A gloriously warm sunny day a week ago saw me heading off with the dogs and the camera on a two-part walk to explore the terraced gardens and the old castle at Rivington. I left the van in the same car park as when I walked up to Rivington Pike a couple of months ago but this time instead of taking the steep rocky path on the left I took the one on the right. It was still a bit rocky in places but nowhere near as ankle-twistingly bad as the other path, and being more of a gentle incline meant the walk wasn’t as strenuous.
Conceived and financed by soap magnate William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme), one of the town’s most famous sons and founder of Lever Brothers (now Unilever), the gardens were designed mainly by landscape architect Thomas Mawson, with work spanning a 17-year period up to 1922. Features of the gardens included lawns, terraced pathways, stone staircases, a boating lake, waterfalls, Japanese lake, several summerhouses and pavilions and the Pigeon Tower.
After Lever’s death in 1925 many of the buildings gradually fell into disrepair over the years and were eventually either fenced off or demolished, though the remains of several of those can still be seen. In 2014 the gardens were named by the BBC Countryfile programme as one of Britain’s Best Lost Gardens and in early 2016 the Rivington Heritage Trust secured £3.4million from the Heritage Lottery fund to improve, revitalise and maintain the gardens and their features.
The first thing I came to on my walk was Lever Bridge which crossed the main pathway through the gardens. The design is based on a bridge which Lever had seen while on a trip to Nigeria; with one large arch crossed by six smaller ones it’s known locally as Seven Arch Bridge. A minor path and several steps led to the lower end of the bridge, and the bridge itself consisted of a series of wide shallow stone steps leading up to a steeper flight of steps with a stone summerhouse at the top.
At each side of the summerhouse were steps leading up to the roof but these had been blocked off by railings, so to get to the path above I had to climb up the steep bank nearby. A hundred yards or so to the left I came to what was once the swimming pool/boating lake, though as it wasn’t that big I would have said it was more of a large pond than a lake. It was obviously an area that the conservationists hadn’t yet got round to tackling as the banks were overgrown with vegetation and there were broken tree branches and bits of rubbish floating in the weed-covered water. It didn’t look pretty, and the photo I took was deleted almost immediately.
Beyond the far end of the pond was a triple-arched wall which didn’t seem to serve any purpose, and an arcaded loggia with steps up to a rooftop platform although these, like the summerhouse below, were blocked off by railings. Steps from there led up to another summerhouse and a pavilion and even more steps, steeper this time, finally took me to the Pigeon Tower on the lane at the top. Just beyond the long wall of the Pigeon Tower another path branched off from the lane and took me back down the terraces to a large open area which would once have been the Great Lawn and a tennis court, both overlooked by similar-looking summerhouses.
From there I wandered down and along various paths until, at the bottom of a short flight of steps, I found myself overlooking the lake in the Japanese garden down below. The garden was created in 1921-2, inspired by a visit William Lever had made to Japan in 1913, and at one time it featured three Japanese-style pagodas though these have long since been demolished and only their stone bases now remain. The lake looked very attractive and certainly deserved a few photos.
From the lake I gradually made my way via various paths and steps to the main path and headed back to the car park. About halfway along the path split into two with a bench at the junction so I sat for a few minutes just taking in the view. Immediately in front of me was Lower Rivington reservoir, which was where I was now headed, and in the hazy distance right over to the west was the coastline of Formby and Southport; without the haze I would have been able to see Blackpool tower and the Big One at the pleasure beach a bit further north.
From the car park I drove down through Rivington village and parked at the beginning of one of several tree-lined paths which took me on a pleasant walk to Lower Rivington reservoir and Liverpool Castle. The original 13th century Liverpool Castle on Merseyside was situated just west of what is now the Liverpool One shopping centre and leisure complex, though by the early part of the 18th century most of the fortification had been destroyed or demolished. The Rivington replica was commissioned by William Lever in 1912; it was purely and simply a folly, never intended to be fully completed as it was meant to look like it had been there for many years. Unfortunately construction work stopped when Lever died in 1925 and the castle never reached the stage he’d envisaged.
A wide path took me round the side and the back of the castle and after negotiating some steps and a steep-ish slope I found myself on a sandy but stony ‘beach’ at the side of the reservoir. I walked along until an outcrop of trees barred my way then turned and retraced my steps – and for the second time in just over a week Sophie, the little dog who hates water, surprised me by running in and out of it and playing her own little game. She didn’t swim – maybe that was going a bit too far – but she did go in further than just her paws.
Eventually I left the reservoir, made my way back round the castle and took the long wide path back to the van – I’d been wandering round for a total of over two hours and it was time to go home for a brew. When I checked my step counter late that evening I’d completely smashed my 10,000 steps daily target and done a total of 11,894, the majority of them while I’d been roaming round Rivington. It just shows what can be done when you have a camera, two dogs and some lovely sunny weather!
I’m linking up with Jo’s Monday Walk this week where colour abounds in a series of village gardens near Boroughbridge in Yorkshire – I just wish I could get my own garden looking like some of those!