To celebrate the 300th anniversary of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's birth, we have created the 'National Heritage Capability Brown Landscape Collection'. Brown is widely held to be the greatest landscaper in British history. He almost single handedly defined what we think of as an English country estate. He landscaped some 250 estates during his career, of which 150 or so survive. Gardening experts revere them as horticultural crown jewels. We have started the collection with 20 of his most famous landscapes. This Quest is to visit them all.
Brown's landscapes are not to everyone's taste. Some find them incongruous and artificial, as if their sole purpose was to minimise maintenance costs. We are only tourists. We therefore decided to rely on landscape experts for our initial induction, picking the places that turn up most frequently in 'Best Capability Brown landscapes' surveys. A dozen or so estates are easy, in that they appear on most lists. The rest appear in only one or two lists, if they appear at all. We favoured those that got at least one vote and that would give us the best value for money. Hence, nearly all the gardens in the Collection are either National Trust properties or heavily discounted for Art Pass holders.
Children and spouses might, like us, find the attached stately homes rather more interesting than the landscapes. They might also be cheered that the Collection includes all the mature gardens visited by Alan Titchmarsh in his recent Capability Brown TV documentary, all eight of the Brown gardens that featured on the recent Royal Mail stamps, and all the Downton Abbey filming locations.
Some of the places we visited turned out to be an unexpected gem. We had never heard of RAF Defford before visiting Croome, for instance. We were thrilled to find that it was where Bernard Lovell refined Britain's radar systems during the war and where he established our electronic warfare industry afterwards.
Your reward for visiting all 20 Quest Points is the title Capability Brown Master Landscaper. There is an intermediate rank of Apprentice for visiting 10. Note that most of these locations are closed over the autumn and winter, and for occasional events. It is best to check before leaving that your intended destination is open. We may add a few locations to the Quest over time, if experts tell us that they have some particularly interesting feature or, like Belvoir and Lowther Castles, as they mature following restoration.