Many of the brown and white road signs that direct you to the National Trust property at Gibside describe the location as “Gibside Chapel & Grounds”. Now given that marketing isn’t one of my specialisms I could be missing something, but it strikes me as a pretty underwhelming way to represent this property. The picture is creates in my mind is of a tiny religious building, perhaps surrounded by a small churchyard or burial area.
True there are some huge chapels to be found; Kings College dominates so many views of Cambridge, and the vast Basilica San Marco in Venice was once the Doge’s private chapel, but more often than not they are smaller affairs. Gibside is one of the latter, but more about that in a moment or two.
The “grounds” that accompany it feature a river valley, a high ridge that provides panoramic views, and a variety of woodland that is alive with birdsong from the sharp Hitchcockian vocalisations of rooks mobbing soaring red kites, to the peeping of coal tits and twittering of robins. Woodland where holly trees shine to in proud celebration of life, while moribund neighbours make more colourful use of the light.
That the “grounds” have 15 miles of pathways says it all.
The Chapel isn’t the only structure here either, the empty shell of Gibside Hall, once the home of the Bowes-Lyons, the walled garden, the orangery, the stables, the banqueting hall all provide points of interest, but rising above all and central to much of the estate stands the 146′ of the Column of Liberty. Naturally such a landmark is photographed to the point of cliché, but I amused myself by trying different views on my odyssey. I think the last one is probably original enough.
But what of the Chapel itself? Is it worthy of distinction? It’s small squat exterior, whilst a Palladian gem in design, can easily be overlooked particularly on a grey day when its colourless masonry provides little contrast if viewed from the side. The fact that this was both chapel and mausoleum to the family of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, should tempt you to explore further though before you set off down the mile-long Avenue that leads both eye and feet towards the column.
Does plaster excite you? No, me neither, but on entering the chapel you cannot ignore it. The mouldings and details that adorn the walls are exquisite. Unusually the pulpit rather than the altar provides the focus, but its’ quite a pulpit. The warmth of the wood a splash of colour in the more muted tones of a building that feels almost Byzantine. Though smaller in scale I was reminded of Salute.
I only explored a fraction of the whole and on a single day. Imagine the riches to be found in different light and weather, and in different parts of the estate. Chapel and grounds. It barely covers it.