HAMPSHIRE: Test Valley

Houghton maze lr
By Tim Saunders

For parents, going away for just 24 hours can feel more of an ordeal than a holiday. However, on the build up to our night away at Houghton Lodge and Gardens in Stockbridge, the children are very excited, enjoying imagining what it will be like. We haven’t been away for sometime and so the whole idea really does appeal to them. We only need to take a change of clothes, dinner and breakfast as all bedding and towels are provided. Leaving home at just past 2pm we arrive under an hour later and stay in two lodges: Cox’s Orange Pippin and Barnack Beauty; both named after varieties of apple. We discover that apple trees are truly celebrated at this RHS partner garden with a variety throughout the 14-acre site.

There's a cosy feel to the luxury accommodation that is tastefully decorated with antique furniture and paintings. It is all on one level and user-friendly for all abilities including wheelchair users, who are sure to love the showers complete with underfloor heating. Each lodge caters for two guests. There is a connecting door between each allowing the children a little independence but not too much.

This part of Hampshire is a walker’s delight and staying at Houghton allows guests to stroll around the grounds and discover some really beautiful countryside. The children run around exploring. They discover a beautiful maze, Herbert, the alpaca and some sheep. We see the Oriental garden in progress; you can imagine how delightful this will be when completed. During our spring visit bluebells and daffodils are everywhere. There are many varieties of these trumpeted delights, which really lift the spirits as they sway in the breeze.

Before you know it, it’s time to return to the lodge for dinner. Over the course of our time here Caroline is able to relax for a few hours here and there, which is just as well as it is her birthday weekend. “I love the variety of books and magazines in the rooms, which really helps me relax,” says Caroline, who also likes the coffee machine. We’ve brought a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio and some crisps, too. What else do you need? There are two lovely baths here, which we all put to good use along with the luxury soaps and lotions. The beds are satisfyingly comfortable, too.

In the morning when I pull up the blinds a couple of blue tits greet me. What a lovely start to the day. This brief time away even inspires my creativity; I write a poem (submitted to a competition so cannot publish yet) and sketch the jar of fresh daffodils on the table.

We leave at 10am, park down a side street and rediscover the quaint market town of Stockbridge. Probably the best known and longest established business in town is The Wykeham Gallery run by Gerald Dodson. “The town is really starting to come back to life,” says a passer-by. It is certainly bustling with weekend visitors. There’s a popular countryside walk that takes you around the back of the town and it is here that as we traipse along trying to dodge flooded areas, we spy a lovely little field mouse. Henry (6) finds a lair and we talk about the importance of trees. He loves to immerse himself in nature.    

We make our way back to town and find a bench where we have our packed lunch. It’s in front of a shop where Henry spies products for sale on the pavement. “Can I go and look at the prices?” he asks and comes back to tell us what they are. Walking around the art gallery further inspires Henry because on our return home he insists on painting three 5” x 7” canvases of scenes that he has seen over the course of the weekend. There’s no stopping him.

Is 24 hours away worth the effort? Yes, it certainly is.

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