When my sister called to excitedly tell me she had finally joined the National Trust after being inspired by my blog posts, we didn’t waste any time in organising a day out. She didn’t want to drive too far as we had to consider my little nephew and work around his feeding times – so after thumbing through my trusty guide, we opted to visit Claremont Landscape Gardens.
It just goes to show what a difference the weather can make. After driving through the gates, I realised we’d actually taken Monkey to Claremont when he was a baby, but hubby and I had come on a bleak, winter’s day when the ground was covered in frost and there was no sign of flowers or foliage. So I was happy to be returning and seeing a completely different side to this 18th-century garden nestled in the heart of Surrey.
Once a Dukes’ retreat and a playground for real princesses who spent hours uncovering secret spaces, Claremont Landscape Gardens still retains all its original features. For more than 300 years, visitors have been coming to Claremont to enjoy the wonderful gardens that were created by some of history’s finest gardeners including Capability Brown and Charles Bridgeman, who built the three-acre turf amphitheatre which was used to form the centrepiece of an annual event called the Claremont Fête Champêtre. Hundreds of revellers used to descend on Claremont, mostly in costume to enjoy four days of music, theatre and fireworks. Sounds like a blast! The amphitheatre is now used for plays and concerts.
When we arrived, we were all famished so headed straight to the NT cafe and, because it was such a glorious day, we could sit outside to enjoy some lunch. Monkey happily polished off half my jacket potato, while his auntie treated him to an ice-lolly.
With full bellies we decided to make our way to the serpentine man-made lake which affords wonderful views across the whole estate.Monkey spent a while trying to count all the fishes swimming in the water. However, his attention was drawn away by the commotion nearby. We’d actually come on a day where Claremont was showcasing a battle re-enactment of the Jacobite rebellion against the Duke of Newcastle, a former owner of the estate.
We were just in time to see the soldiers loading their firearms and showing the crowds how noisy they were! Monkey thought the whole experience was a little too loud for his delicate ears. We then strolled around the lake towards the amphitheatre and gardens. Monkey was happy to just run up and down between the mounds and chase the ducks – while we enjoyed taking in the breathtaking scenery. As we wandered further into the woodland, it was lovely to discover blankets of bluebells and tiny nooks and crannies. There was a definite feel of a ‘secret garden’ about the place. We then saw a trail leading to the Thatched Cottage and its Georgina Playroom. Set back in its own little area, Monkey headed straight inside to find lots of different activities from a dress-up box of old costumes (Monkey refused to try any on!) to hobby horses, yo yo’s and wooden swords. They even had rugs and wooden picnic food for children to play with. There was still plenty to explore from the miniature 9-pin bowling alley which is near the Duke of Newcastle’s original temple, to the Belvedere Tower, which unfortunately wasn’t open to visitors that weekend. However, Monkey was desperate to go to the children’s play area having spotted it on our travels. We had promised him to go back, and he was delighted when we finally agreed.
The sun was positively beaming down on us while we watched Monkey enjoy himself. And, after a long while in the play area, it was time for us to head home, but not before Monkey had another quick look for fishes in the lake.Claremont Landscape Gardens may not be as big as some of its National Trust neighbours, however, even though you can cover quite a large area in a short space of time, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. Claremont is a stunning, peaceful retreat – you wouldn’t think it’s only a few miles from London. Royalty deemed Claremont their ‘pleasure’ gardens and it’s easy to see why. Just sitting by the lake and taking in the tranquil setting was pleasurable enough – although next time, I must remember to bring a picnic…
National Trust’s Claremont Landscape Gardens, Surrey KT10 9JG; Open daily from 10.00am-18.00pm; Adult £7.25; Child £3.60; Family: £18.10