West Yorkshire Walk - Nostell Priory estate

Paul Kirkwood tries out new walks on the Nostell Priory estate near Wakefield.

The gardeners at Nostell Priory didn't spend the winter idly thumbing through seed catalogues. Far from it. They were busy restoring the pleasure gardens which had lain unseen for more than 30 years but have now been reopened again. Aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, work began last September on cutting back the overgrowth of brambles and rhododendrons, using bluebells that lined the paths as a guide together with a first edition Ordnance Survey map from 1849.

When work got underway, the gardeners discovered original paths edged with upturned cobbles and used them to form the basis of the new woodland walk. At the foot of the cascade from the middle to lower lake they have also reinstated Druid's Bridge, formed from large slabs of rock supported by stone piers like a clapper bridge. It had collapsed during a storm in the 1950s and the stones lay under silt on the bottom of the lake until they were rediscovered intact 40 years later by a local police diving squad on a training exercise. Now the stones are back in place - but with stronger foundations.

(There is no access across the bridge due to its uneven surface and narrow width). The Menagerie Garden on the far side of the middle lake includes a gothic arch, a building previously used as a menagerie, a little pond and a magnolia avenue. A surprise around every corner in fact, and great fun for children to explore.

New paths and walkways are also being created and thousands of trees planted within the 300-acre Obelisk Park to the north of the estate. The eye is naturally drawn to the main feature, Obelisk Lodge, which was occupied until 1959 and restored two years ago. You can see where new stones were added to the top.

The lodge was originally the main entrance to the estate for carriages but when the railway line opened to the south it became redundant, superseded by what had been the tradesmen's entrance off the Wakefield-Doncaster road. The main house was built on the site of a priory in 1733 and is best known for its library of 4,000 books, interiors by Robert Adam, Chippendale furniture and a dolls' house, also believed to have been made by Chippendale. The rooms are full of heavy drapes and dark wallpaper and must have seemed all the more oppressive in the early days before electric lighting.

The fabulous view down the broad, golf fairway-like vista from rooms at the front of the house would have raised the spirits though. Talking of which, a guide told us the story of the ghost of Nancy, a maid who was decapitated in the 1920s when she put her head into the lift shaft to see where the next car was.

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Each of the stone stairs up to the servants quarters (not ordinarily open to the public) is worn in the middle through use and a row of bells in the basement enabled service to be summoned to the tapestry room, saloon, library and billiard room. How civilised. A promenade around Obelisk Park and the gardens with a visit to the house and tea shop in between made for a great day out and a perfect blend of heritage and exercise.

FACT FILEDistance: 4 milesDirections: Leave the car park at its far end. Turn left to join the red route on the map (which is not waymarked). Cross over the bridge then turn left to walk in the woods beside the lower lake. As you emerge from the trees turn left then, after about 50 yards, pass through a fieldgate on your right and continue left along a path that bears right in front of trees. Follow the path around the perimeter of the park, keeping the fence on your left and passing Obelisk Lodge. Eventually, you reach a bridlegate. Pass through, cross a concrete bridge and continue ahead on a track. Pass through another bridlegate, turn right along a track and just as you leave a corner of the wood turn right through a fieldgate and walk towards the house over the broad grassed vista. The walk around the pleasure gardens starts at the rear of the house and follows an obvious route along buggy and wheelchair-friendly paths.

Map: Pick up a free leaflet with a map showing the various walks in the car park. The directions above describe the red and black routes.

Opening details: Nostell Priory house is open Wed - Sun from 1 - 5pm until November 2nd. The grounds are open Wed - Sun from 11am - 5.30pm and the parkland is open every day all year round from 9am - 7pm. There is a charge for admission to the house and grounds. The stables tea room serves lunches and refreshments. See www.nationaltrust. org.uk for more information.

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