Levens Hall # 2

Today we enjoyed another visit to Levens Hall. This time for a late lunch in the café and a walk through the gardens and the park. Mrs Humphry Ward in Helbeck of Bannisdale describes the grounds, especially the extraordinary topiary garden. The topiary garden is the oldest in the world and was designed by a French landscape gardener in the 1690s - Guillaume Beaumont - who was a close friend of the diarist John Evelyn. 

Mrs Humphry Ward was delighted with the Hall and describes her arrival:

....at last we arrived - saw the wonderful grey house rising above the river in the evening light.... and plunged into the hall, the drawing rooms, the dining room, and all the intricacies of the upper passages and turrets with the delight and curiosity of a pack of children. Great wood and peat fires were burning everywhere; the magnificent carved pieces in the drawing rooms, the arms of Elizabeth over the hall fire, the strange stucco birds and beasts running round the hall, showing dimly in the scanty lamp-light...and the beauty of the marvellous old place took us all by storm. Then through endless passages and vast kitchens...we made our way out into the gardens among the yews and cedars, and had just enough light to see that Levens apparently is like nothing else but itself, and that there are broad straight gravelled paths among the fantastic creatures and pyramids and crowns....

The walk through the Levens parkland necessitates crossing the A590, and then meanders alongside the River Kent. In Mrs Ward's time the park was accessed by the "little bridge.....with some steps in the crag leading down" (to the river). 

It is here that Laura, the heroine of Helbeck of Bannisdale waits for her secret twilight meeting with Hubert Mason. Returning across the Park she is mistaken for the ghost of Bannisdale, modelled , of course, on the ghostly Levens Lady.

Thomas West in his Guide to the Lakes, published in 1778, wrote that Levens Hall and Park  is "the sweetest spot that fancy can imagine". He was certainly correct!