Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Back in April, the bank beneath the glasshouse terrace that stretches between the museum and the junction of paths at the top of the hill near the playground was planted with rhododendrons.* Just last week, a lot more planting started and the lawn in front of the bank is now laid out as planned (I’ll get to sketching all this sometime soon) – but the bank of rhododendrons got me really excited when I first saw it more than a month ago. As soon as the plants were in it looked lovely, but in only a few days some of the little bushes started to throw out buds which soon began to hint at opening, and at this moment they looked so extraordinarily exotic. It made me realise how the Victorians must have seen them, when these plants were new arrivals in England – there’s such drama and excitement about the way the buds prepare themselves as if they’re going to explode into something alien and unknown. As I sketched them I was wondering what they reminded me of and I found myself thinking not of plants at all, but more mythical things. They look like dragon’s eggs, about to hatch. 

Perhaps this isn’t quite as crazy an idea as it might seem. The rhododendrons that were originally planted all along this bank – and on the other side of the house as well, so the the building stood framed by an arc of glorious coloured blossoming bushes – all came from China, famously a land of dragons. And just overhead, clutching a weather-vane and gazing balefully across the lawn towards the Aire Valley is a more gothic, Northern type of dragon, hard to see clearly in detail because it’s perched so high up, but a landmark visible from all over this part of the park.  

A few days later the buds opened and spilled out in a riot of colour. I have to confess that I don’t often get this excited by horticulture, but all this was somehow so much more than I’d expected – I suppose I’d got caught up in the story as much as the drama and beauty of the flowers. 

For such a long time up until now the daily stories in the restoration project have been about chopping down, digging out, excavating and construction, and the landscape has been one of mud and frequently churned up grass – so the start of planting and the sight of these flowers seemed like a real celebration and the start of something new. There’s so much more to come! And already it’s possible to imagine what this part of the park will look like at the same time next year….. more beauty, and lots more stories. 

* For those interested in such things I asked about the varieties of different rhododendrons planted and they include Edith Bosley, Snow White, Mothers Day, Horizon Monarch, Mrs Lowinsky, Albert Schweizer and Delta. The ones I sketched are (probably} Horizon Monarch. 

POSTSCRIPT: it’s not long to go now until the Saltaire Arts Trail – the weekend of the 27th to 29th May – and I’ve sent in another entry to the Postcard Exhibition to be held in the United Reform Church in Saltaire Village – a drawing of a fantastically gnarled old root grubbed out during the relandscaping somewhere in the park. All the postcards will be on display and for sale (at extremely reasonable prices) with the proceeds going to The Cellar Trust – so if you fancy an original watercolour of a genuine Cliffe Castle root get along to the exhibition! 




More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

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