The perfect picnic spot… Polesden Lacey
Looking for somewhere to plonk your blanket and wicker basket? Polesden Lacey in Great Bookham is ideal for families with a children's woodland play area, stunning formal gardens and no less than 1,400 acres to explore.
We’re spoilt for choice for beautiful National Trust sites in Surrey compared to many other counties – each one offering up something special and unique for a family day out.
There’s Box Hill for scenic walks and some of the most spectacular views in the Surrey Hills; Winkworth Arboretum, a tranquil 95-acre collection of beautiful trees and shrubs; Claremont Gardens, a beautiful 18th century landscaped garden; Hatchlands Park, a classic country house surrounded by beautiful parkland; and Dapdune Wharf, the historic home of the Wey barges offering boat trips and tranquil riverside walks – to name just a few!
But today, it’s , that I’m heading to for a picnic with the Mister and an afternoon of live jazz on the lawns overlooking the rolling Surrey Hills. How very English!
But on this gloriously sunny Sunday, it’s a picnic and an afternoon of live jazz music with the Mister in the grounds of Polesden Lacey, just outside the village of Great Bookham, that I have planned.
The fact it’s sunny, a Sunday and there’s live jazz music, means this former playground for the rich and royal is buzzing with families, extended family gatherings, couples and groups of friends. As well as the Lazy Sunday Jazz (on the south lawn, in front of the mansion house, every Sunday from 2pm-4pm), there are formal gardens to explore, plenty of walks, and traditional games.
BEST PICNIC SPOTS
But where to park your picnic? On a Sunday afternoon, the obvious spot is the South Lawn where you can also enjoy the sounds of smooth jazz tunes drifting out from the terrace. It’s a pretty perfect spot, with far-reaching views out over the Surrey Hills. There are some trees here, if it’s a shady spot you seek, but mostly you’ll be in the sun – so don’t forget the sunscreen and a hat. Some families had set up small shade tents, so if you have one, it’s worth bringing it along.
The lawns are tiered and sloping; perfect roly-poly territory for those who thrill at spilling down hills and creating havoc with grass stains. Dogs are welcome on leads at Polesden, though not in the formal gardens which on Jazz Sundays, includes the South Lawn.
Other lovely areas for lounging and picnicking – and a spot of croquet if you fancy (mallets and balls can be collected for free at the entrance) – are the West Lawn or the shaded upper sunken garden. You’ll find picnic tables in the Crab Apple Orchard just off New Lime Walk, and in the Home Farm orchard, a peaceful spot tucked away through the formal gardens.
Families with energetic youngsters might want to pitch up with their picnic in the wooded Preserve Copse or the adjacent lawns along the Bagden Drive footpath, on the eastern side of the house.
There’s a rustic wooded play area here, with everything from rope tree swings and balance beams to a rustic table tennis table. Or, simply play hide and seekk among the trees. Handily, it’s also near the toilets, and there’s also a refreshment van here too.
During July and August, families can take part in the traditional games that are set up in the pleasure grounds including wheelbarrow slalom races, frisbee golf and quoits.
The gardens here are at their best in the summer months, where you’ll find borders and beds bursting with colour and fragrance. Budding gardeners will love the Edwardian walled rose garden, with more than 2000 roses, which even towards the end of July was filled with buds, although the rambling roses had already had their starring moment.
Take a walk through the double herbaceous borders with red hot pokers, lush purple nepeta and plenty of other stars. Don’t miss the lavender garden, a mass of purple shades, the kitchen garden and cut flower garden, and the Ladies’ Garden.
With 1,800 acres to play with there are plenty of walking opportunities with four way-marked trails which takes in two working farms, ancient woodlands, historic farmsteads and rolling downland, as well as the gardens. The walks range in length from 1.5 miles for the Chalk Pit walk to the four mile Ranmore Common walk.
Longer routes – for those inclined – take you across Ranmore Common through some beautiful ancient woodland to Denbies Hillside where you’ll have stunning views. It’s around five miles, but not too strenuous – follow this route. Or, there’s the Polesden Lacey Big Walk – an energetic route that takes you into the heart of Ranmore Common with fantastic views over Denbies Hillside that can be enjoyed at any time of year.
Polesden Lacey is the former home of super-rich Edwardian socialite Dame Margaret Greville, a lady who well-known for royal connections and lavish parties attended royalty, politicians and celebrities including King Edward VII, Winston Churchill, Queen Mary and Beverly Nichols.
The house – at the behest of Dame Maggie – must be ‘fit to entertain Maharajas in’ and indeed it is with its glittering gold saloon, carved timber-panelled central hall and collections of rare ceramics and silver, and superb French, Italian and Dutch paintings. You can see these in the Treasured Possessions Exhibition on now until 30 October, and then again next year from 1 March to 29 October.
Polesden Lacey, Great Bookham, near Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6BD
SatNav: Use the postcode KT23 4PZ