Cragside Formal Gardens Topographical Survey

Spence & Dower
The National Trust

Scope of the Project

Were you the first house in your street to get a DVD player? Or perhaps the first of your friends to get an Amazon Echo that saved you the arduous task of flicking a light switch off with your index finger? Being at the cutting edge of domestic technology is now much easier than it used to be but imagine being one of the world’s first smart homes. That very accolade, though, belongs to Cragside in Northumberland; one of the many jewels in the National Trust’s Northern crown.


With its pioneering hydraulic and hydro-electric power generation system Cragside is a veritable “Wonka’s Chocolate Factory” for our engineering and gadget-mad survey team. Whilst we undertake many 3D mapping projects for heritage and historic building sites this project was actually focussed on the garden amidst the seven million trees planted by Lady and Lord Armstrong’s team over many years.
When visiting such heritage sites as patrons you may find yourself wondering how on earth the buildings and gardens are maintained. And many millions of the National Trusts revenue goes on exactly that – upkeep. So our task was to gather accurate and detailed topographical survey data which would feed directly into a robust, planned maintenance schedule for the huge network of footpaths which are made up of a variety of stone work.
To provide you with an idea of the level of detail we achieve on such surveys, the team at Cragside are now able to view the detail of every single sandstone slab across the mileage of their pathways. We achieved this with a mixture of the more traditional use of total stations and GPS with laser scanning technology.

Site and technical challenges

You’d struggle to find a more beautiful place in Britain than Northumberland in the sun – but we turned up on one of wettest weeks in recent history. But as we’re used to working with cutting edge technology we deployed one of our most trusted bits of kit – our umbrellas, as we soldiered on, true martyrs to the surveying cause.
Registering point clouds in the areas of the garden with a high density of vegetation was a challenge but we’re used to working in such areas in our ecological survey work so drew on our experience to make this work. We were even able to include some additional data beyond the original scope to assist George R Happs, Senior Gardener with some extra information his team needed.
As Cragside is an unsurprisingly popular tourist attraction we also had to be mindful of visitors as we went about our business. We’re often in the middle of brownfield sites with only livestock to contend with but it was nice explaining to a few inquisitive members that there was no intention of anyone building a car park in the gardens any time soon.

Points of Interest

The whole site was of interest if we’re honest, so it is difficult to pick out specifics. We’re told the site covers over 1000 acres and has 14 waymarked pathways which all carve out unique walks around the grounds.
But we all agreed that the unique Pinetum was our pick of all of the four “Garden Rooms” as they’re referred to by the Cragside team. Apparently the majority of the huge collection of pine trees are from North America and five of the trees are the tallest of their kind in the UK – but they were still no match for our winged drone.

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