Whether you enjoy learning about England’s past or have a keen eye for horticulture, you’re spoilt for choice with the UK’s expansive rural landscapes, many of which are right here for you to enjoy when you visit Northumberland


Some of the best places to visit in Northumberland play host to spectacular historical landscape designs, but who designed the countryside landscapes of stately homes and dramatic castles that we see today? 

Find out more about the famous landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, affectionately known as ‘Capability’ Brown, who crafted some of the most beautiful designs across the country, as well as about how to spot the key features of his work that you can look out for on your next visit to Alnwick Castle.


Who was ‘Capability’ Brown?


Before we start looking at his work, let’s first learn a little more about ‘Capability’ Brown himself. Born locally in Kirkharle in Northumberland on 30th August 1716, ‘Capability’ Brown quickly gained popularity as a landscaper of gardens, parkland, woods and farms in the 18th century and is widely credited with shaping England’s landscape.


He gained the nickname ‘Capability’ because of his eye for seeing the potential within a given landscape and what it was capable of becoming. ‘Capability’ Brown landscapes are characterised by comfort and elegance, remaining both practical yet visually stunning. Many of his landscapes were designed to confuse the eye, creating the illusion of distinct areas or divided lakes that are actually a single body.


Which landscapes did ‘Capability’ Brown design?


From Kirkharle Courtyard in Northumberland, to the grounds at Stowe in Buckinghamshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, Brown designed many of the spectacular rural landscapes we still enjoy today. Did you know that Alnwick Castle grounds was one of the landscapes that he worked on too? 


Between 1750 to 1786, ‘Capability’ Brown was commissioned by the 1st Duke of Northumberland to redesign the castle’s grounds. Brown transformed the existing farmland into parkland, redesigning the River Aln and creating raised causeways to act as a viewing platform across the valley.


Originally, Brown was asked to create a large lake within the grounds, although these plans were dropped in 1771 following serious flooding. Instead, Brown joined forces with engineer James Brindley to rework the river and make it a feature of the landscape. Work was undertaken to clear it of boulders and clear and level the river banks. Cascades were created to slow the river’s flow, creating the perfect compromise between river and lake.


During your visit to Alnwick Castle, you can survey the magnificent grounds and the results of the redesign that Brown undertook. 


What are the features of a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape?


On your next visit to Alnwick Castle for a family day out in Northumberland, or one of the many stately homes and grounds across the country, you can spot features of a typical ‘Capability’ Brown landscape design using our helpful guide below. 


Trees & foliage


Of course, trees, foliage and greenery are essential tools for any landscaper, and ‘Capability’ Brown had specific preferences when it came to the types he used.


Arguably, Brown’s most preferred tree was the Cedar of Lebanon. The trees were a popular import in the 18th Century and have a distinctive horizontal shape. While Cedars of Lebanon feature across many of Brown’s landscapes, so did London Planes, Evergreen Oaks and the more decorative Weeping Willow trees.


As well as the type of tree, you can often spot Brown’s signature style through their positioning within the landscape. Major trees can often be found elevated atop of hills or located in clumps close to lakes to give the impression of an extended stretch of water.


‘Capability Brown’ landscapes also usually feature a woodland belt to the perimeter of the garden. Often a request from the landowners, the woodland belt was intended to make the parkland feel more private and provide a space for game hunting.



Water plays a huge part in the vast majority of ‘Capability’ Brown landscapes. Usually positioned in the middle ground of the parkland or garden, the lakes were built to give the appearance of an almost never-ending stretch of water.


However, the serpentine river that appears to sprawl through many grounds was usually a clever network of lakes meshed together. This love of creating illusions in the landscapes would go on to define Brown’s work, as he strived to create a landscape with hidden elements that created a different image based on the angle it was viewed.




Buildings often featured in the work of ‘Capability’ Brown. Usually, these buildings were in Gothic or Neo-classical styling, although Brown would often be directed by the landowner commissioning the work. In some instances, buildings within the landscape were inspired by the architecture of places the landowner had visited while travelling.


While buildings were incorporated into the landscapes, ‘Capability’ Brown did so in a way that would retain a natural feel. In many cases, the buildings were set against trees to help them blend more naturally with the environment.


Ornamental bridges, also in Gothic and Neo-classical style, are another common characteristic of the landscapes. They usually complement a sweeping driveway — another popular feature of Brown’s work — helping to provide multiple perspectives of the landscape as visitors approach the properties.


The optical illusion tactic continued through Brown’s inclusion of ha-ha’s, small, sunken walls that were used to give the impression of a never-ending parkland. Ha-ha’s were often included along the border of the land to create the feel that the formal garden extended in the grazing land beyond.


How To Spot A Capability Brown Landscape: A Checklist


On your next day out in the North East why not enjoy a visit to Alnwick Castle, where you can check off some of the different design features of a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape as you take in the beautiful grounds here at the castle. 


The next time you’re exploring the grounds of a castle, like Alnwick Castle, a stately home or parklands, keep in mind the above checklist — how many characteristic features can you spot?


Cedars of Lebanon trees

London Planes

Evergreen Oaks

Weeping Willows

Trees arranged in clumps

A woodland belt

Serpentine lake

Gothic or Neo-classical buildings amongst trees

Ornamental bridges


Sweeping driveway  


Book Your Visit to Alnwick Castle   


Ready to explore a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape? Enjoy one of the best days out in the North East by booking your ticket to Alnwick Castle. Once you have secured your ticket, make sure you take a look at our your visit page to plan your day, with information on things to see and do, how to find us, as well as where to eat and drink while you experience the history of Alnwick Castle and its grounds.