The venue

Alnwick may be best known for its castle and Harry Potter connections, but don't miss the chance to explore its 12-acre contemporary garden. The inspiration of the Duchess of Northumberland, it was designed by the renowned Belgian landscape designers Jacques and Peter Wirtz to provide a beautiful, fun and educational public space. Arranged as a sequence of busy and serene gardens, at its centre is a Grand Cascade, the largest water feature of its kind in the country.

For adults

You don't have to be a gardener to appreciate what has been created here. The Ornamental Garden - a tranquil spot where you can escape the crowds and find some shade on a hot day - contains 16,500 plants alone. The Poison Garden, with its skull-and-crossbones gates and warning sign "These plants can kill", is an unusual and inspired idea. The Home Office granted a special licence to grow cannabis and coca, under lock and key. Future projects include an adventure playground, an orchard, a quiet garden, a grotto and a garden for the senses.

For children

The garden has been designed with children in mind - you won't be able to stop them getting soaked in the water sculptures in The Serpent Garden, so bring towels and a change of clothes. There are also pedal tractors to play on, a bamboo maze and, just outside the garden walls, ropeways and walkways in one of the world's largest treehouses. Potter fans will be pleased to hear that the Alnwick Road train connects the garden to the castle (see the website for details).

Refreshments

The Pavilion Café sells soups, salads, sandwiches, cakes and hot meals. There is a restaurant in the treehouse, but booking is advised.

Access

The garden has disability advisers and is committed to maximising access. Wheelchairs and scooters are available for hire.

Admission

Open every day from 10am, except Christmas Day, until 6pm April and May, 7pm June-Sept, and 4pm Nov to March. Adults £8, concessions £7.50, children free (up to four per adult).

How to get there

The Alnwick Garden, Denwick Lane, Alnwick, Northumberland (01665 511350; alnwickgarden .com). By car: Just off A1, 35 miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne.By train: Alnmouth, four miles away, is on the London to Edinburgh line (08457-225 225; gner.co.uk). Connect to Alnwick by taxi or bus (0870-6082 608; arrivabus.co.uk).

Nikki Spencer stayed at Matfen Hall (01661 855708; matfenhall.com) which offers doubles from £160 per night, including breakfast

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