On Tuesday we went somewhere new to us, somewhere I hadn’t even heard of until very recently. It had been recommended by several people and now we have been I can see why. We went to Groombridge Place; formal gardens, animals and birds of prey, and an enchanted forest near Tonbridge Wells on the Kent Sussex border.
As usual we had planned to arrive mid morning, and as usual we arrived just in time for lunch – although this time it wasn’t all our fault and we had been stuck in traffic for around half an hour, just 4 miles from our destination. So, as usual, we began with our picnic. Once eaten we studied the map and decided to begin our day in the Enchanted Forest. I had seen a sign suggesting that you should allow one and a half to three hours to walk through the forest so I thought we might be able to look around the formal gardens afterwards. I was wrong! We spent almost all afternoon in the forest and could have spent longer I think.
There are two ways to get to the forest; on foot or by canal boat (at a small additional cost). We initially thought we’d take the boat but we waited for a few minutes and saw no sign of it so we decided to walk. Of course, about two minutes along the path the boat came past us but we continued walking and told the kids we’d be better getting the boat back as our feet would be tired by the end!
As we walked there was a wonderful smell of wild garlic all around us and beautiful bluebells all over the woodland floor.
When you reach the Enchanted Forest, the first place you come to is Crusoe’s World, inspired by the TV series Crusoe. Original props from this TV series were reconstructed to create the two tree houses linked together with rope bridges and a central viewing tower. There are two boats for children to play in and some wooden shelters, complete with skeletons hanging up outside. It is fabulous and the kids just loved it!
I knew we couldn’t stay in any one place for too long or we wouldn’t be able to fit everything in, but the kids could have stayed and played here for ages, especially Thomas who was in his element running up and down the ladders to the tree houses.
We gathered everyone up, bought ice cream and walked further in to the forest past a stone lion, a pterodactyl and lots of dinosaur bones. We also saw a sea monster on a nest in the middle of a pond! Finally we reached The Groms Village where the kids played for a short while and Thomas went on the swing.
Next to the swing was the Carp Lake, where for 20p you can feed the hungry fish. Well, of course we had to do this! The kids loved watching the large Carp come up and open their huge mouths to gulp the food down!
A little further up the path and we found The Mystic Pool and The Double Spiral. The kids really started to get in to the magic of the forest here and we started talking about fairies and magic. They needed some reassurance that the magic was pretend but I am pretty sure they believe that the fairies are real. Up along the path from The Double Spiral we found the home of the ancient and very rare Clockwork spider. We spent a while walking around this area – although not right under his web as this did spook the kids a bit! Jasmine kept finding traps the spider had laid, or things he had left lying around after he’d finished playing with them. We found a hole in the ground and it became the spiders footprint. Thomas took a bit of convincing but eventually even he joined in the fun.
From the spiders home we walked down to the Serpents Lair, again needing to reassure the kids it was make-believe. Jasmine caught sight of the serpent in the pool so we didn’t hang around for long and soon we were at the much happier Mossy Bottom, where the fairies live. We spent a long time looking at the fairy houses trying to work out which fairy lived in which house. Ben identified the Christmas Fairy’s house and Thomas thinks he found the Tooth Fairy’s house. They weren’t sure which house belonged to the Dummy Fairy though!
Once out of Mossy Bottom we walked through Tree Fern Valley and up to the Blue Pool and the Teepee village. The Teepees were all full of people enjoying a rest so we walked on and up, through Fort Brant to the Totem Pole. We stopped by the Totem Pole for a while, to catch our breath and explain to the kids what it stood for, before setting off on the Swing Walk. This is a beautiful walk back down the hill with three or four huge tree swings along the way. The hill is very steep in places and these swings are thoughtfully positioned to start of at ground level but as you swing, it appears that you are high above the trees below! They looked wonderful and terrifying all at the same time and I was actually quite thankful that my three were too young to have a go!
At the end of the Swing Walk we reached the Boardwalk, a challenging half mile long walk with aerial walkways, tunnels, rope slides, bridges, obstacles and giant swings suspended from the tallest trees. I wasn’t sure I would manage it but luckily, alongside the adventurous route is a more simple path. I chose this one and Jasmine and Ben came with me, while Thomas loved the tunnels and bridges on his chosen path.
By now we were all getting tired – Gordon and I especially! We’d been on the go continually for over 3 hours. The Enchanted Forest had been amazing, the Boardwalk was fantastic, but we were ready to sit down. We began the walk back to Crusoe’s World to catch the boat for one last adventure but as we did we caught the end of the Birds of Prey display. The final bird was just being brought out and we gasped when we saw it.. a Bald Eagle! We had to stay and watch!
We watched this beautiful bird fly high up into the trees, dive down to the perches for food and capture this picnic blanket left on the ground by another group!
Finally it was time to get the boat back to the main entrance. We debated having one final look round the formal gardens but we were just too tired!
We had a wonderful, magical day at Groombridge Place. Having heard such positive recommendations from friends it had a lot to live up to, but it did it. We can’t wait to go back again!