Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Groombridge Place

One of my favourite places to take kids is Groombridge Place Gardens and the Enchanted Forest near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. It's about an hour's drive away from New Cross/Brockley, but has a couple of signficant local connections as we shall see.

Really there's two parts to it. The Enchanted Forest is a child-centred woodland walk, with walkways, animals (including pigs and peacocks) and best of all some giant tree swings.

At different times there are various other activities, such as facepainting, storytelling, birds of prey displays etc.

Then, with the kids probably too tired to run around anymore, you can visit the formal gardens of Groombridge Place. The moat dates back to an earlier manor house which from about 1400 to 1600 was the home of the Waller family. The poet Edmund Waller - after whom a school is named in New Cross - was descended from this family, but did not (contrary to what I once thought) live at Groombridge as it had been sold by the time he was born.

The current house itself was built for Philip Packer in 1662, and his friend John Evelyn helped him design the gardens. Evelyn of course lived in Deptford at Sayes Court, with its own famed gardens.

Some of the features of Evelyn and Packer's garden remain (see detail at London's Lost Garden)

A number of trees also remain from the 17th century garden, including this mistletoe-bearing apple tree.

Groombridge Place has featured in a number of films, most notably the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice (with Keira Knightley) and Peter Greenaway's great 1982 film 'The Draughtman's Contract'

Tip: take a picnic and eat in the fields outside before you pay to go in, there's plenty of space. Obviously you don't have to have kids to go, the gardens are worth a visit. Peaks season it's £10 in for adults, £8.45 for children (prices include admission to Enchanted Forest and formal gardens) so it does work out quite expensive if you are in a big group - though there are some family ticket deals and children under three are free.

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