Picnic at the end of the Wolds: Sewerby Hall

When thinking of the best place to enjoy a picnic in the UK, Bridlington wouldn’t immediately spring to many people’s mind. Situated just to the north of the town, however, is Sewerby Hall and it’s been voted the place in the country where most people would like to tuck into a scotch egg and a packet of Monster Munch. It may seem unlikely but it really is a wonderful spot.

Sewerby Hall was designed and built between 1714 and 1720, although the Sewerby (or Sywardby) family owned and lived on the land for many hundreds of years before this. It was built on and developed further for another 200 years and the end result is a handsome hall complete with orangery, walled garden and bandstand, set in hundreds of acres of formal gardens and parkland.

As the Hall and gardens have been in the public keep since the 1930’s it can feel a little more tired than other stately homes (such as Castle Howard) but what cannot be criticised is the setting. Visit on any average Sunday in Summer and you will be treated to a visual and aural sensorama. The hall faces the North Sea and the early morning mist clearing off the lawns reveals a cricket pitch and bowling greens perched on the edge of the cliffs that mark the end of the Yorkshire Wolds. There are usually weekend games on both as well as a brass band playing in the bandstand, events in the Orangery (the Bridlington branch of the marvellously-named British Cactus and Succulent Association are regular users) and very often there is a vintage car rally of some sort on the back lawns. The grounds also host regular music, drama and dance events in the evening so it’s easy to see why a picnic enjoyed virtually anywhere in the grounds would be as enjoyable and memorable here as anywhere else in the UK.

In fact, Sewerby Hall won Best Picnic spot in the UK in 2008 and 2009 and the sight of happy picnickers happily picnicking all over the grounds attests to how perfectly suited the place is to the title. It’s perfect for outdoor dining, with sun, shade, fresh air, green grass and picture perfect, quintessentially English sights wherever you look.

Post-prandial delights also abound. There is a small but well-kept zoo and aviary where the kids can see penguins, monkeys, wallabies, peacocks and tropical birds. There are also some gorgeous Koi carp in pools at the entrance to the walled garden, one of the nicest places in the entire grounds. The walled garden itself is a delight, with flower beds surrounded by miniature box hedges, a calming rose garden and handsome Victorian-era glasshouses in which adults with learning disabilities grow various fruit and veg, including some unbelievably enormous tomatoes. They also run a small nursery from which visitors can purchase plants and saplings for extremely reasonable prices. An hour spent in the formal gardens, gravel crackling under foot and the scent of flowers filling the air is an hour wonderfully whiled away. Of all the parts of Sewerby, it’s the place where it’s easiest to imagine how life must have been a couple of hundred years ago.

Back through the formal garden – featuring tree carvings by Hull resident sculptress Jacky Ward Lomax – is the house itself. The Hall was built under the supervision of the then owner, John Graeme, and it was his family that tended and extended the property until it was finally sold to the public in 1934. No-one would claim it’s the grandest seat in Yorkshire but it is handsome and consistently designed and, as it has never fallen foul to the ever-present scourge of the country home – fire, it is in a relatively unspoilt state.

Incorporated into the house is a museum dedicated to aviation heroine Amy Johnson. Johnson was born in East Yorkshire – Hull, in fact – and opened the Hall to the public in 1936 after it moved into council ownership. The museum houses a collection of mementoes and souvenirs gifted to Sewerby Hall by the Johnson family in 1959, some 16 years after she died. Perhaps the most touching items in the collection are the pieces donated by a public still very affectionate toward her achievements so long after her passing.

There are other fine rooms, many of which have been lovingly restored over the past few decades and now provide inspiring setting for marriages and special events. There is design from the Regency and Georgian periods and rococo and Corinthian detailing. Most of the rooms are open to the public and those that are show that the past owners of the Hall had great style and taste to match their undoubted wealth.

As well as touring the Hall there is the opportunity to travel the two miles along the coast to Bridlington on the land train. The train is, of course, not a train at all but let’s not spoil the kids’ fun. It truddles along at not much more than walking pace and allows it’s passengers to enjoy views of the sea and the beaches while wallowing in a false air of superiority over those on foot.

As you travel back on the land train from a couple of hours candy-flossing and promenading in Brid, the curve of the coast reveals the chalk cliff faces rising in front of you. This is the end (or the start, depending on how you look at it) of the Yorkshire Wolds. The Wolds have two great markers punctuating their start and end – one is the Humber Bridge, the other is Sewerby Hall, a truly great Yorkshire day out.

Dave Lee

Pics are here:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/60126894@N07/sets/72157627337511605/

Please credit Dave Lee

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