Visiting Groombridge Place After Lockdown 2020

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of adjusting going on. This new world is a strange one that we are navigating slowly as a global community.

Since Freya and Elsa returned to school, we have been venturing out more and doing so in the safest way we can. Making sure we stay in outdoor places that are never too busy.

After our family holiday to the Isle Of Wight last week, I’d like to consider myself a social distancing expert and definitely think I need the t-shirt to confirm it.

As a family, we have decided that life needs to go on. It’s incredibly important for our mental wellbeing to get out of the four walls we’ve been enclosed in for many weeks.

Groombridge Place very kindly gifted us entry for a day out this week. It’s only half an hour from where we live but oddly we’d never been before so it was exciting to not only find out what safety measures had been put in place but also to enjoy a new adventure!

Ahead of our visit I had spent some time doing my own research, it seems that Groombridge Place has been getting some bad reviews and so I was a bit apprehensive. I was definitely interested to see how this reflected on our day out.

Following our visit, I can see how lots of the reviews are very much justified, however, I do feel that if you look past the tiredness of the estate you are able to have an exciting adventure day. After speaking to a member of staff there, the person who owned Groombridge Place passed away quite suddenly and I believe this has most likely had a negative impact on the estate.

Anyway, I want to share our day out with you as honestly as I can because we definitely had a very enjoyable time.

Groombridge Place is a historic estate that has a moated manor house, formal gardens, a canal. vineyard, farmland and woodland. It is located in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. The drive is pleasant with countryside views.

We found it easy to spot with the signposted gates and the country lane leading towards the house is pretty. 

There wasn’t any visible signage to show us where the parking was but we followed the lane down to a small car park. Later on in the day, it was obvious that they had an overflow car park into the field. 

On the way into the car park, I saw a sign which said “admissions” if I hadn’t seen that it wasn’t easy to figure out which way to go for the entrance as a first time visitor.

We had a warm welcome at the admissions office. They took the time to talk through the map, tell us what was open and what wasn’t. It was actually quite a humorous experience and the man involved the girls in it too.

I would recommend taking a photo of the map or downloading it online here prior to visiting as I only spotted one map throughout our day which was in the far top woodland area. Although I would say it wasn’t that hard to get lost, once you’ve done a little wander around. Everything sort of leads to the same places.

 

As with most days out and the consequence of having three babies, I needed to use the toilet facilities on arrival. There are two open toilet facilities despite there being three on the map. One is by the entrance and the other near the lower Crusoe’s World. Personally I think there needs to be another in the woodland area somewhere as it is a rather big walk back down when your youngest decides she needs to go… Can you tell I was the one who was given that task of finding the loos?!

Anyway, the toilets at admissions were clean with plenty of soap and Groombridge Place has restricted it to two people in the building at any time. Perfect for social distancing. However, they definitely need a bit of a revamp as there were holes and paint falling off. They felt a bit sad. 

It was welcoming to see lots of social distancing signs around the entrance area and in fact, they were around the gardens, play areas and woodland area too. The perfect little reminder for guests.

However, I was a bit disappointed with the lack of hand sanitisers around, we possibly counted three or four that we came across in the whole estate and obviously, with only two toilet facility blocks it was quite hard to keep hygiene levels up. Thankfully, I always carry my own sanitiser so I could keep our family safe myself.

In terms of the things that were closed. Only the canal boat, the Treetop Walkway and Maze are remaining shut through these unprecedented times.

The manor house itself is a private home which I didn’t actually realise, I am rather nosy and love a stately home that you can explore.

Seeing as we were first-time visitors, we decided to explore the gardens first. It’s so dreamy to imagine what life would have been like to be a child running free in these gardens.

The gardens did feel a bit brambly and full of weeds but you could see the potential. I had expected lots of colourful flowers that would leave me with garden envy. But instead, it felt like someone had once loved this place so much and then it had been left to slowly grow.

We did spot the peacock who is a bit of a mascot of the estate. There’s also a giant chess board but some other children were enjoying a game so we left them to it and headed for the Secret Garden. Another gorgeous little nook of the formal gardens with a stream that runs into the moat.

With the canal boat not in operation, quite sad as it looked like a wonderful experience, we were able to take a slow stroll along the canal path. We passed a fenced-off field with a little Shetland pony and a Zedonk.

I’ve seen a Zedonk from afar as a child but never had the joys of being able to stroke one. He was a gentle little soul and the girls thoroughly enjoyed his company.

It’s worth noting that Groombridge Place didn’t seem too busy at opening time, we wandered around the gardens and along the canal quite freely. If you want to get more of a feel of our day out, I have popped in my video right at the bottom of this blog post for you to enjoy.

The canal path goes past the Birds Of Prey show field, the Events field and leads you to Crusoe’s World. It is quite a walk and I’d definitely suggest that Groombridge Place is for an adventurer especially with the steep hill woodland too.

I won’t lie, I was pretty blown away by Crusoe’s World. I’m probably just easily pleased but the play area was incredible. It was rustic, slightly tired in places but this somehow added to the theme and atmosphere of pirates.

The girls especially loved the tree-boat that overhung the canal water. The play experience felt authentic with bouncy rope bridges and ladders to climb. My three girls who are aged 11, 7 and 5 years of age had a brilliant time running around.

It wasn’t too busy at this time either so it was easy to social distance. During the time I came back down to use the toilets with Elsa, the play area did look rather busy so I’m glad the rest of my family were up in the woodland. This was about midday.

Later in the day, about 3pm (Groombridge Place closes at 4pm), we returned back to Crusoe’s World and it was nearly empty. The girls actually made a little friend. It was equally heartbreaking and heartmelting to see them playing socially distant from each other in this new world.

Crusoe’s World also has a refreshment cabin. It’s slightly expensive but nothing more than you’d expect from a tourist attraction. My husband bought a can of fizzy for £1.50 for reference.

I did have to keep referring back to the map I’d downloaded to figure out where we needed to head next.

We took a quick stop to the Cowboy Fort. This is the area we found to be the most run-down out of Groombridge Place. There were cobwebs everywhere, broken fences/benches and it all seemed a bit sorry for itself. The girls had a quick turn on the swings and then we headed further into the Enchanted Forest.

It was clear that the lockdown and the sad death of the owner were taking its toll a bit. There was meant to be a few pond/pools to explore but they had sadly dried up and the double spiral was quite overgrown. The Teepee Village had two teepees in that were sadly graffitied on the inside.

Despite these things, the girls were honestly having the times of their lives running freely in the woodland and exploring in nature. After some difficult weeks, it felt great to be able to explore so freely and go on a true adventure. We laughed a lot!

We have two favourite bits of Groombridge, the first of them being the Giant Swings. Eva is a real thrill seeker and this ticked all the boxes for her. I think the swings could easily be missed especially for anybody who would struggle to get up.

It looks like there used to be some rope attached to the trees to help aid the very steep hill and also find your way. This made getting up to the swings a little tricky for myself who wore the most ridiculous shoes for an outdoor woodland hike.

The first swing you reach is a big bowl like swing. This was great fun and it’s suitable for adults too. If you carry on along the path there are other large family-sized swings. There’s something rather exciting about swinging into the woodland. It was at this point that Elsa declared she needed the toilet, whilst we happened to be at the furthest point from them!

If you carry along the dirt path, you will reach the Board Walk. This was our second favourite part of Groombridge Place.

Ultimately it’s a huge wooden walkway that goes into the trees with a zip wire in the middle, tunnels and obstacles to navigate. You couldn’t see the end it was that long.

I questioned the safety of the structure though as there’s most definitely broken parts and wood that has rotted in many places. However, it was so much fun going across this and I would be genuinely sad if it was to be destroyed. I hope that one day Groombridge Place will put some money into revamping this because I can imagine a few years ago this would have been fantastic!

The Board Walk can be entered and exited from three parts. As you wander along there is a cage which you can no longer access. It was once a place for rabbits and guinea-pigs, it sounded pretty enchanting and it’s such a shame they are no longer there.

After reaching the end of the Board Walk, you can walk down the hill towards the giant vineyard. Again, it’s rather overgrown but I just kept thinking about how wonderful this place once was. It felt a bit like my imagination was dreaming up visions of the past. The owners enjoying the sunset as they wandered through their vineyard.

We actually had our picnic at this point on the events field. The weather was nice and sunny (we’d had a spot of rain whilst in the woodland), we then used the toilets once again so we wouldn’t get caught short and headed back towards the vineyard and board walk.

As a family, we really enjoyed going on this woodland adventure. The girls loved running across the woodland bridges, find sticks to have sword fights with and coming up with mini-imaginative games with each other. We even spotted some magnificent deer. 

Our walk after lunch was very chilled out as we went back on ourselves down the rather steep woodland. It’s always easier going downhill right?

We spent a much longer period of time in Crusoe’s World watching the girls make friends and chatting with one of the staff members who’s managing the estate. He was very interesting to talk to and it was probably at this point that I fully understood the situation with the owner. It was just nice to hear some background information rather than what you see on the surface.

The very last thing we did before heading home was to watch the Birds Of Prey show. These happen twice a day, 12 pm and 3:30 pm. It’s always amazing to learn about these wonderful birds and see them in action. My favourite being the tiny burrowing owl who hopped along the floor so sweetly.

Lastly, for facilities, I wanted to mention that there is a gift shop which we didn’t go in and also the restaurant in the entrance area is only serving very limited food like snacks, drinks and cake. Sadly at this point in time they cannot serve hot food. So I’d recommend taking a picnic with you as there’s lots of places you can eat and enjoy nature at its best.

I would be very grateful if you would take some time to watch the video from our day out. It shows Groombridge Place more naturally and the fun we had there.

There is absolutely no way I could hide the fact that it is quite run down at the moment and in desperate need of some TLC. But I do feel strongly that this had no effect on our day. We made our own fun and enjoyed the facilities exactly as they were. It was a true outdoor adventure.

It’s also super important for us as a family to feel safe when we are heading on days out and starting to visit more attractions as they open. I felt Groombridge Place did a wonderful job at keeping us safe. Staff who were cleaning toilets regularly (in fact I’m pretty sure that staff member was there all day cleaning the toilets constantly) whilst wearing a mask and gloves, there was some hand sanitiser and there was absolutely no moment where I felt someone was getting too close to me. There’s a ridiculous amount of space to explore.

Entrance is costing £25 for a group of 4 people, you have to buy tickets prior to visiting and you can pick a time slot to arrive but stay all day. I would highly recommend if you are after a bit of an explore and some quality time as a family. Stay safe everyone!

Disclosure: Our entrance was gifted to us by Groombridge Place

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