Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens & Ashridge Estate
I am a part of a group of people with disabilities, this includes deafness, blindness and mobility issues. We make occasional trips to places of interest and assess them for accessibility. We visit locations in and around Hemel Hempstead. This time it was a visit to the Water Gardens at Hemel Hempstead and Ashridge Estate.
The Water Gardens in Hemel Hempstead
They were designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe between 1957-1959. He was the foremost British Landscape Architect of the 20th century. The formal Water Gardens are included on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by English Heritage for their special historic interest. They are now listed as Grade II and they were first registered on 1st February 2010.
Degradation of the Water Gardens
Fifty years following completion, the structure of the Gardens has remained remarkably intact. The canal, bridges, weirs, circulation and Formal Flower Gardens are largely unaltered. The original character has changed and the sense of ‘romance’ described by Jellicoe has been lost. This has occurred because of changes in maintenance, materials and tree planting. There is a loss of views and the collapse of the town centre is reflected in the degradation of the Water Gardens.
Classical Greek statue of a discus thrower
Too many people see the gardens as neglected and unsafe. For many people the gardens are a short-cut to the town centre, the active use remains low. There is extensive over growth of both the trees and the plants. Now parts of the Water Gardens such as the rose garden and a classical Greek statue of a discus thrower are neglected and difficult to find.
Will not be the same again
There are plans to restore the Water Gardens but there will be significant differences to the original design for cost reasons if nothing else. The visit was not uplifting, there are too many dangers for the blind and those who have difficulty walking. The railings on the bridges are not up to standard, roots from the trees gave made the paths very uneven, and some of the branches are too low for a blind person. These are just some of the access problems we identified.
The estate is owned by the National Trust. It is 5,000 acres of woodlands, known as Ashridge Forest. The entire area is open or wooded countryside, predominantly chalk downland and it supports a rich variety of wildlife. There is a wide choice of walks and it is an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Bridgewater Monument, a grade 2 listed monument, is a tower on the Ashridge estate, built in 1832 in memory of Francis Egerton. 3rd Duke of Bridgewater (1736–1803), “the father of inland navigation”. It is 108 feet (33 m) tall, with 170 steps inside and it is not disabled friendly. It was designed by Sir Jeffry Wyattville in a Doric style. The monument is next to the visitor centre and tearooms. There are three accessible parking spaces, 50yds from the visitor centre and disabled persons toilet at the centre as well. I did not go into the visitor centre but it did seem to be totally accessible.
Personal Mobility Vehicles
Mobility vehicles single and double seated are available during the summer. You can of course bring you own. There are two reasonably level routes to choose from. The paths for the disability vehicles are well maintained. There is a circular route round a meadow and a woodland walk. They would also be suitable for a buggy or a toddler who is only just walking but beware of the occasional muddy puddle.
I think the Water Gardens are in need of some tender loving care however Ashridge estate is an area of great beauty and makes a very good attempt to be accessible to everyone. The policy of not trying to keep it pristine looking does give it a slightly untamed look. As a result there are an enormous range of natural ecosystems especially where trees have fallen down.