Rokeby has never had a formal or man-made garden. Instead it is blessed with a natural context of unrivalled beauty provided by the courses of the Greta and the Tees. The Tees runs from west to east half a mile to the north; the Greta from south to north a few hundred yards to the east. They converge at the Meeting of the Waters, a local beauty spot accessed along Mortham Lane. The last mile of the Greta runs through the Park.
The walk along the Greta was described in 1769 as ‘romantic’ [Arthur Young, Travels through Yorkshire p.154] and in 1778 as ‘calculated for contemplation and religious rhapsody’ [Vol.III A Tour through Great Britain, Defoe and successors 8th Ed.p.171]. At all events, it provided the scenery for John Sell Cotman to paint on his visit in 1805 and for Sir Walter Scott to describe in his poetic history ‘Rokeby’ dedicated to J.B.S.Morritt and first published in 1813. The eagle-eyed will spot Scott’s Cave in the cliff face on the east bank. In Canto V he described the scene around him at eventide in words which describe it now:
“The stately oaks, whose sombre frown
Of noontide made a twilight brown,
Impervious now to fainter light,
Of twilight make an early night.
Hoarse into middle air arose
The vespers of the roosting crows,
And with congenial, murmurs seem
To wake the Genii of the stream;
For louder clamour’d Greta’s tide,
And Tees in deeper voice replied,
And fitful waked the evening wind,
Fitful in sighs its breath resign’d”
The trees include all native species, save the elm, and many others. In spring the ground under them is a carpet, first of snowdrops and aconites and then of bluebells followed by wild garlic. Later there is a profusion of ragged robin, forget-me-nots, willow herb and nettles. Visitors who walk upstream will see, on their left, a bridge painted by J.S.Cotman, now in the Leeds Art Gallery and, on occasion, dippers, kingfishers, a heron or two and trout rising. Whether or not visitors find the riverside walk ‘romantic’ or ‘calculated for….religious rhapsody’ they surely cannot deny its beauty in all seasons and all weathers.