AS The Alnwick Garden reopens today, BEN O’CONNELL takes a look behind the scenes at one of its most iconic features.
STAFF at a famous north Northumberland attraction have used the winter break for a spring-clean of its centrepiece water feature – the largest of its kind in the country.
The Grand Cascade at the Alnwick Garden is built into two listed earth banks, dating from the 1850s, which create the Garden’s slope.
Every minute, 7,260 gallons of water tumble down a series of 21 weirs, with water displays on the hour and half-hour.
Jets of water shoot high in the air before splashing onto the terrace, allowing children to run beneath them.
Youngsters can also collect water from the water walls at the foot of the Cascade in John Deere mini-tractors.
The water feature, built from local Darney stone, is surrounded by hornbeam pergolas which echo the stone curves, and beyond these lie rills and shallow pools.
But there is a whole lot more going on underneath.
What appears as an effortless display of water on the surface takes a lot of work below where the water flow is computer-controlled by state-of-the-art equipment in the pump rooms.
It’s a different world down here, accessed by a door from the Poison Garden, a mass of pipes, pumps and banks of computer controls.
But it does look a little familiar as the underground rooms exactly mirror the above Cascade, even the curved staircases up the sides.
Alan Hindmarsh, facilities manager at the Alnwick Garden, is responsible for the Grand Cascade as well as the Garden’s other features.
He said that the bank of controls allows the water, pumps and jets to be used in different sequences.
“It’s computer-controlled so you can put in whatever you want to put in.
“In the Upper Garden and the Serpent Garden, there are interactive water features and they are all controlled from down here too.”
And for three solid weeks of the Garden’s winter closure, staff were ensuring that the Cascade is spick and span for the season ahead.
Alan said: “It has taken three weeks – pumping out all of the Cascade and all the tanks, cleaning them all out and refilling them.
“It’s been ten years since they have been cleaned out properly.
“It’s been a big job, but to be quite honest we won’t have to do this for another five years.
“Not only did we clean it but we put in an automatic water treatment system.”
This is key as the water has to be treated to the same standards as a swimming pool because children play in and around the water.
The big clean may not have to be repeated for a while but keeping the Cascade in working order is a daily chore.
“We have been putting a maintenance scheme together so we can replace everything and have everything on site that we need for the future.
“Every day we do checks on the pumps, water levels and quality of the water.
“Those tests are sent to an outside organisation for verification.
“Maintenance is an ongoing thing. Nothing has been done on maintenance down here for a long time so we are addressing that now.”
And staff have another role to play once the visitors are back, particularly the kids, and they have to be ‘very vigilant’.
All sorts of things have to be fished out of the water from the obvious – coats and shoes – to those less so – nappies.
The Alnwick Garden reopens today and will be open daily between 10am and 4pm.
For more information visit www.alnwickgarden.com