Anyone who knows me will know that my ideal day out will consist of 1 of 4 things: a beautiful building, a beautiful beach, beautiful countryside or a beautiful garden. Penhurst Place ticks two of those things…except it’s not beautiful…it’s stunning, glorious, magical – there’s not enough words to describe it.
Another place that has been on my list for sometime, it was someones comment on my twitter feed about a painting that finally prompted me to visit one very hot sunny day.
Situated in the village of Penshurt, near Tonbridge in Kent – Penshurst Place is a family owned castle and stately home set in beautiful landscaped gardens. Once owned by Henry VIII, it has been in the Sidney family for more than 460 years and its current custodian is the Viscount de L’Ilse and his family. Henry VIII used it as a hunting lodge and then it was given to Anne of Cleeves as part of her divorce settlement, but it was in 1552 that it passed to Sir William Sidney, by Edward VI. Sidney has been a loyal tutor and steward to Edward. It is one of the most spectacular, and beautifully preserved family stately homes in England, which showcases a wonderful mix of beautiful rooms, artefacts, tapestries, paintings and furniture from the 15th-18th centuries in a unique collection of stately rooms.
Modern additions for the twenty first century traveller make this an excellent day out for people of all ages as well as families as there’s so much to do and see here in the house and gardens as well as the wider grounds and we spent a whole day here easily.
On entering the house the first room you come to is the famous Barons Hall. This was described by the writer John Julius Norwich as ‘one of the grandest rooms in the world’, and this stunning medieval hall is at the heart of Penshurst Place. It belonged to the original part of the house, it was completed in 1341 and features a magnificent chestnut roof, several arcaded windows, a 16th century Minstrel’s Gallery and a very unusual octagonal hearth. This then leads you along passages to other stunning rooms which send you back hundreds of years, into times past where you can imagine being a member of the Sidney family and walking the corridors throughout history. One incredible room leads onto another, and each has its own unique history and atmosphere.
Another favourite was the West Solar room which was once withdrawing room of the medieval house, the family would go here for some privacy. But every room you go into, there’s a wonderful display of Jacobean and later furniture, family portraits, coats of arms, and a real sense of a medieval hall. Yet despite its grand feel, it also has a homely feel to it and it still feels like a family live here. Recently it has been used for TV and Films and many scenes from Wolf Hall for the BBC were filmed here. There are photographs of the actors and scenes as well as examples of the costumes and set dressings that were used in the filming, which is fascinating to see.
Outside there are extensive grounds, about 11 acres which are divided into garden rooms. From the south lawn outside the main building there is a wonderful vista of a formal layout the fountain. The village church is to the right on what is known as church terrace although there is no access to the church from the gardens and this needs to be approached from the village.
The Garden Tower is one of the oldest parts of the property and dates from around 1392, and is the only surviving tower that was granted to Sir John Devereux who owned the estate at that time. This is a creates a lovely entrance onto the gardens on the lower terrace. You are led along a glorious yellow and blue border of irises,m aptly named Penshurst Blue and Yellow and was buzzing with the hum of the bees.
From here you can explore the wide range of other garden rooms that there are which include more formal and informal areas, all alive with colour and intrigue and a stunning array of herbaceous plants.
The pond was a particular favourite, especially as we were lucky enough to watch a Heron stalking the fish in the pond for quite some time!
One of my favourite gardens was the bright colourful splash of the Jubilee Walk, a 72 metre double herbaceous border which opened in 2012. I’m a big fan of herbaceous borders and one day hope to have a garden long enough that I can create my own! There’s even a helpful display board which tells you what everything is – great for the avid gardener like me.
Almost at the far end of the garden you reach the orchard, which is a peaceful haven of apple trees shaped into umbrellas and then follows the nut garden. This reminded me of the book The Secret Garden, which was always a favourite of mine as a child and secretly still is to this day. I loved the idea of a secret garden, far away from everyone where I could just sit and not be disturbed,m my own little haven of peace. This place, had a wonderful sense of timelessness and solitude. The bees buzzed, a blackbird sang in the trees above, butterflies floated by and there wasn’t a single sole around. William and I sat down, got our books out and just enjoyed the dappled sunshine for half an hour.
Finally we came to the Union Flag Garden and enjoyed the wafts of lavender and roses which floated on the breeze in the late afternoon.
There is fun here for all the family throughout the year with events, activities and workshops throughout the season. There’s a toy museum which we didn’t get to see but will stop in next time, a brilliant adventure playground for all ages and a woodland trail, a maze made of maize in the summer holidays, and a fabulous garden restaurant. There’s also a well stocked gift shop in the visitors building near the car park and the Porcupine Pantry Café which is open daily all year for visitors. We tried both the cafe in the gift shop as well as the main one near the house and both were lovely. A good selection of hot and cold food as well as children’s lunchboxes and we sat under the shade of a horse chesnut tree to enjoy our baked potatoes and ice cream.
Parking is really easy – there’s a huge car park and you can also park here and go on the woodland walks or walk back down the drive and into the village to see the Tudor square and visit the church.
Entrance is reasonable and in line with what you would expect to pay, plus there are some discounts available if you are a member of the RHS or English Heritage.
I can’t wait to come here again – a great day out for all the family.