Looking for a day out that will keep the whole family happy - from kids to grandparents including the dog? It has to be Painshill in Cobham.
With family visiting from Australia, a teenager and tween, plus two dogs in tow, I was looking for a day out that we’d all enjoy – somewhere the Aussie’s hadn’t yet been, and that wouldn’t have the teen nagging me all day to go home so he could resume his slouch on the couch with the xBox.
Well hello Painshill. And didn’t you deliver nicely.
Painshill is one of the most beautiful, quirky and easy-to-navigate gardens in England – and it’s right on our doorstep in Surrey, sitting on the outskirts of Cobham just off the A3.
Set on a 158 acre site, the gardens were designed by Charles Hamilton in the 1700s who was inspired by Renaissance art and his tours throughout Europe. The result is an eccentric and almost theatrical garden set around a large serpentine lake with a man-made crystal grotto as its centrepiece and follies and temples included for dramatic effect.
The grotto is spectacular, set on Grotto Island in the centre of the Serpentine lake, with a pretty little bridge leading over to it. But there’s plenty more to see too with paved winding paths leading around the site past a vineyard and a ruined abbey around to a gothic temple. There are pretty bridges – taking you across the lake to and from Grotto Island – and plenty of birds including ducks and swans.
There’s a choice of two routes: the Historic Route (2.5 miles) that Hamilton devised to lead his visitors through the changing vistas of his landscape, and the Short Route (1.5 miles) which takes you through the ornamental grounds.
At the far end of the Historic Route, you’ll find an ancient waterwheel, a gothic tower, a Turkish tent and the Temple of Bacchus as well as the Hermitage. This part of the gardens has some hills and unmade paths – but for most of the gardens, the paths are paved so it’s really easy to get around with a buggy or pushchair. And it’s also good for anyone with walking aids or wheelchairs. Dogs are also welcome, on leads.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Mr Hamilton’s Tea Room is at the visitor centre entrance, where you’ll also find a gift shop and loos. The café has tables both inside and out, and big retractable glass doors offer a great view out over the gardens. In the summer months, the doors are kept open and it’s a really lovely space – so even if you don’t have time to wander through the gardens, the café is worth a visit.
The café includes options for breakfast (until 12.30pm, as well as light bites, sandwiches and mains meals, plus a children’s menu. It’s incredibly good value – with sandwiches between £3.50 and £3.95, and main meals between £5.75 and £9.75. My mum and I both ordered the quiche of the day – a large slice of homemade red pepper quiche served with a big salad – and the kids ordered sandwiches, each one on a big slices of grain farmhouse bread with a side serving of tortilla chips and coleslaw. My dad went for the soup of the day. It was great.
But if you’re more organised than me, picnics are also allowed – and there are literally dozens of beautiful spots to stop with a picnic blanket and enjoy an alfresco lunch.
Set within the pretty walled garden is the conservatory which is available for weddings or private parties. It’s a gorgeous spot, set apart from the rest of the gardens, and when not in use is worth wandering through on your way in or out of the gardens. There’s also a great kitchen garden with plantings of everything from asparagus to zucchini!
Standard entry into Painshill is £8 for adults and £4.10 for kids aged 5-16. Under fives are free, and there’s the option of a family ticket for two adults and up to four kids for £27.
Painshill is open every day from 10am-6pm with the last entry at 4.30pm. During the summer holidays there’s a children’s wild summer holiday camp.