Remember last Friday?
It’s etched on my memory for three reasons:
It was the first truly sunny, actually warm day since last summer. Sweet relief!
Second, it was half term (which doesn’t affect us yet) so we spent it with my son’s best friend (who it does affect) and her mother – two of our favourite people. We used to do these sorts of days a lot before she started school.
Third, we spent it at Groombridge Place.
You know how as a child your days felt like endless oceans of time? Well the combination of the above three made it feel like one of those days for the children AND for me. Perfect.
Drive: 36 minutes
Address: Groombridge Hill, Groombridge, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN3 9QG
Tel no.: 01892 861 444
Hours: 9.30am to 5.30pm (last entry 4pm)
Price: Off Peak Adult £8.95; Senior £7.45; Child £7.45; Family £29.95. Peak Adult £9.95; Senior £8.45; Child £8.45; Family £33.95
- The ‘place’ of Groombridge Place is a 17th century moated manor house (tumbling in wisteria *love*). It is surrounded by 200 acres of parkland.
- It feels small but has so much going on. We spent four hours here. But you could easily spend the entire day.
- Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote Sherlock Holmes, loved it here. There is a small brick building set up like a study that’s dedicated to him.
- Pride & Prejudice (the one with Keira Knightley) was filmed here. You can see why.
- Groombridge is an award-winning gardens that incites excitement and intrigue. They want children’s imaginations to run wild. And they achieve this.
- The Enchanted Forest in Groombridge’s words, “encapsulates the magical spirit conjured up by the books of JK Rowling and JRR Tolkein”. They’re right, it does.
LITTLE LEWES LOVES
They’re everywhere and are friendly. They’re extraordinary and beautiful. They often walk along the ridge of the café’s roof.
I don’t think this needs much explanation. You’ve got to love a peacock, am I right? They’re the quintessential posh English country garden must-have.
The Not-So-Formal Formal Gardens
The formal gardens at Groombridge consist of a lawned area with a giant chess board, and several walled gardens with names like ‘The Knot Garden’, ‘The Peacock Walk’, and (my favourite) ‘The Drunken Garden’. Each has a different character and planting. Children seem universally to love these gardens. I think it’s because they’re walled – each feels like a secret discovered.
What I like is that they’re laid out in a formal structure, but most of the borders billow with wild flowers.
So, a bit like me, they have a look of togetherness, but are actually pretty chaotic.
The Canal Boat
This takes you from the picnic area (and entrance to Groombridge) along a peaceful, weeping-willow-fringed canal to the Enchanted Forest. All the kids go quiet on the boat ride. I think because it’s super relaxing.
You can either take the boat back or walk along the canal-side path.
But there are two further options. One: you take a path out of the west side of the woods about halfway up its steep incline. This takes you across some open fields. (This is where the Little Lewes photo on the Facebook and Twitter accounts was taken).
Otherwise, go to the very top of the wood and come back via the ‘Dark Walk’. This sounds ominous, but is actually a route of aerial walkways, tunnels, rope swings, bridges and so on. It’s ideal for kids aged five and up. But the route is not buggy friendly.
I should point out that by the time you’ve done the Formal Gardens, played in the Mini Labyrinth (see below), taken the Canal Boat, and walked all the way up through the Enchanted Forest (stopping to look at all the magical things) most children will be too exhausted for the Dark Walk.
So if your kids are old enough and game, do it the other way around. Go along theDark Walk, come down through the Enchanted Forest, and take the Canal Boat back.
I wish this didn’t have such a theme-park name. It’s very cool and not at all cheesy.
When I first when to Groombridge my big boy was a baby (my friend and I had a zizz in the Formal Gardens while our babies napped in their buggies – can you IMAGINE?). When I saw Crusoe’s World, I couldn’t fathom that he’d ever be big enough to play on it. Now he is.
It’s two tree houses linked with rope bridges and has decks and platforms and various faux skeletons hanging around it.
It’s the first thing you see when the Canal Boat docks. And the kids go wild for it.
Groombridge is truly magical and romantic.
At the Entrance end of the canal, the Formal Gardens feel special. There is a Mini Labyrinth here too: box hedges that children love to run around and boo each other in. But they will never get truly lost in.
The Enchanted Forest at the other end of the canal really is enchanting. Again, in a non-theme-park way.
It’s a steep incline up to a teepee at the very top, and on the way up there’s so much I can’t possibly describe it all.
The path winds along a sort of river and various ponds on the left, and on the right are paths into unknown territory, where you find surprises like a fort-like play area with a circle of swings, the Serpent’s Lair and the Standing Stone. I won’t let you in on what the latter are. I don’t want to spoil the element of discovery.
But some of our favourite things are:
- the massive dinosaur bones (wooden; there as benches)
- the Mystic Pool, surrounded by strings of shiny glass and metal glinting from the trees
- Mossy Bottom, a little village of fairy houses along the riverbank, all with little chimneys, proper front doors and windows
- a big tree covered in bird houses, some of them with house numbers;
- the faces carved into trees that we love to spot
- the Romany Camp towards the top of the wood (three Romany caravans)
- the Blue Pool, whose algae makes the water an almost-spooky milky blue colour.
All the Pretty Benches
This is one for me. My children don’t really care about benches.
But I love that at Groombridge you always see benches sort of hidden in tangles of beautiful flowers. They look like spots thoughtfully designed for properly retreating from the world.
Something I can never, ever imagine ever being able to do ever EVER again.
So the benches are like a promise from the future. Or perhaps a reminder of the past.
A time when I could sit down once in a while!
Small and Big
I think my son loves Groombridge so much because of its scale. It feels small and manageable, but it has space. A lot of it.
Each of its parts is full of charm for parents and adventure for children. Even on a half term Friday, when we parked in an almost-full overflow car park, it never felt hectic or crowded within the grounds. There were many times when we were completely alone.
TO BE AWARE OF
- Groombridge is an outdoors place. You don’t have access to the house. The wood is very shaded and can be much cooler. It gets seriously muddy and slippery, particularly towards the top. Not for a ‘hoping-for-the-best’ weather day and possibly not for a day after heavy rain.
- You’ll get told off if your kids knock over the giant chess pieces. Just sayin’.
- The additional charge of £1.50 per person each way for the canal boat might irk some.
CALL FOR FEEDBACK: I’d love to hear whether you liked or disliked this post. I adore Groombridge, so obviously have lots to say about it. But perhaps this is just too much information. Did you find it useful? Do you think the Little Lewes posts are saying too much or lacking anything?
Be honest. I welcome feedback.