Friday 29 July 2016

Woolbeding Gardens

Woolbeding Gardens is a bit of an unusual National Trust property, in that you have to pre-book your visit. And then the instructions are all a bit MI5-like - 'arrive at this car park and wait for a bus to come and collect you' - as if you're going to discover that Oompa Loompas actually exist and are working as gardeners in Sussex.

Woolbeding Gardens

The other challenge is that Woolbeding is only open on Thursdays and Fridays. This is because the tenant uses the property as his weekend home and for some strange reason he doesn't seem keen on having hundreds of people clumping past his window while he's watching Saturday Kitchen.

So if I'm being honest, all of this faff meant that I wasn't feeling particularly positive about Woolbeding. And then I got there and I absolutely LOVED it. 

Here's why I LOVED it:
  • There have been people in Woolbeding since Saxon times!
  • The house we see at Woolbeding today still has some elements of the Elizabethan building in it, eg the chimney stacks:
Woolbeding Manor House
Props to the couple who sat at the table eating their packed lunch,
looking like they owned the gaff - I am definitely doing that next time
  • However, it is mainly a Georgian building that was constructed by Sir Richard Mill
  • The house was sold in 1791 to Lord Robert Spencer, third son of the Duke of Marlborough, who wanted to knock it all down and build something mad but he wasn't allowed to
  • He invited all his Whig friends to stay and the manor became known as "a temple of Whiggery", which is a fabulous nickname for any house
  • He planted a tulip tree which grew to be the tallest in Europe! It was blown down during the Great Storm of 1987, missing the house by two feet! Eek!
  • The Lascelles family acquired the place in 1893
  • The National Trust took it over in 1956 
  • In 1972, the NT leased it to Simon Sainsbury, of supermarket fame, and his partner, Stewart Grimshaw, who is a botanist and still lives there today
  • They transformed the place, creating a wonderful garden that is a complete joy to walk around
  • The designer William Pye designed the large fountain by the house - it is called Cedra and it commemorates a large cedar tree that fell down: 

  • William Pye tells the story of the fountain on his website - he was taking the brief for the commission when he suddenly realised that he had visited the house as a boy 60 years before and sat under the very tree he was commemorating! Amazing!
  • The garden has two sections - a more formal area close to the house, which was designed by Lanning Roper, with ordered borders. I challenge you to walk around this area without singing "In an English country! Gar-den!" to yourself over and over again:
Woolbeding borders

  • The other area is a more relaxed Pleasure Ground, designed by Julian and Isobel Bannerman:

Woolbeding Pleasure Grounds

I can't recommend the Pleasure Ground enough - there are so many lovely little spots and features to see. And I had it pretty much to myself - for all my whingeing about it being difficult to get to and only open for 5 minutes a week, it was a lovely experience to stroll around in peace and quiet, with only a few other people milling about.

Woolbeding statue

The Woolbeding scones
But I didn't just come to admire an English country GAR-DEN. I came to admire English country SCO-ONES and that's what I did in the very lovely tea-room.

The staff were particularly lovely and friendly and my cream tea came with two generous scones. I occasionally come across a scone that tastes different in every mouthful, and that happened today. They were a tiny bit dry but very tasty.

Woolbeding scones

I've also decided that when I have finish all the scones, I might start a Toilets of the National Trust blog because Woolbeding has the loveliest loos ever. 

Woolbeding Gardens: 5 out of 5
Scones: 4 out of 5
Lovely toilets: 5 out of 5

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