National Trust begins phased reopening of gardens and parklands

Antonia Wilson

The National Trust is reopening some of its gardens and parklands from 3 June, with reduced capacity and a new booking system for advance tickets only. The grounds of Ickworth House in Suffolk, Wallington Hall in Northumberland and Castle Ward in County Down are among the 29 sites reopening after being shut for 10 weeks, with visitor numbers cut to 30% of normal levels to help maintain social distancing. A further eight sites opening at the same time do not require advance booking.

The organisation sent an email to its 5.6 million members on 28 May , saying that gardens in England and Northern Ireland are being opened, although the interiors of its stately homes will remain off-limits, as will all sites in Wales and National Trust of Scotland sites, where lockdown rules have not been eased to the same extent. The announcement comes after the UK government updated its advice on ticketed garden venues on 23 May. In England, gardens and other green spacesmaintained for public use are open to visitors, and Northern Ireland is permitting outdoor spaces to reopen as part of step one in its coronavirus recovery plan.

A new National Trust online booking system will go live on 29 May. “From tomorrow you’ll be able to find out what’s opening near you and book a visit. Your visit to us may be different from usual, because there are a few things we need everyone to do to help us keep places open safely,” wrote membership director Tom North.

“To open these gardens and parklands safely, we’ve had to reduce the number of people we can welcome at one time, so you’ll need to book in advance. New booking time slots will become available on Fridays for visits the following week.” 

Walking trails and some picnic tables will be accessible, although playgrounds and most toilets will remain closed, as will most cafes, though some may offer takeaway refreshments. The organisation, which owns over 500 heritage properties around the UK, began reopening its 200 coast and countryside car parks in England on 13 May: some of these must also be booked in advance (at a cost for non-members).

National Trust’s Corfe Castle in Dorset is another site opening to people who book in advance. Photograph: John Millar/PA

The booking system will be open to both members and non-members, who can book one ticket each (except for under-5s, who go free), choosing a 30-minute arrival time slot. The permitted length of visits varies from site to site, and will be specified on the booking form. The trust is requesting all visitors to book only one slot a week, and is encouraging only key workers and their families to book the first and last time slots each day.

Some of the first grounds to open include: the gardens and woodland estate at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, home to dukes and earls for more than 300 years with grounds sloping down to the River Thames; Northumberland’s 17th-century Wallington Hall, with its farmland and secret walled garden; the Ickworth estate in Suffolk, with ancient woods and formal gardens around an Italianate palace; and Castle Ward near Strangford Lough, with its Temple Water lake and elaborate Victorian gardens.

English Heritage, which manages more than 400 other historic sites, says it is finalising reopening plans and aims to open some staffed sites from early July. Around 200 of its free-to-enter sites are already open, including sections of Hadrian’s Wall, the Westbury White Horse in Wiltshire, Bayard’s Cove Fort in Devon, the Iron Bridge in Shropshire and the ruins of Bowes Castle in County Durham.

The Woodland Trust is keeping access to its woodlands under review but saysall sites “remain open to everyone, every day”. Some car parks remain closed however, so it recommends staying local. The organisation, which manages over 1,000 sites, has stated that as many of its bigger sites have attracted large numbers of visitors, all visitors are urged to maintain social distancing.