Take the kids to … Penshurst Place and Gardens, Kent | Travel
In a nutshell
A vast medieval house at one end of sumptuous gardens, surrounded by bucolic Kent weald countryside. Does it sound a bit cup-of-tea, lemon-drizzle dull? Well, no, because there is an excellent adventure playground, a bewildering wheat field maze, a nature walk and a just-taxing-enough cycle from nearby Tonbridge. The gardens are organised into yew-lined sections, with dramatic changes of colour and mood – as they were back in the day.
The feast enjoyed by Henry VIII at Penshurst in 1519 would cost £1m in today’s money. The following year he executed his host, Edward Stafford.
Best thing(s) about it
The perfectly judged scale – the gardens, play area and house are big enough for a full afternoon of exploration. The house has a superb great hall, Tudor art – including the only portrait of Elizabeth I having a boogie and enjoying herself (La Volta) – and an excellent toy museum with suitably eerie old exhibits. It also makes the most of its involvement in the filming of scenes of Wolf Hall, thanks to enthusiastic attendants. And the huge border of June-flowering peonies is enough to reduce even the most florally resistant child to silent awe – for a moment or two.
What about lunch?
We’ve been a few times and usually taken a picnic, but top it up with a slice of cake from the Garden Restaurant by the house. Good-quality hot food is available (homemade pies £8.95, classic roasts £12; no burgers or fries) but you really want to be outside the restaurant in thecourtyard, where seating is limited and tables a bit wobbly, enjoying a cream tea (£5.50). There’s also a cafe by the play area, which serves artisan ice-cream.
Exit through the gift shop?
There’s no other way out; but if you like locally produced chutneys, jams, and booze there is good stuff here – bottles of Chiddingstone cider (£4) and wines from Kent vinyards Biddenden and Hush Heath (around £12). There are also fashion accessories, kitchenware, books on Kent and history. Outside, plants are on sale from Penshurst’s nursery.
Arrive on your bicycle and you get a £1 discount. Bikes can be hired in Tonbridge from Cycle Ops, close to Tonbridge Castle and the start of the six-mile Tudor Trail, which runs alongside the Medway river and through Haysden country park (ice-cream and drinks available). My kids were only five and six when they first did it, without much difficulty. Trains from London to Tonbridge are frequent and take under an hour. If you want to take your bikes on your car you can park in Tonbridge at the pay car park by the leisure centre and pick up the Tudor Trail there.
Value for money?
A very varied day out with plenty for kids and adults at a fair price: £9 adults, £6 child (5-15), family from £22, add a couple of quid for adults and 50p for kids to include the house. No spectacular rides but for active kids it’s a winner.
Gardens and grounds 10.30am-5pm; house noon-4pm. Open daily until 29 October.
9/10. We’ve been back a few times, always on bikes.