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Garden’s underground secrets

Visitors enjoying a tour by Mark Coulter.
Visitors enjoying a tour by Mark Coulter.

We sometimes see popular visitor attractions as somehow less attractive.

Something about their success makes them less special to those living nearby, or perhaps modern facilities and business models seem a little soulless.

The Alnwick Garden, founded by the Duchess of Northumberland in 2001, is an undeniably significant pin on the visitor map of North East Northumberland.

However, there is a layer to the Garden that you probably haven’t explored before, sights and sounds that few know about, and fewer still have access to.

The Alnwick Garden Pump Room Tour reveals that the visible ‘fountain’ actually comprises less than half of the piece as a whole. The engineering behind the water feature lies deep underground, stretching as far forward as the pavilion where visitors enter.

The tour begins with a walking history of the design and construction of the cascade from above ground, beginning at the glass pavilion, crossing the grass and ascending the full 150m length of the cascade.

The Garden as a whole was designed by father-son team, Jacques and Peter Wirtz, of Belgian landscape company Wirtz International Landscape Architects. Renowned landscape architect Jacques passed away last month at the age of 93, and Alnwick Garden remains one of his most high-profile and successful projects, in terms of footfall certainly.

Our tour guide Mark Coulter had a wealth of knowledge and an obvious love of the sorts of details that are usually overlooked. The stone masonry, for example, and the dramatic reduction in sound as you stand above the cascade – just meters from 7,260 gallons of water tumbling over 30 weirs every minute.

The Pump Room itself gives a unique glimpse into the subterranean workings of the fountains above.

Scottish engineering firm Ritchie MacKenzie created the moving water feature, which constantly recycles 250,000 gallons of water, but all the hardware is hidden underground.

Pumps, pipes, nozzles, valves and filters are controlled by computers with a selection of four display programmes, and a back-up system in Kirkintilloch.

So next time you pass a sign to The Alnwick Gardens, why not consider arranging a visit to see the hidden magic that is to be found beneath the surface.