Crisp golden leaves, architecturally stunning structures and breathtaking views – the historic Alton Towers gardens is the most idyllic autumn walk during lockdown 2.0.
The pandemic has seen more and more of us pull on our boots and get out in the fresh air, which has been vital to our mental wellbeing and health. Living in Staffordshire, we’re really fortunate to have rural countryside on our doorstep, such as Biddulph Grange Country Park, Park Hall and The Roaches.
In October, I took a trip to Alton Towers for Scarefest, where a friend and I walked through part of the gardens as part of their Whispering Souls event. We both said how lovely it would be to just buy tickets for the gardens and explore them for a few hours, as they’re often overlooked by thrillseekers racing to rides.
When the resort announced that they would be opening the gardens for guests during lockdown 2.0 weekends, I snapped up tickets and prayed for dry weather.
Dates, times and prices for Alton Towers Gardens
The Grade I listed gardens are open to guests Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting from November 13 until the end of the national lockdown.
Adult tickets cost just £12 – similar to National Trust prices – and childrens’ tickets at £5, with under threes going free. Tickets have to be booked online in advance, even for Merlin annual pass holders.
The Gardens will be open from 10am until 3pm, with last entry at 1pm.
About the gardens
The historic gardens were laid out over 150 years ago by the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury, Charles Talbot – the man at the centre of the ‘chained oak’ story. If you’ve ever watched Most Haunted, or visited Hex at Alton Towers, you’ll be familiar with the age old tale.
The formal gardens had over 13,000 trees planted, which are now maintained by a team of full-time gardeners. If you watched the Channel 4 documentary Alton Towers: A Rollercoaster Year, there was some really interesting insight into their everyday roles. In recent years, the gardens – set in the resorts 550 acres – has undergone a £1.9m restoration.
Arrival and Covid safety
We were able to park on what is usually the express parking for free, with plenty of spaces near the entrance. When we arrived at admissions with my e-tickets at the ready, we had our temperatures checked and were given the green light to go ahead. All staff were wearing face masks, and the steps taken throughout the park helped us feel safe on the day. Just through the gates there is hand sanitiser stations mounted to the pillars, and an accessible toilet to the right of the gates.
Tickets must be booked online in order to restrict the number of guests in the gardens, with social distancing markers reminding people to stick with their own household bubbles. We arrived at around 12pm, giving us three hours to enjoy the routes through the trees.
As we walked from the plaza to Mutany Bay, the park was quiet – no screams of adrenaline junkies on Wickerman or Smiler, no creaking of the Oblivion climb, but the air still felt electric. There’s just something magical about being at Alton Towers. This was my third visit this year, following Oktoberfest and Scarefest, and each experience has been completely unique.
In order to comply with Covid-19 safety measures, the gardens have their own sanitising stations, and there are rigorous cleaning procedures in place across the park. As well as the accessible loo at admissions, there are also toilets open in Mutany Bay for guests. Guests are reminded to bring a face covering with them for the loos – but this is the only indoor building where visitors will need them, as they’ll be outdoors for the remainder of the trip.
In the gardens
We entered the gardens at their main entrance near Mutany Bay, heading down the slope and through an arched hedge. There are three main walking routes through the gardens, but we mostly just wandered. The first part of the garden has lush lawns where some people were sitting having a snack, as well as gorgeous long conservatories in which there seemed to be some variety of ferns growing. At the end of this stretch, a Christmas tree sits in the centre of the bandstand overlooking a row of beautifully shaped hedge archways adorned with fairy lights.
As well as taking in the stunning autumnal colours of the falling leaves, there are lots of gorgeous structures to explore, including the Chinese inspired Pagoda fountain and Choragic Monument, copied from Athens. The memorial was erected in 1830 by the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury of his uncle, and is made of cast iron. We headed from the left side of the gardens down past he Pagoda fountain and over to the other side, making the climb to the highest point on the right side to overlook the ponds.
Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed at the resort, except for guide dogs, hearing dogs and registered assistance dogs, else it would have made a brilliant walk for The Scamps.
Whilst there are accessible routes, there are also some uneven pathways, steep routes and steps, so I’d suggest some sturdy footwear if you want to explore everywhere you can. Some sections of the garden are closed off in order to prepare for Christmas events – you can even spot some festive Nutcracker toy soldiers just past one of the gates.
We exited the garden past the lake just next to the tower, and headed back towards Mutany Bay for a sit down. According to my iPhone, we’d done around 10,000 steps in the garden in two hours.
Food and drink
There is a takeaway stall open in Mutany Bay offering hot and cold drinks and takeaway snacks. We grabbed some cups of tea to warm our hands, as well as a tub of Pringles and some Cadbury’s buttons. It’s a shame there is no hot food available on site, but also completely understandable – though I’d have killed for some of the loaded fries they had on offer at Scarefest. The stand is card payments only, and there are plenty of bins nearby to dispose of rubbish.
There are picnic tables on the lawn, and some benches in Mutany Bay to rest your legs whilst you drink your brew. We then took a walk over to the towers to admire the building before heading back to the car to go home. We had a wonderful few hours out in the open air and the changing colours of the season, and very rarely came anywhere near any other households. There were a couple of times we needed to give way on stairs or narrower pathways, but were still able to socially distance and enjoy ourselves.