This tour has a little bit of something for most people: whether you love gardens, are a film buff, enjoy history and old houses, or are just looking for something a bit different from the usual tourist sites. On this tour, you would not imagine that the hustle and bustle of our capital city was a mere 30 minutes away by train – Surrey can seem a world away with its stunning green rolling hills, vast amounts of woodland, pretty little villages and history around every corner.
Our journey takes us along a pretty stretch of the River Thames where the Magna Carta was sealed, at Runnymede. In another half hour or so, we arrive at the world-famous RHS Garden Wisley. Entrance is included in the price of the tour. The flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society, Wisley captures the imagination with richly planted borders, luscious rose gardens and the state-of-the-art new Glasshouse. The gardens change throughout the seasons, so there is always something different to see. And even if it’s raining, the cathedral-like Glasshouse, with its three climatic zones has plenty for you to look at under cover, with tree ferns, tall palms, luscious creepers and dazzling flower displays.
There is a choice of cafes where to grab a coffee, and combined with browsing the extensive gift and plant shop, means the 90 minutes we have here will soon fly by. (I confess I spent a good half hour the other day just in the gift shop, there was so much to choose from with gifts, produce, books and children’s toys)
But it will be time to show you more of the Surrey countryside as we travel along narrow (and I do mean ‘narrow’!), hilly country lanes through vast expanses of woodland and through some truly delightful villages to arrive at our lunch stop. Shere, although just a small, pretty village, became famous when a certain Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz were filmed there for parts of the 2006 film, ‘The Holiday’. We have about 75 minutes here for lunch, and even though it’s a small village, you will still have a choice of at least 3 places to eat at. I’ve eaten at the Lucky Duck Tea Room and The White Horse, a former smugglers’ pub built in 1425. Timbers from Nelson's ship, Victory, form the beams in the restaurant. I’ve yet to try The William Bray, as it’s the most expensive, but the menu does look very tempting!
Now, there is one place in Surrey that is very much my secret gem – it’s only open to the public between May and August each year, and only on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, so if you’re on this tour then, you will be lucky enough to visit Loseley House, a wonderful Tudor house, built on the explicit orders of Queen Elizabeth I so that she would have somewhere comfortable to stay when visiting the More family! What the Queen wants, the Queen gets. Fortunately for us, it means we have the opportunity to visit what is still the home of the More-Molyneux family. If you choose to go in the house, the guides will give you a detailed tour of the house and its history. The gardens are also delightful to stroll around.
At other times, we will visit Clandon Park, one of the country's most complete example of a Palladian mansion, containing a superb collection of 18th-century furniture, porcelain and textiles, or Ham House, a 400 year old treasure trove. Both are now owned by the National Trust, and as with Loseley House, you will have about an hour to explore on your own. Entrance is included in the price.
All too soon, it will be time to head back along the motorway to return to Windsor.
There are some occasions when none of the houses are open, especially during the winter months. In these instances we will visit the historic market town of Guildford instead. If you are interested in this tour, I will let you know what is available.
Depart at 09.30; Arrive back approx 5pm (traffic allowing)
What extra costs should you factor in?
- The gift shop at Wisley or refreshments. (That’s just a ‘warning’ - the gift shop is extensive and it is easy to spend more than you plan to. Trust me; I know!!)
- Lunch - click on links above to go to their websites. Lucky Duck tea rooms will be similar in price to ‘The White Horse’ or a little cheaper.