The art and science of getting wet in the garden at Alnwick

Last week we were on holiday up in Northumbria, somewhere I hadn’t visited before. One of the many places we visited while we were there was Alnwick Castle and Gardens. Entry isn’t cheap, but it took up a whole day and so was good value.

Having had a look around the Castle (perhaps best known these days as one of the locations for the first Harry Potter film, we went into the gardens. Like most grand houses, Alnwick has large grounds but until relatively recently the main gardens had fallen into a state of disrepair. They were completely redesigned only 10 years ago by Jacques and Peter Wirtz and now provide a contemporary take on the traditional stately home estate.

The gardens are divided into different areas with some traditional features such as the Rose garden and the Ornamental garden, but the designers have incorporated some more unusual features.

The Grand Cascade

Quite a lot of use has been made of water. When you enter through the gates the first thing you see is the Grand Cascade where water tumbles down the hillside along a flight of steps. Every half an hour this comes to life as fountains are activated in sequence to produce a water display. Anyone too close to the cascade when it starts has a good chance of getting wet and quite a few children know this and make sure they are in the right place for this to happen.  In fact, getting wet is one of the main attractions of the garden for children (many who come wearing swimming costumes or wet suits or with a change of clothing). One of the areas – the Serpent Garden – is specially designed to let them. Here there are eight water sculptures positioned at intervals along a snaking path. The sculpture, constructed of bright, shiny stainless steel, were designed by William Pye , each of them illustrates a different property of water, including reflections, surface tension, the coanda effect and hydrostatic pressure. They are very simple in form and the real interest is watching the behaviour of the water. There are panels explaining the underlying scientific principles so there is an opportunity for the viewer to learn a little science.  It’s not often that something combines both art and science, but the water sculptures are a good example of where this has been achieved.

I found the piece entitled Vortex particularly interesting. This was a round bowl, initially empty, which is gradually introduced tangentially through two jets so that it swirls around the bowl as it begins to fill it. Consequently a vortex is created – a whirlpool – in the centre of the bowl.


Waterglass - which produces a curtain of water

Coanda - this demonstrates the Coanda effect where water clings to the underside of a smooth overhanging surface

For the children though, the main attraction is getting wet and there is a particularly good opportunity for this with the Torricelli. Here three vertical tubes gradually fill up with water, which is then released at the bottom of the tubes, being forced up through a series of holes in the ground by hydrostatic pressure producing ninety vertical jets of water that gradually reduce in size as the water level in the main tubes falls.  Children deliberately stand above the holes in the ground where the jets will appear while the tubes are filling up, waiting to get soaked once the water is released. Some children, apparently unaware of what will happen, but keen to join in with whatever the other children are doing, join them and are then surprised when the jets shoot out of the ground!