“ Address: Portsmouth Road / Esher / Surrey / KT10 9JG / England „
One of the benefits of living in our part of the world is the wealth of National Trust properties within a reasonable travelling distance. As I have been taking a career break since the birth of my son two months ago, we have been able to take advantage of our family membership and my time off to go and visit some of them.
We recently crossed a number of nearby country houses off our list - Hatchlands Park, Clandon Park, Polesden Lacey, and Chartwell - but the one property we visit most often, mainly due to its accessibility and proximity (it's only two miles away) is Claremont Landscape Garden.
Claremont Landscape Garden ("Claremont") is located about a mile outside of Esher town centre on the A307 Portsmouth Road and is best accessed by car. Directions are available on the property's National Trust mini-site (www.nationaltrust.org.uk).
There is also a train station in Esher, which is served by South West train services from Woking and Waterloo, but it's on the opposite side of town (closest to Sandown Park) and about a two mile walk. The 515 bus (Kingston to Guildford) passes close to the station, with the nearest bus stop being near a Café Rouge on the A 307.
As the name suggests, Claremont is a landscaped garden centred around a serene serpentine lake which is populated by many species of wild fowl. The gardens used to belong to Claremont House, a Georgian country house built in the Palladian style and dating from 1708 (not visible now due to the tree plantings) which is now being used as an independent private school (Claremont Fan Court School). The National Trust ("the Trust") acquired 50 acres from the Claremont Estate in 1949 which formed the basis for the gardens as they appear today.
The Belvedere Tower, a folly conceived by the 18th century architect Sir John Vanbrugh (who also built the house and famously designed Blenheim Palace) is owned by the school, and is opened peripatetically to Claremont visitors, but as we have never managed to turn up on the right weekends, I can't really comment on its merits.
One of the main reasons we go so often is so our daughter can feed the multitude ducks, geese, swans and moor hens. Bags of "approved" bird seed are helpfully sold at the entrance kiosk for 50p. There is a path that goes around the whole lake, taking you past a grotto, an 18th century stepped grass amphitheatre, and various other hidden and interesting features (such as hidden statuary, rockeries and a huge variety of shrubs and plants).
At the centre of the lake is a small island with a Georgian pavilion, but this is inaccessible to visitors. I would estimate that the route around the lake is about half a mile, taking no more than about half an hour to walk around at leisurely pace. At the top of the lake, near the amphitheatre, are a couple of fabulous Lebanese Cedars which the Trust boasts are some of the finest in England. They certainly are majestic and magnificent and add a certain aura to the place.
Away from the lake, there are various paths leading off on a circular route around the outskirts of the property, giving access to viewpoints and vistas overlooking the water. These include a rose garden, a statuary and a balcony that features shaped shrubbery. These parts of the property will be harder going for small children, older folk and parents with buggies as the inclines and paths to get to them, although well looked after and laid with gravel, are quite steep and can get slippery in wet weather.
The whole garden is immaculately tended to and provides a quiet oasis of calm in the middle of suburban Surrey. You can just about hear the traffic noise from the nearby A3, but the tranquillity soon takes over and the brain quickly blocks out the extraneous, alien noise.
The property features a newly built children's play area made with treated, sustainable wood. The whole play area is underlaid with a rubbery foam to minimise injury from falls and spills. There is also a covered wooden story pavilion - the property hosts lots of readings and kid's activities, so its best to check their schedule if you plan to incorporate this into your trip. They also host Easter Egg Hunt and a Christmas trail which are well worth it.
One note of caution - the waters edge around the lake is not fenced off and there are some steep-ish inclines that drop off into the water at various points around the path. I would keep young children close and toddlers in their buggies (or at least well supervised). The water is not particularly deep, but there is no reason to invite unwelcome trauma.
> Information & Learning
A handbook with details about the contents and history of the property is available from the kiosk for £5, as is a free nature trail book and a free basic map of the property in leaflet form. As we are currently home-schooling our daughter, the latter is an invaluable, free resource. In fact, the whole property is a perfect open air classroom and provides ample learning opportunities for child and adult alike. The Trust also offer guided walks and tours of the property at various times, but do call ahead to avoid disappointment.
> Tea Room
There is a tea room onsite, which can accommodate forty people, however, it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during the summer months, and then only open Friday to Sunday mid-January to mid-February. They do a decent cream tea with freshly baked scones (brought in from off the premises) and a good range of pre-packed sandwiches, sweets, cakes and drinks. A kid's menu is also available (basically a lunch box consisting of choice of sarnie, drink and crisps for around £4). Prices are on the expensive side, but most of it goes to the Trust to help maintain its properties, so I don't complain. If you are looking for more substantial fare, nearby Esher is blessed with many good eateries and pubs.
There is no dedicated on-site shop but various items, such as books, postcards and mementos, as well National Trust membership - are available from the kiosk at the entrance to the property.
ADMISSION & OPENING TIMES
The property is open year round, but closed on Mondays from 1st November to 31st March. We have visited dozens of times over the last five years and there is always something new to see with each change of the weather and the seasons. Opening times are set out in detail on the web-site (which is well worth a look before you go), but generally, the property opens from 1am to 5pm, with extended opening during the summer months. The tea room closes an hour before the property, and the last admission is half an hour before closing.
Admission is free for members, but for non-Trust members it is £6 for adults and £3 for children (both of which include a gift aid contribution which you can opt out of). A family ticket (two adults and two kids) is available for £15, which represents a saving of £3. If you arrive by public transport and show your ticket at the kiosk, you will get a £1 voucher for use in the tea room. The cost of admission is refunded if you join the Trust on the day.
OTHER USEFUL DETAILS
Dogs are not allowed into the gardens between April and October, but you can bring them, provided they are kept on a short leash between November and the end of March. Free parking is available for everyone at the entrance of the property, although this can get quite busy in the summer months, even with the overflow car park. There are five bays reserved for the disabled. You can't park along the busy A307, but there are some residential streets on the opposite side of the road which do not have any parking restrictions.
The paths around the property can get muddy and slippery in damp weather, or for a few days after it has rained, especially in winter, so appropriate footwear is a must. I would also recommended either a change of shoes or some way to clean the mud off them for when you get back to the car. The wheels of our Bugaboo stroller are usually covered in twigs, mud and other detritus, so we keep a hard bristled brush in the boot to scrape it off and also use a boot liner from B&Q to keep the mud off the upholstery.
Also, just across the A307 from the property entrance is West End Lane which leads to West End village, where you can have a fabulous lunch at the Prince of Wales pub overlooking the village pond and cricket green, or have a wander around Garsons Nursery and Farm Shop (they do pick your own fruit and vegetables in season).
Claremont is virtually on our doorstep, so its very handy for a quick forty-five minute walk on a Sunday afternoon. For us, it is worth the Trust annual membership all by itself, especially given the variety of wildfowl, learning potential and children's faclities. The property is very well kept and the staff - from groundsmen to tea lady, are courteous, helpful and approachable. In my view £6 per person for non-members represents excellent value.
As you could probably cover the whole of the property in around an hour and a half, including a stop for tea, if you are making a special trip, it's probably a good idea to combine it with another property in the area (such as Polesden Lacey or Hampton Court Palace) or perhaps Mercedes Benz World or the Brooklands Museum in nearby Weybridge.
© Hishyeness 2009
I recently visited Claremont Landscape Gardens with my parents whilst they were visiting the outskirts of London. We chose to go there as they didn't want to venture too far into London (having done that the day before) and we didn't want to go anywhere that cost too much. With both of them being National Trust for Scotland members, they get free entry to English National Trust members, so it would only be me that we would have to pay for at Claremont.
Claremont Landscape Gardens are situated just south of Esher. The leaflet we had giving information on travel wasn't terribly helpful, but having checked the map book we found a little National Trust symbol so we were able to follow that - we went by car, so I can't comment on getting there by public transport (although it must be possible as the leaflet states that they will give you a £1 tea room voucher if you show a public transport ticket). Once we reached Esher we found that the gardens were signposted, and there was an ample car park.
Entry for me, a non-member adult, was £6. A child would be £3, and there are group and family prices available. Having paid, we took our map and headed into the gardens. There was a guided tour on offer (free of charge I believe) at 2pm in the afternoon, but we decided to give it a miss and potter about on our own.
An important point to make is that Claremont isn't landscaped like we might expect today, with lots of pretty flower beds and terraces. It was created in the 18th century, and landscaping then consisted of trees. So don't go expecting to see lots of flowers, as I have to admit I did.
One of the main features of the garden, which you meet as soon as you enter, is the large pond, which is home to a lot of interesting water fowl. Apart from the usual Canada and Greylag geese (and of course the ever present Mallard), Coots, Moorhens etc, we saw Black Swans, Emperor Geese and Egyptian Geese (which are kind of interesting but we've been a bit spoilt as there's a huge family of them on the campsite my parents stay at when they visit). There are identification leaflets available for 50p, but there's also one on a noticeboard by the pond. According to this, we could have seen Mandarin Ducks - but they must have been hiding. My parents are RSPB members and love bird watching, especially spotting rare birds so they were very happy about this, and I quite enjoyed spotting all the different types too.
The map you can pick up at the entrance shows the paths around the garden, and also indicates where there is a steep slope, useful for those who aren't too mobile. My mum is an occasional wheelchair user , but decided not to use it on this day. And to be honest, it was probably for the best - the paths were reasonably wide but they were noticeably bumpy even on foot, so it would have been uncomfortable in the chair.
Another main feature, which overlooks the pond, is the grass amphitheatre. It is rather impressive, all terraced and quite steep. You can't climb up it although there are some benches on it, as it is roped and signed off at the bottom. There is a terrace at the top which you can get onto, but we didn't as it would have involved more slopes and walking than we wanted to do.
We followed a gently sloping path up the hill beside the amphitheatre. On the map there were some statues of animals marked, so we thought we'd see them and then continue on to the Camellia Terrace and the Belvedere Tower at the top. Unfortunately the camellias weren't in flower, but they would have been lovely a month or two earlier!
The Belvedere Tower belongs to the Claremont School next door to the gardens, which once was the house which the gardens belonged to. On the first clear weekend each month they allow the gardens to open the tower to visitors, and as it happened we were visiting on one such weekend. However, once we walked up through the gardens and realised just how big the trees were, we decided not to bother as the view would in fact have been largely obscured by the tree tops.
So we went back down the hill and strolled around the pond, from where you can see the island pavilion, which is a kind of summer house on the small island in the pond. You can't get over to the island so I assume it is never opened to visitors. Tucked away in the corner of the pond is a "grotto", which is a series of caves which look man-made. There was very little information given about this in the leaflet, but it looked pretty.
One criticism at this point, once we reached the corner of the pond furthest from the entrance. There was a lot of unpleasant looking slimey green algae in the pond, and given there was a nasty pong in that area, we suspected it came from that. Now I'm no biologist, but my mum is, and she explained that algae is healthy for water, but in large quantities like this it blocks the sunlight into the water and the plants underneath can't photosynthesise. So this large volume of algae is probably bad for the pond life, and it was smelly. Bad all round really.
I thought that the gardens were large enough to accommodate a good number of visitors without seeming crowded, but that they weren't so big as to cause you problems getting round it all in an afternoon.
Once we had walked all the way round the pond, we exited the garden and went to the tea room. I have very happy memories of National Trust tea rooms from when I was young, you couldn't beat a NT scone, so imagine my upset when I found pre packed sandwiches and clearly not homemade scones on offer! I was very hungry by this point so I had a tuna sandwich and some apple juice, and my parents shared some fruit cake and lemon cake, and had some coffee. It was all perfectly nice, I can't fault it at all (although the sandwich was £3.25, a bit much for just tuna!), but it just wasn't what I expected. I wanted home baking and freshly made sandwiches, but having brought this up I was told by my mum that its all down to health and safety...what else! Apparently it used to be that the volunteers would do the baking at home, but now they need a food premises certificate or something, no one wants to do that for their home, so they buy in the stuff. How rubbish. Health and safety, pah - I want my NT scone!!!
Near the tea room, incidentally, is a childrens play area. It looked like fun, but I decided not to try it out! One thing I did like about its position was that it was tucked away between the gardens themselves and the exit, so children can enjoy themselves and make loads of noise without disturbing other visitors to the gardens or scaring off the ducks!
The toilets were situated in the car park. Maybe an odd spot, but there you go. I didn't use them, but I was assured they were of an adequate condition and cleanliness!
On the whole, I enjoyed our visit to Claremont Landscape Gardens. While it wasn't entirely what we were expecting, being rather plain and full of trees not flowers, it was an enjoyable afternoon - fortunately we had good weather after a wet morning. The gardens are a pleasant and relaxing place to spend an afternoon. However, we were glad that we only paid one entrance fee between the three of us - we all agreed that £6 each, £18 in total, would not have been worth it.
Enjoy the tranquility of mother nature and have spotting the 52 species of Waterfowl that inhabit the gardens.