Yesterday we left the younger generation in their beds to take our traditional New Year’s Day walk around Wimpole Park and up to the Folly.
The previous night’s heavy rain ensured that it was a muddy affair from start to finish and our cream-coloured labradoodle got back in the car with a black undercarriage, even though she had braved the lake on the way back to check out something in the water.
We took the route around the east side of the house, through a stock gate complete with large puddle, ensuring that everyone got a bit wet and a lot muddy, both coming and going. We passed the eastern ha-ha, which let us peer into the formal gardens that surround the house and slid on northwards, up the hill to the site of a small, old quarry at the edge of what was once a deer park. Today there are grazing sheep everywhere.
An iron bridge gives access over a deep ditch to a sloping field and two sepentine lakes (Capability Brown-modified fishponds). Surprisingly, the surface water on the bridge was still frozen solid. Proof that we started the year with a frost.
During winter this whole area is filled with flocks of migrating geese, both Greylag and Canada. They fly up when disturbed, head briefly to the lakes, but invariably end up back in the field where they continue to graze, noisily.
A Grade II listed Chinese Bridge over the lakes frames one of the prettiest views of the Folly, but on this visit the bridge was just depressingly damp and slippery. The wooden ball finials and styled parapet still stand out as embellishments to the landscape though.
It was then a gentle climb to the top of Johnson’s Hill where the Gothic Tower stands proud. This folly (1768) was designed to be viewed from the drawing room in the Hall and was part of the work undertaken by Capability Brown on the estate.
Folly field, in front of the tower, is a great place for picnics and in summer the meadow is alive with butterflies. On a clear day the view from the top of Johnson’s Hill extends for miles, but on New Year’s Day this year it was limited by the murky weather.
The Gothic Tower has undergone some major restoration work in the last couple of years. You can get a glimpse of the scale and detail involved in this work here on the East of England’s Trust blog and here on the Wimpole Estate blog.
Wimpole volunteers were lucky to be allowed to see the inside of the tower at start of the project, once 6 tonnes of pigeon guano had been removed and a bit of flooring had been put back!
The restoration work was finished in 2015. I think that the reinstated clunch crenellations on the tower have changed its appearance considerably. The tower is much more noticable against the skyline and in the landscape. Looking at the Folly now, it even seems feasible that gamekeepers once lived inside the tower.
We hung around the top for a while, drinking in the atmosphere, enjoying the views and taking photographs between the arrivals of other groups of ramblers.
Eventually we walked back down the hill, round the edge of the lakes and through the rustling beds of reed.
By the time we reached the car at lunchtime it was a lot busier everywhere and we were glad for our early start. And the mud didn’t take too long to wash off the dog!
Happy New Year!