What a super day my family had at Exbury Gardens recently. It got off to a great start with the friendly welcome we received when we arrived; we were given a Map Guide leaflet and the lady at the ticket office helpfully highlighted all the key features circling them on the map, such as the pond, play-park, cafe and the several toilet blocks. Always handy to know! She also talked us through the railway timetable.
The children were given a Family Trail booklet and armed this this and our map we set off to become an Exbury Plant Hunter! An extra incentive is the promise of a packet of salad seeds for us to take home if we took back our finished trail.
Our route (with a few detours down little pathways) took us past the beautiful Exbury House and my son soon spotted an amazing bell hung up in a huge tree. Much fun was had in trying to find a long stick to give the bell a quick dong!
We soon came to the pond (more mini lake in size) and as we approached we could see the water rippling and realised as we got closer it was fish swimming up close to the surface! And just like the trees at Exbury, the fish are huge too! My children spent ages crouched down at the edge watching as the water seemed to bubble with lots and lots of koi carp who were investigating whether we had any tasty food to eat. The view by the pond is beautiful, the children were so happy admiring the fish, we grown-ups even got a 20 minute rest on a nearby bench to admire the peaceful scene.
After consulting the map we decided to complete a few more stops on our Family Trail and with plants such as The Devil's Walking Stick and the Wiggle tree to find, the children didn't need much persuading to move on.
We soon found the Wiggle tree and loved it! We also found some huge trees that we later discovered had blown down in a storm and had continued to grow but laying on their sides! Made for some perfect climbing.
Feeling hungry after our morning we headed to Mr Eddy's Tea Rooms and we all failed to resist having a piece of cake with our drinks which to our delights included carrot cake, coffee and walnut cake and Victoria sandwich, yes they were as delicious as they sound! The Tea Rooms have plenty of room inside as well as out on the patio and they also serve a tasty looking lunch menu which includes children's lunchbox food.
Feeling energised from our break we headed towards the play area, the children loved this. The park looks very new with a good selection of play equipment for all ages. The highlight being the challenge of the monkey bars for my son, whereas my daughter loved the swings and little wooden house.
It was soon time to have a trip on the train, wow, what a beauty! We took a look in the little exhibition at the station first and soon learnt from the information boards the history behind Exbury train and the passion of one man to leave a legacy of the railway at Exbury.
Once boarded on the train the guard needed a volunteer to wave the all-important green flag to signal to the driver he could depart, my son was picked and took absolute delight in his new role!
The train journey was lovely, lots of sculptures of animals to spot along the way and a chance to see a whole other area of the garden that we hadn't made on foot. A good dark tunnel and a few turns later we arrived at Exbury North station. The train guard gave a super short commentary which was really informative on the history of the railway and mentioned the visit of a particularly special lady who planted a yew tree that we could see from the station (clues she has a crown and is rather majestic!)
After our train journey (and another chance to wave the green flag!) we explored a further part of the garden and a last play in the park before having a look in the little gift shop.
Thank you Exbury we were blessed with sunny weather but I can imagine your lovely gardens would look amazing in the autumn and just stunning in the spring too apparently the azaleas and rhododendrons are fabulous!
We plan to be back soon!
Exbury Gardens are in the beautiful New Forest, near Beaulieu and just 20 minutes from Junction 2 of the M27. SO45 1AZ. The Gardens are open from March to November (please check website for dates).
For more information or visit www.exbury.co.uk
Update: And we certainly did go back! Exbury is one of the most beautiful, peaceful places you can imagine. There are plenty of children running around enjoying themselves and making the noises children do (including mine!) but the gardens are so large and tranquil we felt completely relaxed. When you're caught up in the craziness of the school holidays, days like this are very welcome.
The children had an amazing time, exploring, picking up dropped petals, riding the steam train, playing in the park and as part of the Easter Activities they were lucky enough to hold an owl! We were there for over 4 hours and felt like we barely scratched the surface so will be going back again and again. Definitely check the Exbury website before you visit, there are regular family events that you won't want to miss!