, and his son, Edward, and were obtained during their service with the British East India Company.
Powis Castle is full of exceptional portraits, the majority of which record the fascinating history of the family over the last 400 years. These are currently the subject of an exhibition, with works by prominent artists such as Joshua Reynolds, John Singer Sargent and Thomas Gainsborough. But the centrepiece of the exhibition is one of the National Trust’s recently acquired treasures – a Jacobean miniature portrait by Isaac Oliver (1565-1617), featuring Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, who was a statesman, poet, diplomat, musician and knight.
As a result of the exhibition, the castle's halls and rooms could not be fully admired, as the portraits required them to be quite dark, while in others, the state bedroom, for instance, the carpet was rolled up and displaced furniture marred the view of the opulent state bed in its alcove.
Photography was not allowed and much to our surprise, there wasn't even a guide book on sale, except one for the garden.
On our way out, however, I did manage to take this photo of the servants' bells in the basement.
After lunch, we descended into the garden, but not before giving you a brief glance at what I was wearing.
My second pair of floral print trousers came out of my suitcase. I wore it with a green short-sleeved jumper and a hot pink cardigan. On top, my trusty green holiday raincoat, although it had stopped raining by now.
George Herbert, great-grandson of Clive of India, inherited the title of Earl of Powis along with the castle and estate in 1891.
Together, he and his wife Violet focused on remodelling the castle, which included introducing electric lighting and a state of the art hot-water central heating system, while Violet persuaded George to let her manage and improve the garden. Violet’s Edwardian garden with a croquet lawn, flowering borders and meticulously trimmed fruit trees, is still one of the garden’s highlights today.
Influenced by Italian and French styles, the garden retains its original lead statues, and the Italianate terraces and formal garden contain imaginative and colourful herbaceous borders.
The terraces at Powis Castle are said to be the finest surviving example of a 17th century terrace garden in Britain. The exact date of their construction is unknown but is thought to have begun in the 1680's.
Above the Top Terrace, with its magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, is the yew topiary, which Powis Castle is renowned for. The fourteen yew trees, named “the tumps”, were planted in the 1720's.
Below these are a series of niches in the terrace wall. These would have been for the display of busts, but are now displaying a series of potted plants.
The second terrace is the Aviary Terrace, which once had fruit and vegetables growing on it.
Above the orangery is a pathway with a balustrade from which time-weathered statues of shepherds and shepherdesses are gazing down upon the garden below.
Finally, the Orangery Terrace runs in front of the orangery, which was built to overwinter citrus fruits, now a cool and rather empty room housing a number of potted plants.
On either side of the orangery is a pathway lined with abundant and colourful planting. We took our time exploring and admiring the flowers. As I love poppies in all shapes and sizes, I was particularly enchanted by this delicate strawberry and cream one, which was just being visited by a busy bee.
Just off the formal gardens are a number of buildings, including a semi-detached half-timbered cottage. The cottage to the left is named “The Bothy” and is a National Trust owned self catering cottage available for rent. With all the visitors to the garden I'm sure it's not as quiet as our own little cottage, though, and presumably a lot more expensive!
At the bottom, behind the formal garden is the Fountain Garden, an addition made by Violet, and replacing a kitchen garden which she considered unsightly.
We thankfully made use of the deckchairs displaying The National Trust's emblem, which were set out on the lawn.
From this vantage point, and accompanied by the meditative tinkling of the fountain, we contemplated the red-stone castle perched proudly on its ridge, clashing and at the same time blending in with the vivid greens provided by the layers of garden.
In 1912, Vilolet commissioned the spectacular wrought iron gates near the fountain garden as a present for George’s birthday.
Above the gate is the Powis coat of arms, and surmounting each pillar is a wyvern (a legendary dragon-like creature), one of which is holding a severed hand in its mouth.
In the 18th century, an informal woodland wilderness was created on the opposite ridge.
The Wilderness ridge is in complete contrast to the rest of the garden and is the perfect place for a woodland walk. Further exploration should reveal an ice house, sculptures hiding in the trees, and the graves of much-loved family pets, but our weary feet were making us take the shortest route.
We stopped to admire one last time the castle when it appeared in a gap between trees, rising like a mirage above its terraces and gardens.
Then it was time to return to our car for the drive back to our cottage at the other side of the border.
Please do tune in for more travel stories in my next post!