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Capability Brown

Landscape architect, designer and creative genius; Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s work is synonymous with English gardens and was a man in demand throughout the 18th century, and we visit two examples of his landscapes on our bike tours.

Hard working, constantly busy but with a habit of not always charging for his work, Brown gained his enchanting alias for the way he would always tell this clients that their grounds had the ‘capability’ for improvement. His work was new and very different from what had gone before.

What makes Capability Brown’s work so special?

With almost every project he worked on, he would rip out the old stiff formal gardens and replace them with a quite ‘gardenless’ style, with smooth lawns, gently flowing rivers, expansive lakes and natural tree groupings – his work seemed to be very much in harmony with the surrounding nature.

This ‘Brownian’ style popular in Italian art of the same era was not favoured by all. Sir William Chambers once stated that Brown’s work “differed very little from common fields, so closely is nature copied in most of them”.

Having worked on more than 170 gardens around the country, the English landscape has much to thank him for. Indeed he once commented that he would not work in Ireland because he had not yet ‘finished’ England.

Highlights on our cycling  and walking tours of England

Our tours include two of his most well-known projects; Blenheim Palace (the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill) and Highclere Castle – also known by millions around the globe as Downton Abbey.

If you are especially interested in the heritage of the region but worried about the cycling involved, our guided tour package options offer See More, Cycle Less and Over 50s tours. There is also the chance to design your own bespoke tour, which could include more time for cultural activities.

Highclere Castle (AKA Downton Abbey)

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Instantly recognisable, Highclere Castle can be seen on TV screens around the globe, in the hit show Downton Abbey, and this proud Gothic castle needed some equally impressive grounds as its backdrop.

Capability Brown more than obliged and created some 1,000 acres of wondrous parkland to surround this majestic stately home. Located in an area in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the gardens reflect nature and the beauty that can be found in the natural landscape.

Incredibly, when the 1st Earl of Carnarvon commissioned Brown in 1774 his plans were so vast that they actually involved relocating the original village, and the final vestige; part of an old village church can still be seen in grounds.

Peaceful and full of delicate tranquility the gardens are a fine mix of wide-open space and hidden gems. The Secret Garden lies behind a high wall and its meandering paths are bolstered by a vibrant floral border on either side.

The grounds also include the Wood of Goodwill and the Wild Garden full of British trees and floral meadows in keeping with Brown’s philosophy of mirroring the surrounding countryside.

Blenheim Palace

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Blenheim Palace’s vast grounds are another of Capability Brown’s great works. In total, they contain a staggering 2,100 acres of gardens and parkland. One of its highlights is the vast lake with a river cascading into it.

Unusually for Brown, he combined some of the previous formal gardens with his own designs. The magnificent formal gardens at Blenheim were designed in the 1920s by the French landscape architect Achille Duchêne.

Capability was able the merge the two very different styles to create an estate which flows from classic formal delights to languid open grounds and gentle wild meadows – the result is something that oozes magnificently into the surrounding Cotswolds fields.

These areas include the water terraces, Italian Garden and the tranquil Rose Garden. Another memorable sight is the summerhouse known as “The Temple of Diana” down by the lake. It was here that in 1908 Winston Churchill proposed to his future wife, Clementine.

This year celebrates the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown’s birth, and although not popular with everyone, his work has forever impacted our beautiful British landscape and had a huge influence on landscape gardening ever since.

Enduring, vast and bold, his mighty creations are deeply embedded into the lives and land of England’s rich heritage.

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