EXPLORING GATTON AS THE SUN CAME OUT
Gatton Park and Gardens are wonderful parklands and woodlands which feels like it is deep in the middle of the countryside but is only minutes from the M25. It is also home to a private co-educational boarding school which was originally two schools for orphans, boys and girls living and learning separately from 1760 when the boys’ school opened, the girls’ school following a couple of years afterwards. The Gatton Trust oversees the conservation of the parks and gardens and opens them to the public on a few days each year. There are often events running during school holidays but the grounds are also open on the afternoon of the first Sunday of the month, February to October. It is only £5 entry for an adult and children are free so it is a really good value afternoon out! Moreover, dogs are welcome on leads.
The Park is famous for the work that Capability Brown carried out there between 1762 and 1766 when the stunning lake was extended, smaller lakes added, formal landscaping replaced with more naturalistic design and the parterre created to afford sweeping views of the lake and grounds. Today much of this work remains alongside woodland and later additions to the garden including the Edwardian Japanese Garden, added at the request of Sir Jeremiah Coleman (of Coleman’s mustard fame and fortune) when there was a fashion for the influence of the Orient.
When we arrived it was overcast and chilly. We headed straight down to the bottom of the estate, enjoying the wildflowers as we went – bluebells and cowslips amongst them – and being surprised by a glimpse of a residential road as we rounded the curve of the lake. There is a bird hide at the far side of the lake where a very helpful volunteer was manning the quite impressive selection of binoculars. He helped us to spot the enormous gangly ‘baby’ herons looming out of their nests in Surrey’s only heronry. There are twenty to thirty nests here each year although you can’t see them all from the hide. There was also a swan, several mallards, coots, moorhens and a Great Crested Grebe carrying her chicks on her back!
We really enjoyed exploring the rest of the gardens. The Japanese Garden has a wooden tea house that is available for private hire for morning or afternoon tea during the May half-term which would be lovely. The peonies were stunning. My younger daughter had a great time following a spring flower trail around the rock garden, having found a little friend to run about with. We called into the refreshments room for a drink because we were fairly hot and thirsty by this time. Run by volunteers it is a far-cry from an expensive and well-stocked National Trust tearoom but you can get tea or coffee, squash and a homemade cake or flapjack and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Gatton Park has all sorts of events coming up in the next few weeks including a Fairytale Treasure Hunt, Junk Modelling and the Gatton Fair so it’s definitely worth a visit.