I’ve written a fair bit about Groombridge Place recently (see previous posts here). I went to visit it earlier this year but it was closed as the dates on it’s website had been wrong. I complained and after a fairly long delay, I received a reply with an apology and the offer of some courtesy tickets.
On Monday, I visited Groombridge Place again and had a lovely time. I think it’s only fair that I write a little about my positive experience.
It was fortunate that the weather over the bank holiday weekend was superb, because Groombridge Place is mainly grass and wooded areas; I don’t think it would be a lot of fun in the rain.
Before visiting Groombridge Place for the first time, I read many reviews and to be honest, positive reviews were in the minority. A lot of the negative comments were about the state of the place and the attitude of the staff. There were also a few comments about the fact that you couldn’t explore Groombridge House itself, but in fairness, there’s nothing on the Groombridge Place website to suggest that you can.
It seems that since new management took over for 2013, Groombridge Place has been sorted out. The area by the ticket office and the restaurant has only just been renovated and the whole place is well-kept and clean. At no point did I look at something and think “yuk”. The toilet facilities, whilst basic and fairly old, were clean none-the-less. What more do you need from a toilet?
Groombridge Place was busy on Monday, but I suspected as much when I had to park in a field at the bottom of a hill which leads up to the entrance- when I’d previously turned up, I was able to drive up the hill and park in a gravel car park. Clearly, this was full up and when I popped back to the car at around 2pm to get my picnic, the field was rapidly heading the same way.
There is disabled parking in the gravel car park, but this isn’t very apparent when you arrive and park in the lower field. The trek up the hill from the lower field is likely to be quite difficult for the elderly or infirm. If you accidentally let go of a wheelchair or pushchair at the top of the hill, the occupant would surely be killed from the 50mph impact with a wall or a tree at the bottom of the hill. My only criticism here would be that disabled parking needs to be signposted as you have no way of knowing upon arrival where you’d need to go. For the record, this is coming from someone who isn’t disabled, but is a little on the tubby side.
I brought a picnic because I’m on a bit of a health-kick at the moment and I knew that if I relied on the restaurant at Groombridge Place, I’d end up eating unhealthily and would probably pay a fair bit for the privilege. Because I had my own lunch, I can’t comment on the food at Groombridge Place (the food was another issue which had caused some negative opinions on the various review sites). However, the queue for food was quite long throughout the day and I didn’t see anyone vomiting or hear anyone complaining, so the food must have been quite acceptable. The restaurant had only just been renovated and was nice, fresh and airy.
Just behind the restaurant, there’s a small grassy area with some picnic benches on it. As the benches were full and I had my picnic blanket with me, I plonked myself down on the grass in the corner, just the other side of the hedge from the children’s’ entertainment corner.
The gardens are very pretty but looking at flowers and bushes isn’t my cup of tea, so I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in the gardens. In fact, all the gardens did for me was make me realise how fortunate I am that my own garden isn’t bigger than it is as cutting the grass would he a huge pain in the arse.
There’s a small river behind the picnic area and for £1.50, you can ride on the ‘canal boat’ down to the forest. Although this looks very nice, there’s really not an awful lot of point to it. The distance it travels is so short, you could walk there and back a few times in the time that you’d wait for the ‘canal boat’ to return after the previous journey. Also, you wouldn’t be able to have a close look at the various animals in the field alongside the footpath.
At the end of the footpath is a giant field, which doesn’t serve much of a purpose. If anything, I felt quite intimidated in this field as there was a gaggle of geese strolling about and for some unknown reason, geese hate me. I’m not even exaggerating- they just hiss at and chase me for no reason at all. Adult geese can run very fast and they’re very defensive over their little ones. It’s the same as llamas or alpacas- they just hate me. They stare me down with their slitty little eyes before spitting at me for no reason. Geese and camel-based creatures scare the crap out of me and I’m not afraid to admit it.
I don’t know if it’s a regular thing, but there were three bouncy castles in the field. I would have loved to have gone on one of these, but sadly I think it’s frowned upon for an adult to do this. Obviously, the presence of these bouncy castles meant that the field wasn’t totally redundant on this occasion but I don’t know if they’re there all of the tme or if indeed anything is under ordinary circumstances.
Te redundant field isn’t redundant at 12:30 or 3:30, because this is when a bird of prey show is put on. I’m much more interested in animals (except if they’re geese or llamas/alpacas) than I am pretty gardens, so this is something that I was looking forward to. I wasn’t disappointed.
There were three birds; a barn owl, something else (I forget what it was now) and an American eagle.
Owls never cease to amaze me; I think they are amazing, beautiful creatures and it’s difficult to believe that in their natural habitat, they’re cruel, calculating predators.
The second bird was, err, a bird of prey and it flew about a bit (observation isn’t one of my strong points).
The third bird was the best out of the three and one of the most amazing creatures I have ever seen; an American eagle. It was huge and looks like it’s wearing trousers on account of it’s feathered legs.
The American eagle flew unbelievably high up and bizarrely, a load of seagulls appeared from nowhere before circling it- I would have thought that they’d keep well-clear of it on account of it being so big.
The American eagle eventually landed but seemed very uneasy after being ganged-up upon by a bunch of bullying seagulls. It was reluctant to fly up on to it’s perch to get the food being used to tempt it; instead, it chose to walk over to Eddie. Watching a bird of prey such as an American eagle walk around so sheepishly is certainly an amusing sight.
After the show had finished, the audience can enter the area where the birds of prey from the show (along with some others) are on display. It’s not the largest of areas and when the enire audience enters it at once, it’s a quite packed. It doesn’t help that there are low beams everywhere, which despite having hazard tape across them to warn anyone more than 5 foot tall, doesn’t stop them from being head magnets.
After a wander around the giant aviary, I headed back across the redundant field and into the woods, which turn out to be quite hilly and quite large. I enjoy walking so this wasn’t an issue for me, but elderly or infirm people are definitely going to struggle with this- there’s not a lot that can be done about it. If you’re elderly or in a wheelchair and you choose to go to an enchanted forest, you need to take some responsibility and accept that your work is going to be cut out.
There’s plenty to see at the enchanted forest. There’s the boardwalk; a series of wooden walkways and steps that lead you around the upper part of the forest, a zip wire (don’t get excited- it’s only very short, is perfectly level and only really exciting for kids), a few pools, a giant spider web up in the trees, which has allegedly been spun from a robotic spider (it looked more like it was made from rope, but don’t tell anyone), some large swings, various sculptures, a totem pole, a tepee and some traditional gypsy caravans.
Some of the features were very obviously man-made and some others were bizarre. For example, attached to the trees which supported the giant spider web were a few random letters- one of the words I was able to spell from these was “death”. Perhaps I’ve missed the point or didn’t read the description properly?
One of the pools had metal poles stuck into it which had bits of wood skewered onto the top of them; another pool had giant tubes across the top at the back, one of which had a giant mirror in it. These features were supposed to make the pools ‘mystical’, but to a degree, it just made them look like a dumping ground for artistic fly-tippers.
The above isn’t really a criticism. You can visit any woods or forest anywhere in the world and if you enjoy walking through nature, you’ll enjoy the walk regardless of anything else. In the enchanted forest at Groombridge Place, there are features that make your walk more interesting and a little more fun.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself on Monday and I’ll definitely be returning to Groombridge Place. It’s hard to say whether or not it would be as much fun if the weather wasn’t as lovely as it was, but this can be said about any attraction. When I first tried to visit Groombridge Place, it had been grey and miserable- I had my wellies and coat. In a way, I’m grateful that Groombridge Place originally having the wrong dates on their website because my visit on Monday was totally perfect. Even if the weather had been a little bit grim, I still would have enjoyed myself.
If you want an enjoyable day out which is fun for the whole family, I would genuinely recommend that you visit Groombridge Place. I think it’s fair to say that any previously negative reviews are from a time when the management didn’t care so much but now that Groombridge Place is under new management, an entirely different attitude has been taken.