On a summer Sunday afternoon my 18 year-old daughter and I go for a stroll around Groombridge Place Enchanted Forest and Gardens. Groombridge is a gorgeous 17th century moated manor house near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, with a 200-acre estate with woodland and historic formal gardens to explore. We used to go there a lot with friends and family when the kids were small, but I hadn’t been there for a few years.
Groombridge Place was owned by the same family for centuries, and from the outside the building looks much as it would have done 300 years ago. The house and gardens were built in 1662 by Philip Packer, a courtier of King Charles II, and the house was used as the Bennet family’s home in the marvellous 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Today the TV and film producer Justin Bodle owns Groombridge Place. The Grade I listed house isn’t open to the public, but you drive past the front of it on the way to the car park. We stop to look at this view.
17th century formal gardens
The historic formal gardens adjacent to the house are a joy to explore. The gardens are divided into different areas by planting, stone walls and shaped hedges, and there are some beautiful and unusual plants as well as English garden favourites such as roses and lavender. The gardens aren’t overly manicured and feel slightly abandoned, but they’re very pretty. There’s a giant wooden chess set which visitors can play with. There are peacocks roaming free around the gardens and outside the nearby cafe.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent visitor to Groombridge when he lived in nearby Crowborough, as he was friends with the family who lived there in the late 1800s. He used the estate as the setting for his Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The Valley of Fear’, changing its name to ‘Birlstone Manor’ in the book. Next to the formal gardens is a small brick building which is dedicated to the author’s memory, and around the gardens are plaques pointing out features which are mentioned in the novel .
A Groombridge highlight for children is the hillside woodland area, known as the Enchanted Forest. You reach the woods by walking through a vineyard. The first thing that you see amongst the trees is the Red Rope Route. The Red Rope Route is an ‘action trail’ – a kind of low level high ropes course through the woods. It’s suitable for anyone over four years old, and there’s a boardwalk which follows alongside it, which we walk on.
There are various other features for kids to enjoy in the woods, including giant tree swings, and a couple of adventure playgrounds. There are also some pretty painted wooden caravans which have seen better days. If you’re in the woods, look out for wildlife – we spot a couple of wild fallow deer there as we walk through.
Canal boat rides
At the end of the forest area is a canal, and to get back to the gardens you can either follow the path which runs alongside the water, or take an open top canal boat. We walk, this time, but I remember many occasions when the boat option was perfect for tired little legs.
Groombridge Place is home to a zedonk – a cross between a zebra and a donkey. He used to live in an enclosure near to the action trail in the woods, but now seems to be in a field near the entrance, so do go and see him if you visit.
Birds of prey
There are daily birds of prey displays at Groombridge during the summer months, featuring birds such as eagles, hawks, owls and falcons. Displays take place on the meadow below the vineyard and forest. A birds of prey conservation centre, the Raptor Centre, is based at Groombridge.
There’s a cafe at Groombridge with an attractive interior and an outside seating area. However, we spot a level 1 (out of 5) food hygiene rating on a notice from the Food Standards Agency. The notice is displayed in a back window, and says ‘MAJOR IMPROVEMENT NECESSARY’, so I probably wouldn’t eat at the cafe at the moment.
Groombridge Place is around 30 miles south of London. To get there by train, travel from London Charing Cross to Tunbridge Wells then take the Spa Valley Railway steam train (if it’s running) from Tunbridge Wells West and walk 10 minutes to Groombridge. If the steam train’s not running, take a taxi from Tunbridge Wells to Groombridge. When we go, we drive to Groombridge and park there.
Adults from £8.95, children (3-12) from £7.45, canal boat (each way) adults £1.50, children £1.00.
I always enjoy visiting Groombridge Place. It’s great for a family day out with kids, but it’s also an interesting and enjoyable place to explore without children. It’s a shame that the cafe has such a low rating from the Food Standards Agency, but hopefully that will improve. In any case, you can always take your own food – Groombridge is a perfect place for a picnic.
Over to you
If you’ve visited Groombridge Place, how did you find it? If you haven’t been, would you like to, and is there anything else that you’d like to know about our visit?
In the area
Check out some of my other posts about historic places to visit in the area: