Penshurst Place & Gardens is a beautiful historic estate in England’s Weald of Kent, near Tunbridge Wells, and it’s a wonderful place for a day out, with or without children. Penshurst Place feels like a National Trust property, but it’s actually the current and ancestral home of the Sidney family. King Edward VI granted the 2,500-acre Penshurst Estate to Sir William Sidney in 1552 and Sidneys have lived there ever since, adding to the house and gardens over the centuries. Along with Hever Castle, Groombridge Place and Chartwell, it’s one of my favourite local places for relaxing a day out, particularly the gardens.
The manor house is fascinating to explore. The medieval Baron’s Hall, built in 1341, has a 60ft high chestnut-beamed roof and has been used for many royal feasts. At one point Penshurst Place was owned by Henry VIII, who used it as a hunting lodge. The house has been used as a film location for productions such as Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Secret Garden. Apparently, sound recordists from the Harry Potter film series recorded the floor creaks in the Long Gallery to use in the productions.
The Elizabethan formal walled gardens are delightful and surprising. They cover 11 acres and contain a patchwork of trimmed yew hedges which create a variety of separate garden rooms. So one part is an orchard, another contains flower beds in the form of the union flag, another has a kind of stage (ideal for impromptu performances by children) and so on. The earliest records for the Grade I listed gardens date from 1346.
The adventure playground is impressive, and it’s next to the cafe and ice cream kiosk, which is very handy. There’s also a woodland trail and a maize maze (in summer).
The toy museum contains a range of quirky toys from the past. I like the old wooden rocking horses but am not so keen on some of the dolls (there’s even one dressed as a vicar!).
You can eat at Porcupine Pantry or the Garden Restaurant – both are good. Porcupine Pantry is a café next to the entrance and the gift shop and you can eat there even if you’re not visiting the house and gardens. The Garden Restaurant is next to the main house and serves hot meals as well as snacks and drinks. Alternatively you can take a picnic and eat in the gardens or at the adventure playground.
During the school holidays Penshurst usually offers events for children and families, such as craft workshops and storytelling. There are regular craft fairs and guided walks at Penshurst and in the winter there’s a Christmas grotto. The estate is also a popular wedding venue.
If you go by car, there’s ample parking on the estate, and it’s free. To get to Penshurst Place from London you can take a train to Tonbridge (six miles) or Tunbridge Wells (seven miles) and then a taxi. The postcode for Penshurst Place is TN11 8DG.
Over to you
Have you been to Penshurst Place and Gardens, or is it the kind of place which you’d like to visit?