How Yorkshire’s ‘heaven on earth’ became setting for major BBC production

Pictured Plumpton Rocks.
Credit Andy Marshall: Architectural Photography
Pictured Plumpton Rocks. Credit Andy Marshall: Architectural Photography
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This vista, once loved by the legendary Turner, spiralled into a circle of decay in the turmoil following the First World War.

Rumoured to have been the hunting ground of Robin Hood himself, it endured a century of ruin as fashions ebbed and tourists’ tastes changed.

But now, after a £700,000 restoration lasting three years, the medieval deer park at Plumpton Rocks has been restored to its former glory.

So much so that it has become the setting for one of the most anticipated British films of 2016, Swallows and Amazons.

“It’s a great thrill to have had them filming here,” said owner Robert de Plumpton Hunter as the film makes it’s world premier in Keswick. “It certainly bodes well for Yorkshire.”

The renowned Grade ll listed gardens near Knaresborough, once described by Queen Mary as ‘heaven on Earth’, have a rich history dating back to the days of the Norman conquests.

For hundreds of years, it was held by the Plumpton family, sold for a spell to the Lascelles of Harewood House in the 1750s.

But it was brought back to family ownership by the Plumptons in the early 1950s, with a long-held hope to restore it to its former glory days.

“It’s one of the most significant landscapes of the 18th century in the North of England,” said Mr de Plumpton Hunter. “When Harrogate was being developed as a holiday destination, Plumpton was one of the places people went to visit. But over time, people’s tastes moved on.

“Before the war there would have been a number of gardeners and woodsmen, but after the war there wasn’t the manpower.”

Placed on the At Risk register by English Heritage in 2012, the grounds began to attract funding, with Historic England, the Country Houses Foundation and Natural England all stepping in.

A major project began; to restore the parkland, lake, woodland and Grade ll listed dam designed by John Carr of York in the 1760s. Once ploughed fields have now been reverted to grasslands, parkland trees have been planted, the lake cleared and the dam restored.

Then last summer, as the restoration reached its peak, international film stars more used to the sets of Harry Potter and James Bond descended on the country park. And for a two-week spell in July and early August the former deer park became Wild Cat Island.

“The opportunity to get into the forefront of a major British film is very exciting,” said Mr de Plumpton Hunter. “It’s also particularly great timing that it premiers just as we finish our restoration project.

“This wouldn’t have been possible to do without significant grant funding. From a historical interest point of view, it’s a very important garden. Members of my family have fought, and died for that piece of land. There’s a great deal of pride about what’s been achieved by some of these dedicated craftsmen.”

Plumpton Rocks is to be opened today, July 28, and will be open to the public through August as well as weekends between March and October.

The BBC adaptation of Swallows and Amazons, starring Kelly Macdonald of Harry Potter and Trainspotting fame, Rafe Spall from Life of Pi, and Andrew Scott of Bond film Spectre, will be officially released next month.

Plumpton’s Turner Trail

The artist JMW Turner painted two oil paintings of Plumpton Rocks following his first visit to Yorkshire in 1797. Turner was commissioned by Edward Lascelles, the 1st Earl of Harewood, who owned the estate of Plumpton Rocks at that time. These were the artist’s first commissioned landscapes in oils and he charged the Earl a little more than £32 for the pair. Both known as ‘Plompton Rocks’, one is of the lake head looking south, with fisherman at work on the lake, while the other is from the dam looking north, with fisherman packing up for the night. Both paintings still hang at Harewood House.