Where Gumbo Was (#495)
Dewstow Gardens and Grottoes, this week's mystery location, are situated in the South-Eastern corner of Wales, just outside the little town of Caldicot. Congratulations to PortMoresby and George G, who managed to solve the puzzle.
The history of the gardens dates back to 1893 when one Henry Oakley, a director of the Great Western Railway, acquired the Dewstow estate. His two main leisure interests were breeding horses and horticulture—particularly growing ferns and tropical plants. He soon embarked on creating a garden that would provide a natural-looking habitat for his favourite plants and also stand out as being truly unique.
Dewstow House, Oakley's residence, is quite attractive, but certainly not extravagant. Indeed, compared to many country mansions from that era, it is a rather modest affair.
The gardens, on the other hand, are magnificent and absolutely delightful.
We visited Dewstow in mid-July 2022 and many of the flowering plants were at their peak.
Vivid colour contrasts were also provided by some of the foliage.
If you have followed the clues last week, you will have seen this fellow before. There are little statues and other artefacts dotted all over the place.
In some areas formal hedges and low walls divide the space into rooms.
Some of the planting is very dense, giving it an almost jungle-like atmosphere.
Large parts of the grounds, on the other hand, are more like parkland, with tall trees and shrubs as well as plenty of grass.
There are a number of picnic tables and benches where you can relax and absorb the views.
The lower levels of the gardens contain several ponds and other water features, making a stroll through the grounds a very varied experience - with attractive, and often unexpected, vistas round virtually every corner.
However, we need to go underground to appreciate Dewstow's really unique features - the 'Grottoes' part of its name.
Oakley's design for the gardens did not focus solely on the land above ground, but also involved a large subterranean network of tunnels, caverns, and sunken chambers.
When Oakley died at the beginning of WWII, the tunnels and other sunken features (as well as the ponds) were roughly filled in and the gardens largely reverted to pasture land. It was not until the beginning of this century that new owners started to restore the gardens and discovered the hidden world underground.
They have done a tremendous job removing the rubble and painstakingly uncovering and re-planting Oakley's grottoes. We had last visited Dewstow some ten years ago and were impressed by the progress that has been made since then.
Some of the caverns have a low roof over them, with gaps around the edges to allow some light to get in. In other parts, openings in the ceiling do essentially the same job.
There is slow-flowing water almost everywhere, often entering the chambers as a small cascade coming out of a wall.
The environment is ideal for ferns.
The restoration effort received support and advice from Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment service. Dewstow has been awarded the highest possible official accolade: a Grade I listing, designating it as a garden of national importance.
We spent about half a day here, exploring everything at leisure. There is a modest admission charge and plenty of free parking at the site. The reception centre also has a small cafe with outdoor seating.
For more information, consult Dewstow's webpages: https://www.dewstowgardens.co.uk/