It was forecast to be a dull October Sunday, but as we arrived at Groombridge Place in Kent, it turned out to be one of those perfect autumn days, when the year reminds you how beautiful the growing season has been.
It was a day for adventures and Groombridge is definitely the place to have them. From the 17th century gardens to the romantic Jacobean moated manor house – still privately owned, and the ancient woodland which can now be traversed by a new treetop walkway.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a regular visitor to Groombridge and he set the last Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear here (although it is renamed Birlstone Manor in the book). The Drunken Garden, with its crazy topiary shapes was a favourite of his.
The gardens are still laid out according to the original 17th century grid pattern, designed by Philip Packer with help from the horticulturalist and diarist John Evelyn as a series of outdoor rooms. We also explored the Knot Garden, the Giant Chessboard, the Secret Garden and the yew maze.
After lunch in the slightly overwhelmed cafe, the Little Weeds were delighted to take a boat along the canal – an offshoot of the River Grom – to reach ‘The Enchanted Forest’. We landed in Crusoe’s World, a fantastic adventure playground. Littlest Weed loved playing pirates on the life-size pirate ship complete with crow’s nest and below decks, while his big sisters quickly scrambled up to the treetop walkway – a taster for the much longer one which opened in the forest this summer.
There is also cowboy fort, an over-sized swing and a giant spiders web woven between the trees. While Mr Carrot took Little Weeds #1 and #2 on the long treetop walkway, I stayed with Littlest Weed who at 3 and a half was a bit too young (it is recommended for five plus and under-10s must be accompanied by an adult). We grew bored of waiting and wandered off to find the end of the walkway. We came across a Romany encampment, a Wishing Pool, a Teepee Village, the Serpent’s Lair and the funny little miniature Little Grom Village, but we did not find the others and after what seemed like hours I started to worry that we really were under some sort of enchantment.
In the end, Mr Carrot, whose phone was (typically) out of battery, had to call me from the shop next to the entrance, a good 15 minute walk away. Littlest Weed and I walked back along the canal, past the crocodile (spot it) and the zedonk (a cross between a zebra and a donkey, yes really). We were finally reunited and after a five hour visit it was time to head home. There really is something to do here for everyone… just beware of being led astray by pixies in the wood!